Tag Archives: Masahiro Yamamoto

Hiroki, Jo and Masa

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.

PositionHall of FamersMVPs
1st base724
2nd base35
3rd base515

Subscribe to jballallen.com weekly newsletter

Fix the hall

With the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame failing to elect a former pro player for the first time since it went two straight years in 1986 and 1987, people are asking what the heck is wrong.

It’s not a shortage of good candidates. In three years, the Players’ division has managed to elect only longtime Chunichi Dragons second baseman Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, while arguably the best candidate, Tuffy Rhodes, treaded water in the middle of the ballot.

This year’s ballot was both larger, increasing from 21 candidates to 30, and better stocked with players who had huge careers.

This year’s results

Reliever Shingo Takatsu and outfielder Alex Ramirez, each got the same number of votes as they did last year, but it’s not true that everyone who voted for them a year ago did so again, because I didn’t. But Masahiro Kawai, a perplexing high flyer dropped from 218 to 210, while Rhodes crashed from 102 to 61.

This year’s poor outcome, however, might encourage some changes to the way things are done.

What can be done

I’m glad you asked. I don’t have a concrete solution, like changing the way the ballots are structured or voted, but while the whole process is administered efficiently and above board, it is a closed circuit.

Baseball writers who cover players during their careers then vote on those players. The results are then announced to the media and only then relayed to the public through that media filter. The event is a press conference in the long narrow hall where the plaques are hung, and as wonderful as the surroundings are, it’s not a good venue for a press conference.

Unlike the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, Japan’s wonderful museum at Tokyo Dome is closed on the day results are announced. TV cameras are there to record the introductory speeches and the speeches of those being enshrined — or their survivors.

The only public part of the enshrinement process is when new members are presented with their plaques at Game 1 of the annual all-star series. There are fans in the crowd, but there’s no time for anything more than a wave to them.

The first thing to do is take the private process and make the fans a part of it.

Hold the induction ceremony outdoors and invite the public. Give honorees more than a day or two to prepare their remarks. Give their fans time to show up. Make it an event that for one day stops baseball time in its tracks.

Give voters a chance to go public

Look I may be wrong when I say Masahiro Kawai– whom I loved as the Yomiuri Giants infield anchor at short for years–is not really deserving of a place in the Hall of Fame. I’m wrong a lot. But if you think he is, why not tell everyone your reasoning?

Sure, full disclosure might bring abuse from the public, but it would ensure more careful deliberation by voters. How about we go halfway, and have the ballot committees give voters the chance to make their votes public. Then we can have a debate and I can learn stuff and the public can be more involved.

Of course, every writer has that option in this day and age, but I may be the only one who uses it other than a few Hall of Famers who take to the press each year to issue proclamations on who is and isn’t up to THEIR standards.

My podcast partner John E. Gibson complains about the lack of standards, but neither of thinks that’s really the problem, but I like the idea of looking at who is in and what the current candidates have in common with most of them.

If we don’t find a positive way to solve it, I’m sure the Hall of Fame can come up with a “solution” that causes more problems.

A little background

The first nine members were selected by the special committee, and that group included only one former professional player, the Yomiuri Giants’ first Japanese ace, Eiji Sawamura. The following year, his Russian teammate, Victor Starffin, became the first player to be selected by the competitors’ ballot in 1960.

The competitors’ ballot, considered anyone and everyone who played amateur or professional ball, managed, coached or umpired until it was disbanded after 2007 in favor of two competitors’ divisions, the players’ division for recent retirees and the experts’ division for those who hadn’t played in 21 years.

At least until 1965, former players still in uniform could be elected, since the manager of the Nishitetsu Lions, Tadashi “Bozo” Wakabayashi was elected in 1964. The next year, the Hall inducted the managers of the Yomiuri Giants, Tetsuharu Kawakami, and Nankai Hawks Kazuto Tsuruoka.

Perhaps someone didn’t like the idea of Hall of Famers in uniform, because from 1966 to 1996 nobody was allowed on the ballot who had been active as a player, manager or coach in the past five seasons.

Thus, Sadaharu Oh, who last played in 1980 and then coached and managed until 1988, couldn’t be considered until 1994. It created a huge logjam as guys like Oh, Masaichi Kaneda, Kazuhisa Inao, Katsuya Nomura and Shigeo Nagashima had to leave the game for five years before they could go in the Hall of Fame.

The Players’ division can now consider guys in uniform if they haven’t played for five years, while the experts’ division can handle anyone out of uniform for six months, and can consider other contributions to the game. The special committee is now how non-players and amateurs get in. It used to be the last resort for players, and players selected by the special committee are not considered competitors, even if they did little else but play.