Mr. Buffalo Nashida steps down as Eagles skipper

Masataka Nashida, right, shares a laugh with Yomiuri Giants manager Yoshinobu Takahashi.

By Jim Allen

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Masataka Nashida announced he was stepping down as manager of the Rakuten Eagles. After winning championships with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and again with the Nippon Ham Fighters, that the Eagles’ continued poor results would eventually cause him to step aside.

When I began getting paid to write about Japanese baseball in 1998, I had to learn how to talk to players and managers and get material for stories despite my horrible Japanese. Sadaharu Oh was perhaps the first manager to welcome my silly questions with open arms, and in 2000 Nashida became another.

Nashida, a former catcher who played his whole career with the Osaka-based Kintetsu Buffaloes, had been successful as Kintetsu’s minor league manager before moving up to the big chair. Nashida was one of those managers who would meet reporters before every game. The questions were often about the comings and goings of fringe players, the prospects of the new rookie, follow-ups on incidents from the previous day’s game and so on.



Not being a beat writer, but one who would go to the park once a week to write a game story and collect material for my column in the Daily Yomiuri, most of those questions went over my head and my attention would occasionally wander. It was those times, when I might be staring at the dugout ceiling, that Nashida would pounce.

“That’s the way they do it in the majors, isn’t it?” he’d ask me, always when I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about.

More often than not, I’d say, “No, not always” to a question that could well have been whether or not big leaguers ate raw squirrel meat before games. I was basically a nobody, but like Oh, and Lions manager Haruki Ihara, Nashida tried his best to explain things to me. I sincerely wanted to understand how Japanese baseball was the way it was, and he offered his time and insight.

He once explained what it meant to be a coach in Japanese baseball.

“The coach’s job is of course to prepare players to win games,” he told me. “But they are also like lightning rods. When a player makes a mistake, the coach is expected to show how tough he is in dealing with mistakes and correcting them — not for the player’s sake or for the team’s sake, but so the coach himself won’t be criticized in the media.”

“If a pitcher gives up a base hit on an 0-2 count, the battery coach is asked why he didn’t order a pitch that was too far out of the zone to be hit.”

I asked, “You’re a former catcher. Do you like those meaningless 0-2 pitches?”

“Me? No. I hated them when I was a catcher, and I hate them now when I’m a manager.”

“Then why do your coaches still ask the catcher to call for them?”

“It’s their job, unfortunately. Part of their job is to not be criticized the next day in the papers. It is what it is.”

Nashida had the look of a man who sincerely loved his players, and under him, a lot of Kintetsu and Nippon Ham players blossomed. As one of the Pacific League’s two Osaka-area clubs at the time, the Buffaloes took on a lot of journeyman rejects from the Hanshin Tigers. Having escaped from the Koshien pressure cooker, Nashida trusted them, taught them and let them find themselves, and many contributed to the Buffaloes’ 2001 pennant.

more to come…



The bunt, bushido and Japanese baseball’s issues with history

Japan’s home run explosion is making the obligatory sacrifice more and more of a stretch for NPB managers.

By Jim Allen

I love seeing a perfect bunt as much as the next fan, but hate the obligatory, let’s-take-a-bullet-for-the-sake-of-Japanese-winning-baseball-first-inning sacrifice as much as any of you, I’m sure.

Although the sacrifice bunt is celebrated as the epitome of Japanese baseball dogma, it’s popular now like it never was back in the day. Small ball has always been close to the heart of Japanese ball, but the bunt REALLY became popular in the late 1970s when former players of legendary Yomiuri Giants manager Tetsuharu Kawakami began taking over one NPB club after another.



The irony is that the bunt reached its most popular peak in the 1980s, when offense and home runs were at an all-time high and spearheaded by then Seibu Lions manager Tatsuro Hirooka. That’s when “the bunt IS Japanese baseball” was REALLY born. It’s not some age-old doctrine but a revisionist history — an explanation after the fact about how a policy that didn’t exist at the time of a perceived “golden age” was the secret to that era’s quality.

In that respect Hirooka’s popularization of the bunt is reminiscent of Japan’s belief that bushido was a code warriors of a purer era lived by, when in fact it was a code meant as a wakeup call to to men of samurai lineage who were warriors in name and social status only. It was a code that didn’t describe reality, but was rather a set of moral ideals for warriors in a society without war to aspire to.

Japan’s funny about the past. If one glorifies one’s famous predecessors, that goes over really well, whether it’s true or not. In fact, it’s something of a cottage industry that is hard to assail. If I tell you the Giants who won nine-straight Japan Series did so because of the sacrifice bunt, and you say it’s not true, your words can be perceived as criticism of a legend of the game.

The most famous example recent example of this was former BayStars skipper Hiroshi Gondo. The man, who asked his players to call him “Gondo-san” (Mr. Gondo) rather than Manager Gondo, was an iconoclast. He attacked a lot of Japanese pro baseball traditions as being moronic and a waste of time and was tossed out on his ear — despite a very successful run as skipper.



Yet, now, when more objective information is actually available, people will still argue that the first-inning sacrifice is key to winning games when it so obviously isn’t. But those days are numbered. It appears now that the current offensive explosion appears will finally drive the bunt’s arch proponents underground.

Digression aside, there has been a very peculiar relationship between win percentages and first-inning sacrifices.

Prior to the introduction of the deadened standard ball in 2011, see here and here, the relationship between wins and first-inning sacrifices favored visiting teams that bunted with no outs and a runner on first. From 2011 to 2016, home teams have done better bunting in the first inning of scoreless games with no outs and a runner on first.

Although the data this year is limited, in games through June 15, with home runs going through the roof in NPB like balls off Shohei Ohtani’s bat, the first-inning sacrifice by the No. 2 hitter appears to be approaching its final resting place.

In 71 games this season with a runner on first base in the top of the first, No. 2 hitters have had plate appearances ending in a bunt attempt (I have no record of fouled bunts before two strikes).

Visitors, 1st inning, Runner on 1B
2016: 187 chances, 54 attempts (29%) with a .537 win pct
2017: 57 chances, 14 attempts (25%) with a .357 win pct.

Home teams, 1st inning, Runner on 1B, scoreless game
2016: 194 chances, 77 attempts (40%) with a .622 win pct
2017: 58 chances, 11 attempts (19%) with a .364 win pct.



A brief history of Japan’s interleague

By Jim Allen

Players on strike sign autographs for fans outside Yokohama Stadium, where they practiced but did not play. The strike led to expansion and interleague play.

For years prior to its introduction, NPB’s six Pacific League teams lobbied for some form of interleague play against the six teams of the then-more popular Central League. These pleas were scoffed at by the charismatic but blowhard generalissimo who ran the Yomiuri Shimbun and held huge sway over NPB policy, Tsuneo Watanabe.

“You only want to make money off games with the Giants. Who’d pay to see Lotte play Chunichi? It’s a joke,” he said in various ways every time the issue was brought up. At that time, sale of terrestrial TV rights for each CL team’s 13 home games against the Giants provided the bulk of each CL team’s annual operating expenses, and none of them were in a hurry to replace a few of those games for home contests against unfashionable PL teams — until the mid-1990s that meant all PL teams with the exception of the Seibu Lions, whose golden age petered out in 1995.



What forced interleague to become a reality was the chaos caused in 2004, when NPB authorized a merger between two PL teams, the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The merger would leave a five-team PL and a huge scheduling mess, so all that summer, while owners plotted how they were going to move into the future with 11 or even 10 teams forming a single league, Japan’s docile players union located its spine and took action. When players took exception with the owners’ plans to contract NPB, Watanabe in his typical fashion, said, “Who cares what they think? They are only athletes.”

The players, needless to say, took umbrage with that remark, and Hall of Fame Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta, then the head of the Nippon Pro Baseball Players Association, began negotiating to stop the contraction. The then commissioner, Yasuchika Negoro, urged owners to ignore the players, convincing them the players had no right to protest. In essence the former bureaucrat said, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. I personally wrote those labor laws.”

Unfortunately, the labor courts disagreed, slammed NPB for dealing in bad faith, Japan’s only baseball strike occurred, and NPB caved in. The Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave became the Orix Buffaloes, but NPB agreed to expedite a process for an expansion team that would keep the PL at six teams. Owners had argued this was impossible to do between the summer of 2004 and the autumn, when a new club would have to take part in NPB’s amateur draft.

Another provision of the settlement was the introduction of interleague play — in order to help the PL teams survive. At first it consisted of 12, three-game series, two each against each team in the opposing league.

Interleague play in NPB is a little oasis between the start of the season and the all-star break, and all the interleague games are completed before league play resumes through the end of the regular season.



“We would have been happy with 18,” former Nippon Ham executive Toshimasa Shimada said. “But they offered 36 and we took it.”

Two years later, the CL pushed for a change to 24 games, and 12, two-game series, calling the original 36-game format they came up with “intolerable.” The CL’s next brilliant idea, a 24-game setup proved even worse, because it meant teams were sometimes off on Friday, a prime day for baseball, and a more hectic travel schedule. So in 2013, the CL once more said, “This 24-game interleague format is ridiculous,” mindful not to mention that it was their idea in the first place.

The real problem of interleague has been the perception that the CL clubs just simply aren’t as competitive as the PL teams. This has been fairly obvious in the Japan Series as well, which the CL has won just 3 times since 2003. So far, only one CL team, the Giants has led the interleague standings, and entering play on Friday, heading into the final few games in PL parks, the interleague-leading Yakult Swallows were the only CL team without a losing record against the PL.

Despite the CL’s mediocre showing and predictions of gloom and doom, average interleague attendance has increased every year but one since it’s inception in 2005. That year was 2011, when Japan was reeling from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster. Through the games of June 14, attendance had increased this season by an average of 1,349, although that will deccline a little next week when the rainout makeups are figured into the equation.

This year, both leagues have drawn more for their interleague games than they have for games against league rivals prior to the start of interleague in June: 33,208 to 33,112 for the CL, 27,841 to 26,024 for the PL.



Dr. Wills, Japan needs you

By Jim Allen

Former NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato revolutionized Japnese baseball and was kicked out for his troubles.By Jim Allen

I owe my podcast partner John Gibson an apology. Earlier this year, he felt home runs were really flying this year, and I wasn’t able to see it in the data. SoftBank Hawks Dennis Sarfate told me the same thing, that miss-hit balls were really carrying this year.

I was wrong and they were right.



Since juiced balls became the vogue in NPB starting in the late 1990s, Japan has gone through two efforts to deaden the balls, the first in 2005 — after it became obvious to fans that Mizuno was producing high flyers, and the last in 2011 when NPB adopted a standard ball for the first time.

Looking at all NPB games through June 13 from the past 15 seasons, home runs are more frequent now than at any time since 2005.

The Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association has since asked NPB for data on the resiliency of its official balls. In a May 21 working session, NPB told union representatives that tests revealed nothing unusual, that the standard measure used to evaluate how lively balls are, the coefficient of restitution, was within allowable limits.

According to Joseph Aylward, who spends a lot of time and energy tracking home runs in NPB, the average distances on balls over the fence have been gradually increasing at least early in the season through June 13:

2016: 119.1 meters
2017: 120.3 m
2018: 120.9 m

All fine and dandy, but how much energy a ball retains after its collision with a bat is only part of the equation, as MLB recently reported. The increase in major league home runs was due not to a livelier ball but due to the balls having less drag. MLB was unable, however, to explain why this was the case, since the materials used had not changed.

On June 6, Dr. Meredith Wills‘ groundbreaking research originally published in The Athletic on how major league balls made of essentially the same materials can be changed radically by just a 9 percent increase in the thickness of the thread used to stitch the cover together.

Japan has always had issues with MLB, and whatever rules MLB enacts are soon copied in Japan within a year or two. So perhaps when MLB balls began flying farther, NPB owners became envious.



One twitter follower has since commented that with the weather this season seeming to be somewhat colder than usual home runs should be down instead of up and was curious whether indoor-outdoor splits were available. Well they are. For this purpose, the roofed stadium formerly known as Seibu Prince Dome is counted as outdoors since it is an outdoor park with a roof that shields it from the rain but not the heat or cold.

Bingo. Or since we’re in Japan perhaps “当たった”(Atatta) is preferable.

Changes to home runs and strikeouts in 2018 (through June 15) compared to the previous three years through June 15.

I haven’t seen the MLB data, but strikeouts and home runs are way up, and more so in Japan’s indoor stadiums than in parks more susceptible to the weather. If it is the ball, when the summer heats up, we may see some historic home run production.



Two years ago, when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked if MLB’s ball had been altered to make it livelier without telling anyone, he reminded everyone about what a dangerous move that can be.

“There are certain mistakes in life that if you pay attention to what’s going on around you, you are not inclined to make,” Manfred said according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. “There was a scandal in Japan over the baseball being changed that cost the commissioner his job. I like my current gig, so I think you can rest assured that the baseball is the same as it was last year.”

The incident he referred to was the 2013 ouster of commissioner Ryozo Kato, who radicalized NPB owners by instituting a uniform ball two years earlier and bringing Japanese baseball out of a kind of warring-states chaos in which teams could chose balls from up to three different accepted manufacturers per season.

This was a huge improvement for NPB, but the target coefficient of restitution specs for the ball were set at the bottom end of the allowable range, meaning many balls were less lively than they should have. Teams complained about the lack of offense, but Kato wanted to stay with those specs for three full seasons before evaluating the situation. Although he said he had great support from Japan’s most powerful team, the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, his assistant secretary general Atsushi Ihara, a former Yomiuri employee, was one of those who engineered Kato’s downfall.

Commissioner Kato faces the music. Current secretary general Atsushi Ihara is on the left.

Although every commissioner has been essentially picked by Yomiuri, Kato had fallen out of favor with owners by instituting a fairer arbitration system for salary disputes that involved third party arbitrators. In 2011, the panel infuriated owners by rejecting the Seibu Lions’ ridiculous argument in their salary dispute with pitcher Hideaki Wakui.



At the end of the 2012 season, Ihara coordinated with his boss and sporting goods maker Mizuno to switch to a more lively ball, and kept it a secret from Kato, even after the commissioner was grilled about a ball switch when balls began jumping out of the park again.

Kato was forced to reverse himself in public when he found out the truth, and was replaced by a more owner-friendly commissioner. Kato, and his secretary general, a man who hadn’t worked for Yomiuri, took the fall for the switch, and Ihara was promoted to secretary general and has since run the show run under Kato’s two successors.



The lucky ones and 2 unlucky ones

Yesterday, I mentioned some of Japan’s best minor league hitters and the (perhaps) surprising fact that Ichiro Suzuki was the best 19-year-old minor leaguer NPB has ever had. Suzuki reached that dubious pinnacle because A) He was really, really good, and B) Then Orix BlueWave manager Shozo Doi didn’t think he could hit. Because of the lack of belief in him, Suzuki was able to establish in the minors what a good hitter he was.

Had Doi continued to manage the BlueWave for several more years instead of being replaced in 1994 by Akira Ogi, Suzuki’s career might easily have looked more like — Teppei Tsuchiya’s. Teppei, as he became known after he was sold to Rakuten, had proved on the Chunichi Dragons farm club at a young age that he could hit. Once he got a chance in Sendai, he became one of the Eagles’ best players.




Because Suzuki’s manager didn’t believe in him, he spent an inordinate amount of time proving how good he was down there. While there are precious few players as good as Ichiro wasting their time on the farm, there are lots of real good players who never get half a chance.

If you look at all minor league hitters since 1991, who were: under 27, with an offensive winning percentage of.700 or better over two seasons in a minimum of 400 plate appearances, and who had at least 400 PAs in one of their next two seasons with the first team, you get the following players sorted by their second big year. Note that Kensuke Tanaka and Akinori Iwamura each had a third big year in the minors…

  • Ichiro Suzuki 1993 Orix, 19.2 years old – MVP (3)
  • Katsuhiro Nishiura 1996 Nippon Ham, 21.1
  • Akinori Iwamura 1998 Yakult, 18.9
  • Nobuhiko Matsunaka 1998 Daiei, 24.0 – MVP(2)
  • Akinori Iwamura 1999 Yakult, 19.9
  • Shogo Akada 2002 Seibu, 21.3
  • Kensuke Tanaka 2004 Nippon Ham, 22.6
  • Kensuke Tanaka 2005 Nippon Ham, 23.6
  • Yoshio Itoi 2007 Nippon Ham, 25.4
  • Tomotaka Sakaguchi 2007 Orix, 22.5
  • Kazuhiro Hatakeyama 2007 Yakult, 24.3
  • Ginji Akaminai, 2011 Rakuten, 22.8
  • Katsuya Kakunaka, 2011 Lotte, 23.6
  • Akira Nakamura, 2012 SoftBank, 22.2
  • Yuki Yanagita, 2012 SoftBank, 23.2 – MVP(1)
  • Itaru Hashimoto, 2013 Yomiuri, 22.7

Most of these guys need no introduction, most of them have won Best IX awards. In addition to the actual MVP winners, Iwamura deserved to win win one, while Yanagita was robbed in 2014. Two players who might be less familiar are Katsuhiro Nishiura, and Itaru Hashimoto.

Nishiura had one shot at regular playing time in 1998 and hit 20 homers and stole 18 bases but batted .245. The next year, the Fighters gave his playing time to Michihiro Ogasawara. Hashimoto has played well, but he’s had injury problems and the Giants have rarely given regular jobs to guys to low draft picks out of high school.




The list of minor leaguers who are just as good offensively as these guys, but who get far fewer opportunities at the first team is HUGE.

I’ll assume few of you know about Yukio Kinugawa, whose first-team career consisted of 53 at-bats over 50 games with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Yakult Swallows. He was a slugging catcher who was converted to an outfielder-first baseman. For three seasons, from the age of 23 to 25, he was a minor league terror. The only player in his age group who was AS good as Kinugawa was Takeshi Omori, a famous minor league slugger and first baseman in the same generation whom the Giants gave up on after a handful of games. Ironically enough, for 1-1/2 years, before his trade to Yakult, Kinugawa and Omori were teammates on the Buffaloes Western League club.




Kinugawa in the minors was similar to Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Ryota Arai — in his days with Chunichi — years before Hanshin showed the Dragons Arai was a pretty good hitter. Kinugawa was better at his age than Tomoaki Kanemoto and better than Nobuhiko Matsunaka. This is not saying Kinugawa could have been better, but neither Kintetsu nor Yakult seemed very interested in seeing how good he could be.

Ichiro Suzuki, Akinori Iwamura & other NPB minor league stars

Ichiro Suzuki is some day going to be the first player to begin his career in NPB and end up in MLB’s Hall of Fame. Akinori Iwamura won’t make it, but people familiar with his career in Japan know what a good ballplayer he was.

I recently re-added the minor league batting and pitching data from 1991 to 2001 to my data base — I lost my originals about 20 years ago in a hard disk crash — and asked which under-20 minor league hitter (minimum 200 PA) had the best seasons with offensive winning percentages over .700.

  1. Ichiro Suzuki (19.2 years old), Orix 1993, 214 PA, .883
  2. Akinori Iwamura (18.9), Yakult 1998, 430, .810
  3. Seiji Uebayashi (19.4), SoftBank 2015, 332, .799
  4. Akinori Iwamura (17.9), Yakult 1997, 297, .785
  5. Ichiro Suzuki (18.2 years old), Orix 1992, 270, .784
  6. Kensuke Kondo (19.4), Nippon Ham 2013, 227, .781
  7. Tomoya Mori (18.4), Seibu 2014, 257, .755
  8. Hisashi Takayama (19.1) Seibu 2001, 343, .708





Suzuki took a nice jump forward in 1993 and the next year took another when he won the first of his three straight PL MVP Awards. Most of the rest of the guys you know, although some of you may have forgotten Hisashi Takayama. He was an outfielder without outstanding speed or power and had one chance to play regularly at the age of 28 in 2010, when he played quite well, but was otherwise a guy on the fringe. Takayama’s minor league season at the age of 20 was the 10th best by a player aged 20-21 since 1991, so it’s fair to say Seibu REALLY missed the boat on him.

When Hisanobu Watanabe was promoted from farm manager in 2008, Takayama was one of the guys he gave a shot to in the spring, but at the age of 26 he needed an ally and didn’t have one. Then batting coach Hiromoto “Dave” Okubo, wasn’t a fan of Takayama’s and insisted on keeping hustling and likeable-but-underqualified Kenta Matsusaka as his right-handed-hitting platoon outfielder.

Uebayashi, who is mentioned here, is someone who lacks some plate discipline but who does everything else fairly well but has yet to break into SoftBank’s regular lineup. Had he played for Nippon Ham, however, like Kensuke Kondo, he’d no doubt have a job by now. Mori, it seems is caught in a crunch as well, he’s probably a better hitter than the other guys who are taking his playing time, but he needs to go out and prove.

The best minor league season for a player aged 20 was by Lotte’s Toshiaki Imae in 2004, a year before he became the Marines’ regular third baseman for a decade. At age 21, the best was by Ken Suzuki of the Seibu Lions in 1991. Suzuki went on to be a DH-third baseman for the Lions pennant-winning teams in ’97 and ’98 and a corner infielder with Yakult in 2001.







Welcome to Npbspeak

The Oceania of George Orwell’s 1984 has  Newspeak as its official language which is used to transmit to the proletariat the wisdom of Big Brother. Japanese professional baseball in a nifty parallel, has Npbspeak to guide fans according to the will of its shogun, former Yomiuri Shimbun president Tsuneo Watanabe.

Take Tokyo Dome and its infamous official capacity for baseball of 55,000. Through 1984 — oops 2004 — reporters obligingly include references to crowds of 55,000 at the park in their Npbspeak. In the 28 Japan Series games — when attendance is actually counted, crowd figures ranged from 43,848 to 48,342, yet nobody in the mainstream media noticed anything unusual about that. Except for Robert Whiting and a few others, no one was publicly saying: “Hey this place looks full, how come it’s not 55,000?” Because  Watanabe said, “Tokyo Dome’s capacity is 55,000,” where they thinking, “hmm must not be a sell out.”?





At Game 2 of the 1996 Series against Ichiro Suzuki’s Orix BlueWave the place was jammed and sounded like you were inside a jet engine, but somehow nobody mentioned anything incongruous about an announced crowd of 45,806 without any empty seats at a park reported as holding 55,000.

About that time I called the Seibu Lions to ask how come Seibu Stadium could hold 50,000 fans for a holiday sellout against the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but max out at just 31,883 against the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series. It sure wasn’t the cost of tickets, because at that timea Lions Series game ticket cost only 50 percent more than for a regular season game. The Lions answered: “During the Japan Series, the fire department prevents us from seating proles — fans — in the aisles.”

Right.





Then in 2005, after the players went out on strike and the proles stood behind them in their fight against the owners, Nippon Professional Baseball teams decided to announce attendance figures that “approximated reality,” whatever that means. In Nagoya, the Chunichi Dragons apparently only admitted fans in blocks of 100 that year, since all their announced attendances that season ended in “00.”

On Opening Day, April 1, 2005, the automatons who had been dutifully reporting Tokyo Dome had been filled with 55,000 fans, reported a full house of 43,684. Since that day, the highest announced attendance has been 46,831.

“Tokyo Dome’s maximum capacity is 46,831. It has always been 46,831.”

SO when NPB announced there would be new rules this year — NPBspeak grammar required at least one “new” rule be an existing one. Baseball has prohibited catchers without the ball from obstructing runners for over 150 years. Yet the practice was accepted in both MLB and NPB despite clearly being against the rules. Rather than admit it hadn’t been enforcing the rule, which is an NPB tradition, a rule — a redundant duplication of the old one — was included in the new package so that it could be called “new” so the proles wouldn’t notice.




NPB’s all-time fielding team: shortstops

This is the third part of a series on the best fielders in Japanese baseball history. Today will cover the shortstops, and ask what happened to most of the guys who played the position before 1980?

Hall of Famer Yoshio Yoshida is an easy favorite as the best-fielding shortstop to ever play in Japan. The shortstops are another odd list in that after Yoshida and Kenji Koike, the remaining eight are all contemporaries who have recently retired or will in the next few years. If one were to rank them only by fielding win shares,  only four of the top 10 would have careers that started before 1989.

If one ranked players by the number of times win shares considers a shortstop the best gold glove candidate, Yoshida dominated the Central League in the ’50s, Koike dominated the Pacific League in the ’70s. No one has really dominated a decade like they did, but most of the guys on the list had a stretch of four or five seasons when he was either the best in his league or a close second.

The numbers given with each player are: career fielding win shares at shortstop, total fielding win shares per 27 outs, WS golden gloves, actual golden gloves. These were first awarded in 1972 , so neither Yoshida nor Koike ever won one.

  1. Yoshio Yoshida, Tigers, 1953-1969: 106-.547, 8,*
  2. Kenji Koike, , 1961-1974: 90-.668, 7,*
  3. Hirokazu Ibata, Dragons, 1998-2015: 84-.480, 6, 6
  4. Takuro Ishii, BayStars, 1989-2012: 91-.439, 2, 1
  5. Kazuo Matsui, Lions-Eagles, 1994-present: 88-.473, 4, 4
  6. Makoto Kosaka, Marines, 1997-2010: 76-.597, 5, 4
  7. Makoto Kaneko, Fighters, 1994-2014: 70-.509, 5, 1
  8. Takashi Toritani, Tigers, 2004-present: 83-.483, 4, 1
  9. Masahiro Kawai, Giants, 1984-2006: 69-.498, 4, 6
  10. Shinya Miyamoto, Swallows, 1995-2013: 73-.412, 2, 6

Three of the players on this list spent significant time at other positions. This is the normal practice for good offensive players at the end of their careers, but it only applies to No. 10, Shinya Miyamoto, who won three Golden Gloves at third base.

No. 4, Takuro Ishii, began his career as a pitcher, before becoming a Golden Glove-winning third baseman, before being converted to short. Makoto Kaneko was a rookie of the year and golden glove winner at second before being moved to shortstop, where he appears to have been undervalued in the voting.

Kazuo Matsui is now an outfielder, and he forfeited his chance to move higher in the rankings by spending seven years in the States. Matsui earned 23 fielding win shares in the majors, mostly at second, but add that to his NPB totals at all positions and he would shoot past Yoshida in terms of total fielding win shares in his career.

Another player who has been undervalued in the voting is Takashi Toritani of the Tigers. Toritani, however, was hurt two years ago and his range went from really good to really poor and if he keeps playing short, he might drop off the list. He’s going to keep playing somewhere because he’s a great hitter, but his range appears to be a serious issue.

NPB’s all-time fielding team: second and third basemen

This is the second part of my look at the top fielders at each position in NPB history. Today, I’ll go through the second and third basemen.

Second base

This list is surprisingly dominated by active players, although there’s no mistaking how much better Shigeru “Buffalo” Chiba was compared to his contemporaries. Chiba’s 1949 season, when he turned a record 128 double plays with just 18 errors for the league champions, ranks as the most valuable fielding year ever for a  second baseman in Japan. Chiba has two of the top-10 seasons and had golden gloves been awarded before he retired, he would have won it every year from 1946 to 1952.

On top of that, when he went to manage Kintetsu, they named the team after him, and he is credited with being the origin behind the popular dish “katsu curry,” which combines what he said were his two favorite foods, Japanese-style curry on rice with pork cutlets (katsu) on top.

As before, the numbers given are: career fielding win shares, and fielding WS per 27 outs & number of “win share golden gloves”:

  1. Shigeru Chiba, Giants, 1938-1956: 63-.500, 7
  2. Yuichi Honda, Hawks, 2006-present: 58-.469, 6
  3. Kazunori Shinozuka, Giants, 1977-1994: 66-.426, 5
  4. Shozo Doi, Giants, 1965-1978: 57-.383, 4
  5. Kensuke Tanaka, Fighters, 2000-present: 46-.377, 1
  6. Minoru Kamada, Tigers, 1957-1972: 50-.369, 3
  7. Chico Barbon, Braves, 1955-1965: 52-.369, 4
  8. Yasuyuki Kataoka, Lions-Giants, 2005-present: 49-.366, 0
  9. Hatsuhiko Tsuji, Lions, 1984-1999, 49-.366, 5
  10. Hiroyasu Tanaka, Swallows: 2005-present: 44-.387, 3

There are some surprises here. Shinozuka was less known for his fielding than his outstanding offense, while Hiroyasu Tanaka has always seemed more solid and workmanlike than outstanding… Yasuyuki Kataoka could easily rank higher because the fielding win shares per 27 outs hurts a player like Kataoka — who makes lots of outs, and helps players like Kensuke Tanaka and Chico Barbon — although Kamada was a good-field, no-hit type…

Third base

When one hears so much about how great a particular player is, it is easy to believe that some of it must be hyperbola, and no one generated more hyperbola than Shigeo Nagashima. But that’s what happens if a charismatic player achieves his peak early and plays consistently well for a fair amount of time. Defensively, he was easily the best regular at third base.

  1. Shigeo Nagashima, Giants, 1958-1974: 76-.342, 9
  2. Hiromi Matsunaga, Braves, 1981-1987: 59-.337, 4
  3. Kinji Shimatani, Dragons-Braves, 1969-1982: 55-.341, 5
  4. Norifumi Kido, Swallows-Lions, 1957-1974: 46-.373, 4
  5. Michiyo Arito, Orions, 1969-1986: 55-.279, 3
  6. Norihiro Nakamura, Buffaloes-Dragons, etc., 1992-2014: 58-.265, 5
  7. Tatsunori Hara, Giants, 1981-1995: 46-.351, 5
  8. Koichi Hada, Buffaloes, 1973-1989: 50-.298, 2
  9. Hideo Furuya, Fighters, 1978-1992: 47-.312, 3
  10. Masayuki Kakefu, Tigers, 1974-1988: 46-.301, 3

Nobuhiro Matsuda, who TALKED about going to the majors this winter, but opted to stay put in Japan will now have the opportunity to crack this list in the next three years.

NPB’s all-time fielding team: catchers and first basemen

Catcher

Atsuya Furuta. Although Motonobu Tanishige caught more games than anyone else (2,964), and has the highest career win share total from his catching, and a certain Hall of Famer, he is in the words of John E. Gibson, a compiler, a quality player with an extraordinarily long career.

The three best NPB seasons for throwing out base-stealers belong to Furuta. He set the record in 1993, when opponents tried to steal just 45 times against him 45 times in 130 games, and 29 of those paid the price for a caught-stealing percentage of .644. Here’s a list with career total fielding win shares, fielding win shares per 27 outs made and number of years he was probably the best fielder in his league:

  1. Atsuya Furuta, Swallows, 1990-2007: 130-.648, 8
  2. Mitsuo Tatsukawa, Carp, 1978-2002: 72-.639, 3
  3. Tsutomu Ito, Lions, 1982-2003: 126-.575, 8
  4. Fujio Tamura, Fighters, 1981-1998: 74-.545, 4
  5. Akihiko Oya, Swallows, 1970-1985: 75-.526, 4
  6. Motonobu Tanishige, BayStars-Dragons: 1989-2015: 138-.513, 5
  7. Akihiro Yano, Tigers, 1991-2010: 70-.487, 2
  8. Shinnosuke Abe, Giants, 2001-present: 85-5.7-.479, 5
  9. Takeshi Nakamura, Dragons, 1987-2005: 80-.464, 4
  10. Tatsuhiko Kimata, Dragons, 1964-1982: 84-.435, 2

Since we lack counts of defensive innings played in NPB, win shares per 27 batting outs are substituted as a measure of playing time. Because of this, and because Furuta was a tremendous offensive player who made relatively few outs, he gets more mileage in WS per 27 outs. On the other hand, Tatsukawa was an offensive zero for the powerhouse Carp teams of the 1980s.

First base

While the catchers’ list is dominated by recent players, good-fielding first baseman have become something of an endangered species. Out of respect for limitations, I’ll skip trying to pretend I could select a golden glove first baseman…

  1. Kiyoshi Nakahata, Giants, 1977-1989: 28-.221
  2. Tokuji Iida, Hawks-Swallows, 1947-1963: 42-.213
  3. Makoto Matsubara, Whales, 1962-1981: 44-.201
  4. Junichi Kashiwabara, Hawks-Fighters, 1973-1988, 29-.191
  5. Toru Ogawa, Buffaloes, 1968-1984: 30-.170
  6. Tetsuharu Kawakami, Giants, 1938-1958: 27-.165
  7. Kozo Kawai, Braves: 1948-1959: 19-.165
  8. Sadaharu Oh, Giants, 1959-1980: 42-.163
  9. Kihachi Enomoto, Orions, 1955-1972: 34-.157
  10. Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Lions-Giants, 1986-2008: 33-.150