The return of “Super Miya”
I kind of scoffed when Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times began calling him that about five years ago, but the SoftBank Hawks Kenta Imamiya is truly super or he would be if he were the man of steel and impervious from nagging injuries.
In a recent Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, our PL prediction show, I wondered what was to become of Kenta Imamiya, the PL’s premier shortstop before Sosuke Genda’s ascendence and a number of injuries, now that the SoftBank Hawks have flooded the middle of their infield with a track team, notably stolen base kind Ukyo Shuto.
The Hawks used to do everything better than everyone except steal bases. They had the best starting pitching, best defense, best on-base offense, best power offense, but it ain’t like that anymore. The OBP side of the equation is way down and the steals are way up. The Hawks have finished fifth or sixth in walks the past three seasons.
But Imamiya returned to the lineup after missing most of last season and cracked a two-run homer in his first game back, which reminded me why one would want him playing whenever he’s healthy: He really drives the ball. When healthy, Imamiya’s going to hit 12-15 home runs a year. Last year Imamiya hit 6 HRs in 177. The seven other guys who played at least one game at either second or short for SoftBank last year combined for seven HRs in 1,081 PAs.
On Saturday, Imamiya did it all with his offense and defense, making a huge difference in the Hawks’ Game 2 victory.
One thing I’ve wanted to do for years but never got around to until this weekend was actually compare the value created by free agents after they moved to their new teams compared to the value of players taken in compensation by the team losing the free agent.
Long train running
I first got interested in this subject back when I was at Yomiuri and became friendly with Yakult outfielder Kazuki Fukuchi. He was a great story. Like a lot of speedy Japanese outfielders, he switched back and forth between the outfield and infield as a young player.
A junior high hurdles champion, Fukuchi turned pro with the Hiroshima Carp, who had no idea what they had when they needed someone to trade for marginal reliever Hayato Aoki.
To the Carp, Aoki was just another defensive replacement reserve outfielder and pinch runner. But in his first regular playing time with the Seibu Lions, Fukuchi proved he could hit for average, and draw enough walks to be a danger on the bases with his speed.
Then the plot thickened, the Lions decided they would be better off with Hiram Bocachica in the outfield. Bocachica is a kind, fascinating guy and a heck of a player, the only one who has ever told me his ambition was to write a children’s book, but the Lions decided Fukuchi was expendable and didn’t put him on the protected list when they signed free agent pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii.
In exchange for a good pitcher on his final legs, the Swallows got an everyday outfielder who could fly and lead the CL in stolen bases for two straight seasons. Fukuchi told me he bought Ishii dinner after that for reviving his career.
So about 12 years ago, I thought, I wonder how often a player received in free agent compensation turns out to be better than the free agent, as Fukuchi easily was – although the Lions won their last pennant the year they signed Ishii, so they can’t be too unhappy how that turned out.
Where’s my second baseman?
On Friday, however, second baseman Shunta Tanaka drove in six runs in his debut for the DeNA BayStars against the team that gave him away as free agent compensation, the Yomiuri Giants.
I like to dump on manager Tatsunori Hara for his inability to settle on a second baseman and joke that he has a smart phone app called “Who’s my second baseman,” so it seemed poetic justice that he let one get away. But to be fair, he’s only averaged using 7.5 different players at the position, his successor for three seasons, Yoshinobu Takahashi takes the cake among modern managers with over 400 games managed with 8-2/3 different second basemen per season.
You’re probably not curious, but in case you are, the champion of second baseman switchers was Yasuji Hondo, who from 1963 to 1965 as manager of the Orions, used 11-2/3 different guys per season as he finished fifth twice and fourth once.
On Saturday, Takayuki Kajitani, the player whose signing sent Tanaka to the BayStars, hit a grand slam, while on Sunday, the player the ‘Stars got in compensation for the Giants signing Shun Yamaguchi – currently with the SF Giants – threw six scoreless innings against his old club.
So after that weekend, I had to finally break down and do the study, using win shares to measure value. The study starts with pitcher Hirofumi Kono going to the Giants from the Nippon Ham Fighters after the 1995 season and Tadayoshi Kawabe going to the Fighters, the first player taken in compensation after two years without a single player being taken and ending with the first transaction with players still active, Kan Otake and Ryuji Ichioka.
Free agents are listed on the top above the compensation player. Values are given using Bill James’ Win Shares total for all the season each player played for their teams after the transaction.
Of the 14 pairs where at least one player produced a minimum of 10 WS after the move, the free agent produced more value 10 times, which is about what I suspected. The Fukuchi-Ishii pair is the most lop-sided pair.
Teams don’t take players as compensation that often because it’s hard to get real value and taking no player means a larger cash package.
- Hirofumi Kono, Giants: 8
- Tadayoshi Kawabe, Fighters: 1
- Yukinaga Maeda, Giants: 15
- Kazuhiro Hiramatsu, Dragons: 0
- Shinichi Kato, K. Buffaloes: 5
- Yuki Tanaka, Orix BW 17
- Shigeki Noguchi, Giants: 1
- Kohei Oda, Dragons: 11
- Kiyoshi Toyoda, Giants: 20
- Akira Eto, Lions: 7
- Hiroki Kokubo, Hawks: 73
- Shintaro Yoshitake, Giants: 2
- Ken Kadokura, Giants: 1
- Kimiyasu Kudo, BayStars: 7
- Takahiro Arai, Tigers: 97
- Masato Akamatsu, Carp: 38
- Kazuhiro Wada, Dragons: 159
- Shinya Okamoto, Lions: 3
- Kazuhisa Ishii, Lions: 23
- Kazuki Fukuchi, Swallows: 39
- Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Tigers: 1
- Takuya Takahama, Marines: 5
- Shuichi Murata, Giants: 83
- Shugo Fujii, BayStars: 9
- Saburo Omura, Marines: 20
- Takayuki Taguchi, Giants: 0
- Hayato Terahara, Hawks: 11
- Takahiro Mahara, O.Buffaloes: 4
- Keiichi Hirano, O.Buffaloes: 19
- Kazuya Takahama, Tigers: 0
- Yasutomo Kubo, BayStars: 22
- Kazunari Tsuruoka, Tigers: 6
- Kan Otake, Giants: 20
- Ryuji Ichioka, Carp: 24