Tag Archives: Pacific League

The development gap

The shape of talent

One cause that was suggested for the gap was that CL teams look for players with more polished skills while PL clubs are more likely to go with players who have higher physical potential.

On Twitter, Brian Cartwright suggested it was a correctable issue if CL teams did a better job of evaluating and developing their talent. If that is the case, a study of value from the draft would reveal a talent gap leaning toward the PL, and it does.

In my story on the Hawks’ odds of winning this year’s Japan Series, I made a conservative estimate that the six PL teams would combine for a .530 winning percentage if thrown into a balanced schedule among all 12 teams.

“We don’t know how much better the Pacific League is than the Central League, but over the history of interleague play, the PL teams have a .532 winning percentage. Over the previous five seasons, the PL winning percentage was .555, and the PL’s Pythagorean winning percentage is .559.”

Jim’s Series odds

A note about using win shares

I’m going to measure individual player output using Bill James’ Win Shares. This system gives each team 3 win shares for a win. These are then divided between the offense, fielding and pitching. Those are assigned to individual teammates based on individual performance.

This method has pros and cons, but since a league’s win share total can’t exceed 3 times its total wins, one league outperforming another doesn’t show up in win shares except in interleague. The two leagues each played 120 games in 2020 with no interleague, and had the same number of wins (counting ties as two halves of a win), so even though the PL is evidently stronger, win shares won’t reveal it. What it does reveal is the relative shape of the talent in the two leagues.

And from a glance at the careers of players signed since NPB adopted its draft, it’s clear that the PL teams are now Japan’s draft kings.

Drafting and development

The draft began in 1965, and including undrafted amateur free agents, the career value of domestic players signed by CL teams was more than that of players signed by PL teams over the first 28 years. Over the last 28 years, that trend has reversed.

So while the two leagues have essentially equal access to domestic talent, domestic talent has become become a larger share of the PL’s overall talent base.

Draft yearsCL valuePL valuePL / CL
1965 – 197814,04013,1520.94
1979 – 199215,62914,2570.91
1993 – 200614,06715,5391.10
2007 – 20184,2224,9971.18
Value expressed in career value as calculated using Bill James’ Win Shares, and includes MLB WS

I did not know this trend existed at all. Did you? It should have been obvious, I suppose. From 1966 to 1979, the CL went 12-4 in the Japan Series. From 1980 to 2007, the two leagues split the Series 14-14. Since then the PL has lead 11-2.

Do CL clubs appease Giants in draft?

Another issue people in the game for a long time mentioned is the custom of CL teams sometimes shying away from competing with the Giants for amateur talent.

This latter assumption, if true, doesn’t appear to be a big deal now, although that may have more to do with teams not being able to sign top corporate and college players before the draft — something that had been in play from 1993 to 2006.

Although the Giants have the most value in Japan from their No. 1 picks since 2000, and the most total value from their picks 1-5 than any other CL team, this latter edge is not huge. The Tigers, BayStars and Swallows have all done nearly as well.

But looking at the overall amount of domestic talent taken from the draft, the PL has compiled a huge advantage. Using Bill James’ Win Shares, players signed out of the draft from 2000 to 2018 by PL teams have produced 9,046 win shares, or 3,015 wins — some of those are with other teams including some in MLB. Players signed by CL teams out of the draft during the same period, have produced 8,315 WS, or 2,770 wins.

Skeletons in the closet

NPB entered the 2007 season under a cloud when the guy assigned by the Seibu Lions’ parent company to take over the team decided to be of service to baseball by having a look into the team’s player acquisition closet and sweeping out the skeletons.

The boss assigned a third-party investigation to the task and found a long history of abuses of the system by Seibu and other clubs. Instead of being celebrated for creating an atmosphere of transparency, Seibu was punished for bringing the game’s disrepute into the light.

However, that also ended the systems where pro teams could agree to sign up to two corporate or college stars before the draft at the cost of reducing their access to high school talent, making the draft more of a crapshoot.

The Seibu Lions’ crusade for transparency cost them in 2007, when they were barred from the first two rounds of the high school draft. But embarrassing NPB and forcing it to eliminate the old draft system has done nothing to slow the PL’s dramatic improvement in drafting and developing domestic talent.

Free agency

Free agency started in Japan after the 1993 season, but until 2005, it was essentially one-way traffic. Atsunori Inaba changed that.

He left the Yakult Swallows ostensibly for MLB, but signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2006 after failing to get a guaranteed contract overseas. Prior to Inaba, the total value from CL players moving to the PL was 12 win shares. Going the other way, players produced 190 for CL teams after leaving the PL via free agency.

Inaba had an MVP-caliber season for the Fighters in 2006, and after that year, the free agent scoreboard stood at 196-35 in favor of the CL. Things really began changing in 2011, when Seiichi Uchikawa, left the BayStars for the SoftBank Hawks.

Since 2006 the score is 477-436, but that’s even counting two players in the PL column who high-tailed it back to the PL after spending a brief time with the Giants, Hiroki Kokubo and Saburo Omura.

Import export business

Leaving on a jet plane

After the 1994 season, Hideo Nomo dropped the PL’s Kintetsu Buffaloes like a bad habit. His move began to put another dent in the PL’s growing talent surplus.

Players who left PL teams to play in the majors have produced 1,112 major league win shares from 1995 to 2019. The CL graduates produced 791 win shares in the big leagues during that time. The top of the list is Ichiro Suzuki at 324, followed by Hideki Matsui (150) and Nomo (123).

Three former CL players are next in line — Hiroki Kuroda (81), Norichika Aoki (78) and Koji Uehara (76) but it hasn’t been updated for 2020, when Yu Darvish pulled even with Kuroda. Masahiro Tanaka (69) will pass those three former CL guys if he has three more productive seasons.

Foreign trade

Because of the nature of win shares, the value of a league’s important talent is essentially the flip side of domestic talent within that league. Thus, if the win shares attributed to domestic players increases in a league, the number of win shares that go to imports must decrease. That give us table below.

The same would be true if a bunch of extremely talented left-handed hitters suddenly peaked at the same time in a league. The right-handed hitters wouldn’t get worse, but as a group, they would create a smaller share of the league’s wins.

I suspect that the imported talent base in the PL is actually quite stable, and that the gap is not nearly as large now as it looks.

YearsCL valuePL value
1966 – 19791,4981,761
1980 – 19933,9594,243
1994 – 20073,0492,445
2008 – 20192,8542,219
WS values from imported players

Move it on over

A parallel to the movement of free agent talent is the value of imported players in the league other than the one they first signed in. Since 2008, the Pacific League, long a supplier of imported talent to the Central League, has had a cumulative trade surplus since 2008.

Years CL WS value from PLPL WS value from CL
1966 – 197910989
1980 – 199314940
1994 – 2007219131
2008 – 2019201252
WS values from imported players

Conclusion

The big difference between the two leagues right now is, as my Twitter follower suggested, simply a matter of talent evaluation and development, that has seen PL teams do a better job of drafting and developing domestic amateurs than the CL.

This appears to have been going on for some time, but for a long time was counterbalanced by what used to be a large drain of free agent talent from the PL to the CL, and by the PL’s losing more talent to the major leagues.

The PL for as long as I remember has been the more innovative league, and is has long been aware of the need to replace the talent lost to the CL and MLB. As mentioned in the previous article, the PL has taken more strides toward making baseball pay in Japan. And as the PL teams get better at both managing their businesses and organizing their talent, then it is going to be a tough slog for the CL to catch up.

NPB April start date springs leaks

Despite the teams’ chant of full-speed ahead toward an April 24 start to the season despite the coronavirus pandemic, Sports Nippon on Tuesday morning provided the first inkling that anyone in Nippon Professional Baseball is willing to consider anything else as they move forward.

Later in the day, the six Pacific League presidents met online and agreed that with infections on the rise, April 24 was probably out of the question, Sports Nippon reported.

“We started by setting an Opening Day target and teams have been counting backward from then to figure out when to resume practicing. But first of all, you wait until the epidemic settles down, then you resume practice and then you ask when Opening Day should be. That should be the normal order…”

Pacific League official cited by Sports Nippon.

NPB has now met three times with Japan’s J-League pro soccer executives to discuss how to proceed with their season and after meeting with a panel of experts, have twice pushed back the start of their season.

Here is a link to my coronavirus-NPB timeline

The story quoted secretary general Atsushi Ihara, as saying, “We are taking in the panel of experts’ evaluation, analysis and projection of the infection situation, and of course, we have to consider that.”

In addition to April 24, which NPB revealed in March was the last day their simulations suggested they could complete a full 143-game schedule, they have also run simulations for seasons that start on May 8 and May 15.

Fighters announce new stadium to be known ES CON Field Hokkaido

The Nippon Ham Fighters announced the sale of the naming rights for their new stadium in Kita Hiroshima, Hokkaido, on Wednesday, saying the value of the deal is believed to be the highest in the history of sports in Japan, exceeding the 470 million yen ($4.3 million) a year paid by Nissan for the rights to Yokohama International Stadium — the home of the J-League’s Yokohama F Marinos soccer club.

Here’s the Fighters English page.

The natural grass field with a retractable roof is expected to open for business in 2023 and will be known as ES CON Field Hokkaido. The new naming rights holder is real estate developer ES-CON Japan, a subsidiary of the Chubu Electric Power Group that will be involved in the development of the surrounding property — known as Hokkaido Ballpark F Village.

The development is located near Kita Hiroshima Station about 8 kilometers east of the Fighters’ current home, Sapporo Dome.

When it is built, it will give all six Pacific League teams complete operating rights over their ballpark. Orix, SoftBank, and Seibu are the majority owners of their stadiums, while Rakuten and Lotte hold operating licenses. Only three of the six Central League clubs own the operating rights to their stadium.

The Fighters relocated to Sapporo in 2004, where they have dramatically increased the size of their fan base and their sponsorship revenues. In addition to the new ballpark, the team has also negotiated a major upgrade of its spring training base in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Scout Diary: Jan. 23, 2020

I’m a day behind discussing the best infield tools in Japan, although to be precise these were done the other day. Before the One-year scouting diary page got too big and unwieldy I opted to make it a collection of links to individual posts, and editing issues took up that time.

The informational interviews required for my class (at least the ones in Japan) are going forward. I want to pursue a bunch of them in the U.S.– because I hope to get those people’s attention — and in Japan because if I am a scout here, I need a network of people to help me in my effort to get good information out.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Before I dive off the deep end and start cold calling MLB teams, I wanted to explain how my interview with the Waseda University manager is going. First I talked to him and we set up a time. This was easy because he’s a Facebook friend. Then I had to arrange it with the university. I called the baseball department — not the athletic department but the baseball department — only to be told to go to the university website and fill out an interview request with their PR department. I’m kind of challenged because explaining that this is not for my work as a journalist — in Japanese — is extremely challenging, even when speaking, In writing it is virtually impossible for me. Anyway, that’s done and the baseball department’s manager called me back and told me when and where to show up.

So back to business

Defensive tools: Pacific League shortstops

The three top finishers in the PL’s 2019 Golden Glove voting were:

  • Sosuke Genda, Seibu Lions
  • Kenta Imamiya, SoftBank Hawks
  • Takuya Nakashima, Nippon Ham Fighters

Based on video I saw, all three have

  • quick feet
  • lateral quickness on ground balls
  • soft hands
  • raw arm strength
  • quick smooth transfers
  • can throw from all angles

Other considerations

Imamiya is as good at catching the ball as anyone I’ve seen. He is the Trevor Story of the three, 75 raw arm strength who doesn’t set his feet as often as he might and is not quite as accurate as his rivals.

Imamiya is really, really good at catching the ball. He smothers throws that dare to skip away from him. He is the Trevor Story of the three, 75 raw arm strength who doesn’t set his feet as often as he might and is not quite as accurate as his rivals.

Genda may have 65-70 arm strength, but his release is as quick as anybody’s. He’s also the best at backhanding balls, something virtually no Japanese amateurs are taught. He sets his feet well and is extremely accurate.
Nakashima appears to have the strongest arm of the three, but his ball transfer is just a tick behind the others, and he looks less comfortable backhanding the ball.

All things considered, as much as I love Imamiya scramble for the ball, Genda appears to be the best overall tools package.

Sosuke Genda

Rakuten acquires reliever Chargois

The Rakuten Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League have acquired Los Angeles Dodgers reliever JT Chargois a day after he was released by the National League club, according to a report by Sports Nippon on Monday, citing sources.

The Eagles, who won their only PL and Japan Series pennant in 2013, are expected to move lefty closer Yuki Matsui into the starting rotation next year. Chargois, who turned 29 in December and made his big league debut for the Twins in 2016, has struck out 85 batters in 76-2/3 innings.

The Eagles, who hired former Dodger Kazuhisa Ishii as their general manager a year ago, finished third last year in the league, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2017. The club got a big boost from new import Jabari Blash, who posted a .936 OPS in a career-high 527 plate appearances for the Sendai-based Eagles.

The kotatsu league: Orix signs Padres minor leaguers Higgins, Rodriguez

Former San Diego Padres minor leaguers Tyler Higgins and Aderlin Rodriguez have signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League, the club announced Monday according to online site fullcount.

HIggins, who began his career with the Miami Marlins, is a 28-year-old right-hander who has spent most of his career at Double-A. At Triple-A El Paso last year, where former Japan closer Akinori Otsuka served as a pitching coach, Higgins struck out 50 batters in 45-2/3 innings while issuing 13 walks and surrendering 13 home runs.

Rodriguez, who is from the Dominican Republic and turned 28 in November, is a right-handed hitter who hit 19 home runs in 289 plate appearances for El Paso while striking out 46 times and drawing 14 walks. It was his lone season in Triple-A.

The Buffaloes have also acquired veteran major league outfielder Adam Jones on a two-year deal, and are bringing back outfielder-first baseman Steven Moya, starting pitcher Andrew Albers and closer Brandon Dickson.

Lotte signs Dominican amateur Acosta: report

The Lotte Marines have signed hard-throwing Dominican amateur Jose Acosta to a developmental contract, the Hochi Shimbun reported Monday, citing informed sources.

According to the report, the acquisition of 25-year-old Acosta, who has no pro experience, and 30-year-old Venezuelan Jose Flores, who pitched this year for the Toyama Thunderbirds of the independent BC League, will be announced in the coming days.

Acosta, a 1.87-meter, 89-kilogram right-hander, pitched for his country in this summer’s Pan Am Games. His fastball has been recorded at 164 kilometers per hour. He also possesses an effective slider and change.

At a tryout in the Dominican, his average fastball velocity was 157 kph.

The 1.91-meter, 120-kg Flores, who throws in the 150-159 kph range, tried out for the club in October at the Pacific League club’s home park, Zozo Marine Stadium, in Chiba. He is also headed for a developmental contract, that does not count against the team’s 70-man roster and does not allow him to play on the top team.