Tag Archives: Bill James

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
DeNA42342427
Yakult39537617
Hiroshima42641116
Hanshin40737316
Chunichi34932915
Yomiuri45041912
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.

The months matter

A recent discussion in the “Hey Bill” feature in billjamesonline discussed why some players do better than others and brought up the topic of relative age effects. I did a study about 10 years ago about the effects of NPB players’ birth months that was published in the Daily Yomiuri, which means it’s disappeared from the web. The upshot of that study was that players born from April 2 to June 30 are over-represented in the NPB amateur draft and, on average, have less valuable careers than player born from July 1 to April 1–the cutoff date for school admissions.

Children born on April 1 will enter school in Japan a year before a child born the following day.

Overview

I replicated the study using every domestic player signed by an NPB team from the end of the 1965 season through the start of the 1997 season. Omitting four players I don’t have birth dates for, that remaining group of 2,160 players contains two active players, Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuya Fukuura. And whatever they produce in 2019 is not going to affect anything one way or another. The starting point of the study was set by the introduction of NPB’s first draft in 1965.

Breaking down each quarter of a year by birth month — with April 1 counting as March — and draft round. The most populous cell is the 127 signed first-round picks signed who were born from April to June. The second most is the 121 players born in those months taken in the second round. As expected, the 341 “haya umare” or early-born players whose birthdays go from Jan. 1 to April 1, make that quarter the least populous.

The table below gives the career win shares produced by players born in each quarter and the total number in each group, without reference to draft round.

The last thing that needs to be mentioned is the problem of value in the major leagues. Major League win shares are given 20 percent more weight in the calculations. It’s just a guess. They could be 50 percent more valuable for all I know.

Distribution of domestic players by birth-month quarters

Apr-JunJul-SepOct-DecJan-Mar
Avg WS210.0230.5306.8223.0
Number754651414341
Percent of total34.930.119.215.8

The favoritism in the draft show players born in the April-June quarter is exacerbated by an even higher share of those players taken in the first two rounds, and by the performance of those players.


Value rank of birth-month quarter by round

RoundQuarter starting Avg WS Best career
1stJuly68.8Kazuhiro Kiyohara, 1B
1stJanuary60.2Masaki Saito, P
1stOctober59.7Koji Yamamoto, CF
2ndOctober55.6Taira Fujita, SS
3rdOctober54.7Hiromitsu Ochiai, 1B
2nd January48.1Hiromitsu Kadota, DH
1stApril44.6Hideki Matsui, CF
2ndJuly44.5Keishi Suzuki, P
4thOctober39.0Ichiro Suzuki, RF
3rdJanuary38.8Yoshihiko Takahashi, SS

Discussion

Another thing that needs to be mentioned is that the birth-month quarter starting in January is largely populated by pitchers and catchers. In my previous study, I found that more than a quarter of the players drafted as catchers were born between Jan. 1 and April 1.

When I first did this study, a number of people gave me what I’d snarkily call “baseball announcer explanations” for why players born from October to April 1 outperform the players who are chosen more often by pro teams. The most popular one of these was, “Oh, they’re used to overachieving, so they try harder.”

All these guys try hard. I think there are three things going on.

  1. Accessibility
  2. Age bias
  3. Burnout

Accessibility

Players who are born after April 1 are larger and physically more developed than players months younger than they are. This gives them more time to play, more time to stand out and be noticed by coaches, who select them to play so that they can be seen by scouts.

Age bias

Because players born from October to April 1 are less physically developed than the players they are competing against, they are less likely to dominate competitions when scouts are watching.


Burnout

This is something that hadn’t occurred to me until recently. According to people who know a lot about how youth baseball functions in Japan, many of the players who eventually turn pro in Japan are not the best in their age groups when they are young. Amateur sports in Japan are intense, year-round, meat-grinding wars of attrition.

The best players typically become pitchers, and because competition (with the exception of university baseball) is in single-elimination tournaments, those aces throw game after game until their bodies break down. They are then surpassed by those who were a step behind them a year or two earlier.

Many of Japan’s best pitchers were not aces in elementary school or junior high. Masahiro Tanaka was a catcher until high school. Koji Uehara ran track in junior high and was an outfielder until his senior year in high school, when his school’s ace, Yoshinori Tateyama began to break down from injury.

It is not that much of a stretch, then, to see many of those players born from April to June as being at the end of their physical tethers by the time the pros call on them.

I know I’ve talked about this before

If we make a top-25 of players in NPB’s draft era, the best single draft round was the first round of the 1968 draft, Hall of Famers Hisashi Yamada, Koji Yamamoto, a player who has curiously been overlooked for the Hall, Michio Arito, and another who will eventually make it, Koichi Tabuchi.

The second best group are three from the Fab 4, the fourth round of the 1991 draft, Ichiro Suzuki, Tomoaki Kanemoto and Norihiro Nakamura.

Genda and NPB’s best

It took a while for the Japanese language media to catch on to Sosuke Genda’s shortstop fielding records in 2018 because fielding data in Japan is considered even more esoteric than it is in the States, and I’m referring to just the basics, put outs, assists, errors, double plays, fielding percentage.

There’s really nowhere to scan a publicly available database and find out who had the most assists or putouts in an NPB season or in their career. Things are getting better, but it’s still to quote Mr. Spock, “Stone knives and bearskins.”

The data is out there, it’s just inaccessible. This year, NPB’s website (the Japanese language version) did us the great service of posting a player page for every past NPB player. Of course, this includes batting and pitching. When NPB was publishing its encyclopedia, it did not include fielding records.

So here are the top 10 Japanese pro baseball seasons by a shortstop ranked in terms of total double plays and then assists

YearLeagueTeamName RGPOAEDPField
2018PLLionsSosuke Genda14327152611112.986
1963PLHawksKenji Koike14729549323111.972
2008CLTigersTakashi Toritani14426347615107.980
1985CLCarpYoshihiko Takahashi13023946816107.978
1998PLMarinesMakoto Kosaka12323641716106.976
1981PLBravesKeijiro Yumioka13021044917104.975
1964PLHawksKenji Koike14928949836103.956
2007CLCarpEishin Soyogi13523143913103.981
1991CLSwallowsTakahiro Ikeyama1322704124101.994
2006CLTigersTakashi Toritani14621349021100.971
2001CLBayStarsTakuro Ishii14025241712100.982
2016PLFightersTakuya Nakashima14321944714100.979

Top 10 NPB shortstop seasons ranked by total assists

YearLeagueTeamNameGPOAEDPField
2018PLLionsSosuke Genda143271526111120.986
19481LDragonsKiyoshi Sugiura13726850245900.945
1954PLBuffaloesTakeshi Suzuki13221950144680.942
1964PLHawksKenji Koike149289498361030.956
1963PLHawksKenji Koike147295493231110.972
2001PLMarinesMakoto Kosaka14025249216990.979
2006CLTigersTakashi Toritani146213490211000.971
2000PLMarinesMakoto Kosaka13522648911980.985
2003PLMarinesMakoto Kosaka1342264838860.989
2017PLLionsSosuke Genda14322848121890.971

Other than Genda, the big name on this list is Kenji Koike of the Nankai Hawks. Bill James’ win shares credits him with having four of the six most valuable defensive seasons at shortstop in the history of pro baseball in Japan. Koike’s rival for the title of Japan’s greatest shortstop is Hall of Famer Yoshio Yoshida, who had more career value at the position but did not reach the amazing peaks Koike did.

Genda’s 2018 season ranks 20th. A lot of that has to do with context. Genda is an amazing fielder, but NPB’s defensive standards are now remarkably high.

Win shares rates former Marines shortstop Makoto Kosaka as the best to play the position in the past 25 years and he is the only player in the last 50 years to have a season value ranked in the top 10.

For non win shares people, be warned that while win shares does give credit to various performance data, it is heavily weighted toward the context in which those data are compiled. It matters how many games your team wins, how good the team’s fielding is in relation to its batting and pitching, and how good the overall team defensive numbers at each position compare to the league norms. Good teams have more credit to pass around than weak teams and players who perform above the league’s norms will have a larger share of his team’s defensive credit than those who are below average and so on.

I’ve tried to post output from my database here in large files that can easily be read, but I’m not a database person or much of a coder, so that technology escapes me. I hope to remedy that by posting files of the top 20 in each defensive category by position on the data page, at least that way readers can monitor what the different records are.