Ditching the DH for Shohei Ohtani

By Jim Allen

  wrote on Twitter about using Shohei Ohtani to bat when he pitches in American League games in response to my comment that Ohtani was quite successful in those games with Nippon Ham in 2016.

I’ve written in the past that as a pitcher, Ohtani’s OPS is virtually identical to his OPS when he was in the lineup but did not pitch, and that his pitching was quite a bit better in those games.

The table below breaks down his 82 regular season starts into games in which he batted — either in interleague or when Nippon Ham opted to ditch the DH in five games from May 29 to Sept. 21 and again in his final start in NPB on Oct. 4, when he batted cleanup and pitched.

But from a team perspective, how did the Fighters do with Ohtani as a pitcher only, as a hitter only, in a dual role and without him playing at all.

The quick answer is:

The big surprise is that in his five seasons since turning pro in 2013, the Nippon Ham Fighters overall were better without Shohei Ohtani. That is largely because he was not very good as an 18-year-old rookie.

Both his pitching and batting took a big stride forward when he was 19 in 2014, and his batting took another huge step forward in 2016. In 2017, he was hurt a lot (ankle, thigh, elbow) and was often not that good.

But wait a second. Ohtani appeared as a fairly useless pinch hitter in 57 games, and in those the Fighters went 19-36-2, and it’s hard to blame him for that. If we put those pinch hit games in with the others we get the following table.

Shohei Ohtani’s inside story

I guess we all remember the scouting report, heck I wrote one that was published in Japanese by Slugger Magazine. Prior to his MLB debut, a majority of scouts believed that Shohei Ohtani would be vulnerable to inside pitches because of his long swing.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that for the first few weeks, the majority of pitches (51.2 percent) to Ohtani were either inside over the plate or inside off the plate with the data thanks to Brooks Baseball.

Announcers and analysts noted his early tendency to back away from the plate — even on outside pitches — at the start of the season. But it seems after he hit too many balls hard on pitches in on his hands, pitchers have changed their tactics and are now trying more and more to get him out away.

All pitches to Shohei Ohtani from March 30 to April 13, catcher’s view

During that time, Ohtani had the following batting averages per pitch in each zone:

Batting average on pitches from March 30 to April 14, catcher’s view

Since then, pitchers have been vastly more careful about throwing pitches inside to Ohtani, who likes to extend his arms and drive balls to center.

Catcher’s view of total pitches to Shohei Ohtani since April 14, 2018

Here are the results since then.

Batting average on pitches since April 14, catcher’s view

Japanese pitcher admits poor spring training “just hoax”

April 1, Oakland, California — In what has to be the most elaborate April Fools Day prank in major league history, a Japanese baseball player admitted Sunday, April 1, he spent all of his first major league spring training tanking in order to dampen expectations.

“I was getting tired of people calling me ‘Babe Ruth,’” the pitcher who wishes to remain anonymous, said in English on Sunday after he won his first game in the majors despite many in the American media saying he didn’t belong.

“Of course, I pitched and hit well in Japan, and I did say I wanted to be the greatest player in the world, but that was before I got to America and realized all the trouble it would cause. So I figured if I dumbed it down, people would just shut up about me.”

“But then, when I said batting practice pitchers in Japan throw from the mound and the American reporters not only believed it but reported it as the truth without checking, I realized I had the start of a good April Fools Day prank. Of course they don’t throw from the mound. What kind of person would believe that?”

“I figured if I played my cards right, I could make them forget Syd Finch.”

He admitted trying to look like a high school hitter in games and doing goofy stuff like going to the bullpen between innings of a spring game and throwing the ball against the bullpen wall.

“I thought about holding the bat by the barrel when I went to the plate, but my interpreter talked me out of it. We couldn’t believe how much the U.S. media bought into it. I even had people say that nobody throws curveballs in Japan. Of course they throw curveballs. Almost every pitcher in Japan throws a curve. Just wait until I see one in a game that matters.”

Asked why he prolonged his prank until he made his Major League debut, the player said, he’d reached a secret agreement with his new club to have him make his pitching debut on April 1, when he decided to show his real ability for the first time.

“I’ve always wanted to play an April Fools joke,” he said. “The American media seemed so gullible that I couldn’t pass it up.”

He said the only people who were in on the joke were the coaching staff and the minor leaguers he pitched and batted against every afternoon in games not open to fans or media. I did have to get my work in and show my team I actually belonged in the majors, after all.

The player admitted not needing an interpreter because he’d been practicing English since he was a child, but that his buddy with his Japanese team had grown up in America and was tired of the snow in northern Japan.

“He’s really from LA, and even the winters in Japan are just too much for him. People talk about how much I live for baseball, but in fact, I like English even more. My dad did too, but said that when he was a kid, his classmates who liked English were picked on and bullied, so I never told anyone about my secret passion.”

How would you pitch to Shohei Ohtani?

I was asked this morning how I would pitch to Shohei Ohtani, and since I can’t pitch, the answer would be to roll the ball up there until he takes first base.

Kidding aside, I hadn’t really thought much about it until now. It’s hardly an educated analysis, but he does hammer fat fastballs that aren’t at his knees, and chases sliders, splitters and changes that drop out of the zone when he’s looking to hit the ball hard. He’ll swing and miss a lot on those and on good high fastballs.

With that in mind…

He tries to drive the ball so much that he’ll chase splitters, sliders away, and change ups and look bad doing it.
I’d start him with a fastball or cutter (RHP) high and inside, then try to go low and away with something that drops. Two-seamers should kill him the 1st 6 months. NPB’s low mounds and rough balls make it hard to throw a good two-seamer here, so it’s a rarity.

You can mix in a slider on the hands to keep him off those pitches away. But don’t hang it. Same with fastballs that aren’t low in the zone. He’ll crush anything without bite or movement and drive it to center if its middle away.

He’s used to seeing the best curves in the world, so unless it’s coming off a fastball with two strikes it needs to be really good. To get ahead in the count, you have to throw strikes or be on the edge of the zone to start with because he has good discipline. However, because the NPB zone is truer horizontally — not shifted away from the hitter — than MLB’s used to be, so until he makes that adjustment, pitches outside that are balls in NPB but MLB strikes will be another challenge.

Japan’s double-edged weapon, Part 2

By Jim Allen

In the last post, I mentioned how visiting NPB teams were winning more often when they bunted in the first inning with no outs and a runner on first base. Someone suggested that perhaps scoring the first run when on the road was bigger than it is at home, but prior to 2011 — when teams were able to choose very lively balls, it was the home team that benefited by bunting in the bottom of the first in scoreless games.

Starting with play-by-play data from 2003 to 2016, I noted what the first batter did in the first inning what the following hitter did, how many runs were scored, each starting pitcher’s runs allowed per nine innings that season and whether the team won or lost.

From 2003 to 2010, visiting NPB teams posted a .458 win percentage in games when they attempted a bunt in the first inning after the leadoff man reached first base via a walk, a hit batsman, a single, an error, a fielder’s choice or an uncaught swinging third strike. When faced with those situations and the No. 2 hitter’s plate appearance did not end in an attempted bunt, the visitors posted a .504 winning percentage.

From 2011, visitors bunting in the first inning had .502 winning percentages, those not bunting in the top of the first with the No. 2 hitter had a .459 figure.

For home teams it was the reverse. Before 2011, they won more often when bunting. Since 2011, they are bunting more often and costing themselves wins.

Japan’s double-edged weapon

By Jim Allen

Few aspects of Japanese baseball are as reviled by outsiders as much as the routine first-inning sacrifice bunt by a low-average, slap-hitting, small middle infielder. Boring because it’s predictable, and because teams score fewer runs when sacrificing seemingly indefensible.

At times, Japan seems like the land that logic forgot, but the arguments against the first-inning sacrifice may be making some headway. In 2013, 49 percent of first-inning plate appearances by No. 2 hitters after the leadoff man reached first ended in an attempted bunt. Since then, they appear to be in decline. In 2016, that figure was down to 29 percent.

Some managers appear to be listening to the argument that scoring fewer runs is a bad thing.

We know sacrifice attempts decrease run scoring. It follows that teams costing themselves runs at the start of a game when it is not clear how many runs will be needed are shooting themselves in the foot. Following that rational, if one matches actual wins and losses with games in which these first-inning sacrifices occur, one should be able to measure the cost of bunts in terms of wins.

So by bunting less, Japanese teams are ostensibly getting smarter, but are they winning more games?

The answer, if you are a visiting team, is no.

Using play-by-play data since 2003, one can track what No. 2 hitters do after the leadoff man reaches first.

From 2003 until 2010, when juiced balls disappeared after the season, visitors scored 0.76 runs per inning after 736 sacrifice attempts. Those teams had a .456 winning percentage.

When not bunting, visitors in that era averaged 0.92 runs in 1,107 innings with a .504 winning percentage.

Since then however, the tables have turned. Visitors from 2011 to 2016 averaged 0.68 runs in the 669 first innings they sacrificed in. They posted a .502 winning percentage. In the 732 innings without a sacrifice attempt, visitors averaged 0.81 runs and posted a .459 winning percentage.

When I raised this possibility a couple of years ago, at least one reader suggested the possibility of quality leakage, because teams tend to sacrifice more with their better starting pitchers on the mound.

Since 2011, the visiting starters when their teams sacrificed after the leadoff man reached first allowed had an average season runs allowed per nine figure of 3.92. The opposing starters in those games averaged 4.00 runs per nine.

In games without sacrifices, the visiting starters averaged 4.00 R/9, the home starters 4.12. It’s a small difference. Indeed, visiting managers are slightly more inclined to sacrifice in the first inning when their best pitchers are on the mound, but those pitchers don’t appear to benefit from the bunt anymore than their less-heralded colleagues.

In the tables below, I have included the average of the season R/9s of the visiting teams and opposing starters. The column labeled “Expected” is the expected winning percentage if teams scored and allowed runs at the same rates as the starters of those games.

Here is the next table:

Japan’s most bunt-happy manager is Hideki Kuriyama of the Nippon Ham Fighters. This past season, he had 28 situations with a runner on first and no outs in the first inning at home. His guys attempted a bunt 10 times, and his team managed an impressive .600 winning percentage. In the other 18 games, however, the Fighters were .875. On the road, the Fighters followed the NPB norm, a .600 win percentage with the bunt, a .556 win percent without it.

Teams are bunting less in the first inning, but what they should be doing is bunting less at home, and more on the road — where it appears to make a difference.

Bunts are not always just free outs. Who would have thunk it?

Getting Japan to do the two-seam: It’s not just the ball

By Jim Allen

Ever since talking with Tsuyoshi Wada last summer, I’ve had this curiosity about two-seam fastballs in Japan. The former Chicago Cub said he’s kind of on a mission to popularize the pitch in Nippon Professional Baseball — because Japanese hitters need to see it so they can hit foreign pitchers who feature it.

Until very recently, I thought the principle reason for the lack of two-seamers in Japan was the ball. The ball in the majors seems to give extra movement to straight pitches — essentially making them less straight. But talking to people who’ve pitched here and in the States during the winter meetings, I was told that Japan’s mounds are the biggest obstacle to a good two-seamer*.

According to Matt Skrmetta and Takashi Saito, a good two-seamer requires a good downward plane to begin with and the combination of low, soft mounds and pitchers that are shorter in stature makes that difficult to reproduce.

” Japanese mounds tend to be flatter and softer,” Saito said.

“In Japan, because the mounds are flat, a two-seamer doesn’t sink, it flattens out and runs, kind of like a shuto**. In America, you have a greater height difference that gives you sink, like a forkball. Because of that, those pitches outside become really hard to hit. The pitches are hard and can eat you up. Those are really nasty.”

Saito said he was stunned the first time he saw big leaguers bringing their good two-seamers in the bullpen.

“They were more spectacular than forkballs.”

Those comments brought to mind Japanese mounds. I haven’t heard reports on all the mounds — upcoming project alert — but those at Sapporo Dome and Tokyo Dome have received good reports from foreign pitchers. No one has anything nice to say about the hill at Koshien Stadium, but the one that really interested me was Seibu Lions’. MetLife Dome — the ballpark formally known as Prince– used to have a famously soft, sandy mound.

That came to my attention watching Luis Mendoza, then with the Fighters, vigorously landscaping the slope with his cleats between pitches. I asked former Lion Dennis Sarfate about that and he said that Seibu kept it soft out of deference for submariner Kazuhisa Makita despite it not suiting the Lions’ ace at the time, Takayuki Kishi.

After Sarfate mentioned that during the 2015 Japan Series, I checked and found that Kishi pitched relatively poorly at home. Kishi left the Lions as a free agent after the 2016 season to pitch with his hometown Rakuten Eagles — after the Lions told him in negotiations they had given the right-hander their final offer and he could take it or leave it. Way to go guys.

Anyway, what’s interesting now is that according to Delta Graphs the Lions suddenly shifted from having NPB’s second-lowest percentage of two-seamers thrown in 2016 to the highest in 2017, largely thanks to Brian Wolfe.

The reason this who topic came up in the first place was the hyperbola in Japan the past year about the “moving fastballs” major leaguers were throwing in the World Baseball Classic. The only major leaguer on the Japan roster, Norichika Aoki, was brought in partly to educate his fellow hitters about this secret weapon.


But if Japanese teams decide to standardize their mounds, as they’ve standardized the ball in a process that involved kicking, screaming and a coup d’etat, then it will add one more dimension to Japan’s game. Hey I love the game here and I loved the idiosyncracies of having five different kinds of balls, but it didn’t really make the game any more interesting.

*-I stay away from using “sinker” in Japan, since that implies a different pitch, essentially a changeup thrown by a right-hander with sink and arm-side fade.

**-The “shuto” is a fastball thrown slightly off center and cut to get more arm-side run. Essentially a reverse cutter.

Senichi Hoshino walks off into the sunset and a bit about another favorite manager

By Jim Allen

A week ago, Senichi Hoshino became Japan’s second Hall of Fame manager to die in the past six months, following the death of Toshiharu Ueda last July. Both were famous for hating to lose, but I became acquainted with both men late in their lives, when their inner furies were calmer and their big hearts easier to see.

As players they were extreme opposites. Hoshino was a marquee college star and Central League pitching ace. Ueda was a catcher whose college batterymate, Minoru Murayama, became a legendary CL pitcher, while he had the briefest of careers before being steered toward coaching.

As managers, Ueda and Hoshino became famous for their tempers.

I met Ueda first, when he was at the end of his run as manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters. I was writing my annual sabermetric guides to Japanese baseball then and was able to wrangle visitors passes thanks to the intervention of one of my first readers, Hiroshi Yoshimura, who is currently the general manager of the Fighters.

I was at Tokyo Dome to interview pitcher Kip Gross, and not knowing anything about anything, we chatted in the home team dining room, which is off limits to the media. While we were there, Ueda noticed I wasn’t eating and said, “Help yourself to something to eat! It’s free!”

Years later, when I began working for the Daily Yomiuri, I would often run into Ueda at the ballpark, doing what former and or aspiring managers do, working as a media analyst. He sort of reminded me of a Japanese Santa Clause. Without fail, he’d walk up to me and offer me a piece of candy (“nodo ame” in Japanese). He seemed genuinely interested that a foreigner would care about Japanese baseball.

My first encounter with Hoshino was a little different. He was still managing the Chunichi Dragons, and I was writing the Japan Times season previews. That year I’d written that a pair of 34-year-olds coming off big seasons, the late Yasuaki Taiho and (current San Francisco Giants batting coach) Alonzo Powell  would likely see their combined production decrease the following season. Like a lot of ballplayers, Powell was not happy about that kind of “negative” stuff being printed about him in English where his friends and family could see it.

Powell asked to see me, and I interviewed him one afternoon before a day game at Jingu Stadium. He’s a wonderful guy and he said he understood that I had a right to my opinion but was just disappointed by it. While we were talking Hoshino was sitting a ways down the bench holding court with the Dragons beat writers and giving me the evil eye as if I was distracting from his show.

I told that to Robert Whiting, the Japanese baseball story teller emeritus,  and he recounted his own first contact with Hoshino in the spring of 1975 after the right-hander won the Sawamura Award and the Dragons had won the ’74 pennant. Whiting was talking to manager Wally Yonamine when Hoshino came in and said, “kono yarou ha dare?” — essentially, “who is this peckerwood?” After being told that Whiting was there to interview him, Hoshino apparently puffed out his chest and warmed up to the situation.

That story, the published accounts of his beating his players and my much more limited Japanese kept me from approaching Hoshino when I was sent out to cover the last three games of the 1999 Japan Series. But four years later, when Hoshino’s Hanshin Tigers were in their first Japan Series since 1985, I felt confident enough to ask him a question or two.

I was following the Tigers as they were on the verge of clinching the pennant, and asked Hoshino about whether right-hander Trey Moore, banished to the farm team for much of the second half, was going to pitch. I don’t remember Hoshino’s answer, but his face lit up as if nobody had asked him such an interesting question all year.

That was prior to the first game of a series at Nagoya Dome against Hoshino’s old club. The day before the series finale, Hoshino walked up to me and whispered, “Your boy’s going tomorrow, haha!”

He smiled as if he were a boy being naughty and in a sense he was, since giving away starting pitcher information — which ostensibly could be used to help gamblers handicap games — was forbidden in NPB and players had been suspended in the past for passing that info on to gamblers.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the season, Hoshino feinted and was rushed to a hospital. He was told stress had caused him to collapse, and he quit managing at the end of the Japan Series.

He took a post as the Tigers’ senior director, and I’d occasionally run into him. But one night on the train with my wife, I noticed an ad with Hoshino’s mug on it and it occurred to me I hadn’t seen him in a long while — only to share an elevator with him the next afternoon at Tokyo Dome.

I told him that and he said out loud so that all the other occupants of the elevator could hear him, “That was an omen that was!” and he clapped me on the back.

After he took over the Rakuten Eagles in 2011, my wife baked him a loaf of bread for Opening Day — delayed for several weeks by the earthquake that had damaged his team’s home park and that of the Lotte Marines where the Eagles opened their season.

When he saw me at the park that day, he greeted me in what was to become our ritual: “What the heck are you doing here?”

To which I would answer: “I’m here to report on you.”

“That’s a lie!” he’d say, laugh and walk off before returning to chat. For a while though he’d answer, “Oh I thought maybe you brought me more bread.”

At that time, I had become acquainted with a couple of players from the Hiroshima Carp’s first pennant-winning team in 1975 and was thinking about a book on that. The Dragons, then the defending CL champs, lost a close race to the Carp and Hoshino would talk in dribs and drabs about that season and those days before game time, but when it came time to commit to a longer interview away from the field, he always kept his distance and the interview never happened.

About that same time, I began pushing Ueda for an interview, too, since he won his first Pacific League pennant as manager of the Hankyu Braves in 1975 and had defeated the Carp in their first Japan Series. Instead of an interview, Ueda invited my wife and I out to dinner with his grandson and gave us a lovely gift afterward. That was the last time we met.

Here’s a story I wrote for Kyodo News after Ueda died.

The last time I saw Hoshino was in January 2016 at his Hall of Fame induction. I congratulated him and asked if we couldn’t get an interview before too long, and he said, “Yes. Let’s do it,” but we never got beyond that. Because there were other people there that day whose stories I was less familiar with, and wanted to hear more from, I lost my last chance to spend time with “Sen-chan.”


For a lot of people, an old-school, bust-your-chops manager like Senichi Hoshino could be a put off. He was after all, famous for intimidating umpires and his own players, but he got results.

As a pitcher, he was respected for his combativeness, particularly against the Yomiuri Giants — due to his grudge against them for passing over him in the 1968 amateur draft. He was more of a great competitor than a great pitcher, but he was a tremendous manager.

My first sort-of encounter with Hoshino came while I was chatting with Alonzo Powell on the visitors bench at Jingu Stadium. Powell was then still with the Chunichi Dragons. While we were talking,  Hoshino was chatting a few feet away with reporters, and the skipper kept giving me suspicious looks.

Although I had a better chance to talk to him when I went to Nagoya to cover the Japan Series for the first time in 1999, I was frankly a little frightened by him and not very confident in my truly lousy Japanese. So it wasn’t until he was managing the Hanshin Tigers in 2003 and they were on the verge of their first Central League pennant in 18 years that I mustered the nerve to speak to the great ornery one.


NPB sells itself short Chapter 11: The new posting system and the future

By Jim Allen

What just happened?

By using Shohei Otani’s posting as leverage, the Major League Baseball Players Association has gotten Nippon Professional Baseball–to paraphrase one NPB team executive–to bend over and take it again.

The new posting agreement according to the Associated Press, changes future postings to a fixed scale at the following rates based on the value of the contract:

  • 20 percent of the 1st $25 million.
  • 17.5 percent of the next $25 million.
  • 15 percent of the remainder.

During negotiations, the “value of the contract” was construed by NPB as the maximum amount of signing bonus, salary and incentives on the table, however that definition may have changed during the negotiation–or it may have been a misconception given the limited abilities of NPB’s negotiators.

For players signing as under-25-year-old CBAmateurs such as Otani, the posting fee will be limited to 25 percent of the signing bonus.

In exchange for an enhanced posting fee schedule–it had been changed from a team-set amount up to $20 million to 15 percent of the total, NPB teams give up the right to reclaim a player who signs a contract that does not give them enough in return. There also appeared to be a proposal that would giveNPB teams an amount equal to some percent of a CBAmateur’s eventual major league deal, and that has not been reported as part of the new agreement.

What does it mean going forward?

Barry Bloom @Boomskie has suggested that the MLBPA wants NPB to adopt six-year free agency, which as much as that would be a good thing, is none of the MLBPA’s goddamn business.

As I’ve reported before, NPB’s useless commissioner, Katsuhiko Kumazaki, told an NPB executive committee meeting that he asked MLB commissioner Rob Manfred this past summer to increase the posting fee cap–to which Manfred was said to have answered, “We don’t want a posting system at all, because it’s not good for Japanese baseball.”

Kumazaki took this to mean that Manfred cares about Japanese baseball, and in the same way a cat cares about the bird that is almost within its grasp, Manfred does.

What MLB cares about is 1) treating overseas talent as badly as it treats domestic amateur talent, and 2) eliminating compensation to Japanese teams wishing to do with future young stars what the Nippon Ham Fighters did with Shohei Otani–make him MLB ready in 4 years.

Anyone who might have thought the Fighters were happy to move Otani in order to receive $20 million needs to rethink this. Otani is an extremely valuable player where he is and the Fighters would benefit much more by keeping him then selling him. But that was the promise they made when he signed with them instead of turning pro with a major league club at the age of 18 as he intended.

So if Japan’s next 18-year-old superstar can’t go to the States until he turns 25, will he stay in Japan or might he move to the majors as an amateur and sign for peanuts?

So far, the bulk of NPB’s talent transfer has been from pitchers. Why?

Because pitching in Japan is different but not THAT different. Japanese pitchers and hitters both have to make huge adjustments to the travel and conditioning demands when pulled from their five-game-a-week routine.

Both have to adjust to a more demanding competition and different kinds of approaches, but batters have to get used to velocity you don’t see daily in Japan and to movement experienced practitioners with the slicker MLB ball can give their straight pitches. This is a huge adjustment. People know that Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui found success here, but Suzuki is a fairly unique talent who went over at the age of 27, Matsui after he turned 28. Otani is interesting as a hitter BECAUSE he’s 23 and about as good a hitter as Matsui was at the same age.

So what if it does behoove Japanese batters to go abroad early when Japanese batting talent is so thin?

Well, one area where Japanese hitters have lagged far behind is strength training. As few as three NPB teams actually intervene in their young players’ strength training, believing it is unwise to sacrifice power for flexibility. Otani is an exception, and so is a growing wave of amateur sluggers like first baseman Kotaro Kiyomiya–who ironically will take Otani’s place on Nippon Ham’s roster next spring.

This year four hard-hitting high schoolers were taken in the first round,  while another five position players went in the second, both fairly large numbers for the top rounds in an NPB draft. As Japanese amateur ball catches up, and more youngsters see MLB as their future, we may see those in the States look for new ways to get them to bypass NPB.

That’s really not ideal for anyone. Because there are things a player can learn in NPB that he cannot learn in the U.S. minors or majors.

If you’re a high-caliber 18-year-old like Otani was, NPB gives you the ability to bat against some of the best pitchers in the world while not getting entirely overwhelmed and completely discouraged because NPB’s talent floor is lower than MLB’s. Pitchers have the same advantage. How many 18-year-old pros in Japan get to pitch against some of the best hitters in the world on a daily basis?

There’s also the different environment. Playing in Japan, hitters will see breaking balls you don’t see in the States, pitchers face extreme contact hitters you don’t see in the States. Fundamentals are hammered home.

Anybody going straight from Japan to the majors will be missing NPB’s baseball graduate program that has produced not only Japanese major leaguers, but has also redeveloped former big leaguers for MLB. It would be a mistake to think that those lessons are a waste.

What’s up with the posting system?

By Jim Allen

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the current state of the posting system negotiations and the system in general, and I’ll try to clarify those things I can.

1) The current hangup is not about Shohei Otani

Despite reports by @JonHeyman that players were concerned about the gap between Otani’s minimal compensation as an under-25 “CBAmateur” and the $20 million posting fee already agreed upon with Nippon Ham, any MLBPA member taking umbrage with that, deserves a kick in the ass.

When the union agreed with MLB to raise the age at which overseas professionals would be treated as amateurs from 23 to 25, it limited Otani’s earning power in 2018 to much less than the $20 million the Fighters could ask through this year. There was concern prior to Otani’s retaining an MLBPA-certified agent that he was not aware he was throwing away 100s of millions of dollars by going when he was 23.

But that is to be expected, since everyone in MLB and its related media elite KNEW Otani would not come this year, just as they knew water didn’t run uphill, because no one in MLB would do that. @Ken_Rosenthal said it, Jon Heyman said. You name him (with the exception of Barry Bloom @Boomskie) he probably said it. They knew. Except they didn’t.

It IS about Shohei Otani only because he’s the most intriguing player on the planet at this moment, and holding up his transfer gives the union something to draw attention to their objection — except they have been reluctant to say what those objections are in public.

2) The posting system proposed by MLB/MLBPA prevents Japanese teams from naming a price for their players.

This is Exhibit 1,405 of how much MLB hates free markets. The posting system used to be a kind of free market. The high bid in a closed auction that met or exceeded the posting fee asked by a player’s NPB team meant allowed one team a one month window to sign a player before his rights reverted to his Japanese team.

This was not very efficient. Two players, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Hisashi Iwakuma,  failed to reach contracts with the team that won their rights and returned to Japan. MLB teams didn’t like it because exorbitant posting fees didn’t fall under the luxury tax, which favored big-spending clubs. After $50 million fees to the Seibu Lions and Nippon Ham Fighters for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, MLB was in mind to have to shell out a likely $100 million for Masahiro Tanaka – so it wanted a $20-million cap.

So while 10 of NPB’s teams held Rakuten steady, MLB stabbed the Eagles in the back, and Masahiro Tanaka was, however, able to negotiate with up to 30 teams before signing with the Yankees for $155 million – which was a good thing.

The newly proposed system, however, changes compensation for teams willing to part with players under contract to 15 percent of the total contract offered to a posted player by an MLB team. This would mean Japanese teams must relinquish their limited right to ask for up to $20 million and instead accept whatever their 15 percent cut is.

3) When we slap you, you’ll take it and like it.

According to Ken Rosenthal, and confirmed by other sources, the union is opposed to NPB being able to rescind a posting should it’s 15 percent fee falls below a number it is willing to accept. Since MLB agreed to this but the MLBPA is opposed, one can guess that this proposal was offered to NPB at the union’s request and rejected, quite reasonably by NPB.

The 15 percent cut would represent a modest increase for A-listers – Tanaka’s $155 million would have pulled in $23.25 million for Rakuten. But the Hiroshima Carp would have received $15.93 million instead of $20 million for Kenta Maeda.

4) There is a mysterious 20 percent figure that seems to be an issue

I have heard repeated reference to a 20 percent posting fee to teams posting those under-25 CBAmateurs, but how it is calculated, what it is based on and when it would be paid has not been clearly explained to me. The MLBPA appears opposed to this to.

5) The CBA and the new posting system appear to have been planned as a package last year.

At last year’s winter meetings, MLB made it perfectly clear that there would be no exception to Shohei Otani’s CBAmateur status should he try and come to the majors in 2018 – and they KNEW he wouldn’t. Yet, Barry Bloom told me then that there was an exemption in place for Otani. That exemption turned out to be an agreement with Nippon Ham that whatever changes might be made to the posting system, that Otani’s fee would still be $20 million.

The same top MLB executive who helped negotiate the CBA and told me at the 2016 winter meetings  Otani’s name never once came up in discussions about it, also told me that there was no way Otani would move to the majors in 2018, because you know, nobody would do that.