Tag Archives: Shinjiro Hiyama

NPB and the pinch-hitting penalty

In “The Book”, Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman and Andrew E. Dolphin estimated that hitters coming off the bench to pinch-hit do not perform up to their expected levels. They calculated a .034 average drop in wOBA for hitters from their season norms when pinch-hitting, and found no evidence of pinch-hitting specialists who were even as good as in their other plate appearances.

If this is part of the nature of the game, such as the platoon differential, then it should manifest itself in Nippon Professional Baseball as well. While the evidence suggests pinch-hitters do lose something coming off the bench in Japan, the drop in performance does not appear to be anywhere near as severe as the effects Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin observed in their major league data.

NPB as a whole

Because I don’t have the tools to compute wOBA for players in Japan prior to 2017, I’m opting for the poor-man’s substitute, OPS2, calculated as: on-base percentage x 2 + slugging average ) / 3.

This allows me to look at all seasons for which we have results for each plate appearance. My current data set has every regular season plate appearance in NPB from 2002 to 2019.

For simplicity’s sake we’ll omit the current season and look at 2002 to 2018. During this stretch, 47,499 players were announced as pinch-hitters and 46,848 of those actually completed a plate appearance.

Those batters had an average OPS2 of .313 in all their plate appearances in seasons, and a .308 OPS2 as pinch-hitters, a drop in expected performance of about 1.8 percent.

Individual variation

During the 18-year span from 2002 to 2018, eight players had 300 or more pinch-hit plate appearances, discounting sacrifice bunts, which don’t count for anything in OPS2.

Two of the eight were somewhat better as pinch-hitters during the period of the study, and one, Kenji Yano, was significantly better. In 390 pinch-hitting appearances in which he didn’t successfully sacrifice, he posted an OPS2 of .363. In all other PAs, his OPS2s during the study was .342.

Five batters were worse as pinch-hitters to the tune of .001 to .010, while one batter, Shinjiro Hiyama was far worse. Hiyama had 607 pinch-hit appearances, the most in the study. During those seasons in which he appeared as a pinch-hitter, Hiyama posted a .360 OPS2 as a regular, .315 as a pinch-hitter.

So this doesn’t refute the claim that there is a cost to pinch-hitting, it does open the door for the possibility that some batters in some circumstances have an affinity for it – which Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin rejected.

As for how different NPB managers have fared in their use of pinch-hitters for position players, that info is HERE (paid content alert).

Norihiro Nakamura & the Fab Four

First a little question.

When Norihiro Nakamura announced his retirement on Tuesday, it left Ichiro Suzuki as the only active member of a very exclusive club. Any guesses as to what that group is?

Nakamura leaves after an intriguing career, drafted out of high school in 1991 by the Kintetsu Buffaloes, he left Japan for the U.S. in 2005 after Kintetsu evaporated in its merger with the Orix BlueWave. After a brief spell with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he returned to Japan — where Orix held his rights, but he was not a happy camper. Unable to sign him for 2006, Orix released him, but nobody it seemed wanted him.

The story is that in April 2005, Nakamura was hit by a pitch in interleague play by former big leaguer Masao Kida. Nakamura claimed he was forced to play through pain. He had a lousy season that ended when he was hit again and was capped with September surgery on the wrist where Kida had hit him in April.

Although he played in just 85 games, and batted just .232, Nakamura still managed 22 doubles and 12 homers but Orix, whose grasp of right and wrong at the time was extremely poor — just ask Hisashi Iwakuma — decided to use Nakamura’s poor results as an excuse to cut his salary by 60 percent to 80 million yen (roughly $800,000). Nakamura balked and was eventually released.

Eleven clubs — even those that had vacancies or issues at first or third that Nakamura might fill — showed no interest in even giving him a tryout. The exception was the club managed by Nippon Professional Baseball’s biggest iconoclast, Hiromitsu Ochiai, whose Chunichi Dragons gave Nakamura a tryout and signed him to an “ikusei” developmental contract. When Nakamura tore it up in the spring, he got a standard deal from the Dragons and at season’s end was the MVP of the Dragons’ first Japan Series championship since 1954.

His ikusei contract with the Dragons was for 4 million yen, and he was bumped up to 6 million yen upon receiving his standard contract. NPB rules require players on 28-man active rosters to be paid a pro-rated minimum of 10 million yen, so Nakamura ended up earning close to $100,000 in his first season with Chunichi.

Nakamura played another season for the Dragons, two more for Rakuten, and finished with 2,101 career hits after four seasons with the DeNA BayStars. Because of his longevity,  with 2,267 games and 404 career homers, he is a decent bet to make it into the Hall of Fame, perhaps in the same class with Atsunori Inaba of the Fighters, both of whom had somewhat longer careers than Tatsunori Hara, whose tenure on the players ballot just expired and who barely missed selection.

If Nakamura does make it in, and takes two or three years to get enough votes, there is a possibility that he will go into the Hall in the same class with Suzuki. With Tomoaki Kanemoto and Suzuki both locks as a future Hall of Famers, Nakamura’s induction would give the fourth round of Japan’s 1991 amateur draft three Hall of Famers. The one who won’t make it, although he will get some votes, and the reason I have referred to them as the Fab Four is former Hanshin Tigers outfielder Shinjiro Hiyama.