Kazuo Matsui

2024 Japanese Hall of Fame time

The deadline for submission is approaching and it’s time to open discussion about the candidates. In general, the whole “who’s in and who’s out” of the Hall of Fame sucks, both here and at America’s National Baseball Hall of Fame in New York, because it’s a binary thing.

It’s good that we have museums devoted to baseball, but using it to elevate flawed human beings to an exalted status as a celebration of triumphs that in a sense white-washes their failings. On top of that, Japan’s vote is largely a popularity contest where candidates are ignored if they did not get along well with the media.

Thus, we have a number of players, such as former Tigers shortstop Taira Fujita, who was one of the best ever who is not in and who will never get in, while qualified players such as sluggers Kazuhiro Wada and Norihiro Nakamura quickly dropped off the ballot because voters preferred to write the names of bunting heroes Masahiro Kawaii and Shinya Miyamoto on the ballot instead.

That out of the way, let’s start with my evaluations for this year’s Players Division Ballot:

First, let’s go over the pitchers, look at their careers, and how they stack up against current Hall of Famers.

This year’s ballot has three holdovers from 2023, Hiroki Kuroda, Masumi Kuwata, Shinji Sasaoka, and four newcomers: Career saves leader Hitoki Iwase and his Chunichi Dragons setup man Takuya Asao, Hawks and Giants lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi and Giants reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi.

There are currently 33 pitchers in the Hall. Let’s break those down by the 30 who were primarily starters and the three who were primarily relievers. Let’s look at how each stacks up against the pitchers already in, their total career value, expressed in Bill James’ Win Shares, with one win share meaning he’s been credited with one third of a team win, and finally, how their career win shares compares with the group of current Hall of Fame starting pitchers and this years candidates.

Hall of fame candidates: Starting pitchers

Career WSHOF Rank
Hiroki Kuroda21517
Masumi Kuwata18126
Shinji Sasaoka16328
Toshiya Sugiuchi15229

None of these four would be terrible selections by historic standards, but Kuroda is an obvious pick. Kuwata, however, led his league in complete games a Japan-record eight times. Kuroda doesn’t fare well in terms of wins because with the exception of his time with the New York Yankees and his last two seasons with Hiroshima, he toiled his entire career for teams that did not score.

Now let’s do relievers but with the three existing Hall of Famers included since it’s a small group.

The first reliever inducted into the Hall, Tsunemi Tsuda got in largely because he died from cancer just prior to his 33rd birthday, there were a number of tear-jerking programs about him on TV and specialist relievers were a new phenomenon in Japan and there were only a few pitchers to compare him with. As a result, he is perhaps the least-qualified player in the Hall.

Hall of Fame Relievers and current candidates

RelieverCareer WSHOF Rank
Hitoki Iwase1521
Kazuhiro Sasaki1502
Shingo Takatsu1133
Tetsuya Yamaguchi804
Tsunemi Tsuda765
Takuya Asao586
Players in bold have already been inducted. Others are on ballot

Obviously, Iwase, who has led his league in saves a record five times, is in a class by himself, and now that two lesser contemporaries, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shingo Takatsu are in, it will be an easy trot for the lefty.

I’m saving five votes for position players and I could easily make it six or 10.

Position players

Below are this year’s candidates with their career win shares, the average win-share value of the best five-year stretch of their careers, the average win share value of the three best seasons of their career, and last year’s vote percentages.

2024 Hall Position Player Candidates

Career WS5-year peakBest 3 years2023 pct
Kazuo Matsui37830.633.1new
Nobuhiko Matsunaka29131.036.321.1
Michihiro Ogasawara31430.531.710.7
Tuffy Rhodes29825.833.820.0
Tadahito Iguchi32125.129.516.0
Atsunori Inaba27927.331.017.7
Kenji Jojima27028.030.79.3
Hiroki Kokubo29625.528.69.0
Takuro Ishii28124.126.813.8
Kenjiro Nomura22724.128.522.5
Yoshinobu Takahashi24720.226.24.5
Takahiro Arai24620.222.5new
Tomonori Maeda24317.925.510.1
Motonobu Tanishige28817.421.371.3
Takeshi Yamasaki21918.924.78.5
Norihiro Akahoshi13320.224.56.2
Masahiro Araki17815.218.4new
Masahiro Kawai13715.719.361.1
Shinya Miyamoto18813.716.054.1
So Taguchi15315.017.43.9
2024 Hall Position Player Candidates by: Career win shares, average of 5-year peak, average of 3 best seasons, 2023 p

It’s pretty clear that three guys are way ahead of the rest, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Kazuo Matsui and Michihiro Ogasawara.  After that it gets a little fuzzier. Tadahito Iguchi surpasses Tuffy Rhodes in career value, but not in peak value, and Atsunori Inaba is a just a little back of them as are Kenji Jojima and Hiroki Kokubo.

So here’s my ballot:

  • Kazuo Matsui
  • Michihiro Ogasawara
  • Nobuhiko Matsunaka
  • Tuffy Rhodes
  • Tadahito Iguchi
  • Hiroki Kuroda
  • Hitoki Iwase
My 2024 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, with the name of my day job omitted

Of those seven, I’m guessing that only Kuroda, Matsui and Iwase will be inducted in their 15 years of eligibility on the Players Division ballot. Tuffy has five more to go, and then it will be up to the Experts Division, where media members of over 20 years and living Hall of Famers vote.

I wish all the candidates the best of luck.

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