Part 3 of a survey of the world’s best outfield defensive tools takes us to Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League. Unlike Major League Baseball’s Gold Gloves, Japan’s fielding awards, the Golden Glove does not discriminate among positions, meaning virtually all the winners are center fielders.
Japan’s awards where the winners actually receive a golden glove, were previously known as the Diamond Glove, a name that might have been changed the first time someone tried to make a glove out of diamonds.
Maru and Oshima are both center fielders, while Suzuki plays in right.
Maru has won seven straight Golden Gloves but despite that nobody to my knowledge has put together a highlight video of his fielding exploits. Having said that, his 2019 season
Suzuki was a high school pitcher who feels he could have succeeded as a pitcher as well. Until 2019 when Maru moved to the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent, Suzuki in right was paired with Maru in center. Suzuki has a gun, solid throwing mechanics, and is fairly good at going and getting the ball.
His foot speed is not what it was four years ago, and though he was tested as a center fielder for the national team, nobody wants to take that cannon out of right field. His metrics are not quite the best among right fielders though, as one would also have to consider Chunichi’s Ryosuke Hirata.
Again, the quality of the highlights are fairly poor. It shows Oshima tracking the ball and catching it with the throws unable to make the highlight reel. According to Delta Graphs, he had an arm when he was a pup, but he’s now 34.
My choice, for lack of contrary evidence, is Suzuki. He has fairly soft hands with 60 speed and a 70 arm. Video of CL players is haphazard because NPB has no media arm — each team is responsible for televising its own home games — and only the Pacific League has a marketing arm that produces video.
Or how it can pay to let the Giants sign your players…
On Monday, Jan. 7, the Yomiuri Giants announced they had assigned the contract of veteran outfielder Hisayoshi Chono to the Hiroshima Carp as part of the compensation package for signing two-time reigning Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru.
Chono is the second player the Giants have cast off as a result of this winter’s offseason shopping spree, having turned over the contract of veteran lefty and former ace Tetsuya Utsumi to the Seibu Lions in exchange for signing the Lions’ No. 2 catcher, Ginjiro Sumitani.
According to Bill James’ Win Shares, the 34-year-old Chono is coming off the best season of any player taken as free agent compensation, having added 10.9 WS to the Giants’ cause in 2018. Mind you the previous top two, catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka (2013 for pitcher Yasutomo Kubo) ) and reliever Shinya Okamoto (2007 for outfielder Kazuhiro Wada) did precious little with their future teams.
The big prize so far among compensation players goes to outfielder Kazuki Fukuchi. After producing 6.3 WS for the Seibu Lions in 2007, he was taken by the Yakult Swallows as compensation for pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii. Fukuchi would go on to contribute 38.4 WS with the Swallows to Ishii’s 24.2 with the Lions. Fukuchi told me that he had taken Ishii out to dinner to thank him for kick-starting his career.
Free agents and compensation players
Fut. W S
Players taken in free agent compensation since NPB's free agent system was introduced in 1993.
And then there’s the money…
Both Utsumi and Chono were available because they have high salaries and are past their prime, and their new teams will have to take on those contracts. Utsumi’s was reported at 100 million yen ( $924,000) and Chono’s at 220 million yen ($2 million).
But teams are also eligible for cash compensation. As a first-time free agent whose 2018 salary (reportedly 110 million yen) ranked him between 4th and 10th on Seibu’s payroll, Sumitani was a “Class B” free agent. Maru was a “Class A” with his salary from last season ranking among Hiroshima’s top three.
As such, the Lions could opt to receive 60 percent of Sumitani’s salary or a player and 40 percent. The Carp had the option of 80 percent of Maru’s 190 million yen salary or a player and 50 percent.
The idea is to keep the best players and win pennants, but the Carp will not now be paying Maru the roughly 400 million yen ($3.7 million) a year for four years they had offered him. They will instead get Chono for $2 million with the Giants kicking in 43 percent of Chono’s salary for 2018.
Sumitani’s compensation package comes in the form of an older veteran pitcher, whom they’ll need to pay $925,000 with Yomiuri kicking in 44 percent of that. By the way, Sumitani earned 1.7 WS last year — less than half of Utsumi’s 3.8, although the catcher has been the more valuable of the two, barely, over the past three seasons.
Throw in the fact that the Giants already have a No. 1 catcher, Seiji Kobayashi, a future Hall of Famer who wants to catch again after a few seasons at first base (Shinnosuke Abe) and a few other guys fighting for playing time, one wonders whether drug testing might be needed at Yomiuri’s front office.
Because both Chono and Utsumi are eligible to file for free agency next November, the way the Giants’ brain trust has been operating, there might be a chance that Yomiuri would re-sign them if given the chance. If so, the Carp could pocket 80 percent of Chono’s salary for 2018 ($1.6 million), which would be a pretty sweet deal.