Who is Kihachi Enomoto & why he deserves to be in Hall of Fame

Kihachi Enomoto is more than deserving to be in Japan’s baseball Hall of Fame

Prior to Japan’s Hall of Fame election, a listener on the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast asked who should be elected this year.

In the sense of should as in most likely, the obvious answers are former Yomiuri Giants ace Masaki Saito and former Seibu Lions and Daiei Hawks ace Kimiyasu Kudo, who is on the ballot for the first time this year. And as guessed, they both were elected, although Kudo made it with just five votes to spare

That was the off-the-top-of-my-head answer. I then went through my data base, found players still on the ballot, and came up with a list of the most worthy candidates.

No. 1 on the list and the player with the most valuable career not previously in Japan’s little Hall of Fame at Tokyo Dome is Mainichi and Tokyo Orions first baseman Kihachi Enomoto. He was not the best player of his generation, but he was among the best in NPB in the 1960s and among the best players in the Pacific League year in and year out from the age of 18. Enomoto was named on Jan. 18 to join the Hall, but just barely. A panel of 119 “experts” — living Hall of Famers and the museum’s directors gave 83 votes to Enomoto, the exact number needed.

Here is a list of the 10 most valuable players of the 1960s in total win shares with their win share totals from 1960 to 1969:

  1. Sadaharu Oh 1B 360
  2. Katsuya Nomura C 335
  3. Shigeo Nagashima 3B 320
  4. Isao Harimoto OF 297
  5. Kazuhiro Yamauchi OF 259
  6. Kihachi Enomoto 1B 250
  7. Shinichi Eto OF 241
  8. Yoshinori Hirose OF 211
  9. Minoru Murayama P 206
  10. Kazuhiko Kondo OF 205

Of these 10 players, only Enomoto and Kondo are not in the Hall of Fame. The highest ranked middle infielders of the decade were Hall of Fame shorstop Yasumitsu Toyoda and Hall of Fame second baseman Morimichi Takagi, whose value in the decade ranked them 18th and 27th, respectively.

Thirty-five of the 75 professional players in the Hall of Fame who played after the war were pitchers, including Junzo Sekine, who was successful as both a pitcher and an outfielder. Of those 35, 10 began their careers before the 1950 expansion, and another 13 began their careers between 1950-1959. Japanese ball during that period was a low-power, low-scoring affair with the exception of the period from 1949 – the last year of the single-league era, when the strike zone was downsized, and the first two years of the two-league system.

Another seven began their careers in the 1960s, two in the 1970s. There was one in the 1980s – the sentimental but absurd choice of Hiroshima Carp closer Tsunemi Tsuda, who played for nine years and died of cancer at the age of 32. Two pitchers who started their career in 1990 were first-ballot hall of famers, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Hideo Nomo.

Among position players, 14 began their careers before 1950, another 15 in the subsequent decade, six in the 1960s, three in the 1970s, one in the 1980s (Koji Akiyama), and one in the 1990s, (last year’s inductee, Atsuya Furuta).

It’s hard to know what to think other than how hard it is for recent players to match the gaudy records compiled by the best players in the first three decades of the current pro baseball establishment.

One way to look at this is the huge gap in competitive ability between the teams. The mean of the standared deviations in winning percentages for each season from 1946 to 1959 is 0.117. From 1960 to 1989 it’s 0.074, and since 1990 it’s 0.068. It’s the same for the spread in batting averages and on-base percentages among hitters who qualified for batting titles. There was less quality in terms of batters’ ability to hit safely and reach base. From 1946 to 1959, 22 percent of the players with 3.1 plate appearances per game, had on-base percentages lower than .300: lots of easy outs there.

Although the dead-ball ‘40s and ‘50s made it harder to set records for hitters, the scarcity of quality rivals meant batters could dominate the competition more easily. During the 14 years from 1946 to 1959, there were seven active players with three or more batting titles in their career. In the 22 seasons from 1960 to 1981, that total was five. Since 1982 there have been four.

The Hall of Fame voters appear to have often rewarded players for their level of dominance. In his career, Hiromitsu Ochiai 15 times led his league in a triple-crown category and that was in a career that ran from 1979 to 1998, when the competition was much stiffer than it was for Hall of Famers such as Shigeo Nagashima or Isao Horimoto.

Love him or hate him, Kazuhiro Kiyohara was one of the great players of his generation. But his failure to lead his league in a single triple-crown category was frequently commented on during his career and may be holding him out of the Hall. It’s likely a combination of that and his not getting along well with the press. Although Enomoto wasn’t as big a power hitter as Kiyohara, their careers are extremely similar, and Kiyohara is the second most valuable player who is eligible for Hall of Fame selection who is not in.

Enomoto won two batting titles and won nine Best IX awards to Kiyohara’s three, win shares judges Kiyohara to have been his league’s best player twice, and he did win five Golden Gloves, although win shares wouldn’t give him any. They each led their league in runs once, walks four times, on-base percentage twice and slugging average once. Kiyohara led his league in doubles once and Enomoto twice.

Some other stuff about Enomoto, courtesy of wikipedia :

He was intentionally walked as an 18-year-old rookie on Opening Day after going 0-for-3, and whoever ordered it knew what he was doing, since Enomoto set records for first-year hitters straight out of high school in runs, hits, doubles, walks and on-base percentage. He also tied the record for triples.

On July 21, 1968, in the first game of a doubleheader at Tokyo Stadium, Enomoto doubled off Kintetsu Buffaloes Hall of Famer Keishi Suzuki, becoming the third player in NPB history to reach 2,000 hits — and the youngest at 31 years, 7 months of age. In the second game, Enomoto put a hard tag at first base on Kintetsu’s Toshinori Yasui, who was attempting to bunt his way on. The two exchanged words and then blows. Both benches emptied and Enomoto was taken unconscious from the field after reserve Buffaloes outfielder Shunzo Arakawa hit him in the head with a bat. The local police sent papers to prosecutors for a charge of assault but the matter was settled between the teams front offices and no assault charges were leveled.

Those were the days.

When Enomoto retired after playing briefly for the Nishitetsu Lions in 1972, he walked away from the game completely. One of the first members of the Meikyukai, the charitable organizations for players born in the Showa Era with either 2,000 hits or 200 wins, he never attended a single meeting and eventually quit. Enomoto told Sport Nippon in December 1971  he’d like to be a batting coach, but nobody offered, saying “I’m  not sociable. People who don’t chat or socialize don’t get offered jobs.”

Enomoto died of colon cancer in 2012 at the age of 75.

 

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

 

Kenta Maeda from Day 1

C.J. Nitkowski pointed out here that things will change when Maeda has to adapt to a different ball and a shorter rotation in MLB. How well is he going to do?

A long-time MLB scout who has watched Kenta Maeda since he turned pro, talked recently about the new Dodger’s tools.

He’s not that power arm guy that’s going to get swings and misses all the time. (His game is locating) to the bat rather than away from the bat, where as (Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei) Otani is away from the bat. Otani is about 10-12 strikeouts a game, whereas Kenta Maeda is about six-to-eight, and get a lot of ground balls.

He’s knows himself as a pitcher and I’ve seen him pitch without his best stuff on a given day and he still gives you the opportunity to win. To me, that’s a pitcher, rather than just a thrower, you know, throw harder and harder. Maeda can figure a way to get off the bat head and get outs.

Masahiro Tanaka had to learn about the tendencies of hitterrs (in the majors) and that’s something Maeda’s going to have to learn.

The adjustments to the rotation and other things are up to Maeda. He has to find his niche. If anybody can make the adjustments he can.

That’s from an outsider.

Before Marty Brown moved on to manage Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma with the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles in 2010, he told me about his first impression of Maeda, who became the understudy of  Hiroki Kuroda with the Hiroshima Carp and eventually that team’s ace.

“The first thing you noticed was his arm strength,” Brown said in a 2009 interview. “He could stand on one side of the field and throw it to the other side effortlessly. He had an extreme looseness to his ability to his ability to get out in front and release the ball and really throw it a long way. He was way more advanced than a lot of kids his age. He was only 17. You could tell that he caught on things really quickly. He could be doing a mound or a bullpen and he had a real good feel for figuring things out. His aptitude was in some ways was a lot more advanced.

“(When he turned pro) he had a big rolling curveball. He had a slider. Really good fastball command. we gave him a changeup and within about three pitches he could do about whatever he wanted with it.”

Hiroki Kuroda and a number of foreign pitchers here in Japan have also commented on how being a starter in Japan is much easier. Not only is the rotation longer, but NPB rules allow for a 28-man active roster, with 25 on the bench for each game. That means that for every game, three starting pitchers who are between starts are through at the end of pregame practice, they can go home. They don’t have to wait until the end of a 16-inning game to get rested up for their start the next day, since Japanese games end after 12 innings.