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.