Tatsunori Hara retrospective, part 1

In the aftermath of Tatsunori Hara’s “stepping down” as Giants manager for ostensibly the third and final time, I thought it was time to do some research into his interesting tenures in Yomiuri Land.

There were a variety of stories out there trying to explain Hara’s failure to get the league’s wealthiest team into the upper division for two consecutive seasons. One of the more interesting takes was the team’s failure to land free agent catcher and 2019 Pacific League MVP Tomoya Mori. Despite a personal appeal from Hara, Mori selected the two-time defending PL champions – and his hometown team – Osaka’s Orix Buffaloes.

This point was brought up in a few stories that also blamed Hara’s failure on his annual turnover of coaches, or player injuries, or the players simply not trying hard enough.

We assume that Yomiuri has the best access in NPB to domestic talent, both amateur and professional, but how much is that really worth on average each season? To find out, I looked up every player in NPB who had played for a different team the year before and how much they produced that year, while also making note of the team that lost that individual.

Hara won nine pennants with the Yomiuri Giants and three Japan Series championships, and won more regular season games than any other Yomiuri manager. Let’s see how he compares to other contemporary managers with 500 or more games managed.

Managing wins above expectation

The first measure I’m going to use is wins above “expected wins” which is calculated as:

((Last year’s wins * 4 + the total wins from the two previous years + the total of wins and losses in the next season) DIVIDED BY (Last year’s losses * 4 + the total losses from the two previous years + the total of wins and losses in the next season) ) TIMES the total of wins and losses next season.

This formula expresses an expectation that teams will regress toward the mean a little from what they’ve done in their most recent years.

Now let’s look at how Hara and his contemporaries did over their managing careers relative to their teams’ expected wins. The records are through 2022, because 2023 isn’t in my data base just yet. Mind you, the numbers are for careers, so Sadaharu Oh’s figures will include those for the Giants in the 1980s and his first lean years with the Daiei Hawks.

NameGWin Pct.W Above Exp.
Trey Hillman689.5204.8
Senichi Hoshino2,277.5313.8
Koichi Ogata715.5683.6
Kimiyasu Kudo978.5993.6
Hiromitsu Ochiai1,150.5623.5
Tatsunori Hara2,264.5723.3
Akihiro Yano549.5043.0
Shigeru Takada854.4712.9
Katsuya Nomura3,204.5002.8
Hatsuhiko Tsuji835.5792.7
Bobby Valentine966.5232.4
Tadahito Iguchi692.4712.2
Hisanobu Watanabe864.5262.2
Alex Ramirez692.4992.0
Akinobu Okada1141.5271.9
Koji Akiyama865.5531.9
Kiyoshi Nakahata575.4281.8
Sadaharu Oh2,507.5411.6
Masataka Nashida1612.5091.1
Kenjiro Nomura718.4650.4
Norifumi Nishimura629.4560.3
Yutaka Wada575.4930.3
Junji Ogawa960.4870.1
Hideki Kuriyama1,410.510-0.4
Tsutomu Ito1,266.500-1.6
Marty Brown719.454-1.6
Katsuhiro Nakamura867.434-2.7
Akihiko Oya590.441-3.6
Morimichi Takagi787.503-3.9
Junichi Fukura518.447-4.5

Based on these figures, one could argue that Hara was one of the better managers of his generation, generally keeping the Giants from regressing to the mean year after year. Now to paint a more complete picture, we need to add historical and statistical context.

History: Rigging the system

Japan introduced a draft in 1965 as a collusive effort by 12 teams to rob amateurs of their right to sell their talents to the highest bidder by assigning their negotiating rights to one team, whom they would have to sign with or remain an amateur.

Through its history, NPB’s draft has increased competitive balance, not because weaker teams get better access to talent as they do in MLB, but because each team is limited to one selection per draft round.

While other teams clamored to copy MLB’s straight waiver-order draft, with compensatory picks for teams whose draft picks failed to sign the previous year, Yomiuri would have none of that, since players were far more likely to turn down other clubs in order to re-enter the draft and sign with Yomiuri. By forbidding compensatory picks, the Giants were more likely to get their top draft targets without having to go through the hassle of a draft lottery, since other clubs would have to think about the cost of their top pick not signing.

From 1965 to 1992, each team, regardless of its finish that season, had equal access to every amateur player in the country, at least in the first round.

In 1993, that changed. After winning nine straight Japan Series from 1965 to 1973, the Giants won two over the 20 years from 1974 to 1993. That year, the much-heralded return of Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima saw the team finish third, 16 games out of first place, and Yomiuri was not about to take that situation sitting down. Yomiuri bullied 10 of the other 11 clubs into adding a free market component to the draft and introducing free agency. The Hawks were the lone club they didn’t have to persuade, but more about that later.

As much as the 1965 introduction draft spelled the end of the Giants’ previous overwhelming dominance, NPB’s new market economy from 1993 ruined the Hiroshima Carp, who had created the Central League’s first post-draft dynasty. The original draft had allowed the Carp to be quite successful, but the team remained the CL’s most penurious, and the introduction of a free-market labor economy saw one star after another chasing big money elsewhere.

From 1993 to 2006, teams were allowed to negotiate with up to two players who had played amateur ball after high school and agree to deals with them if the teams were willing to skip on the first or second rounds in which high school players were available. This led to players and their amateur coaches began receiving huge sums of money under the table.

This study doesn’t go into the draft value, but in the fairer years prior to 1992, the career value produced by Yomiuri’s first- and second-round draft choices far exceeded those of every other NPB team. The draft rule changes in 1993 helped the Giants even more, but not as much as they benefitted the Hawks, who were then run by Rikuo Nemoto, the most masterful draft manipulator in NPB history, and the reason why the Hawks were the one team that had Yomiuri’s back in its push to reform the draft — and also a reason why draft reform started in 2007 when his shady past dealings were brought to light by the Seibu Lions.

The study did however look at all contributing players who moved to other clubs in Japan in the years since Hara first managed the Yomiuri Giants in 2002.

Free agency: Paying the Giant tax

I know there are readers who don’t understand Bill James’ Win Shares system. It is similar to WAR except it measures each players estimated contribution to his team’s actual won-lost record as opposed to how rare his production is compared to his peers during that season.

With Win Shares totals for every player in Japan since 1936, value can be assigned to each player move within Japanese pro baseball. This means we can track how much additional help each manager received in an average year from his team’s ability to secure professional talent from other clubs through free agency, trades or by signing imports who were out of contract and free to move.

Here’s the same table as before, but with the average net gain in win shares. For your reference, MVP-caliber seasons generally start in the area of 29 win shares – three win shares being equal to one team win. An all-star starts in the area of 15 win shares, and 10 win shares is a productive regular.

NameGWin Pct.W Above Exp.Avg WS increse
Trey Hillman689.5204.8-1
Senichi Hoshino2,277.5313.811
Koichi Ogata715.5683.61
Kimiyasu Kudo978.5993.63
Hiromitsu Ochiai1,150.5623.5-1
Tatsunori Hara2,264.5723.318
Akihiro Yano549.5043.06
Shigeru Takada854.4712.9-4
Katsuya Nomura3,204.5002.89
Hatsuhiko Tsuji835.5792.7-8
Bobby Valentine966.5232.4-6
Tadahito Iguchi692.4712.22
Hisanobu Watanabe864.5262.2-7
Alex Ramirez692.4992.00
Akinobu Okada1,141.5271.97
Koji Akiyama865.5531.914
Kiyoshi Nakahata575.4281.814
Sadaharu Oh2,507.5411.63
Masataka Nashida1,612.5091.1-4
Kenjiro Nomura718.4650.4-7
Norifumi Nishimura629.4560.3-8
Yutaka Wada575.4930.3-6
Junji Ogawa960.4870.12
Hideki Kuriyama1,410.510-0.4-11
Tsutomu Ito1,266.500-1.6-3
Marty Brown719.454-1.6-2
Katsuhiro Nakamura867.434-2.710
Akihiko Oya590.441-3.6-2
Morimichi Takagi787.503-3.9-2
Junichi Fukura518.447-4.5-3

By these measures, it’s fairly clear that one pillar of Hara’s success was Yomiuri’s ability to grab talent from other teams. During Hara’s most successful run, from 2008 to 2013, the Giants signed Alex Ramirez, Michihiro Ogasawara and Toshiya Sugiuchi.

Of course, it wasn’t all just talent brought in from other teams and the draft, as I’ll write about going forward, but pointing to Hara’s inability to haul in one of the year’s top two free agents, shows just how dependent Yomiuri’s self-professed standard of excellence over the years has depended on the Giants’ ability to exact an annual tribute from NPB’s other 11 teams, and shut off from it, they shouldn’t necessarily be expected to be pennant contenders.

Short disclaimer on WAR and Win Shares

WAR is essentially a measure of how much each player is above a replacement-level at his position, and thus attributes value to scarcity. Delta Graphs’ 2023 league WAR totals for NPB through Oct. 8, assign position playrs 178.6 wins above replacement, while all pitchers created 254.81 wins above replacement, which I find ridiculous since objective evidence suggests pitchers have less influence on the outcome of individual plate appearances than hitters do,

By contrast, Win Shares in 2022, assigned 48 percent of the value of NPB to batters, 35.7 percent to pitchers, and 16.3 percent to fielders–virtually the opposite proportion of WAR.

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