Tag Archives: Hiroki Kuroda

Masa’s Choice

Masahiro Tanaka on Saturday explained reasons for his abrupt return to the Rakuten Eagles just a few days before the team’s spring training camp was to open on Monday. I’m sure what he said was true, but it probably wasn’t the whole story.

Having said that, I doubt Japan’s media wanted the whole story. They want players to talk about player things: championships, fans, organizations, competition, contracts, teammates and so on. Tanaka mentioned the coronavirus once in his press conference, but not his family at all, which is fine but probably limits our understanding of the whole picture.

But let’s move on from that, and talk about 2021. Tanaka’s decision may not have been earth-shaking, but Japan definitely rocked. Most Japanese major leaguers only return to Japan when offers back home far outweigh the available MLB options.

Hiroki Kuroda reportedly left millions on the table to return to Japan. Tsuyoshi Wada and Daisuke Matsuzaka still had some value in the majors but nothing like the big guarantees SoftBank was offering.

Below are the five best seasons produced in NPB by Japanese former major leaguers. None of these were remotely close to their best prior to their leaving Japan, which is to be expected since most were past their primes when they left. I was surprised to see that the two best seasons were produced by post-Tommy John guys.

NameTeamReturnedYearAgeWS value
Tsuyoshi WadaHawks201620163512.8
Kyuji FujikawaTigers201620193812.2
Kazuhisa IshiiSwallows200620063211.8
Ryota IgarashiHawks201320143511.4
Hiroki KurodaCarp201520154010.8

The funny thing from Saturday’s presser was Kazuhisa Ishii’s reminder that he still has a few more career wins than Tanaka. The former lefty does indeed, but Ishii pitched until he was 39 and his total career value is about three-fourths of Tanaka’s to date.

They both returned to Japan for their age 32 seasons after disappointing results the previous year in the big leagues, but Tanaka has been better at every step of his career along the way. Ishii was a lefty but Tanaka is two months younger at this stage.

People still remember the pre-elbow sprain Tanaka, who ran off 36 straight quality starts from Aug. 26, 2012 until he took the loss in Game 6 of the Japan Series, snapping a streak of winning 30 consecutive regular and postseason decisions. We remember that Tanaka bounced back from the Game 6 complete-game loss to save Game 7 and clinch Rakuten’s first, and so-far only, Japan Series championship.

But he’s not that pitcher anymore. He was a master of adjustments then, and no doubt is even craftier now, but the good fastball is not quite what it was, and I have to think the hitters in Japan, particularly in the Pacific League, are better than they were eight years ago.

The big difference, I suspect, is going to be how well he adjusts to batters who thrive on testing pitchers’ sanity, by poking good pitches foul and rarely trying to drive them. Japanese baseball is in some respects a different kind of challenge for pitchers and hitters.

Because it is baseball, it is hard, and will eat up and chew out some of the world’s best if they take their feet off the gas for more than instant. I doubt Tanaka’s transition will be as smooth as everyone expects, but because he is smart and highly motivated, I expect he can get over those hurdles better than anyone.

It’s going to be fun.

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