Video review system under review

NPB’s executive committee on Monday mooted a change to the video review system introduced this past year according to a story in Sport Nippon. Unlike in MLB, where the decision is made by umpires at another location. Japan’s “request system” sees the umpires all trot off the field to look at a monitor under the stands.

A participant in Monday’s meeting reported HERE that a move is being considered to exclude the umpire who made a call under review from taking part in the decision to uphold or reject that on-field call.

Osamu Ino, a former umpire who chairs NPB’s umpiring technology committee, told last month that the system was by and large a success but had been hampered in its execution by the poor quality of some of the monitors umpires used to review the calls.

The low point came when a foul ball call was overturned and a tie-breaking, 10th-inning home run given to the Hawks’ Akira Nakamura that led to a SoftBank victory over Orix. After the game, the umpires realized the poor quality of the video had led them to believe the ball was fair when they first reviewed it.

Looking back on NPB 9 years later

In Las Vegas for the winter meetings on Sunday, I caught up with Paul Pupo, who spent six years as the head of analytics for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan’s Pacific League under manager Bobby Valentine. Pupo, who lives in Las Vegas, talked about what the journey meant for his family.

“I always harken back to the fact that I was able to bring my wife back to her ancestral home in Yokohama,” Pupo said. “Because my wife was born in Nagoya and spent her childhood in Yokohama. My brother married her sister, and we all got together in Japan and it gathered our family together.”

“The second thing was to be able to share a world championship, what we called a world championship with Bobby, my best friend in Japan in 2005. The exhilaration of winning with Bobby — I’ve known him since 1968 — and to be able to share that with him was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

“I’ll never forget the feeling of winning a championship, which is really a short-lived experience for one day. You run around the infield and outfield. You’re a champion for one day, and then you have to defend it.”

Pupo, whose love of the game hasn’t diminished since he was a player at Gonzaga University, said that despite watching five or six MLB games a day, he still has time to follow NPB.

“I follow it all the time,” he said. “I still enjoy it. I feel a connection to it. I watched it the other day when I heard about the new left-handed pitcher coming over (Yusei Kikuchi). I watched him and the noise of the ballpark came back to me. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ I forgot that it was that loud.”

Pupo talked about the players, he remembered, and one seemed to stand out more than anyone, former Seibu Lions and Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kazuhiro Wada.

“I used to watch that guy swing, I loved his swing. It was unreal what he could do,” Pupo said.

Japan’s Hall of Fame middle infielders

This is the fourth part of a series about this year’s Hall of Fame candidates.

Shortstop Kenjiro Nomura finished seventh in the voting a year ago, and is now fourth among players still on this winter’s ballot.

Including Nomura, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami (2B) and Masahiro Kawai, this year’s players’ ballot has five middle infielders on it. The other two are shortstops Takuro Ishii and Shinya Miyamoto.

Let’s look at who the hall has inducted and passed over.

The best middle infielder by career total of Bill James’ Win Shares is shortstop Yasumitsu Toyoda (352) is in. Shortstop Taira Fujita (322), with longer productive career but slightly less peak value, is out.

Toyoda’s predecessor as Hanshin Tigers shortstop, Yoshio Yoshida (312), is third, and he’s in. He also managed the Tigers to their only Japan Series championship in 1985, and his nine Best Nine awards are the most among any NPB middle infielder.

Tatsunami (302) is a 1990s version of Fujita, although he was never a viable MVP candidate — Win Shares ranks his best season NPB’s 61st best by a second baseman. He is followed by shortstop Hiroyuki Yamazaki (287), who was a good match for Tatsunami, a reliable solid player whose career failed to last quite as long.

Shortstop Takuro Ishii (281) is also a very similar player to Tatsunami with nearly as many career hits, a little less power, more speed. In his ballot debut last year, Ishii was selected by 19.3 percent of the voters.

Second baseman Morimichi Takagi, seventh with 271 career win shares, is in the hall, and his career is very similar to Tatsunami, Yamazaki and Ishii a really good player who never had an MVP-caliber season.

By the time we get past Takagi, the only middle infielders in the hall are guys who were good players but were elected as managers who won multiple pennants: Tatsuro Hirooka, Akira Ogi and Takeshi Koba.

View data on Japan’s top middle infielders whose career ended after 1959 with at least 1,000 career hits, sorted by career win shares. The headings are mostly self explanatory, with “leading” indicating how many times the player led his league in an offensive category. Golden gloves have been awarded since 1972. The year under “HOF” is the year that player was inducted.

Nomura is a wonderful guy and helped build the Hiroshima Carp into pennant contenders as a manager, but it’s
This brings us to Nomura, who hit for average, had power, stole bases. His two MVP-caliber seasons shaped our image of him as a super star, but he was inconsistent.

Miyamoto played 19 seasons despite debuting at the age of 24. He won 10 Golden Gloves, the most of any middle infielder, but wasn’t a really good offensive player.
hard to see either him or Miyamoto as Hall of Famers regardless of whether or not you decide middle infielders have been unfairly represented. This goes for Masahiro Kawai, too.

The big injustice is obviously Fujita, who didn’t help his cause from his time as Hanshin manager. Then, he was most famous for getting into a feud with Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s mother.

I’m inclined to call Takagi the lower limit, find a way to get Fujita, Tatsunami and perhaps Yamazaki in, and draw the line there.

It’s no snub to be considered good enough to be on the ballot. So many players never get that far.

Wang set to join Fighters on 3-year deal

The Nippon Ham Fighters have reached an agreement on a three-year deal with 25-year-old Taiwan outfielder Wang Po-jung on Friday according to the Nikkan Sports.

You can see the original Japanese version HERE.

The contract for Wang, who has batted over .400 twice in his brief career, is worth a reported 400 million yen ($887,000) with additional incentives. His salary next year will be 90 million yen.

“They showed me respect, and are giving me a chance to perform on a new stage, and I am grateful,” Wang said in a statement released by the Fighters.

The Lamigo Monkeys’ star won CPBL’s triple crown in 2017, and has led the league in on-base percentage the past three seasons.

“I’m honored to be the first player from Taiwan pro baseball to join NPB through the overseas transfer system, although some pressure comes with that.”

“Going forward, I will pull my weight and not forget the desire I’m coming in with.”

Speaking at the Fighters’ minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, Nippon Ham General Manager Hiroshi Yoshimura said that Wang’s age was a factor in the acquisition according to the Nikkan Sports.

“His age is the key to his coming to grips with Japanese baseball,” Yoshimura said. “Because he’s young, we expect him to get even better. We’d like him to be playing in our new ballpark (due to open in 2023).”

A brief look at Hanshin’s free-agent past

For the past eight seasons, right-hander Yuki Nishi had been plugging away in the Orix Buffaloes’ rotation, pitching a minimum of 117 innings a season while only posting an ERA over four once.

This week he joined the Hanshin Tigers after filing for domestic free agency, and the Nikkan Sports published a nice little summary of the Tigers’ free agent history.

Here are some takeaways:

Since the current free agent system was imposed by the Yomiuri Giants on NPBs 11 other teams in 1993, Hanshin has signed 12 players who filed for free agency to leave other clubs. Six of those came directly from local rival Orix.

The 12 incoming free agent total is third highest in NPB. Here’s the list by current franchise name:

  • Yomiuri 26
  • SoftBank 13
  • Hanshin 12
  • DeNA 9
  • Chunichi 7
  • Orix 6
  • Yakult, Rakuten 4 each
  • Seibu, Lotte 3 each
  • Nippon Ham 2
  • Hiroshima 0

On the flip side, here is the rankings of franchise by the number of players leaving as free agents:

  • Seibu 18
  • Orix 12 (including Nishi)
  • SoftBank 11
  • Hanshin 10
  • Hiroshima, Chunichi, DeNA 9 each
  • Yakult, Yomiuri 8 each
  • Lotte 7
  • Rakuten 3

And finally, the players the Tigers have acquired through the free agent system:

  • 1993 Kazuhiko Ishimine OF Orix
  • 1994 Yukihiko Yamaoki P Orix
  • 1999 Nobuyuki Hoshino P Orix
  • 2001 Atsushi Kataoka IF Nippon Ham
  • 2002 Tomoaki Kanemoto OF Hiroshima
  • 2007 Takahiro Arai IF Hiroshima (OF Masato Akamatsu)
  • 2010 Akihito Fujii C Rakuten
  • 2010 Hiroyuki Kobayashi P Lotte (IF Takuya Takahama)
  • 2012 Takeshi Hidaka C Orix
  • 2015 Akifumi Takahashi P Chunichi
  • 2016 Yoshio Itoi OF Orix (P Kazuyuki Kaneda)
  • 2018 Yuki Nishi P Orix

(Players in brackets left Hanshin as free agent compensation)

Shohei’s way to the simple life

Shohei Ohtani recently spoke with my colleague Yuichi Matsushita, Kyodo News’ Los Angeles Angels’ beat writer. During the interview, Ohtani spoke of getting out and seeing the sights this past spring in Arizona and how he keeps things as simple as possible.

Perhaps the big surprise is that he is interested in getting a drivers’ license as he currently depends on his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, to drive him.

Read the full story HERE.

For the English translation of Ohtani’s Nov. 22 press conference at Japan’s National Press Club, see the following links:

Hall of Fame: Middle infielder dilemma

Other than infielder Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, every player remaining on the ballot from the 2017 election picked up fewer votes in 2018, when Hideki Matsui and Tomoaki Kanemoto were both voted in on the first ballot.

After Tatsunami, who was named on 65.8 percent of last year’s ballots, and reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was named on 45.9 percent, Yomiuri Giants shortstop Masahiro Kawai’s 35.9 percent is the third highest of players remaining on the ballot from 2018’s election.

Kawai was celebrated for his baseball smarts, leadership, team play and defense at shortstop. He was the master of the sacrifice bunt, getting down an NPB-record 533, and thus spent most of his career batting second.

He would have been better suited to batting leadoff since he generally had better OBPs than the leadoff guys the Giants often employed ahead of him.

Kawai was a six-time Golden Glove-winner, but it is hard to see how he compares favorably with Tatsunami. His rival with the Dragons is an intriguing pick in a Hall of Fame that has favored big-hitting corner infielders and outfielders, but while Kawai was a decent offensive player, he was not on the same level with Tatsunami, and it’s hard to see where he fits.

For the books, there are 38 position players in the Hall of Fame were voted in primarily on their merit as players. This list does not include Tatsunori Hara. The Giants skipper missed being elected as a player by the tiniest of margins (73.2 percent in his final year of eligibility) but needed just two ballots in the expert division — where voters could consider his seven pennants as manager.

Of those 38, the breakdown is:
Catcher: 3
First Base: 7
Second Base: 2
Third Base: 4
Shortstop: 3
Outfield: 19

Primarily, selection to the Hall of Fame has been a comparison of batting numbers with some tiny recognition for fielding. The question then, is will this trend continue, or will voters find space in the hall for above-average run producers with extreme defensive value?

But even if it is the latter, it’s hard to see how Kawai finds a spot.

Next time, a look at the other middle infielders on the new ballot.

Another reliever for Japan’s hall?

Side-armer Shingo Takatsu has a chance to make the jump into Japan’s Hall of Fame.

This is the second part in a series about players on the ballot for the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame’s next induction class in January 2019.

A year ago, the No. 2 candidate who failed to make the grade this past year was reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was named on 45.9 percent of the ballots in just his third year of eligibility.

So far, only two relievers have made it to the Hall oF Fame, Kazuhiro Sasaki, who finished with 381 saves between NPB and the big leagues, and Tsunemi Tsuda — who had 90.

Tsuda is Japan’s Thurman Munson equivalent. He was an inspirational player with the Hiroshima Carp who died young. The right-hander was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 30, and died less than three years later in 1993. Unlike Munson, Tsuda’s election took a long time, and he wasn’t enshrined until 2012.

Tsuda’s was one of the better relief pitchers of his time, but he’s an outlier. Since voters have failed to elect any other relievers with records remotely similar to Tsuda, it appears his untimely death was a big factor.

That doesn’t help us out with Takatsu, however. The affable side-armer wasn’t as dominant as Sasaki, but he was a quality reliever for a long time — and the two were durable — something few relievers had been before them.

Takatsu is going to be an interesting test to see where the voters want to draw the lines on relievers, because he Sasaki and recently retired Hitoki Iwase are going to the be the front end of a wave as teams refine their bullpen tactics and extend closers longevity.

Ramirez, Miyamoto, Ishii added to Hall ballot

The ballot for next year’s Japan’s baseball Hall of Fame inductions were announced Wednesday. With pitcher Yoshinori Sato dropping off the players’ division ballot after his eligibility ran out, and six new players added, the voters, members of Japan’s baseball media for over 15 years, will have 18 players to select from.

The six new candidates are left-handed pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii, shortstop Shinya Miyamoto, and outfielders Tomonori Maeda, Shinjiro Hiyama, Takeshi Yamasaki and Alex Ramirez.

Ramirez joins Tuffy Rhodes, putting two foreigners on the players’ division ballot. He’s also one of four former Yakult Swallows on the ballot, along with Miyamoto, Ishii and reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was named on 45.9 percent of the ballots last year.

Infielder Kazuyoshi Tatsunami received the most votes a year ago (65.8 percent) among players who failed to reach the 75 percent needed for induction.

Three candidates were also added to the experts division ballot, longtime pitching coach Takao Obana, former Hanshin Tigers slugger Masayuki Kakefu and former Rakuten Eagles manager Masataka Nashida, who won Pacific League pennants with both the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Nippon Ham Fighters.

Former Sawamura Award winner Hiroshi Gondo, a longtime pitching coach who had a brief but very successful run as manager with the DeNA BayStars’ franchise, received 65.6 percent of last year’s vote, with former Hanshin Tigers slugger Randy Bass second behind him with 46.7 percent.

The only foreign-registered player currently in the Hall of Fame is outfielder and manager Wally Yonamine.

The new ballot looks like this with the percent of total votes they received in last year’s vote:

Players’ Division
Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 65.8
Shingo Takatsu 45.9
Yoshinori Sato 38.0
Masahiro Kawai 35.9
Kenjiro Nomura 28.5
Tuffy Rhodes 22.8
Hiroki Kokubo 21.7
Masumi Kuwata 21.2
Takuro Ishii 19.3
Kenji Jojima 14.1
Shinji Sasaoka 9.5
So Taguchi 7.9
Norihiro Akahoshi 5.4
Kazuhisa Ishii new
Tomonori Maeda new
Takeshi Yamasaki new
Shinjiro Hiyama new
Alex Ramirez new

Experts Division
Hiroshi Gondo 65.6
Randy Bass 46.7
Koichi Tabuchi 41.0
Isao Shibata 24.6
Keishi Osawa 23.8
Mitsuhiro Adachi 23.0
Hideji Kato 23.0
Masayuki Dobashi 22.1
Tokuji Nagaike 19.7
Hiromu Matsuoka 13.1
Akinobu Okada 9.8
Kiyoshi Nakahata 9.0
Hiromasa Arai 8.2
Takao Obana new
Masayuki Kakefu new
Masataka Nashida new

Taira Uematsu and the power of dreams

Taira Uematsu, shown in Japan working for the Netherlands’ national team in 2016, has come along way thanks to his love of baseball and English.

This is a story I did from a 2017 interview with San Francisco Giants bullpen catcher Taira Uematsu. Inside is a real lesson about the power of education to inspire and to facilitate the dreams that open doors. I hope you enjoy it.

When Taira Uematsu returns home after the big league season, the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen catcher spends a lot of time teaching baseball, and the most important lesson may be, “Have fun.” Uematsu rediscovered that fun for the game in the U.S. after three years of repetitive and abusive high school practice in Japan beat his passion out of him. Read the full story HERE.