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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.