Tag Archives: NPB

Japan’s Rule 5

On Thursday, the players union held a working group session with NPB officials, when they discussed bringing about a kind of Rule 5 draft that would make surplus talent available to other teams. And though it might seem like something NPB owners would never go for, this one is probably going to happen.

And the reason it’s going to happen is that while NPB is defined by its rules, it is governed by organizational inertia that keeps it moving forward the way it always has, at least until it’s challenged. The reason NPB is going to accept this is because the union is likely holding a gun to its head.

When talks began on this subject a year ago, there was hope it could be implemented in 2020, but the coronavirus intervened, preventing NPB from instituting its version of MLB’S Rule 5 draft. According to Nikkan Sports, the plan last year focused on each team nominating eight players for the draft so that they might find teams willing to give them more playing time.

“The association is proposing setting specific qualifications in terms of service time in days and years, but that is the area where the two sides are farthest apart,” said Tadahito Mori, the association’s secretary general. “I would like to have it implemented this season.”

That, however, seems unlikely. Although the teams are not unwilling to talk, they don’t seem to have much interest in moving forward while the coronavirus pandemic remains a concern. But, NPB is just stalling.

The reason the union is going to get what it wants is that NPB already has a draft for players that teams have no plans for, called the Selection Draft. It is still on the books, and I see the new “breakthrough draft” as a way for NPB to negotiate its way out of a rule it wished didn’t exist but does.

The Selection Draft is supposed to be held within seven to 10 days after the new player draft, and each team is required to make one fifth of its roster available for other teams to pick through and claim if they so choose for the cost of one-year’s salary and up to 2 million yen, plus consumption tax, currently 10 percent.

I can easily see the union going to owners and say, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Give us a draft that suits our purposes, or we’ll force you to do the one that’s currently on the books.”

In my experience, Japanese unions make their biggest breakthroughs in Japan when companies are careless about their own rules. When I was an indentured servant at Yomiuri, the union reached a settlement in the area of $270,000 – not because of the blatantly hideous labor policies that really existed but because of a poorly worded contract that represented a trivial violation of the law.

To avoid a court case and a much costlier settlement the company agreed to pay its contract staff two years of overtime and night pay it had been holding back and never would have paid without the trivial contractual miss-step.

Returning to baseball, this is just the latest example of NPB’s not really knowing what its own rules are. We’ve seen over and over the gaps that exist between the way the owners insist the game works and the way NPB’s own rules are actually written.

The owners “knew” Hideo Nomo couldn’t just retire and play in the States. Then they knew that agents were not allowed to represent players in contract negotiations. But those were just things owners said that had no basis in reality.

So as unlikely as it may seem, I suspect that either the players association is going to get its draft THIS YEAR or the owners are going to once more face up to their own incompetence.

Robert Whiting Live chat

On Monday, February 15, non-fiction author Robert Whiting joined in for a live chat with website subscribers, during which we learned that his memoirs “Tokyo Junkie” can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Also joining in as a surprise participant was former Lotte Orion, Taiyo Whales, and Yakult Swallows star Leon Lee, who talks about his times in Japan as a player, manager of the Orix BlueWave, and as Pacific Rim scout for the Chicago Cubs.

Want to hear how Lee got a raise by practicing less? Listen in. There may be a one-hour limit to zoom video’s

All free and paid subscribers are eligible to participate. My thanks to all who joined.

Live chat with Robert Whiting and Leon Lee

I’ve posted the videos and some other stuff that came out in the chat, broken down by topic.

NPB commissioner sees more games in future

Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Atsushi Saito said Tuesday Japan’s two top-tier leagues are considering playing more than their current 143-game schedule after 2021 in order to make up for the losses incurred in the coronavirus-hit 2020 season, the Nikkan Sports reported.

“One thing we can consider is related to the number of games. We now have 143, but if we increase the number of games, we can increase revenue.”

–NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito

Saito said preparations are in the works for combatting the coronavirus this year, when Japan is set to host the Summer Olympics, and even next, and said he’s heard that some players would be on board with an expanded schedule.

Saito didn’t say why NPB didn’t consider MLB’s scorched-earth model of firing scouts, coaches and minor leaguers.

Viral tale

NPB’s coronavirus response mirrored the stance of Japan’s central government. In February 2020, when the virus was considered a threat to holding the the Olympics on schedule, preseason games were held behind closed doors and NPB mimicked the government by first saying the season would start on schedule and then repeatedly announcing new starting dates.

All that changed on March 24, the day Japan bowed to the obvious, that a July-August 2020 Tokyo Olympics were impossible when the IOC said it was a no-go.

No longer needing the illusion that Tokyo would be safe to host the Olympics from July, Japan’s infection count jumped by a factor of eight, and the fiction that pro baseball’s season would begin in April was abandoned.

The government soon announced its first state of emergency, and when it was lifted in May, NPB announced its June 13 Opening Day behind closed doors for a 120-game season with no all-star break or interleague play. Teams were allowed to admit up to 5,000 fans from July 10.

Teams were permitted to admit roughly half their venues’ attendance from the start of September.

Japan is now on the verge of announcing another state of emergency with infection rates hitting record levels. The government is also restricting entry to non-resident foreign nationals following the emergence of new strains of the coronavirus, and there is concern about the ability of players to travel here in time for the start of Spring Training on Feb. 1.

On Monday, the Orix Buffaloes announced that infielder Steven Moya arrived in Japan on Sunday in order to avoid any entry hassle. This year, he will be competing for playing time with both Adam Jones and returning slugger Stefen Romero, who had a productive 2020 season with the Rakuten Eagles.

The gap: Hitters or pitchers?

There’s little doubt a gap exists between the Pacific and Central leagues in terms of quality, based on interleague results since 2005.

This is the second of three pieces I’m doing on the differences in quality between Japan’s two leagues.

Last time, I took up the issue of how the pitching in the two leagues differs now, and evaluated Alex Ramirez’s idea that the PL is a harder-throwing league and that the CL needs to do a better job of drafting and developing hard throwers.

This time I want to replicate a study I did a few years ago to evaluate how much of the PL’s advantage is on the pitching side. While I agree with Ramirez that PL hitters are better because they are used to seeing better pitching, this study suggests that the league’s competitive edge started in the batter’s box.

In the final piece, I’ll use my draft database to evaluate the quality of domestic player development by both leagues.

The study

A few years ago, when the PL’s superiority began to fill our rear-view mirrors like a tail-gating monster truck, I derived a study to figure out where the league’s advantage came from.

If we look at how well each team does against visitors from both leagues in their main stadiums, we can control for park and talent. If we limit the time frame to games prior to July — since interleague play runs from May to June — we can eliminate the noise from league games played in the year’s hottest months.

The study uses runs per nine innings and also wOBA, and takes a weighted average of performance against league and interleague opponents. If the PL pitching is superior we would expect offenses from both leagues will do more damage against visiting CL pitchers than visiting PL pitchers. If the PL hitters are superior we would expect visiting PL batters to do better than CL visitors.

The study suggests these conclusions:

  • The belief that the difference between the PL and CL is mostly related to pitching is unsupported.
  • CL pitching was probably a little better from 2005 to 2012, but is no longer as good.
  • PL pitchers used to struggle in the CL’s home-run friendly parks

The pitchers

I’m going to measure the quality of each league’s pitching by looking at the weighted league averages of: runs allowed per nine innings by visitors and home opponents’ basic wOBA.

2005-2012

Home parksCL visiting pitchers’ RA9PL visiting pitchers’ RA9
CL4.144.23
PL4.164.23
Home parksHome wOBA vs CLHome wOBA vs PL
CL.310.316
PL.309.308

These figures support Trey Hillman’s 2006 after the first round of interleague play that the CL was the better-pitching, harder-throwing league. But that was then and this is now. Here are the weighted averages since 2013.

The gap actually might not be as large as the tables above indicate, as I’ll go into below. It seems that size does matter when it comes to ballparks.

2013-2019

Home leagueCL visiting pitchers’ RA9PL visiting pitchers’ RA9
CL4.294.05
PL4.524.27
Home parksHome wOBA vs CLHome wOBA vs PL
CL.311.308
PL.319.310

Since 2013, whatever advantage CL pitchers might have had over their PL counterparts has evaporated, and as Ramirez suggested, the PL pitching (and defense) is definitely better than what passes for good enough in the CL.

The hitters

We’re going to flip this around and now look at weighted league averages against CL and PL visitors in home pitchers’ RA9 and visitors basic wOBA.

2005-2012

Home leagueHome RA9 vs CLHome RA9 vs PL
CL3.784.02
PL3.404.02
Home parksCL visitors’ wOBAPL visitors’ wOBA
CL.298.308
PL.289.299

2013-2019

Home leagueHome RA9 vs CLHome RA9 vs PL
CL3.884.13
PL3.543.97
Home parksCL visitors’ wOBAPL visitors’ wOBA
CL.301.312
PL.290.305

So if the PL advantage in interleague play has been primarily on the pitching side, then somebody better tell their hitters that. I did a parallel wOBA study that removed pitchers and designated hitters from the equation, but it made little difference.

The big and small of it

The one area in the study where PL pitching was inferior when measured by both visitors’ runs allowed per nine innings and opposing home teams’ wOBA was in the CL home parks from 2005 to 2012.

Former Swallows pitcher Shohei Tateyama thought that the PL was better at developing pitchers because their big parks were more forgiving. Before Fukuoka’s Home run terrace and the new shorter dimensions in Sendai and Chiba’s Home run lagoon, all six PL parks were tougher home run parks than Tokyo Dome, Jingu and Yokohama — and Hiroshima Shimin until 2008.

I broke them down into these four small parks, and three large parks, Koshien Stadium, Nagoya Dome and Mazda Stadium — more neutral than large, really. Here are the weighted averages of RA9 by visitors from each league since 2005 in the months prior to July.

2005-2008 CL visitors’ RA9PL visitors’ RA9
4 smaller CL parks4.444.94
2 larger CL parks4.244.26
2009-2012 CL visitors’ RA9PL visitors’ RA9
3 smaller CL parks3.433.80
3 larger CL parks3.613.42
2013-2019 CL visitors’ RA9PL visitors’ RA9
3 smaller CL parks4.484.57
3 larger CL parks4.193.51

That’s not a lot of information but it’s about what I expected. The steady proliferation of with three downsized PL parks would make a further breakdown since 2013 difficult and there are times when I’m adverse to work.

Conclusion

So that’s the footprint of the PL’s current advantage. No matter which league you play in, both leagues’ batters and pitchers playing in their home park put up better numbers when the visitors are from the CL than when they are PL teams in interleague.

When I ask people why the PL is better, the standard answer is pitching, perhaps because it’s easier to see how it could be better. But from here it simply looks like the PL pitching and hitting developed in tandem — starting with the hitting.

Next time, I’ll get into the makeup of the talent in the two leagues, and how talent has flowed into them and between them.

NPB 2020 Nov. 5

Thursday’s games

Other news

Higashihama’s luck runs out

Things went south in a hurry for Nao Higashihama, and the Lotte Marines exploited their advantage to pick up a crucial 6-1 win over the SoftBank Hawks on Thursday at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium to stay in the Pacific League playoff picture.

Higashihama (9-2) needed two big plays from Yusuke Masago. The Hawks center fielder saved two runs by making a catch against the wall in the second inning, but couldn’t quite haul in Hisanori Yasuda’s two-out fifth-inning fly to the gap in left.

The Marines came from a run down in the inning after Seiya Inoue, who was robbed by Masago in the second, got justice with a one-out broken-bat single. With first baseman Kenji Akashi holding the big Marine at first, Yudai Fujioka bounced one over his head to put two on. With two outs, a decent 0-2 fastball drifted into the heart of the zone, and the rookie Yasuda put a good swing on it, driving it to left center. Masago came up short and the ball bounced to the wall. Fujioka, who had to hesitate on the play scored on a close play at the plate.

Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, Higashihama gave up a one-out single and three two-out walks.

Manabu Mima (10-4) allowed an unearned run in the third. With two on and two outs, he gloved a liner from Yuki Yanagita but lost control of the ball. He retrieved it and threw wide to first, scoring the Hawks’ only run of the game. With the tying run at the plate in the form of slugger Alfredo Despaigne, Hirokazu Sawamura came in and struck out the big Cuban on four straight splitters. The Marines’ lucky two-run fifth snapped a 28-scoreless-inning streak since Lotte scratched him for a run in the Hawks’ 5-1 win on Oct. 10.

Eagles ride late rally

Thirty-two-year-old veteran Ginji Akaminai and rookie Hiroto Kobukata each doubled in a ninth-inning run off Taiwan right-hander Chang-Yi (2-4) as the Rakuten Eagles broke up a 2-2 tie to beat the Orix Buffaloes 4-2 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Former Padre Kazuhisa Makita (2-2) earned the win, and lefty Yuki Matsui earned his second save as he transitions back to the bullpen after spending the first half of the season transitioning to the starting rotation. Longtime starter Wataru Karashima, who spent the first half of the season in the bullpen, allowed two runs over seven innings in which he struck out 10, walked one and allowed five hits.

Ono earns Dragons an ‘A’

Sawamura Award winner in waiting Yudai Ono (11-6) struck out seven and walked one over seven innings to pitch the Chunichi Dragons to a 2-0 win over the DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome. The win clinched the Dragons’ first top-three “A-class” finish since 2012.

That 2012 second-place finish came under the late Morimichi Takagi in the first year after the club fired their best manager ever, Hiromitsu Ochiai, for not being fan friendly, and three years after the team’s parent company began cutting spending in the wake of the downturn in Japan’s newspaper business.

Ono leads the CL with a 1.82 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 10 complete games, six shutouts and 148-2/3 innings.

Speedy Murakami swipes 3 in 1 inning

Munetaka Murakami raised his career stolen base total to 16 with three in the second inning of the Yakult Swallows’ 8-7 loss to the Hanshin Tigers.

The steals came in his 265th career game, as he became the 17th player in Japan to manage the feat. The 20-year-old cleanup hitter singled, took second on the next pitch, stole third as part of a double steal. He stole home when the Tigers tried to pick off his teammate at second.

The feat hadn’t occurred in the CL since 1953. It last happened in Japan when Nippon Ham’s Makoto Shimada did it in 1979.

The Tigers overcame a seven-run implosion by right-hander Yuki Nishi.

Chono leads Carp, Sakamoto inches closer

Former Giant Hisayoshi Chono hit his 10th home run and set up the winning run with a 10th-inning leadoff single as the Hiroshima Carp came from behind to beat Yomiuri 5-4 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto belted his 18th home run in the sixth inning. The two-run shot tied it 2-2 and moved Sakamoto within two hits of 2,000 for his career.

Government slams ‘Tazawa Rule’

Japan’s government announced Thursday that it was a day late and a dollar short. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the fair trade commission said it suspected Nippon Professional Baseball’s Tazawa Rule was a violation of Japan’s antimonopoly act.

NPB gave up on the rule this summer, and the FTC said it has dropped its investigation. The biggest surprise is less that the FTC dropped its inquiry than the realization that Japan actually has an antimonopoly law.

The rule in question was created in 2008 in the days before Tazawa, a top amateur prospect with corporate club Japan Energy, signed with the Boston Red Sox. The rule was aimed at players who turned pro overseas, and prohibited Japanese clubs from signing them after they returned to Japan for a period of two-to-three years.

The whole thing was riddled with irony, no less because the rule was put into place about the same time that lefty reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi was named Central League rookie of the year. Yamaguchi had turned pro in the United States, where he played rookie ball in Missoula, Montana.

The rule may have influenced high school pitchers Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani as they chose to remain in Japan after declaring their intent to go overseas.

NPB did away with the Tazawa rule this summer when he returned to Japan and joined the Musashino Heat Bears of the independent Baseball Challenge League.

In retrospect, the rule negatively impacted Tazawa and NPB, while limiting the options of two other players who were keen on turning pro with a major league club, Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani.

The rule prevented Tazawa from choosing to enter NPB’s 2019 draft rather than accept a camp invite with the Cincinnati Reds. It also prevented Japan from selecting him in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The 2013 squad, Japan’s first not to reach the final, was prohibited from selecting Tazawa, despite both head coach Masataka Nashida and pitching coach Tsuyoshi Yoshida saying how useful his participation would have been.

By getting rid of the rule, it made Tazawa eligible to be drafted last October, but no teams even took a flyer on him–a common practice when a player has broken one of the owners’ unwritten rules. Players of known quality who leave their teams in contract disputes have historically been ignored.

Martin re-enlists with Marines

Outfielder Leonys Martin, who is currently out with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss most or all of the postseason if the Lotte Marines qualify, has agreed to a two-year extension, ESPN’s Enrique Rojas has reported.

The deal according to Rojas is worth $6 million. The 32-year-old joined Lotte just before last year’s July 31 new-signing deadline joined Lotte just before last year’s July 31 new-signing deadline. Since then, he has made a big contribution with his powerful arm and his home run pop.

Although his numbers have been remarkably consistent since he arrived, his on-base percentage has jumped in 2020 because he is leading both of Japan’s leagues in being hit by pitches with 17, in 448 plate appearances.

Active roster moves 11/5/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/15

Central League

Activated

SwallowsP44Hiroki Onishi

Dectivated

BayStarsP20Yuya Sakamoto
CarpP66Atsushi Endo
SwallowsP19Masanori Ishikawa

Pacific League

Activated

BuffaloesOF25Ryo Nishimura

Dectivated

FightersP18Kosei Yoshida
BuffaloesOF00Hayato Nishiura

Starting pitchers for Nov. 6, 2020

Pacific League

Eagles vs Lions: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Takayuki Kishi (6-0, 3.39) vs Shota Hamaya (3-2, 4.84)

Buffaloes vs Fighters: Kyocera Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Hiroya Miyagi (0-1, 4.09) vs Ryusei Kawano (3-4, 5.13)

Central League

Dragons vs Swallows: Nagoya Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kazuki Yoshimi (1-2, 5.71) vs Keiji Takahashi (1-3, 3.98)

2 teams report infections

This is not to say “Japan is better than you are,” but rather to say that even where infections are 100 times less common than in the States, and nearly everyone wears a mask, the danger of COVID-19 is very real.

NPB coronavirus timeline

The SoftBank Hawks said Friday that a part-time worker at their home park, Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, has tested positive for COVID-19, while the Orix Buffaloes have also reported that a team official in his 40s has also tested positive.

The Hawks said the man, in his 20s, worked at the stadium but was not in close contact with anyone, which makes one wonder what kind of person works at a ballpark without coming into close contact with anyone else. Since we’ve seen that baseball players matter more than ordinary folks, the Hawks statement could mean that he did not come into contact with players or coaches.

The Buffaloes team official did not travel with the club this week to Sapporo and is resting at home without any sign of serious symptoms.

Although infections in Japan are roughly three times what they were when the government began announcing states of emergency in parts of the country, there has been no public discussion that more of the same is to follow. A total of five players within NPB have been known to test positive. NPB began its regular season on June 19, and so far has been fortunate to avoid infections. Players have been requested not to eat or drink when traveling and to refrain from eating out, period.

It’s not like NPB owners are any kind of geniuses. They have done what MLB owners have done, follow the lead of their government. When Japan’s government has waffled, the owners made bold stupid statements. When the government came out the next day, the owners said they weren’t interested in anything but safety and would do what they are told.

I understand there is a huge dynamic in America that says, “You aren’t the boss of me” and that wearing a mask has become a political touchstone. We don’t have the mask-as-political-statement thing going on in Japan, but we do have people who want to pretend it’s not dangerous and that socializing like normal is a test of their will power or something.

But it’s a smaller thing, and the government doesn’t encourage it, and still, Japan is entering a second phase much more dangerous than the first. Seeing what MLB is doing is horrifying.

Hearing the domino effect going on in MLB because the United States has made Japan’s lukewarm COVID-19 measures look like the wisdom of the ages, makes me wonder how long the U.S. season can last. At what point do the players say, “Nothing is worth it.”