Since I cast my ballot for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday, I’ve been going over my choice to write Hiroki Kuroda and Kenji Jojima on my ballot instead of Masahiro Yamamoto.
Essentially, I want to vote for players whose careers best track with players who’ve been selected previously for the honor. I’m not really trying to be a pioneer, although one could argue that trying to be objective in what is an extremely subjective process is radical.
If you look at who’s in and who isn’t, you’ll see that pitchers and position players have been held to different standards. I’ve excluded a handful of players whose Hall of Fame induction would have been unlikely without their managing.
I also excluded players whose careers ended before 1950 since the conditions were so radically different that they’re hard to evaluate with the same criteria. That gives us a pool of 72 players, 31 of whom were primarily pitchers.
So lets for the moment agree that in Japan, position players and pitchers are apples and apricots or whatever.
Kuroda and Yamamoto
Hiroki Kuroda, who joined the Hall of Fame ballot this election cycle, created the equivalent of 244 of Bill James win shares, with his 81 MLB win shares valued at 1.35 relative to the 134 he amassed in Japan.
In terms of raw career value, this ranks him 13th among NPB pitchers, all-time. Of course, pitchers who came along when Kuroda did, have had the advantage of managers who took their starters out before they threw a shit-ton of pitches, and thus have begun to have really long careers.
On the other hand, he ranks 62nd in history in terms of his best five-year span. Of retired pitchers from his era, Kuroda’s best five years are fifth behind Hall of Famer Masaki Saito, Kyuji Fujikawa, Masumi Kuwata, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Toshiya Sugiuchi.
In terms of the average of his three best seasons, he’s eighth behind those five guys, Hisashi Iwakuma and Koji Uehara among recent pitchers, but 114th in history, when pitchers were expected to burn out in a few years.
Yamamoto is an interesting comparison but not an easy one. Like his contemporary, Hall of Famer Kimiyasu Kudo, he was a lefty who survived the starting pitcher usage insanity of the 1980s and 1990s when pitch counts were allowed to shoot up in an era of unprecedented offense.
Yamamoto shouldn’t have had a long career but he did. His career value is 14th all-time, his best five-year stretch ranks 91st and his best three seasons 87th — the one area where he has an advantage over Kuroda.
I’m not 100 percent certain I had it right in picking Kuroda over Yamamoto. Yamamoto won 200 games because he played for better teams. If Kuroda had spent his career with an actual offense behind him instead of the Hiroshima Carp, he would have won 200, too.
Jo and Masa
I have Kenji Jojima ranked 38th all-time in position player career value. Some of the guys ahead of him are not in the Hall of Fame mostly because they were unpopular with the writers who put the players’ names on ballots.
His best five-year stretch is currently 19th best in history among position players, and his best three seasons rank 30th all-time.
There’s no doubt to me that he’s a Hall of Famer. I put him on the ballot because I felt he was a better candidate than Yamamoto, but he might not be. They both fit in with the best to ever play baseball in Japan.
The kids in the hall
In the past, I had Tatsunori Hara on this list of “mostly managing hall of famers” because he barely failed to gain entry for 15 years in the player’s division but was a shoo-in when his successful managing was considered in the expert’s division. But Hara had a career as good as many Hall of Famers, so I included him with the third basemen.
The players I excluded are Yukio Nishimoto, Toshiharu Ueda, Rikuo Nemoto, Kazuto Tsuruoka, Masaaki Mori, Yoshiyuki Iwamoto, Takeshi Koba, Akira Ogi, and Katsumi Shiraishi. The last five were all very good players but clearly were helped by having more on their resume than their playing careers.
Regardless of whether I’ve missed a couple of guys, it’s pretty clear that Japanese Hall of Fame voters are in synch with awards voters. We have had 158 MVP awards handed out, and 61 have gone to pitchers or about 39 percent.
It is reasonable to think that about 35 percent of the outcomes in every plate appearance are attributable to the quality of the pitcher and his own glove. In that case, handing out 39 percent of the MVPs to pitchers would make sense–if these MVP winners worked almost all of their teams’ innings.
They didn’t of course. It is also unrealistic to think that 45 percent of the greatest players in history were pitchers. But this is Japan, where pitchers are held in awe, and middle infielders are, for the most part, not expected to contribute offensively.
This, I believe accounts for there being so few middle infielder MVPs and Hall of Famers. Guys who can really hit are moved to less demanding positions because they run counter to the stereotype, and players who are fast and can really pick it, are taught as kids to focus on having small-ball at-bats: to sacrifice, hit behind the runner and hit the ball on the ground to the left side of the infield to make maximum use of their speed.
Christmas is coming and so is the deadline to submit ballots for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame players’ division.
There are 30 players on this year’s ballot and we get to pick seven. This year’s crop of new guys Kazuhiro Wada, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Michihiro Ogasawara, and Masahiro Yamamoto make the 2021 ballot a particularly packed one. In a normal year, three of those four would be candidates to go in on the first ballot. Wada might be one of those guys who has to wait a bit because his career got started so late.
I don’t have any straight-line calculation that says one guy is a Hall of Famer and another isn’t. I can just compare who’s in, who’s out and see if the various accomplishments of a candidate are common to those who get elected. This exercise is not about saying “This guy should be in the Hall of Fame” but rather “How well does this player fit with people who have been voted in before?”
To some degree, the quality of players who get in is somewhat determined by the quality of the players on the ballot. We’ve gone through some fairly slack ballots the past five years. It’s not that the guys who did get in weren’t worthy, but that they were at the lower end of the Hall of Fame spectrum. From this year, we’re going to get a surge of qualified players.
With each player, I’m going to give you three lists of 10 players who have been eligible for HOF voting as pitchers or position players and who are closest in three ratings: Career Win Shares, the average Win Share value of the player’s best five-year period, and the average Win Share value of his three most valuable seasons.
Golden Gloves don’t seem to equate much with Hall of Fame success, although it was cited when Tsutomu Ito won that his 11 awards were the most by a catcher.
Best Nine awards do appear to be a thing, as do MVP awards. Every two-time MVP is in or being voted on, as is every MVP who also won six or more Best Nines with the lone exception of the puzzling Hiromichi Ishige. By those considerations, five guys on this year’s players’ ballot will go in: Alex Ramirez, Michihiro Ogasawara, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tuffy Rhodes, Kenji Jojima, and Kazuhiro Wada.
Every player with more than seven Best Nine honors is in the Hall except for a pair who must have really pissed some people off in their day, Michiyo Arito (10), who is now in the expert’s division, and Ishige (8). Six and seven is the grey area for those without an MVP in their trophy case.
Twenty-three players whose career ended by 2015 won six or seven Best Nines. Of those, 10 are in, seven are being voted on, three still have a chance to make the experts’ division, and three are in all likelihood out of chances. With five Best Nines, you get in the realm of candidates who only got in through the experts’ division.
The one thing I can’t really measure for is popularity, perhaps the only thing that can explain why Masahiro Kawai was named on 61.6 percent of the players’ division’s ballots last year. I get why Shingo Takatsu got 73.2 percent because after all, he was the career saves leader for a while. Alex Ramirez got 65.8 percent, and it’s not like he’s unworthy but Tuffy Rhodes (28.8 percent) and Kenji Jojima (17.2 percent) have much better credentials.
Here is my ballot for the 2021 Hall in the order I think they should go in:
Nobuhiko Matsunaka 1B
Michihiro Ogasawara 3B
Masahiro Yamamoto P
Kenji Jojima C
Kazuhiro Wada LF
Hirokazu Ibata SS
Tuffy Rhodes CF
A two-time MVP and triple crown winner, with tremendous peak value and a good career. Matsunaka led his league in 17 offensive categories, and virtually everyone who did that and led in one of the triple crown stats is in the hall. He was a Japanese Randy Bass, but with even more peak value. Unlike Bass, he won’t have to wait for the experts’ division to rescue his candidacy from us non-experts who vote in the players’ division.
Career Value 310 WS
Kazuhiro Wada 332 – on ballot
Tuffy Rhodes 320 – on ballot
Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 319 – HOF
Hiroki Kokubo 311 – on ballot
Tokuji Iida 310 – HOF
Motonobu Tanishige 308 – on ballot
Norihiro Nakamura 305 – on ballot
Masayuki Kakefu 303 – Experts ballot
Atsunori Inaba 302 – on ballot
Taira Fujita 302 – Experts ballot
5 year peak 31 WS
Katsuya Nomura 34 – HOF
Hiromitsu Ochiai 33 – HOF
Koji Yamamoto 32 – HOF
Kazuhiro Yamauchi 32 – HOF
Tomoaki Kanemoto 32 – HOF
Isao Harimoto 31 – HOF
Michihiro Ogasawara – on ballot
Fumio Fujimura 30 – HOF
Masayuki Kakefu 30 – Experts ballot
Koichi Tabuchi 30 – HOF
3 best seasons avg 36.3 WS
Sadaharu Oh 40.8 – HOF
Shigeo Nagashima 38.3 – HOF
Masayuki Kakefu 38.1 – Experts ballot
Kazuhiro Yamauchi 37.3 – HOF
Hideki Matsui 36.3 – HOF
Tomoaki Kanemoto 35.8 – HOF
Katsuya Nomura 35.2 – HOF
Koji Yamamoto 34.8 – HOF
Hiromitsu Ochiai 34.8 – HOF
Tuffy Rhodes 33.8 – on ballot
Another two-time MVP and a similar player to Matsunaka with only slightly less peak value but better durability. I don’t know if they’re dead even or Ogasawara is behind Matsunaka. If Ogasawara is behind, he’s not behind by much.
The other two-time MVP on the ballot, Alex Ramirez is another step further down. One doesn’t want to compare raw career numbers when talking about imports, for whom it’s ALL about peak value, but Ramirez’s peak value was not in the same neighborhood as Guts’, and not among the seven most qualified this year.
Career Value 335 WS
Kazuhiro Kiyohara 384 – not on ballot
Kihachi Enomoto 360 – HOF
Sachio Kinugasa 344 – HOF
Atsuya Furuta 339 – HOF
Masahiro Doi 338 – out
Yasumitsu Toyoda 334 – HOF
Koji Akiyama 334 – HOF
Kazuhiro Wada 332 – on ballot
Tuffy Rhodes 332 – on ballot
Kazuyoshi Tatsunami 320 – HOF
5 year peak 31 WS
This starts with Koji Yamamoto, No. 3 on Matsunaka’s list, includes Matsunaka at 31 and adds the following two: Futoshi Nakanishi 29 – HOF; Yasumitsu Toyoda 28 – HOF, which is a similar mix to Matsunaka’s group with eight hall of famers, and two guys on the ballot.
3 best seasons avg 31.8 WS
Koichi Tabuchi 32.9 – HOF
Makoto Kozuru 32.8 – HOF
Atsuya Furuta 32.6 – HOF
Fumio Fujimura 32.5 – HOF
Hiromitsu Kadota 32.3 – HOF
Yasumitsu Toyoda 31.8 – HOF
Kihachi Enomoto 31.3 – HOF
Daryl Spencer 31 – out
Atsunori Inaba 31 – on ballot
Futoshi Nakanishi 30.9 – HOF
The Chunichi Dragons lefty won a Sawamura Award and had tremendous career value, Win Shares ranked him 26th all-time among pitchers, although Masahiro Tanaka likely passed him this year. But that is in the range where most pitchers have been elected to the Hall of Fame. His peak value — as measured by the average of his best five seasons, was not great, 95th, although a little better than Kimiyasu Kudo, a player of similar accomplishments who went in easily in 2016.
Kudo, however, won two MVP awards and three Best Nines, while Yamamoto only won two pitching Best Nines. As such Yamamoto may be a borderline candidate and my choice this year more of the heart than the head. But the ballot is in the mail.
Career Value 294 WS
Yamamoto is right on the margin between the haves and have-nots. Four of the next five pitchers with higher career values are in the Hall: Hideo Nomo, Kudo, Mutsuo Minagawa, Yutaka Ono. The next is Hiromu Matsuoka, who is on the experts’ ballot but struggling. Three below him are in the Hall and two of them have MVPs. Another is on the experts’ ballot and also struggling, former MVP Mitsuru Adachi.
5 year peak avg 14 WS
There are three Hall of Famers in this 10-player group, Kudo, old-timer Hiroshi Nakao, and Jyunzo Sekine, who was more valuable as an outfielder than a pitcher. Kazuhisa Ishii, and Shinji Sasaoka, both currently on the players’ ballot are there, too.
3 best seasons 18.5
Yamamoto’s three best seasons are comparable to those of: Sasaoka, Hideki Irabu, Hall of Famer Yutaka Ono, Fumiya Nishiguchi, who’s on this year’s ballot, Hiromi Makihara, Hall of Fame reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki, new players’ candidates Ishii and Kenshin Kawakami, and former Braves workhorse Yoshinori Sato — whom Yamamoto eclipsed as the oldest to throw a no-hitter in Japan.
Jojima is the catcher who should go in next, but I’d bet a thousand yen that Motonobu Tanishige will be inducted first. For a time around 2002-2004, Jojima was arguably Japan’s best player, or perhaps it was Tadahito Iguchi or Alex Cabrera or Nobuhiko Matsunaka.
Jojima won six Best Nine awards to Tanishige’s one, and eight Golden Gloves to Tanishige’s six. Jojima ranks 36th in NPB history in peak value, Tanishige 296th. True, Tanishige faced tougher competition by playing his best years in the same league with Atsuya Furuta, but one has to go a long way to argue that Tanishige was better. Tanishige is, however, probably a lot more popular and that seems to matter A LOT in the voting.
Jojima was truly an elite player, but his tepid performance in the voting suggests that just being better than virtually everybody else is not always a big concern with most Hall of Fame voters.
Looking at the tables below, Jojima looks close to being a lock for the Hall of Fame, because he’s Japanese…
Career Value 294 WS
Michiyo Arito 302 – Experts ballot
HIromi Matsunaga 302 – out
Takuro Ishii 300 – on ballot
Shinichi Eto 297 – HOF
Hiromichi Ishige 294- out
Koichi Tabuchi 292 – HOF
Yoshio Yoshida 290 – HOF
Yoshinori Hirose 289 – HOF
Tetsuharu Kawakami 286 – HOF
Hideji Kato 286 – Experts ballot
5 year peak 28 WS
Masayuki Kakefu 30 – Experts ballot
Koichi Tabuchi 30 – HOF
Futoshi Nakanishi 29 – HOF
Yasumitsu Toyoda 28.3 – HOF
Roberto Petagine 28.1 – out
Tom O’Malley 28 – out
Kazuhiro Kiyohara 28 – not on ballot
Koji Akiyama 28 – HOF
Tetsuharu Kawakami 28 – HOF
Hiroshi Oshita 27 – HOF
3 best seasons avg 30.7
Futoshi Nakanishi 30.9 – HOF
Kazuhiro Wada 30.9 – on ballot
Hirokazu Ibata 30.8 – on ballot
Tetsuharu Kawakami 30.7 – HOF
Kazuhiro Kiyohara 30.7- not on ballot
Hiroshi Oshita 30.4 – HOF
Alex Cabrera 30.4 – out
Randy Bass 30.3 – Experts ballot
Yoshio Yoshida 30.3 – HOF
Roberto Petagine 30.1 – out
Just a reminder, that while the ballot is packed with Hall of Fame quality players, the wonderful Masahiro Kawai got 218 votes a year ago. Here’s how he stacks up:
10 most players with most similar career value (148 Win Shares) : None in HOF. 10 players with most similar value from their best five-year stretch: None in HOF. 10 players with most similar value from their 3 best seasons: 1 in HOF – 2017 inductee Tsutomu Ito.
Recent players with similar career value: Norihiro Akahoshi, Hiroshi Shibahara, Makoto Kosaka.
Recent players with similar best 5-year stretches: Shibahara, Makoto Kaneko.
Recent players with similar 3 best seasons: Ito, Hatsuhiko Tsuji.
During his career, the media voted Kawai the CL’s best shortstop once, but now many of those people want him in the Hall of Fame.
Ito was great but not a Hall of Fame-caliber player in the context of those previously inducted. Instead, the field was a little thin and he got in. The same thing was happening to Kawai, but he’s probably going to start stalling.
Is the best Japanese position player on the ballot to never win a Golden Glove. But with an MVP and six Best Nines, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t make it.
Career Value 332 WS
His career value is smack in between Ogasawara on the high end and Matsunaka on the low end.
5 year peak 27 WS
The top three in Wada’s list overlap with the last three on Jojima’s. After that it’s:
Atsunori Inaba 27 – on ballot
Wally Yonamine 27 – HOF
Tokuji Iida 27 – HOF
Hiromi Matsunaga 27 – out
Akinori Iwamura 26 – out
Makoto Kozuru 26 – HOF
Tyrone Woods 26 – out
3 best seasons 30.9 WS
Ogasawara is the top of Wada’s list, and Jojima is at the bottom. so basically solid candidates, Hall of Famers, troubled star (Kazuhiro Kiyohara) and foreigners.
In contrast to Kawai, Ibata, who was also a shortstop, had something resembling a Hall of Fame career with five Best Nine Awards. He may have to struggle to get in, but he is probably a little better qualified than Ramirez.
Career Value 258 WS
Yoshinobu Takahashi 262 – on ballot
Tomonori Maeda 262 – on ballot
Isao Shibata 261 – Experts ballot
Makoto Kozuru 260 – HOF
Shoichi Busujima 260 – out
Fumio Fujimura 258 – HOF
Akinobu Mayumi 256 – out
Morimichi Takagi 254 – HOF
Alex Ramirez 248 – on ballot
Noboru Aota 245 – HOF
5 year peak avg 26
Tyrone Woods 26 – out
Yutaka Fukumoto 26 – HOF
Randy Bass 26 – Experts ballot
Hiromichi Ishige 26 – out
Akira Eto 26 – out
Norihiro Nakamura 26 – on ballot
Kenjiro Tamiya 26 – HOF
Tuffy Rhodes 26 – on ballot
Atsuya Furuta 26 – HOF
Shigeru Chiba 26 – HOF
3 best seasons 30.8
Ibata’s closest 10 are essentially the same as Kazuhiro Wada’s, which is not an exclusive Hall of Fame group, but is Hall of Fame-like.
I suppose you are all tired of hearing me talk about Tuffy Rhodes. The good news for you then is that for the first time in about three years he is not the most qualified player on the ballot.
Career Value 320 WS
Rhodes’ career value is sandwiched between Kazuhiro Wada and Hall of Famer Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. If you have higher career value than a lot of solid candidates AND you’re an import, then that says something I suppose.
5 year peak avg 26 WS
Essentially the same group as Hirokazu Ibata’s, some guys who are in the Hall and some guys who would be if they were more popular.
3 best seasons 33.8 WS
The top six on Rhodes’ list are the bottom six on Matsunaka’s. And his list starts with Sadaharu Oh and will include Ichiro Suzuki when he’s eligible. So this, and the long career are really Rhodes’ strong suits.
Alex Ramirez and the other strong candidates
For a guy with 2,000 hits in Japan, the total career value should be Ramirez’s calling card, but it’s not as good as Rhodes, who didn’t reach 2,000 hits because he walked so much.
Rami-chan is going to get in because he won two MVPs and he has a ton of support, so I’m not worried enough to vote just to keep him on the ballot this year. He didn’t match Ibata in peak or career value and won two MVPs but only four Best Nines, the fewest of any two-time MVP in contention for the Hall.
Atsunori Inaba, who should have been the PL’s 2007 MVP instead of his teammate Yu Darvish is probably a step ahead of Ramirez in every category except the big hardware. Hiroki Kokubo is about even with Ramirez according to established norms. But if you are voting for Masahiro Kawai then you have to ignore a zillion players who are better than him. I think the world of Kawai, and he was a very good player for a long time.
I voted for Takuro Ishii in the past, but he’s not quite up to Ramirez’s level, so I’m going to have to pass on him. Shinya Miyamoto won 10 Golden Gloves, which is kind of a 50-50 grey area and he was named on 58 percent of last year’s ballots, but he also had less peak and career value than any of the nine Hall eligible players with 10 or more Golden Gloves. Ishii, who got 24.6 percent last year is a MUCH more fitting candidate. Kenjiro Nomura, another shortstop, is about even with Ishii although with a slightly shorter career and slightly more peak value.
I’m conflicted about Motonobu Tanishige. He’s going to get in because he’s on TV all the time, was a productive hitter for a while, and an excellent defensive catcher for a long time because he stayed fit for a long time.