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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.