More about peak values

Having a lot of information at your finger tips doesn’t necessarily mean you know what’s going on.

I was reminded of this again on Friday, when doing a story about Yuki Yanagita’s new contract with the SoftBank Hawks. He revealed that he will be paid 570 million yen ($5.11 million) next year — which on the surface would make him the highest-paid Japanese player in team history.

And though I have given Yanagita first-place MVP votes three times over the past four years — the fourth went to Shohei Ohtani in 2016 — I’d never noticed that he’d led the Pacific League in both on-base percentage and slugging average the past four seasons.

Yanagita entered the season as one of only three players to have managed that feat for three straight years. With his fourth, he surpassed Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima. Next in line is Sadaharu Oh, who did it not five or even six straight years, but 11, so that record, like so many of Oh’s is safe.

Since delving into peak performance the past few days as a way of analyzing Hall of Fame candidates, I was curious how Yanagita’s past five seasons — I’d used five-year averages of win shares — stacked up all time. What I found was not entirely surprising.

Yanagita has averaged 32.6 win shares since 2014. The only recent player to better that figure was Hideki Matsui from 1998 to 2002. The only contemporary player to come close is, not surprisingly, Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada.

Aside from Matsui and Yanagita, no player has had as good a five-year stretch since Oh (1973 to 1977). Oh turned pro out of high school in 1959 and his career was winding down, but he was still a dominant hitter. But basically, what you get is a list of Hall of Fame pitchers in NPB’s dead-ball 1950s and a bunch of Hall of Fame hitters from the early 1960s.

This shouldn’t be a surprise because the talent depth in NPB in the 1950s and 1960s was vastly worse than today, and the best players towered over the competition to a greater degree than they have since. Still, it was only a few players, Oh, Nagashima, Japan’s greatest catcher Katsuya Nomura, Japan’s all-time hits leader Isao Harimoto, Kazuhiro Yamauchi and three great pitchers, Masaichi Kaneda, Kazuhisa Inao and Shigeru Sugishita.

When Yamada had his huge season in 2015, I estimated it was the third or fourth best season in NPB history, but since then it hadn’t occurred to me how rare his and Yanagita’s accomplishments have been in the context of today’s game.

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