Deck the Hall time

Christmas is coming and so is the deadline to submit ballots for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame players’ division.

There are 30 players on this year’s ballot and we get to pick seven. This year’s crop of new guys Kazuhiro Wada, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Michihiro Ogasawara, and Masahiro Yamamoto make the 2021 ballot a particularly packed one. In a normal year, three of those four would be candidates to go in on the first ballot. Wada might be one of those guys who has to wait a bit because his career got started so late.

I don’t have any straight-line calculation that says one guy is a Hall of Famer and another isn’t. I can just compare who’s in, who’s out and see if the various accomplishments of a candidate are common to those who get elected. This exercise is not about saying “This guy should be in the Hall of Fame” but rather “How well does this player fit with people who have been voted in before?”

To some degree, the quality of players who get in is somewhat determined by the quality of the players on the ballot. We’ve gone through some fairly slack ballots the past five years. It’s not that the guys who did get in weren’t worthy, but that they were at the lower end of the Hall of Fame spectrum. From this year, we’re going to get a surge of qualified players.

With each player, I’m going to give you three lists of 10 players who have been eligible for HOF voting as pitchers or position players and who are closest in three ratings: Career Win Shares, the average Win Share value of the player’s best five-year period, and the average Win Share value of his three most valuable seasons.

Golden Gloves don’t seem to equate much with Hall of Fame success, although it was cited when Tsutomu Ito won that his 11 awards were the most by a catcher.

Best Nine awards do appear to be a thing, as do MVP awards. Every two-time MVP is in or being voted on, as is every MVP who also won six or more Best Nines with the lone exception of the puzzling Hiromichi Ishige. By those considerations, five guys on this year’s players’ ballot will go in: Alex Ramirez, Michihiro Ogasawara, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tuffy Rhodes, Kenji Jojima, and Kazuhiro Wada.

Every player with more than seven Best Nine honors is in the Hall except for a pair who must have really pissed some people off in their day, Michiyo Arito (10), who is now in the expert’s division, and Ishige (8). Six and seven is the grey area for those without an MVP in their trophy case.

Twenty-three players whose career ended by 2015 won six or seven Best Nines. Of those, 10 are in, seven are being voted on, three still have a chance to make the experts’ division, and three are in all likelihood out of chances. With five Best Nines, you get in the realm of candidates who only got in through the experts’ division.

The one thing I can’t really measure for is popularity, perhaps the only thing that can explain why Masahiro Kawai was named on 61.6 percent of the players’ division’s ballots last year. I get why Shingo Takatsu got 73.2 percent because after all, he was the career saves leader for a while. Alex Ramirez got 65.8 percent, and it’s not like he’s unworthy but Tuffy Rhodes (28.8 percent) and Kenji Jojima (17.2 percent) have much better credentials.

Here is my ballot for the 2021 Hall in the order I think they should go in:

  1. Nobuhiko Matsunaka 1B
  2. Michihiro Ogasawara 3B
  3. Masahiro Yamamoto P
  4. Kenji Jojima C
  5. Kazuhiro Wada LF
  6. Hirokazu Ibata SS
  7. Tuffy Rhodes CF

Nobuhiko Matsunaka

A two-time MVP and triple crown winner, with tremendous peak value and a good career. Matsunaka led his league in 17 offensive categories, and virtually everyone who did that and led in one of the triple crown stats is in the hall. He was a Japanese Randy Bass, but with even more peak value. Unlike Bass, he won’t have to wait for the experts’ division to rescue his candidacy from us non-experts who vote in the players’ division.

Career Value 310 WS
  1. Kazuhiro Wada 332 – on ballot
  2. Tuffy Rhodes 320 – on ballot
  3. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 319 – HOF
  4. Hiroki Kokubo 311 – on ballot
  5. Tokuji Iida 310 – HOF
  6. Motonobu Tanishige 308 – on ballot
  7. Norihiro Nakamura 305 – on ballot
  8. Masayuki Kakefu 303 – Experts ballot
  9. Atsunori Inaba 302 – on ballot
  10. Taira Fujita 302 – Experts ballot
5 year peak 31 WS
  1. Katsuya Nomura 34 – HOF
  2. Hiromitsu Ochiai 33 – HOF
  3. Koji Yamamoto 32 – HOF
  4. Kazuhiro Yamauchi 32 – HOF
  5. Tomoaki Kanemoto 32 – HOF
  6. Isao Harimoto 31 – HOF
  7. Michihiro Ogasawara – on ballot
  8. Fumio Fujimura 30 – HOF
  9. Masayuki Kakefu 30 – Experts ballot
  10. Koichi Tabuchi 30 – HOF
3 best seasons avg 36.3 WS
  1. Sadaharu Oh 40.8 – HOF
  2. Shigeo Nagashima 38.3 – HOF
  3. Masayuki Kakefu 38.1 – Experts ballot
  4. Kazuhiro Yamauchi 37.3 – HOF
  5. Hideki Matsui 36.3 – HOF
  6. Tomoaki Kanemoto 35.8 – HOF
  7. Katsuya Nomura 35.2 – HOF
  8. Koji Yamamoto 34.8 – HOF
  9. Hiromitsu Ochiai 34.8 – HOF
  10. Tuffy Rhodes 33.8 – on ballot

Michihiro Ogasawara

Another two-time MVP and a similar player to Matsunaka with only slightly less peak value but better durability. I don’t know if they’re dead even or Ogasawara is behind Matsunaka. If Ogasawara is behind, he’s not behind by much.

The other two-time MVP on the ballot, Alex Ramirez is another step further down. One doesn’t want to compare raw career numbers when talking about imports, for whom it’s ALL about peak value, but Ramirez’s peak value was not in the same neighborhood as Guts’, and not among the seven most qualified this year.

Career Value 335 WS
  1. Kazuhiro Kiyohara 384 – not on ballot
  2. Kihachi Enomoto 360 – HOF
  3. Sachio Kinugasa 344 – HOF
  4. Atsuya Furuta 339 – HOF
  5. Masahiro Doi 338 – out
  6. Yasumitsu Toyoda 334 – HOF
  7. Koji Akiyama 334 – HOF
  8. Kazuhiro Wada 332 – on ballot
  9. Tuffy Rhodes 332 – on ballot
  10. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 320 – HOF
5 year peak 31 WS

This starts with Koji Yamamoto, No. 3 on Matsunaka’s list, includes Matsunaka at 31 and adds the following two: Futoshi Nakanishi 29 – HOF; Yasumitsu Toyoda 28 – HOF, which is a similar mix to Matsunaka’s group with eight hall of famers, and two guys on the ballot.

3 best seasons avg 31.8 WS
  1. Koichi Tabuchi 32.9 – HOF
  2. Makoto Kozuru 32.8 – HOF
  3. Atsuya Furuta 32.6 – HOF
  4. Fumio Fujimura 32.5 – HOF
  5. Hiromitsu Kadota 32.3 – HOF
  6. Yasumitsu Toyoda 31.8 – HOF
  7. Kihachi Enomoto 31.3 – HOF
  8. Daryl Spencer 31 – out
  9. Atsunori Inaba 31 – on ballot
  10. Futoshi Nakanishi 30.9 – HOF

Masahiro Yamamoto

The Chunichi Dragons lefty won a Sawamura Award and had tremendous career value, Win Shares ranked him 26th all-time among pitchers, although Masahiro Tanaka likely passed him this year. But that is in the range where most pitchers have been elected to the Hall of Fame. His peak value — as measured by the average of his best five seasons, was not great, 95th, although a little better than Kimiyasu Kudo, a player of similar accomplishments who went in easily in 2016.

Kudo, however, won two MVP awards and three Best Nines, while Yamamoto only won two pitching Best Nines. As such Yamamoto may be a borderline candidate and my choice this year more of the heart than the head. But the ballot is in the mail.

Career Value 294 WS

Yamamoto is right on the margin between the haves and have-nots. Four of the next five pitchers with higher career values are in the Hall: Hideo Nomo, Kudo, Mutsuo Minagawa, Yutaka Ono. The next is Hiromu Matsuoka, who is on the experts’ ballot but struggling. Three below him are in the Hall and two of them have MVPs. Another is on the experts’ ballot and also struggling, former MVP Mitsuru Adachi.

5 year peak avg 14 WS

There are three Hall of Famers in this 10-player group, Kudo, old-timer Hiroshi Nakao, and Jyunzo Sekine, who was more valuable as an outfielder than a pitcher. Kazuhisa Ishii, and Shinji Sasaoka, both currently on the players’ ballot are there, too.

3 best seasons 18.5

Yamamoto’s three best seasons are comparable to those of: Sasaoka, Hideki Irabu, Hall of Famer Yutaka Ono, Fumiya Nishiguchi, who’s on this year’s ballot, Hiromi Makihara, Hall of Fame reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki, new players’ candidates Ishii and Kenshin Kawakami, and former Braves workhorse Yoshinori Sato — whom Yamamoto eclipsed as the oldest to throw a no-hitter in Japan.

Kenji Jojima

Jojima is the catcher who should go in next, but I’d bet a thousand yen that Motonobu Tanishige will be inducted first. For a time around 2002-2004, Jojima was arguably Japan’s best player, or perhaps it was Tadahito Iguchi or Alex Cabrera or Nobuhiko Matsunaka.

Jojima won six Best Nine awards to Tanishige’s one, and eight Golden Gloves to Tanishige’s six. Jojima ranks 36th in NPB history in peak value, Tanishige 296th. True, Tanishige faced tougher competition by playing his best years in the same league with Atsuya Furuta, but one has to go a long way to argue that Tanishige was better. Tanishige is, however, probably a lot more popular and that seems to matter A LOT in the voting.

Jojima was truly an elite player, but his tepid performance in the voting suggests that just being better than virtually everybody else is not always a big concern with most Hall of Fame voters.

Looking at the tables below, Jojima looks close to being a lock for the Hall of Fame, because he’s Japanese…

Career Value 294 WS
  1. Michiyo Arito 302 – Experts ballot
  2. HIromi Matsunaga 302 – out
  3. Takuro Ishii 300 – on ballot
  4. Shinichi Eto 297 – HOF
  5. Hiromichi Ishige 294- out
  6. Koichi Tabuchi 292 – HOF
  7. Yoshio Yoshida 290 – HOF
  8. Yoshinori Hirose 289 – HOF
  9. Tetsuharu Kawakami 286 – HOF
  10. Hideji Kato 286 – Experts ballot
5 year peak 28 WS
  1. Masayuki Kakefu 30 – Experts ballot
  2. Koichi Tabuchi 30 – HOF
  3. Futoshi Nakanishi 29 – HOF
  4. Yasumitsu Toyoda 28.3 – HOF
  5. Roberto Petagine 28.1 – out
  6. Tom O’Malley 28 – out
  7. Kazuhiro Kiyohara 28 – not on ballot
  8. Koji Akiyama 28 – HOF
  9. Tetsuharu Kawakami 28 – HOF
  10. Hiroshi Oshita 27 – HOF
3 best seasons avg 30.7
  1. Futoshi Nakanishi 30.9 – HOF
  2. Kazuhiro Wada 30.9 – on ballot
  3. Hirokazu Ibata 30.8 – on ballot
  4. Tetsuharu Kawakami 30.7 – HOF
  5. Kazuhiro Kiyohara 30.7- not on ballot
  6. Hiroshi Oshita 30.4 – HOF
  7. Alex Cabrera 30.4 – out
  8. Randy Bass 30.3 – Experts ballot
  9. Yoshio Yoshida 30.3 – HOF
  10. Roberto Petagine 30.1 – out


Just a reminder, that while the ballot is packed with Hall of Fame quality players, the wonderful Masahiro Kawai got 218 votes a year ago. Here’s how he stacks up:

10 most players with most similar career value (148 Win Shares) : None in HOF. 10 players with most similar value from their best five-year stretch: None in HOF. 10 players with most similar value from their 3 best seasons: 1 in HOF – 2017 inductee Tsutomu Ito.

Recent players with similar career value: Norihiro Akahoshi, Hiroshi Shibahara, Makoto Kosaka.

Recent players with similar best 5-year stretches: Shibahara, Makoto Kaneko.

Recent players with similar 3 best seasons: Ito, Hatsuhiko Tsuji.

During his career, the media voted Kawai the CL’s best shortstop once, but now many of those people want him in the Hall of Fame.

Ito was great but not a Hall of Fame-caliber player in the context of those previously inducted. Instead, the field was a little thin and he got in. The same thing was happening to Kawai, but he’s probably going to start stalling.

Kazuhiro Wada

Is the best Japanese position player on the ballot to never win a Golden Glove. But with an MVP and six Best Nines, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t make it.

Career Value 332 WS

His career value is smack in between Ogasawara on the high end and Matsunaka on the low end.

5 year peak 27 WS

The top three in Wada’s list overlap with the last three on Jojima’s. After that it’s:

  1. Atsunori Inaba 27 – on ballot
  2. Wally Yonamine 27 – HOF
  3. Tokuji Iida 27 – HOF
  4. Hiromi Matsunaga 27 – out
  5. Akinori Iwamura 26 – out
  6. Makoto Kozuru 26 – HOF
  7. Tyrone Woods 26 – out
3 best seasons 30.9 WS

Ogasawara is the top of Wada’s list, and Jojima is at the bottom. so basically solid candidates, Hall of Famers, troubled star (Kazuhiro Kiyohara) and foreigners.

Hirokazu Ibata

In contrast to Kawai, Ibata, who was also a shortstop, had something resembling a Hall of Fame career with five Best Nine Awards. He may have to struggle to get in, but he is probably a little better qualified than Ramirez.

Career Value 258 WS
  1. Yoshinobu Takahashi 262 – on ballot
  2. Tomonori Maeda 262 – on ballot
  3. Isao Shibata 261 – Experts ballot
  4. Makoto Kozuru 260 – HOF
  5. Shoichi Busujima 260 – out
  6. Fumio Fujimura 258 – HOF
  7. Akinobu Mayumi 256 – out
  8. Morimichi Takagi 254 – HOF
  9. Alex Ramirez 248 – on ballot
  10. Noboru Aota 245 – HOF
5 year peak avg 26
  1. Tyrone Woods 26 – out
  2. Yutaka Fukumoto 26 – HOF
  3. Randy Bass 26 – Experts ballot
  4. Hiromichi Ishige 26 – out
  5. Akira Eto 26 – out
  6. Norihiro Nakamura 26 – on ballot
  7. Kenjiro Tamiya 26 – HOF
  8. Tuffy Rhodes 26 – on ballot
  9. Atsuya Furuta 26 – HOF
  10. Shigeru Chiba 26 – HOF
3 best seasons 30.8

Ibata’s closest 10 are essentially the same as Kazuhiro Wada’s, which is not an exclusive Hall of Fame group, but is Hall of Fame-like.

Tuffy Rhodes

I suppose you are all tired of hearing me talk about Tuffy Rhodes. The good news for you then is that for the first time in about three years he is not the most qualified player on the ballot.

Career Value 320 WS

Rhodes’ career value is sandwiched between Kazuhiro Wada and Hall of Famer Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. If you have higher career value than a lot of solid candidates AND you’re an import, then that says something I suppose.

5 year peak avg 26 WS

Essentially the same group as Hirokazu Ibata’s, some guys who are in the Hall and some guys who would be if they were more popular.

3 best seasons 33.8 WS

The top six on Rhodes’ list are the bottom six on Matsunaka’s. And his list starts with Sadaharu Oh and will include Ichiro Suzuki when he’s eligible. So this, and the long career are really Rhodes’ strong suits.

Alex Ramirez and the other strong candidates

For a guy with 2,000 hits in Japan, the total career value should be Ramirez’s calling card, but it’s not as good as Rhodes, who didn’t reach 2,000 hits because he walked so much.

Rami-chan is going to get in because he won two MVPs and he has a ton of support, so I’m not worried enough to vote just to keep him on the ballot this year. He didn’t match Ibata in peak or career value and won two MVPs but only four Best Nines, the fewest of any two-time MVP in contention for the Hall.

Atsunori Inaba, who should have been the PL’s 2007 MVP instead of his teammate Yu Darvish is probably a step ahead of Ramirez in every category except the big hardware. Hiroki Kokubo is about even with Ramirez according to established norms. But if you are voting for Masahiro Kawai then you have to ignore a zillion players who are better than him. I think the world of Kawai, and he was a very good player for a long time.

I voted for Takuro Ishii in the past, but he’s not quite up to Ramirez’s level, so I’m going to have to pass on him. Shinya Miyamoto won 10 Golden Gloves, which is kind of a 50-50 grey area and he was named on 58 percent of last year’s ballots, but he also had less peak and career value than any of the nine Hall eligible players with 10 or more Golden Gloves. Ishii, who got 24.6 percent last year is a MUCH more fitting candidate. Kenjiro Nomura, another shortstop, is about even with Ishii although with a slightly shorter career and slightly more peak value.

I’m conflicted about Motonobu Tanishige. He’s going to get in because he’s on TV all the time, was a productive hitter for a while, and an excellent defensive catcher for a long time because he stayed fit for a long time.

Hall ballot
The 2021 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame ballot… warts and all

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