Japan’s all-time greats

As the deadline for Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame ballots approaches, and people talk about who should be in the Hall of Fame — as opposed to who shouldn’t, it might be constructive to look at who are the all-time greats.

The biggest problem I find with compiling these lists is that the competition is generally better since 1990 than it was in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and even 70s. Thus, it is far more difficult to dominate play than it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago. For that reason, a straight-line numbers comparison between a recent superstar and one from 50 years ago will almost always be one-sided.

Let’s look at how many times a player has led his league in one of the following offensive categories:

  • batting average
  • on-base percentage
  • slugging average
  • doubles
  • triples
  • home runs
  • RBIs
  • stolen bases
  • walks

Sadaharu Oh led his league in one of these categories 102 times. Seven of the top-10 leaders played the bulk of their careers in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. This requires an adjustment to adjust for both the era and the degree to which talent is compacted.

OK. Enough talk. Here are top 20 players in career value in NPB according to Bill James’ win shares formulas and using a competition adjustment (based on the year and the standard deviation of win shares by players with 100-plus games in a season. There may be no perfect solution to this problem but this was mine).

Top Career Totals

NameBest SeasonCareer HighCareer TotalAvg modifier
Sadaharu Oh196541.8672.91.07
Katsuya Nomura196537.5526.31.07
Isao Harimoto196434.1496.11.06
Hiromitsu Ochiai198235.5466.40.94
Masaichi Kaneda 195840459.31.08
Kazuhiro Yamauchi195640.24431.09
Shigeo Nagashima196141.4440.51.12
Hiromitsu Kadota197735.3434.71.00
Tomoaki Kanemoto200538.8434.10.94
Koji Yamamoto198038.3408.11.02

Peak value: Average of best 5 consecutive seasons

The following table represents my estimate of the players who put together the best five-season runs in NPB history.

NamePeriodAverage WSWS totalsModifier
Sadaharu Oh1964-196839.140, 42, 40, 37, 371.07
Kazuhisa Inao1957-196136.037, 40, 40, 20, 441.12
Yuki Yanagita2014-201835.231, 39, 32, 39, 360.93
Ichiro Suzuki1994-199835.038, 38, 38, 33, 280.92
Shigeo Nagashima1959-196334.836, 34, 41, 25, 381.10
Hideki Matsui1998-200234.036, 31, 36, 32, 351.00
Katsuya Nomura1964-196833.830, 38, 34, 33, 341.07
Hiromitsu Ochiai1982-198633.033, 30, 35, 34, 310.97
Masaichi Kaneda1954-195832.525, 35, 33, 30, 401.09
Shigeru Sugishita1951-195532.327, 33, 26, 43, 331.03

Hall of Fame candidates

Here are the 23 candidates on this year’s players division ballot for the Hall of Fame, with their career win shares and best-five consecutive season averages and how they rank all-time in both categories:

HOF candidates 2020

Nam eCareer WSCareer Rank + Peak 5Peak Rank
Atsunori Inaba302.24327.343
Kenji Jojima*227.26026.946
Norihiro Nakamura304.44126.062
Tuffy Rhodes319.93225.866
Hiroki Kokubo310.63725.570
Alex Ramirez247.68424.683
Takuro Ishii298.94824.191
Kenjiro Nomura243.68924.191
Akinori Iwamura168.113224.191
Norihiro Akahoshi146.228720.2175
Masumi Kuwata19116219.6199
Takeshi Yamasaki241.19418.9237
Tomonori Maeda262.37217.9274
Masahiro Kawai147.628415.7379
Makoto Kaneko179.818515.5389
So Taguchi121.923915.0412
Shinji Sasaoka171.720014.4447
Shinya Miyamoto200.614513.7504
Kazuhisa Ishii137.724313.6510
Shinjiro Hiyama137.832113.1552
Shingo Takatsu10043110.1804
2020 Hall of Fame candidates, career win share and peak win share ranks. Career win share rank includes MLB WS for Japanese players.

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