Why not Boomer?

Former Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Matt Winters, commenting on my Hall of Fame vote, said in a tweet: “You need Boomer in there somewhere.”

The answer, of course, is that no one lets me decide who is on the ballot. For the record, Boomer, LeRon Lee and Don Blasingame were all recently dropped from the expert’s division ballot, where Randy Bass is still going strong. The reason for this is not clear. Another guy who failed to make it in the expert’s division, former Lotte third baseman Michio Arito, was laughingly excluded.

There are few candidates in the Hall of Fame who were better players than Arito, yet he, Hanshin Tigers shortsop Taira Fujita and Lions outfielder Masahiro Doi, three guys who are more than qualified, are no longer qualified for election.

But just for curiosity’s sake, where does Boomer rank in terms of peak performance — as measured by his best five-year win shares average? The answer is 12th all-time among foreign registered players who had five-plus seasons. I’d suspected Tuffy Rhodes had the highest peak value of any foreign player in NPB history, but Rhodes ranks fourth — although he is No. 1 in career value. See the list below of the top-20 five-year peaks among foreign players in NPB.

A lot of things could be wrong with the model that produces these, but it seems reasonable that the honor of the first foreign player in Japan’s Hall of Fame went to the deserving Wally Yonamine. It seems also clear that Tuffy should be No. 2. Alex Cabrera was knocked off the ballot last year when he received just 2.7 percent of the vote. That may well indicate that player popularity with the media is a key factor.

1st ballot Hall of Fame voter

Eighteen players to choose from and seven votes.

I’ve noted in several recent posts that the membership of Japan’s baseball Hall of Fame is badly skewed toward pitchers, first basemen and outfielders. That will change within the next 10 years when Tadahito Iguchi and Kazuo Matsui are on the ballot, since they were among the most valuable players in the game during their heyday.

To review,  here is this winter’s players division ballot, with the percentage of votes received in last year’s ballot:

  • Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 2B 65.8
  • Shingo Takatsu RP 45.9
  • Masahiro Kawai SS 35.9
  • Kenjiro Nomura SS 28.5
  • Tuffy Rhodes OF 22.8
  • Hiroki Kokubo 3B 21.7
  • Masumi Kuwata SP 21.2
  • Takuro Ishii SS 19.3
  • Kenji Jojima C 14.1
  • Shinji Sasaoka SP 9.5
  • So Taguchi OF 7.9
  • Norihiro Akahoshi OF 5.4
  • Kazuhisa Ishii SP new
  • Shinya Miyamoto SS new
  • Tomonori Maeda OF new
  • Takeshi Yamasaki IB new
  • Shinjiro Hiyama OF new
  • Alex Ramirez OF new

My picks were:

  1. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami
  2. Shingo Takatsu
  3. Tuffy Rhodes
  4. Hiroki Kokubo
  5. Takuro Ishii
  6. Kenji Jojima
  7. Alex Ramirez
The 15 position players on this winter’s ballots,  ranked by career win shares.
The four pitchers on this winter’s ballot, ranked by career win shares.

The big debates were between closer Shingo Takatsu and starter Masumi Kuwata, and between outfielders Tomonori Maeda and Alex Ramirez. 

Kuwata won a Sawamura Award as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, but in historic terms his career would be one of the weakest among starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Takatsu was a solid — if not dominant — closer on a team that won five pennants.

Ramirez finishes behind Maeda in career win shares and was not as much a complete player as Maeda was a youngster before injuries took their toll on his career. But Ramirez had a much-higher peak ceiling and won two straight Central League MVP awards.

Some other notes:

  • Tatsunami, even at his peak, was never considered one of the league’s elite players. He never led the Dragons in win shares in any one season. His genius was in being really good for a long, long time, and that’s worth something.
  • Takatsu is a relief version of Tatsunami, a very good reliever for a long time in a generation when closers were usually burned out after a season or two.
  • Rhodes should be a stronger candidate than he has been. He was a league leader in an offensive category 18 times. No player has ever led his league in as many as 16 categories and not been elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • Kokubo was a leader on both the first Hawks dynasty in Fukuoka under Daiei and the second under SoftBank before his retirement.
  • Takuro Ishii was a very similar player to Tatsunami, but with more defensive value and fewer extra bases.
  • Jojima was Japan’s premier catcher from 1999 to 2005 during his time with the Hawks, then spent four years in the majors before returning to play at a high level for the Hanshin Tigers. 

On second thought, I looked at each position player’s highest peak, by measuring their average win shares over each five-year period of their career (see table below). The surprise for me here, is not that Rhodes and Jojima are head and shoulders above everyone else but that Kenjiro Nomura, whom I didn’t vote for, and Takuro Ishii, whom I did, rank so much higher than Ramirez, and that through this analysis, Kokubo becomes a corner-infield version of Tatsunami, whose peak value ranks seventh out of 14.

When you look at all of each player’s running five year averages, however, it is clear that Nomura’s extreme peak was briefer than Ishii’s. It is also clear that Ramirez and Nomura were very close in both peak and total value. The real question of who belongs and who doesn’t was not between Tomonori Maeda and Ramirez, but between Nomura and Ramirez and Kokubo.

writing & research on Japanese baseball