Tag Archives: Senichi Hoshino

NPB managers and pinch-hitters

Having examined what happens when individual batters come off the bench to hit in NPB, and knowing that pinch-hitters, as a whole, are less productive in that role than they are when taking their regular turn in the batting order.

While the pinch-hitting penalty described by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman and Andrew E. Dolphin in “The Book” does not appear to be nearly as extreme in NPB, their advice holds. Because they calculated that pinch-hitters wOBA is .034 less than when they bat in other contexts, they recommend managers only hit for position players using guys off the bench who are significantly better hitters.

Even if the pinch-hitting penalty is only .006 points of OPS2, it would behoove managers to at least use pinch-hitters who are somewhat better, because some managers don’t even do that.

In terms of the OPS2 managers have sacrificed and production gained during the period studied, here are the NPB managers who gotten the most mileage out of pinch-hitting for position players:

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
NPB managers with largest average gain in OPS2 when pinch-hitting for positon players from 2002-2018, minimum 200 PH appearances.

The next table gives the 20 managers who’ve replaced one position player with another at least 200 times between 2002 and 2018 and who got the least mileage for their changes.

In these lists, a few managers are given twice — for results with individual teams and for all the teams they managed during this period combined.

Least productive managers when pinch-hitting for position players

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
HoshinoT & E total5050.3110.2570.295-0.0380.016
Nashida totalKB & F & E16780.3200.2990.2990.0000.021
NPB's least productive managers from 2002-2018 when pulling a position player for a pinch-hitter, minimum 200 pinch-hit appearances.

So the most successful employer of pinch-hitters in recent years was a playing-manager, Motonobu Tanishige, who often delegated bench decisions to his head coach, Shigekazu Mori, while No. 2 was Hall of Fame manager Akira Ogi, who was manager for only one year during the study, 2005, before his untimely death.

At the bottom of the table is the late Koji Yamamoto, who managed the Lotte Marines before Bobby Valentine took over the reins in 2004. Another Hall of Fame manager, Senichi Hoshino, finishes second worst with the Rakuten Eagles, and third worst for his time with both the Hanshin Tigers and Eagles combined.

And then there are the managers who’ve chosen, on average to replace position players with pinch-hitters of lesser value. The good news for Marines fans is that while Iguchi made some ostensibly dreadful choices last season, they did not hurt his club, since the pinch-hitters exceeded anyone’s expectations — except perhaps the skippers’.

Silly pinch-hitting choices

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
Recent NPB managers who've used pinch-hitters of lower quality than the players they've batted for.

The “Gaijin Zone”

A building block of anecdotal descriptions about Japanese baseball is the “Gaijin strike zone.” This implies that foreign hitters in NPB have wider strike zones. A look at play-by-play data since 2003 suggests that such a phenomenon does exist, but primarily for first-year hitters and that from the second season the effect seems negligible.

Former Hanshin Tiger and Orix BlueWave pitcher Ryan Vogelsong said, according to a 2015 Fox Sports story, felt hitters had a smaller strike zone when facing foreign pitchers. This appears to be true in general.

The hypothesis

With access to pitch tracking data, one could ascertain precisely whether or not foreign player get more calls that are outliers, more called balls in the strike zone for pitchers, more called strikes out of the zone for batters.

The data available, however, includes–in all but a few cases–whether a third strike is swung at and missed, bunted and fouled or called.

If there is a gaijin strike zone, we should expect to see two things:

  1. Foreign hitters’ share of called third strikes is higher than that of domestic hitters.
  2. Foreign pitchers get a smaller share of their strikeouts on called third strikes than domestic pitchers.

The data

The simple answer is that overall, the third-strike analysis does not support the hypothesis that foreign hitters do worse than domestic hitters in called third strikes. But it does support the hypothesis that foreign pitchers might be pitching to smaller strike zones.

From 2003 to 2018 against foreign pitchers, 20.6 percent of foreign hitters’ non-bunt strikeouts were called. Domestic hitters’ called-third-strike percentage was 21.5.

During the same period, against domestic pitchers, foreign hitters’ called-third-strike percentage increased to 21.0. Versus non-foreign pitchers, the domestic hitters’ called-third-strike percentage rose to 22.2 percent.

Hitters vs Pitchers called-third-strike percentages, 2003-2018

Domestic HittersForeign Hitters
vs Domestic Pitchers22.221.0
vs Foreign Pitchers21.520.6

Take that rookie

If the foreign strike zone does exist for hitters, it appears to be significant for first-year players. First-year foreign hitters had a 23.0 called-third-strike percentage, second-year players 20.9, third-year players 20.0. Whether that’s a reflection of their not knowing the ways of NPB or their status is uncertain, because first-year domestic players get called out infrequently (20.4 percent).

This raises two questions. 1) Do foreign hitters get called out less often because they swing and miss more? 2) Do foreign pitchers get fewer called third strikes because they are better at missing bats?

When one speaks to Japanese players about the trials they went through to secure first-team playing time, the most common theme is the (often justifiable) fear that striking out will earn them a return trip to the farm team. They tend to hack early and often, trying to both get a hit and stave off falling behind in the count. Clearly, the longer domestic players have been competing at the top level, the more often they take called third strikes.

With foreign hitters, it appears to be a one-year adjustment as the called-third -strike percentages plummet after the first season and remain low afterward.

Called-third-strike percents, 1st 6 years, 2003-2018

SeasonDomestic HittersForeign Hitters

Other comments

Again, what’s needed is pitch specific data, seeing what pitches hitters are laying off outside the zone that are being called strikes, and what pitches are being thrown by whom inside the zone that are being called balls.

Speaking to Tuffy Rhodes recently, he reiterated a common complaint among foreign players, not that the umpiring was inconsistent, but that some umpires acted arrogantly, giving idiotic rationals for missed called strikes, “It’s because you’re tall.”

Looking at this limited data set, I am inclined to think the following:

  • That the umpiring doesn’t vary a lot between foreign and Japanese hitters, but that foreign pitchers might have something to complain about.
  • Any extreme effect on foreign hitters appears to be a first-year phenomenon.
  • I didn’t discuss it here, because I want to look at more data, but I’m inclined to believe that until the Central and Pacific leagues’ umpires were merged together in 2011, they operated extremely differently in deciding called third strikes. The umpires in the more popular and powerful CL appeared to call third strikes less often on players whose managers were famously ornery, such as Marty Brown or Senichi Hoshino. The PL umps appear to have done the opposite and punished the managers who gave them the most trouble, such as Katsuya Nomura.