Tag Archives: Bill James

The new kids

There has been a lot of buzz about Hanshin Tigers newcomer 22-year-old infielder Teruaki Sato, the club’s powerfully built first pick last autumn. I’m not totally immune to the spring chatter, but he’s big fast and strong and making an impact. On this week’s TBS news program “Sunday Morning” Isao Harimoto said he keeps his weight too far back and is going to struggle once pitchers are throwing for real during the season.

Teruaki Sato

Most of the other talk has been about the Giants’ fifth draft pick, a high schooler named Yuto Akihiro. Akihiro, recently promoted to the first-team camp, is 2 meters tall, the tallest Japanese pro baseball player since pro wrestler Giant Baba pitched for the Giants in 1955, and also gives the Giants two players whose family names are common first names, the other being Shinnosuke Shigenobu.

Akihiro is ridiculously short to the ball for such a big guy, and he’s been making mince-meat of spring training pitching, but as a no-name low draft pick straight out of high school, does he have a tougher hill to climb than other players similarly situated?

I asked that question because of something a colleague once told me.

Yuto Akihiro

Giants, draft order and status

Ten years ago or so I interviewed Itaru Hashimoto, an up-and-coming Giants outfielder, whom my Yomiuri Shimbun colleague identified as a rarity, a low-round pick who turned pro out of high school who had a chance to earn a regular job. Hashimoto was the Giants’ fourth-round draft pick.

But is that really a thing?

If the Giants’ do have a bias against low-round picks out of high schools they should have lower career values than their low-round picks who turned pro after high school and lower values than those from other NPB teams.

I dug into my draft data base to look for the career win share totals of players drafted out of high school in the fourth round or higher, then grouped those based on whether they were signed by the Giants or other NPB teams. Using Bill James’ Win Shares as a measure of value with three win shares equaling one team.

Avg career win shares of H.S. draftees before 2010

The Giants’ lower picks out of high school have definitely been less valuable than those of other teams at every step. Of the 73 Giants in the survey, 13 had 10-plus win shares or 18 percent of the total with an average career value of 8.8 win shares.

Of the 684 non-Giants, 146 produced 10-plus career win shares, or 21 percent, not a great deal better than the Giants, but their average career value was 15.8, nearly twice as high.

So, compared to the rest of NPB’s low-round picks out of high school as a whole, it’s accurate to say the Giants are quite a bit worse at turning those picks into productive players.

RoundOther teams10+ WSGiants10+WS
Average career WS values of players signed out of high school prior to 2010, with the percentage of players with 10-plus career WS.

Avg career win shares of non-H.S. draftees before 2010

But if the Giants’ issue is an organizational bias against high school players, then we would expect their non-high school players to be more like the NPB norm.

Prior to 2010, the other 11 NPB teams signed 710 players who weren’t coming out of high school in the fourth round or lower. These players had an average career value of 17.6 win shares, while 233 or 33 percent produced 10 or more win shares.

The similar group of 70 players signed by the Giants produced an average of 11.6 career win shares, while 27 percent had 10 or more career win shares.

RoundOther teams10+ WSGiants10+ WS
Average career WS values of players signed after leaving high school prior to 2010, with the percentage of players with 10-plus career WS.

It seems that while the Giants are worse at turning their high school draft picks into productive players, their guys who turned pro after high school have not done a whole lot better, but are a little closer to the NPB norms.

But while the Giants may have had an organizational bias against low-round high school picks, their real bias is more against lower-round picks, period. The table below shows the players taken, not by rounds, since the top rounds of Japanese drafts are really a jumble of different meanings, but I’ve ranked the draft picks, and split the top 36 players signed in each draft.

The picks of the litter

As the table below shows, the Giants have had a huge advantage over the rest of NPB in the results of their new guys taken in the first tier of the draft, and that is the ONLY advantage they have in the draft over their rivals.

RankOther teamsGiants

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Another look at pitchers

Since I’m on a Hall of Fame jag, I want to dig deeper into the subject of pitchers, who gets in and who gets out. I only included one pitcher, Masahiro Yamamoto, on my 2021 ballot, and perhaps I should more carefully examine the credentials of a few other pitchers on the ballot.

In the first run-through, I looked to see how often pitchers were elected into the Hall of Fame based on their MVP, Sawamura, and Best Nine Awards, and also on three measures using Bill James’ Win Shares: career value, the average value of their five best seasons, and the average value of their three best seasons.

Next year’s big new names will be two pitchers whose quality went largely overlooked because they played for weak offensive teams in hitters’ parks, Hiroki Kuroda and Daisuke Miura. But while I’m at it I’ll try and right a wrong and have a look at the pitchers I passed over in my 2021 ballot.

For a slightly different look, I’m doing pitcher Hall of Fame points that I’m going to call “career highlight points” because unlike Win Shares, anyone can count them. These are as follows:

  • MVP award: 3 points
  • Sawamura Award: 2 points
  • Leading the league in wins: 2 points
  • Leading the league in saves: 2 points
  • Best Nine award: 2 points
  • Key pitcher on a championship team (40+ games or 100+ IP): 2 points
  • Each 100 career wins: 5 points
  • Each 40 career saves: 1 point

So far, each of the 18 eligible pitchers with 21-plus career highlight points is in the Hall of Fame with the exception of the scandal-hit Yutaka Enatsu. Eight of the 12 players from 17 to 21 are in. Below 16 and it’s fuzzy.

Here are the breakdowns for the Win Shares measures:

  • Career WS above 233: 20 out of 21 in Hall
  • Best 5-year stretch average above 24 WS: 12 out of 13 in Hall. Essentially an old-timers category since the last pitcher in that group retired in 1988.
  • Best 3 season average above 29 WS: 12 out of 13 in Hall (see above).

Hiroki Kuroda

  • Highlight points: 10 – 58th
  • Career Win Shares: 244 – 13th
  • Avg WS Best 5-year stretch: 17.1 – 54th
  • Avg Best 3 seasons: 21 – 59th

As an exercise, let’s start with Kuroda.

Because of his career win shares value, the former Carp ace seems like a shoo-in, but his peak value is not as great as some of his contemporaries, and he lacks the eye-catching things like playing for multiple championship teams and winning MVP awards and so has just 10 career highlight points

Kuroda’s Wins Shares profile is similar to recent experts’ division selection, Taiyo Whales ace Masaji Hiramatsu and his contemporary, Yakult Swallows ace Hiromu Matsuoka, who has struggled on the experts’ ballot. The obvious difference? Hiramatsu had a famous pitch, his “kamisori” (razor) shoot, had two big seasons and 21 career highlight points while Matsuoka has just nine. Hiramatsu was not a lot better but LOOKED a lot better, and now he’s in.

In Kuroda’s favor, the Hall of Fame voting system is different from when those two retired in the mid-1980s, and he was both popular and a durable, successful major leaguer. My guess is he won’t have to wait for the experts’ division ballot to get in. Matsuoka’s “fault” was to be consistently good for a long time without having at least one more big year when everyone was talking about how great he was.

Here’s how the the players on the ballot this year and next year compare:

NameLast seasonHighlight PtsCareer WSBest 5-year stretchBest 3 seasons
Hiroki Kuroda20161024417.121.0
Masahiro Yamamoto20152622613.718.8
Daisuke Miura2016721115.118.6
Masumi Kuwata20071719119.624.2
Shinji Sasaoka20071517214.418.9
Fumiya Nishiguchi20152216916.018.5
Kazuhisa Ishii20131016613.617.5
Kenshin Kawakami20152013615.018.4
Shingo Takatsu20101612010.114.0
Takashi Saito2015919214.720.6

Again, this is not about who I want to see in the Hall of Fame, but rather an effort to answer the question “Who does the Hall of Fame think belongs?”

By the established standards, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Yamamoto and Fumiya Nishiguchi are all Hall of Famers, and Kenshin Kawakami and Masumi Kuwata are likely to get in at some point.

Win Shares sees Miura as being better than Nishiguchi and way better than Kawakami, but he lacks the career highlights that will likely make their resumes sing to the voters. As it is Miura is probably going to fall about one good, not great, season short of getting in on career value.

You decide

Here is a table of every pitcher who is eligible to be in the Hall of Fame, and is not currently on the players’ division ballot who has a career Win Share total as high as the lowest of any pitcher in the HOF, former Carp closer Tsunemi Tsuda. An “E” in the HOF column indicates they are currently on the experts’ division ballot. HOF indicates an original member, and a year indicates when they were inducted.

I would like to say who has a chance to get on a ballot again and who is out of chances, but that’s a huge project, and anyone who is in uniform again as a coach or manager has a chance to get back on the experts’ ballot.

Name RName JHOFLast NPB gameHighlight Pts.Career WS5-year peakBest 3
Masaichi Kaneda金田 正一1988196952459.332.536.9
Takehiko Bessho別所 毅彦1979196050359.231.738.4
Yutaka Enatsu江夏 豊198448294.322.225.1
Kazuhisa Inao稲尾 和久1993196944312.73641.3
Hisashi Yamada山田 久志200619884132226.930.1
Masaki Saito斎藤 雅樹2016200140236.321.628.6
Keishi Suzuki鈴木 啓示2002198537381.227.932.9
Minoru Murayama村山 実1993197235242.122.830.5
Hideo Nomo野茂 英雄2014199334236.119.1624.5
Kimiyasu Kudo工藤 公康2016201033234.913.420.3
Tsuneo Horiuchi堀内 恒夫2008198329188.617.220.8
Osamu Higashio東尾 修2010198829254.81724.8
Shigeru Sugishita杉下 茂1985196128250.132.336.4
Manabu Kitabeppu北別府 学2012199428213.72023.8
Victor Starffinスタルヒン1960195525139.419.526.7
Tetsuya Yoneda米田 哲也2000197724318.521.627.5
Choji Murata村田 兆治2005199023255.623.726.4
Kazuhiro Sasaki佐々木 主浩2014200522170.315.0418.4
Masaaki Koyama小山 正明2001197321324.624.528.2
Masaji Hiramatsu平松 政次2017198421236.518.826.1
Suguru Egawa江川 卓198721165.723.826.5
Hiroshi Nakao中尾 碩志1998195720126.314.420.8
Kazumi Takahashi高橋 一三198220174.615.922
Takumi Otomo大友 工司196019136.223.228.8
Hideo Fujimoto藤本 英雄197619551818526.131.7
Motoshi Fujita藤田 元司1996196417117.11724.8
Tadashi Sugiura杉浦 忠1995197017198.126.534
Mutsuo Minagawa皆川 睦男2011197117234.219.225.9
Kazuhiko Endo遠藤 一彦199217177.92024.1
Yutaka Ono大野 豊2013199817233.415.418.6
Tadashi Wakabayashi若林 忠志196419531681.216.223.7
Takao Kajimoto梶本 隆夫2007197316245.921.125.7
Shigeru Kobayashi小林 繁198316153.120.123.2
Akio Saito斉藤 明雄199316182.516.319.5
Kuo Yuen-chih郭 源治199616169.316.219.9
Hisao Niiura新浦 壽丈199215148.516.221
Hideki Irabu伊良部 秀輝200415125.213.518.8
Jyuzo Sanada真田 重蔵1990195614202.73138.4
Susumu Yuki柚木 進195614130.418.620.7
Mitsuhiro Adachi足立 光宏E197914203.916.120.9
Tomehiro Kaneda金田 留広198114141.517.722
Kei Igawa井川 慶20141491.514.0616.1
Yoshiro Sotokoba外木場 義郎2013197913155.116.125.4
Fumio Narita成田 文男198213181.118.723.4
Tokuji Kawasaki川崎 徳次195712182.319.428.2
Gene Bacqueバッキー196912117.52126.5
Yoshinori Sato佐藤 義則199412174.614.818.2
Joe Stankaスタンカ19661192.815.919
Noboru Akiyama秋山 登2004196711189.420.624.9
Yukio Ozaki尾崎 行雄197311102.718.724.6
Takashi Nishimoto西本 聖199311198.721.124.2
Atsushi Aramaki荒巻 淳1985196210195.321.427.5
Hiroshi Gondo権藤 博201919681085.716.325.3
Shoichi Ono小野 正一197010179.822.327.4
Hiromi Makihara槙原 寛己200010193.714.518.4
Senichi Hoshino星野 仙一201719829133.316.220.7
Hiromu Matsuoka松岡 弘E19859232.621.422.8
Kazuhisa Kawaguchi川口 和久19989172.515.719.5
Yukihiro Nishizaki西崎 幸広20009163.216.220.3
Kunio Jonouchi城之内 邦雄19748132.318.620.6
Yasuo Yonegawa米川 泰夫19597144.519.825.8
Ryohei Hasegawa長谷川 良平200119637239.428.633.1
Masaaki Ikenaga池永 正明1970712122.926.6
Shigeo Ishii石井 茂雄1979716517.422.7
Hideyuki Awano阿波野 秀幸2000798.717.424.5
Masato Yoshii吉井 理人20077151.113.0414.9
Masahide Kobayashi小林 雅英2011790.110.4412.9
Tadayoshi Kajioka梶岡 忠義1955614819.327.6
Michio Nishizawa西沢 道夫19771958624324.829.3
Kiyoshi Oishi大石 清19706125.719.324
Naoki Takahashi高橋 直樹19866196.123.827
Akinori Otsuka大塚 晶則20036105.911.0415.6
Satoru Komiyama小宮山 悟20096139.511.5216.8
Yoshio Tenbo天保 義夫19575113.41723.4
Masayuki Dobashi土橋 正幸E19675155.121.727.1
Shigetoshi Hasegawa長谷川 滋利19945148.112.7215.6
Tsunemi Tsuda津田 恒美20121991479.910.816.8
Giichiro Shiraki白木 義一郎19523132.22632
Masao Kida木田 優夫2012386.86.712.7
Takeshi Yasuda安田 猛19812125.217.720.6
Shigeaki Kuroo黒尾 重明19550114.416.522.7
Kentaro Imanishi今西 啓介19550102.219.724.3
Zaichi Hayashi林 義一19580128.919.624.3
Jyunzo Sekine関根 潤三200319650172.613.919.9
Keiichi Yabu藪 恵市20100108.311.612.4

Logic-defying rants

More logic-defying Ramirez rants

Tuesday saw another attack on Alex Ramirez’s managing, this time from Nikkan Gendai, which claimed it was appropriate to fire the DeNA BayStars skipper at the conclusion of this year’s one-year contract.

The article claimed people within the team are now talking about Ramirez being out, and that former ace and current minor league skipper Daisuke is the logical choice to succeed him

The article argues that Ramirez is the reason that the BayStars have scored fewer runs than the Giants despite similar offensive numbers.

“The (BayStars) batting average tops the league, and they are second in home runs. Yet they are fourth in the league and have scored 27 fewer runs than the Giants. One cannot argue with the reasoning that the difference is down to the managers.”

–Unnamed former BayStars player

As I’ve written before, whenever one sees an article by a former player for a team arguing that the manager should be fired, one should consider the possibility that the player in question is ripping the manager so that the new regime will hire coaches including the former player himself or former teammates who desire coaching positions with the club.  

In regards to the logic, the data bears up under scrutiny. The BayStars are essentially as good as the Giants at getting runners on base and advancing them and have scored fewer runs. But saying the difference between the two managers’ skill IS the difference and saying that conclusion is arrogant beyond words.

Let’s look at this in a different context. Let’s say we have two batters. Over five seasons, Player A has batting averages of: .289, .330, .307, .319 and .275. Player B’s averages over the same period are .248, .290, .270, .265 and .295.

In the current season, Player A bats .275 and Player B bats .295. What person, with any understanding of the randomness of batting averages, would conclude that Player A is batting .275 because he is an inferior hitter? No one, that’s who. Yet that is essentially the argument against Ramirez, that everything he has done the past four years is irrelevant and ONLY this year’s offensive underperformance is the true indicator of the manager’s quality.

That is analogous to the BayStars’ offense this year. They have underperformed their projected runs scored by one run, while the Giants have overperformed by 31 runs. But calling it Ramirez’s fault is stupid because over the past five seasons, his teams have outperformed expectations more than any in the CL.

Since 2016, when Ramirez took over, the BayStars’ offense has averaged scoring 27 runs per season more than its Bill James Runs Created projections. Over the last two seasons they are an average of 20.5 runs above expectations. This is exactly the same figure for Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara.

Team2020 RS2020 RC5-year average above RC
Teams sorted by their average Runs Scored – Runs Created

The thing is the BayStars’ have an active analytics department, and unless their boss is as ignorant and or politically motivated as the former player who contributed to this story, then they will look at Ramirez and see they have something special.

Ramirez’s problem is compounded by a poor win-loss record relative to their actual offensive and defensive results. Given the runs they have scored and allowed, the BayStars should be 48-45-5 this year, five fewer wins than they have actually managed.

If you look at the team’s underlying credentials, what they actually do, and how their talent base has actually expanded under Ramirez, then claiming he should be fired is just an appeal to populism without logic.

The same player argues that Miura is a credible candidate because his team is second in the Eastern League, which I will admit is a positive. The other argument given is that the BayStars farm team is leading the EL in sacrifice bunts. This is an opaque attack on Ramirez, who bunts less than any other manager in the CL.

NPB 2020 9-23 members notes

Talking the talk in Japan

One element of Japanese verbal communication is known as “tatemae.” Although it is a topic about which volumes have been written, in my experience it is noticeable when someone says something that is obviously not true that is not a lie so to speak but a signal. It indicates that pursuing a topic further might force one to confront awkward truths or accept responsibility in a public fashion that would be better hashed out in private or not at all.

I once made the mistake of asking my Japanese boss when I was teaching English at Pepsicola Japan 30 years ago if I could leave early since none of my last class had shown up. She was completely annoyed with me, and didn’t want the responsibility of having given me permission to go, so she taught me why I should never ask her that question again. She followed me around both floors of the office asking everyone we could find regardless of who they were if they would like an impromptu English lesson. After that embarrassing 10-minute shame tour, she made me swear I had no more students in the office, and then ordered me home, with steam coming out of her ears.

In the wake of the Fernando Tatis Jr, 3-0 grand slam, a Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast listener asked if there are unwritten rules in Japanese baseball. The one that first came to mind was how pitchers should indicate remorse when hitting a batter by tipping their cap. Another one, as Hideto Asamura showed on Wednesday after he hit his Japan-best 28th home run and his fourth in two days, is to act as if one wasn’t trying to hit the ball hard.

In the postgame on-field interview he did what guys without real power tend to say, “I was playing for the team, not trying to do too much – see tsunagaru.

“I was only trying to set the table for (Eigoro) Mogi and the great hitters coming up behind me,” he said describing a swing that was custom built to put a baseball into orbit.

Why home run hitters do this is a good question, but it is pretty common. He did say later that he was “prepared to put a good swing on a fat pitch, and that’s what you saw,” but it is perfectly in line with the expectation that one acts humbly. It doesn’t keep guys from flipping their bats or pumping their fists or pimping their home runs but when the moment is over, one is expected to remember one’s place.

Trey Hillman, currently the Miami Marlins bench coach, once expressed an opinion that Japan’s sacrifice bunt dogma was often just an out, a socially acceptable way for individuals to evade accountability for trying to put a good swing on the ball and risking failure.

Of course, Japanese small ball is much more than that. It does, however, share that notion with tatemae that says we’re going to play this in an approved manner and no one will be hurt by it. Asamura was reasserting the social need to play for the team in the prescribed fashion even while being praised for a big swing that left no doubt about his intention. When he said he wasn’t swinging for the fences, he wasn’t denying it, but rather delivering a public service announcement: “Don’t try this at home kids.”

Offsetting penalties

The Hawks-Buffaloes game had a first for me, a balk that was called a balk and then wasn’t. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Orix lefty Daiki Tajima was delivering a pitch to Yurisbel Gracial with runners on first and second, when instead of releasing the ball he held on to it.

Gracial had asked for time and stepped out of the batter’s box without the umpire calling for play to stop. Tajima saw it and stopped and was in the process of being charged with a balk until the umpires decided, reasonably enough, that since Gracial had also broken the rules by stepping out of the box, no balk would be charged.

Hayato Sakamoto in toyland

With three hits on Wednesday, Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto moved to within 39 hits of Japan’s iconic 2,000-hit milestone.

What no one mentions is that the 31-year-old Sakamoto has an outside chance of becoming the second player with 3,000 hits in Japan.

Bill James’ Favorite Toy formula for calculating the chances of achieving certain career numbers, Sakamoto entered the 2020 season with a 30 percent chance of joining Isao Harimoto in the 3,000-hit club. It didn’t say what the chances were of Sakamoto becoming a Sunday morning TV talking head, however.

What I meant to say about catching

I’ve been going down a rabbit hole the past week or so, trying to identify catchers with substantial careers despite being particularly weak hitters or fielders. After a podcast listener asked whether Japanese teams favored hitting or defense, I tried to identify various kinds of careers.

The question was sparked by the Chunichi Dragons’ inability to settle on an everyday catcher since Motonobu Tanishige stepped away from that role. I believe teams will give playing time more easily to good defensive catchers who can’t hit than good hitting catchers who are poor defenders.

What I found is that teams will give the everyday job to guys who have the physical tools to be good-fielding catchers who are decent hitters and who eventually develop into good fielders. Some of those guys do become better-than-average fielders and some don’t. Sometimes those guys develop reputations as good handlers of pitchers, something that is virtually impossible to quantify with the available data.

I also suspect that a lot of the variability in these careers comes from the frequent injuries that come with catching.

Catchers’ fielding

The first trouble is measuring defensive quality. Bill James’ win shares system gives teams’ catchers a chance to seize a large share of their team’s defensive wins if they are relatively better than the league in the following categories in descending order: Throwing out would-be base stealers, errors and passed balls and opponents’ sacrifice bunts, these last two combine for only 10 percent of the team score. Based on those scores and the scores of other positions, all a team’s catchers receive a share of the defensive wins, these are then split up among individuals based on their respective playing time and achievements.

It is mute on the subject of calling pitches, but if a team’s catchers are good at preventing sacrifices, commits few passed balls, and has a relatively large number of non-strikeout putouts, and assists on plays other than foiled stolen base attempts, they will rate higher. Barring other quality information, the system attempts to measure catchers’ value as fielders rather than pitch callers.

Playing time

Then we have the problem of making a rough estimate about playing time since the number of innings played in NPB has only been published for the past few seasons. If you base it strictly on defensive win shares relative to plate appearances, then good hitters will have their defensive evaluation docked by the virtue of getting more PAs.

I evaluated offense as win shares per 500 plate appearances in seasons spent primarily as a catcher.

So between the fact that we’re only looking at fielding since players’ total defensive value is beyond our grasp and that catchers are extremely vulnerable to injuries that fill their careers with potholes and can wreak havoc on careers, this is at best a tricky exercise. But with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s have a look at some careers.

Long careers despite below-average fielding metrics

Katsuhiko Kido, Hanshin Tigers. Kido was the regular catcher for Hanshin’s 1985 Japan Series championship team. That was his career year both batting and fielding — probably the only year he was above average in his career and when he won his lone Golden Glove. Chronic shoulder issues limited his ability to control the running game as time went on, but he still caught in 943 career games.

Shinichi Murata, Yomiuri Giants. A solid hitter, Murata was the Giants’ primary catcher from 1990 to 2000 despite an injury to his throwing arm as a youngster that nearly drove him out of the game. Surgery allowed him to continue playing, and the Giants won four pennants with him as their main catcher. He was highly regarded by the team’s pitchers and won a Best Nine award and was MVP of the 2000 Japan Series.

Satoshi Nakajima, Hankyu, Orix, Seibu, Yokohama, Nippon Ham. One of those guys who was athletic and could hit as a youngster who became a respectable fielder when he got older. A number of catchers, particularly good-hitting ones, develop into respectable fielders late in their careers, which reminds me of one of John Huston’s great lines:

“Of course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, public buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

John Huston’s character Noah Cross in “Chinatown.”

Perhaps we can add catchers’ fielding to that group. Late in his career with the Fighters, having earned a reputation as an exceptional handler of pitchers, he would be brought in to catch in the final inning in save situations along with the closer.

Isao Ito, Taiyo Whales, Nankai Hawks. Another good hitter, Ito was the regular catcher for the Whales between 1964 and 1976. He was a five-time all-star playing in a great hitter’s park for a club that during his tenure devolved into one of the CL’s doormats.

Shiro Mizunuma, Hiroshima Carp. Although he does not rate well in overall fielding, Mizunuma was highly regarded for working with the Carp pitchers. He earned his first regular playing time in 1975 when the club won its first pennant. Mizunuma was the regular from 1975 to 1980 before an injury suffered in a traffic accident and the rapid development of Mitsuru Tatsukawa — one of NPB’s best defensive catchers turned him into a backup.

Yoshiharu Wakana, Lions, Tigers, Whales, Fighters. A journeyman who played from 1972 to 1991, Wakana was known for the large number of incidents he was involved in, particularly with foreign hitters. He was an above-average hitter, with below-average fielding numbers. Wakana was the No. 1 catcher for at least one season with three of his clubs. Like Nakajima, he finished with Nippon Ham, developed a reputation as a good defender and had decent numbers to back that up.

He holds the NPB record for passed balls in a season with 17 – the same season he controversially won his only Golden Glove.

As Hawks battery coach, he was credited with turning Kenji Jojima into a solid defensive catcher, but his coaching career ended after the 2001 season. That year Tuffy Rhodes tied Sadaharu Oh’s single-season home run record when Oh was the Hawks’ skipper. Wakana was not asked to return for 2002 after saying it would have been “distasteful for a foreign hitter to break Oh’s record.”

Of these six, two, only Kido and Ito, appear to have never developed good reputations for their handling of pitchers.

Long catching careers despite below-average offense

Here are the guys who were terrible hitters even compared to his catching peers but still had long careers:

Takeo Yoshizawa, Chunichi Dragons, Kintetsu Buffaloes. Chunichi’s No. 1 from 1958 to 1961, when his run-ins with first-year manager Wataru Nonin saw him traded to the Kintetsu Buffaloes for the next season. In 1959, Yoshizawa set a CL record by failing to record a hit in 47 straight at-bats, since tied by Chunichi second baseman Masahiro Araki in 2016. He was the No. 1 catcher for the Buffaloes for four seasons, during which time the club finished last three times and fourth once. Yoshizawa died of a stroke at the age of 38.

Despite his lack of offense, Yoshizawa played in 1,355 and had 3,876 plate appearances.

Ginjiro Sumitani, Seibu Lions, Yomiuri Giants. This guy is at the crux of the offense vs defense debate behind the plate as he lost his job to a guy who could mash but was still raw as a pro catcher, Tomoya Mori.

Sumitani demonstrated he could catch at the pro level straight out of high school and by hitting two home runs in a single game as a rookie – in tiny Kitakyushu Stadium – held out promise Sumitani might someday turn into a hitter. An above-average defensive catcher for most of his career, through his first 11 seasons he’d amassed a total of 0.3 win shares on the offensive side. Ironically, his offensive production has improved since turning 29, while his defense appears to have slipped. He’s won two Golden Gloves and played for the national team.

Takashi Tanaka, Nankai Hawks, Hiroshima Carp. Tanaka had both the rep for being a quality handler of pitchers and solid fielding metrics. He only had three seasons in which he amassed 300 plate appearances but he was the Carp’s No. 1 from 1958 to 1966 and had 3,347 career plate appearances. By my estimation the worst hitting catcher to have more than 1,200 career plate appearances.

The boring stuff

Since expansion in 1950, 48 catchers have had at least 2,500 plate appearances from seasons in which they caught in 80 percent or more of their games, each of those had at least two seasons in which they were primarily catchers with 300-plus plate appearances, a status I’ll label as “everyday.” These are the players I looked at.

The average career defensive value for these players is 1.25 fielding win shares per 100 PA. I estimated that 33 of the catchers fall within one standard deviation of the mean for their careers. Hall of Famer Atsuya Furuta was two standard deviations above the mean. Five were 1 SD above, while two were 2 SDs below average and seven were 1 SD below average.

The catchers whose fielding rated at least one standard deviation above the mean averaged 12.2 seasons as everyday catchers and 6,330 career plate appearances from their seasons when primarily catching. Those who were 1 SD or more below the fielding mean averaged 4.3 seasons as an everyday catcher and 3,239 plate appearances.

Two catchers with substantial careers are more than 1 SD below average offensively, 2 were 1 SD above the mean, while three were 2 SDs above the mean offensively.

The catchers with the longest careers are, not surprisingly, those who are better-than-average fielders and better-than-average hitters. We don’t see any long careers by guys who are really poor hitters, or really poor fielders.

The best hitting catcher in NPB history — at least until the Seibu Lions’ Tomoya Mori gets a few more years under his belt — is Koichi Tabuchi, who did not quite collect 3,000 plate appearances in seasons when he caught in 80 percent of his games because he often played at first base to keep his bat in the lineup. As a fielder, Tabuchi was probably around average.

Below are some of the lists the study produced:

Weakest fielding metrics 2,500-plus PA

1st SeasonName JName RDef WS 100B WS 500Career C PA
1983木戸 克彦Katsuhiko Kido0.674.792538
1984村田 真一Shinichi Murata0.706.933089
1987中嶋 聡Satoshi Nakajima0.883.793870
1961伊藤 勲Isao Ito0.905.663846
1969水沼 四郎Shiro Mizunuma0.943.653387
1999藤井 彰人Akihito Fujii0.961.702709
1950山下 健Takeshi Yamashita0.993.513233
1974若菜 嘉晴Yoshiharu Wakana1.035.124210
1957田中 尊Takashi Tanaka1.040.733447
1967加藤 俊夫Toshio Kato1.057.844291

Strongest fielding metrics 2,500-plus PA

1st SeasonName JName RDef WS 100B WS 500Career C PA
1990古田 敦也Atsuya Furuta2.0012.077998
1978達川 光男Mitsuo Tatsukawa1.633.984181
1982伊東 勤Tsutomu Ito1.616.228155
2001阿部 慎之助Shinnosuke Abe1.5316.556386
1970大矢 明彦Akihiko Oya1.504.624933
1981田村 藤夫Fujio Tamura1.446.815126
1991矢野 輝弘Akihiro Yano1.438.304934
1969田淵 幸一Koichi Tabuchi1.4124.042962
1989谷繁 元信Motonobu Tanishige1.387.2710336
1972梨田 昌崇Masataka Nashida1.376.023058

Weakest offense 2,500-plus PA as catchers

1st SeasonName JName RDef WS 100B WS 500Career C PA
1957田中 尊Takashi Tanaka1.040.733447
1954吉沢 岳男Takeo Yoshizawa1.121.003867
2006炭谷 銀仁朗Ginjiro Sumitani1.331.223593
1954安藤 順三Junzo Ando1.101.572518
2002細川 亨Toru Hosokawa1.111.593906
1978袴田 英利Hidetoshi Hakamada1.241.672538
1999藤井 彰人Akihito Fujii0.961.702709
2003鶴岡 慎也Shinya Tsuruoka1.192.113007
1950山下 健Takeshi Yamashita0.993.513233
1969水沼 四郎Shiro Mizunuma0.943.653387

Strongest offense 2,500-plus PA as catchers

1st SeasonName JName RDef WS 100B WS 500Career C PA
1969田淵 幸一Koichi Tabuchi1.4124.042962
1954野村 克也Katsuya Nomura1.2919.4811747
2001阿部 慎之助Shinnosuke Abe1.5316.556386
1964木俣 達彦Tatsuhiko Kimata1.2513.467131
1990古田 敦也Atsuya Furuta2.0012.077998
1981中尾 孝義Takayoshi Nakao1.2310.052622
1999里崎 智也Tomoya Satozaki1.139.843617
1991矢野 輝弘Akihiro Yano1.438.304934
1967加藤 俊夫Toshio Kato1.057.844291
1989谷繁 元信Motonobu Tanishige1.387.2710336

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.