Tag Archives: Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani gets paid

Shohei Ohtani is still only arbitration-eligible, meaning he’s still being significantly underpaid compared to his production — even with his terrible 2020 season and his 2018 pitching injury thrown in, but the two-year contract announced Monday, $3 million this year and $5.5 million for 2022, likely represent new highs for him.

Read the Kyodo News (English) story.

The 2016 MVP of Japan’s Pacific League, earned a reported 270 million yen ($2.4 million) as a 22-year-old in 2017 with the Nippon Ham Fighters. As a 23-year-old, MLB and its union worked to declare him an amateur in its latest CBA, meaning a limited signing bonus and a guaranteed minor league contract.

The Nikkan Sports did a nifty little table of his earnings through 2020, with the understanding that Japanese figures are just what the player and team want you to hear and don’t always reflect reality. This means it is possible that Ohtani earned far more in 2017 than the figure that was officially leaked and that his 2020 salary is not yet the highest of his career.

YearYenDollarsAwards
201315 mil.$147,687
201430 mil.$272,477
2015100 mil.$794,211PL Best 9 (P)
2016200 mil.$1.74 mil.PL Best 9 (P, DH), PL MVP
2017270 mil.$2.31 mil.
2018 60 mil.$545,000AL ROY
2019 71 mil.$650,000
202075 mil.$700,000
2021315 mil.$3 mil.
2022577 mil.$5.5 mil.
Dollar figures prior to 2018, and yen figures after are based on IRS annual exchange rates for that year. Rates for 2021 are for Feb. 8, 2021.

Tazawa rule bites the dust

The Tazawa rule is headed toward its rightful place in history, the dustbin, Nippon Professional Baseball’s executive committee decided Monday.

The rule was an awkward spiteful attempt to prevent Junichi Tazawa, a top corporate league star in 2008, from snubbing NPB and going to play in the majors. Instead, it only served to make NPB look petty and spiteful, and weaken Japan’s team for the World Baseball Classic, by blacklisting him.

The rule, enacted in 2008, prohibited the 12 teams from signing players who chose to play overseas before submitting themselves to the NPB amateur draft for a period of three years–for those leaving right after high school–or two years for those who left later.

It was a hasty last-ditch effort to keep Junichi Tazawa from signing with the Boston Red Sox and was only agreed upon in the days leading up to him completing his deal.

Now 34, Tazawa returned to Japan this summer and is currently playing for the Musashi Heat Bears in independent ball–which would have been the case regardless of the rule since he is a Japanese citizen and can only sign with an NPB team after being selected in its autumn draft.

If the rule were to remain in place, he would not be available until the 2021 draft.

“I think it’s unfortunate they made that rule, and that it may have influenced others,” Tazawa said in September 2019 when he was with the Los Angeles Angels. “The Red Sox laid out a plan for my development and that encouraged me to think that was the best thing for me at the time to go over there and see how far I could push myself.”

“The Red Sox did a lot for me, and I am grateful to them for that. I suspect that going forward there will be more guys who want to try and make it straight out of the high school or something like that. Whether the rule will keep them from doing it, I don’t know.”

Two current major leaguers, Yusei Kikuchi of the Seattle Mariners and Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, were prepared to ignore the Tazawa rule and sign with big league clubs straight out of high school but were convinced to stay in Japan after they were drafted.

A few weeks before Tazawa spoke, corporate league pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa abruptly quit his team to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“His decision is his decision,” Tazawa said. “In my case, had I failed, my company (Enos) had my back and said I could return, and that I could regain my amateur status after six months, so it wasn’t a huge leap.”

Scout Diary: Jan. 31, 2020: The question about Junya Nishi

Today’s topic is right-handed pitcher Junya Nishi, the Hanshin Tigers’ top draft pick last autumn. Nishi, a Hiroshima native, played for Soshigakuen HS in Okayama and is a distant relative of Tigers pitcher Yuki Nishi.

Haven’t heard anyone talk about Nishi’s hitting, but he’s got real power. I asked longtime former Dodgers scout Hank Jones, one of the instructors in the Scouting and General Manager course at Sports Management World Wide, what teams did back in the day when guys had hitting AND pitching tools back in the day before Shohei Ohtani.

Essentially, Jones said, “Let him prove he can’t hit. If he can’t then he’s a pitcher.”

But now that we’re living in the post-Ohtani world, one would think any team would at least consider a novel approach to a player with such obvious talent.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Physically, Nishi resembles Ron Cey, although he is a little taller than Cey. His pitching motion makes it look like he’s constantly overexerting himself, and his follow through is violent rather than smooth.

The pitcher

In the pitching video below, the announcer reports Nishi as saying his balance is off when his cap comes off his head — which it does frequently. When he bats, it looks like his lower body imparts very little of the impressive power he generates.

Here’s a first-round national championship game in 2018, when Nishi was a month shy of his 17th birthday. He touched 91.3 mph in this game with 40 command. He has since been recorded at 93.2, which would make his velocity a 60. He has a slider with depth and 50 command, a curve that he doesn’t command well what appeared to be a splitter with arm-side run and good depth.

Junya Nishi’s 16 strikeouts in the national championships as a 16-year-old.

The video below is an analysis of his motion and deliveries against the national collegiate team prior to last year’s Under-18 World Cup. I can’t vouch for the RPMs given on the video. The curve with poor command appears little different than the ones he threw at Koshien Stadium a year earlier, but it looks like the slider and fastball are even better and he’s added a changeup and improved the splitter.

Some slow motion of him pitching against Japan’s national collegiate hitters.

The hitter

I first noticed Nishi when he drove in eight runs against South Africa as Japan’s DH in their Under-18 World Cup game last autumn in South Korea.

The other instructor in our scouting course, former Dodgers GM and Blue Jays scout Dan Evans, provided us with a hack for recognizing above-average major league power, which I won’t spill hear, but suffice it to say hearing that he led the World Cup in home runs and hit 25 in his high school career as a pitcher.

He’s a right-handed hitter, with 60 power that I’ll project to 65 with work on his lower body mechanics with a 50 hit tool. Like most Japanese hitters he sprays the ball to all fields, although his power seems to be mostly to left.

Here’s some video of Nishi hitting in high school.

Pitcher Junya Nishi raked and mashed in high school.

Conclusion

Japan is obsessed with pitchers, and Nishi has a lot to offer on the mound, but his delivery bothers me a little. I’m inclined to think his power is the real deal and that he may have more future value as a hitter with fewer adjustments needed.

Whether he can be a two-way player or not is a good question. But if I’m the Hanshin Tigers, I’d at least ask him if he’s interested instead of just assuming that the team knows more than the player. The Tigers are kind of a mystery to me. I don’t understand their inability to commit to young players or their past failures to modernize the club’s strength-training program.

Maybe they see the possibility Nishi presents, but if I were to bet, my money would be on the “We’ve already made up our minds about his future as a pitcher.”

Perspectives on arrogance

On Wednesday, Shogo Akiyama dropped a little teaser about what baseball beyond the reach of MLB means for the growth of the game as a whole on Wednesday when he was introduced by the Cincinnati Reds.

“…Japanese have a different perspective (on the game) from those players with major league experience, and I too want to study and learn from that,” he said.

His words could have been interpreted in a couple of different ways but by saying “I too” he implied the learning wasn’t one-way, as many people would have you believe it should be, since, Akiyama by virtue of playing in an inferior league brings no new knowledge to the table.

That way of thinking, which used to be fairly common among former major leaguers three decades ago in Japan went hand in hand with the old notion that all Japanese — by virtue of playing in inferior league — were incapable of success in the majors.

When Bobby Valentine first arrived in Japan to manage the 1995 Lotte Marines, many of those familiar with the major league style of play had high hopes for the team’s success. That belief was founded on the notion that Japan’s fondness for the sacrifice bunt was costing teams a large number of wins each season. By eschewing the less defensible uses of the bunt, Valentine would AUTOMATICALLY make the Marines five to ten wins better.

The Marines finished a surprising second that year, because Valentine was able to replace a couple of well-below-average performers with guys who were better than average, and the team responded positively to his new ways of doing things.

But the thought that major league methods were automatically superior to those practiced in Japan was just ignorant and arrogant. We have a better understanding of the costs and advantages of sacrifices than we did 25 years ago, and now know it’s a lot more complicated than it looks.

I’ve been there.

When you’re used to things being done a particular way, encountering a completely different method — especially one that inconveniences you simply by being hard to comprehend and get used to — it’s really easy to believe you are encountering an obsolete, inefficient practice. Sometimes, that perception is correct, and the unfamiliar methods really are less efficient. But often, there is more to the story than first meets the eye.

Because Japanese hitters and pitchers are trained differently, because they come from an alternative baseball universe, they offer alternative solutions that people rooted in their own way of doing things don’t see very easily. Change demands people who don’t believe the status quo is necessarily correct or for whom the status quo offers no future.

Babe Ruth changed baseball by proving one could hit enough home runs to make up for the additional fly outs and strikeouts that had led people to brand the home run as a failed tactic. When people try techniques that have been discarded only because they violate the status quo, that opens the door for evolution.

If Japanese ball had nothing to offer, players who failed to earn jobs in the major leagues would almost never find major league success after spending two or three years in Nippon Professional Baseball. But it happens.

One advantage of extended families in child rearing is a larger pool of adult role models for children, more chances an adult can bond with a youngster over shared dreams and inspire them. That’s the way I see baseball outside the reach of the majors. It’s not like every player is going to benefit from going abroad, but exposing players to different demands and ideas can teach or trigger adjustments they failed to make back home.

Three and a half years ago, Bill James wrote about the arrogance of people thinking major league teams had all the answers. Asked in September 2016 whether he thought big league clubs would allow Shohei Ohtani to both hit and pitch, he answered “Why wouldn’t they?

“You should be TOTALLY willing to say ‘We are going to accommodate this guy’s skills’ rather than ‘That’s not how we do things in the majors,'” he wrote on Sept. 9, 2016 in Bill James Online.

“When the Red Sox had Byung Hyun Kim, more than ten years ago, he had his own ways of doing things. He wanted to throw, and throw hard, every day, and he loved to do training…in Ft. Myers you would see him out running hard on the streets all hours of the day.”

“Our staff…kept trying to force him to do things the way we do them in the U.S.–and it didn’t work, at all. And then, when we had Daisuke Matsuzaka, we made exactly the same mistake: We kept trying to force him to do things OUR way, and it just didn’t work for him. KNOCK IT OFF. This is his way. Get used to it. None of us are that smart, that we have all of the answers.”

Ok, so Bill has since joined the Ohtani doubters, and there are lots of reasons to suppose being a two-way player might be counterproductive. But believing that also supposes you know more about what’s best for Shohei Ohtani than he does.

Best 10 of the 2010s

I know one’s supposed to do these things before 2020, but Ione of the things about New Year’s Eve in Tokyo is that the trains run all night, and I was on the train, so it seemed like an optimal time. So here are my top 10 Japanese baseball stories of the past 10 years in chronological order.

2013: It’s the ball stupid

Six weeks into the 2013 season and everyone noticed it. Home runs were jumping and the players union, worrying about pitchers failing to collect on their incentives, asked what was going on. Commissioner Ryozo Kato said, “Nothing. The ball is the same uniform ball we introduced in 2011.”

His disloyal lieutenant, Atsushi Ihara, stood there and let his boss tell that knowing full well that he had conspired with the Mizuno Corporation to introduce a livelier ball without the commissioner’s consent or knowledge. Ihara, one of four people involved, came from the Yomiuri Shimbun — owner of Japan’s most influential team and the leading opponent of the commissioner — whose new ball cut home runs and who had introduced a third-party panel to adjudicate player arbitration cases.

So Ihara let his boss hang himself in public. And then later came clean that he and his immediate superior, who was not a Yomiuri guy, had switched out the balls. Ihara’s boss was fired, the commissioner was ousted and Ihara, the fox, was put in charge of the henhouse.

2013: Masahiro Tanaka, Senichi Hoshino and the Eagles

Masahiro Tanaka went 24-0 and didn’t lose all year until Game 6 of the Japan Series. After that complete game, he earned the save in Game 7 as the city of Sendai — struck by a killer earthquake and tsunami two years earlier — won its first Japan Series.

Manager Senichi Hoshino, who had lost his three previous Japan Series as manager of the Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers said when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame that he lost interest after winning the Central League pennant because his mission in life had been to beat the league-rival Giants. But in 2013, as Pacific League champions with NPB’s newest franchise, he faced the Giants and beat them in seven.

2014-2016: Tetsuto Yamada

From July 2014 through July 2016, the Yakult Swallows second baseman may have been the best player on the planet. He wasn’t a very good fielder in 2014 but took steps forward the next year when he was the CL MVP and led the consistently bad Swallows to the pennant.

His 2015 season was the 10th best in NPB history as measured by win shares and adjusted for era. His run came to a screeching halt in August 2016, when he was on his way to an even better season, but was hit in the back by a pitch that threw him off his game for nearly two seasons. Because of his stellar 2016 start, he became the first player in NPB history to record multiple seasons with a .300 average, 30 homers and 30 steals — even though he was an offensive zero the last two months of the season.

2015-2016: Giants stung by gambling scandal

Toward the end of the 2015 season, three Yomiuri Giants minor league pitchers were found guilty of betting on baseball — including games by their own team, although not in games they played in. The following March, a fourth pitcher, Kyosuke Takagi, revealed he, too, had been betting on games.

The first three players were all given indefinite suspensions and fired. In March 2016, Kyosuke Takagi also admitted to gambling. The only pitcher of the four of any quality, Takagi was let back into the game after a one-year suspension, following a recent pattern in which athletes who break the rules in Japan receive punishment inversely proportionate to how successful they are as competitors.

2016: Shohei Ohtani

If Yamada was the best for a 25-month span, 2016 cemented Ohtani’s place as the most intriguing player in the world. Ohtani had his first “Babe Ruth season” in 2014 with 10-plus wins and 10-plus home runs, but 2016, when he often batted as the pitcher in games when his manager could have used the DH was magical.

That summer, the Tokyo Sports Kisha Club, which organizes the voting for Japan’s postseason awards, made a rule change that allowed writers to cast Best Nine votes for the same player at multiple positions — provided one was a pitcher. The Ohtani rule allowed him to be win two Best Nine Awards, as the Pacific League’s best pitcher and best designated hitter.

His signature game came against the SoftBank Hawks — the team his Fighters came from behind to beat in the pennant race. Ohtani threw eight scoreless innings, opened the game with a leadoff homer and scored Nippon Ham’s other run in a 2-0 victory. Although he rolled his ankle running the bases in the Japan Series, he capped his year batting for Japan by hitting a ball into the ceiling panels at Tokyo Dome in November’s international series.

2016: Hiroshima Carp end their drought

In 2015, Hiroki Kuroda returned from the major leagues and even without Sawamura Award winner Kenta Maeda, the Carp’s young talented core snapped a 24-year drought, winning their first CL title since 1991.

The Carp went on to win three-straight CL championships, the longest streak in club history. When the club failed to win its fourth straight pennant and finished out of the postseason in 2019, manager Koichi Ogata resigned.

2019: Ichiro Suzuki retires in Japan

The only better script would have been for Suzuki to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for another MVP and a World Series championship.

2010-2019: The CL status as a 2nd-class league is confirmed

The PL won nine Japan Series in the decade, the only time either league had ever done that. It equaled the best 10-year stretch by either league—when the Yomiuri Giants won nine straight from 1965 to 1973 bookended by PL titles.

2010-2019: The SoftBank Hawks

Never mind that the Hawks opened the decade by losing the playoffs’ final stage for the 4th time in 7 years to the third-place Lotte Marines. Softbank’s six Japan Series titles from 2011 t0 2019 under two different managers made them the team of the decade.

2019: The Giants discover the posting system

In November 2019, Shun Yamaguchi was posted by the Yomiuri Giants, who along with the Hawks have been the most critical of NPB’s posting agreement with MLB. When approached for comment about the impending news, the Giants’ official response was “that’s a rumor” and “speculation.”

Eight days later it was a done deal. Then followed the fun stuff as first one executive said it was a “one-off deal” and that the team had not changed its policy, having been obligated by contract to post Yamaguchi, which is pretty dumb, since the Giants agreed to that contract in the first place when they took him on as a free agent three years before.

The move makes it virtually impossible that the club will be able to keep ace and two-time Sawamura Award-winner Tomoyuki Sugano much longer and not post him.

Maddon on Ohtani: Bring it on, please

Joe Maddon on Ohtani batting and pitching: “I love it.”

New Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said Monday he wants to see more of Shohei Ohtani batting and pitching and is keen to see him both in the same game — regardless of whether that means discarding the DH rule for his team.

“Just because it doesn’t happen all the time doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” Maddon said.

During his time with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani batted in the lineup as the starting pitcher 12 times. Not surprisingly, he brought decent offense — he slashed .286/.395./.400 in his tiny sample (43 plate appearances). But the experiment was a success because of his pitching.

StatusInningsBBSOERA
In batting order86 1/3261051.04
not batting452 2/31725152.82

In addition to the small sample size, the 86 2/3 innings when in the batting order mostly took place in his 2016 MVP season, but the numbers are fun.

Asked if he’d ditch the DH when Ohtani pitches for the Angels, Maddon said, “Why wouldn’t you? That’s 50 extra at-bats.”