My work on my Japanese pro baseball win shares database is, for all intents and purposes, complete.
Today’s NPB leaders lists are from 2010 to 2019. So let’s get started, shall we?
The first question that needs to be answered is what to do about MLB value. Win shares records are available through Bill James Online, and one can find out about the system in his seminal work, Win Shares. Unfortunately, his database has breakdowns for offensive, fielding and pitching contributions only for recent seasons, so we don’t have figures for Kenji Jojima’s defensive value for the Mariners, for example.
For now, I’m giving each MLB win share the same weight as the ones in Japan, which because the talent is not as deep in NPB, is not exactly fair, but that’s where I’m starting.
Because I don’t want to discriminate against players who spent a few years in MLB, I’ve included it. That also means the top Japanese player of from 2000 to 2009 only played one of those 10 seasons in Japan.
Where a higher value on MLB win shares would change the ranking, I’ll mention that, too. In Win Shares, pitchers’ fielding is included in their pitching–unless they man another position.
The win shares come from team wins, with each team getting three for every victory during the season. I give out 1.5 for each tie, since we have so many of them.
Japanese baseball Win Shares leaders 2010-2019
|Name||WS||B WS||F WS|
These lists jumble together above-average players, who play the full decade, with those who are extraordinary but get a late start. Yanagita and Yamada, for example, would be in the top half of the list if it went from 2013 to 2022.
I just ran that group, and Yanagita and Yamada are 1-2 from 2013-2022, although Sakamoto is right on Yamada’s heels as is Maru.
I recently read a column written by Toritani, in which he said some fairly interesting things. Among these, he said baseball stopped being fun for him after he decided he wanted to turn pro.
This is not all that unusual a statement. When asked on TV why they became pro baseball players, most answer “because I simply love baseball.” But if you ask them if they enjoy their work, most of them look at you like you’re nuts.
I asked Hiroki Kuroda if he enjoyed being back in Japan in 2015, and he said, “Enjoy? Pro baseball is hard work. There’s no room for enjoying anything.”
Toritani said one of the secrets to his success was the knowledge that some day he would no longer be able to do the things he wants at all. He said this lesson came from his younger brother, who was also athletic, had to give up baseball after a life-threatening illness.
Finally, he said his proudest accomplishment was not his consecutive games streak or his 2,000 career hits, but his 1,055 career walks, because he lived by the idea that a walk walk was often as good as a hit. This matches up with a number of pitchers who told John E. Gibson and I on our podcast that Toritani was the toughest out they faced.
Japanese baseball WS leaders, pitchers 2010-2019
|Name||WS||P WS||B WS|
Again, if MLB win shares are given more weight, Nos. 2 to 4 would be Darvish, Sugano and Maeda, instead of Sugano, Darvish and Kaneko.
Unlike WAR, pitchers in the current era, where starters pitch seven innings or so a week, can rarely keep up with position players, which makes perfect sense.
Since 1990, when the six-man rotation was popular but not fixed like today, the best two pitching seasons have been Masahiro Tanaka’s 2011 (29.4 WS) and 2013 (27.1). In terms of pitching win shares, Tanaka’s career year ranks 101st in Japanese pro baseball history.
The game has simply changed. Pitchers are used less because today’s opposing lineups are far deeper than they were 20 years ago when they were far deeper than they were 20 years before that.
The pitchers from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s would find today’s workloads extremely challenging because players now are willing to draw walks, learn how to hit home runs and the lineups are far deeper.
Tanaka’s 29.4 win shares in 2011 may not seem like a lot compared to Kazuhisa Inao’s 49.9 in 1961. Inao, one of the greatest Japanese pitchers ever, was a shadow of himself for the six years of his career.
The offensive context of the old game, and the way pitchers were used, permitted pitchers to be far more valuable, than pitchers today could possibly match.
Top 10 fielding value: 2010-2019
Since the table gives the top defensive value over the decade at four positions, I’ll add the leaders at first base and each outfield position
Win Shares leaders and MVPs for the decade
I’m going to include the last two seasons in this group of players Win Shares evaluated as that league’s best for the year and the actual winner and his win share totals.
Because the voters from Japan’s media often reserve their first-place votes for players on the pennant-winning team, there is often a huge gap in who the system thinks was most valuable and who gets the most points in the voting.
- 2021 CL: Munetaka Murakami 32.9, Murakami
- 2021 PL: Masataka Yoshida 27.2, Yoshinobu Yamamoto 21.8
- 2020 CL: Hayato Sakamoto 21.7, Tomoyuki Sugano 14.9
- 2020 PL: Yuki Yanagita 37.0, Yanagita
- 2019 CL: Seiya Suzuki 30.7, Hayato Sakamoto 29.1
- 2019 PL: Tomoya Mori 34.0, Mori
- 2018 CL: Yoshihiro Maru 30.7, Maru
- 2018 PL: Yuki Yanagita 37.4, Hotaka Yamakawa 29.7
- 2017 CL: Yoshihiro Maru 34.2, Maru
- 2017 PL: Yuki Yanagita 34.2, Dennis Sarfate 17.5
- 2016 CL: Hayato Sakamoto 33.3, Takahiro Arai 17.0
- 2016 PL: Katsuya Kakunaka 33.0, Shohei Ohtani 31.0
- 2015 CL: Tetsuto Yamada 42.5, Yamada
- 2015 PL: Yuki Yanagita 42.8, Yanagita
- 2014 CL: Takashi Toritani 30.8, Tomoyuki Sugano 17.0
- 2014 PL: Yuki Yanagita 27.6, Chihiro Kaneko 19.0
- 2013 CL: Shinnosuke Abe 32.8, Wladimir Balentien 31.9
- 2013 PL: Yuya Hasegawa 31.0, Masahiro Tanaka 27.1
- 2012 CL: Shinnosuke Abe 37.7, Abe
- 2012 PL: Hiroyuki Nakajima 28.0, Mitsuo Yoshikawa 18.3
- 2011 CL: Takashi Toritani 28.8, Takuya Asao 17.7
- 2011 PL: Hiroyuki Nakajima 35.3, Seiichi Uchikawa 23.5
- 2010 CL: Kazuhiro Wada 33.5, Wada
- 2010 PL: Tsuyoshi Nishioka 32.2, Tsuyoshi Wada 12.8
Pitching win Shares leaders and Best Nines
Since pitchers rarely contribute enough pitching seven innings a week to lead their league in contributions to team wins, I thought it would be best to compare the league leader in win shares to each league’s Best Nine Award for pitchers.
- 2021 CL: Robert Suarez 17.2, Yuya Yanagi 15.9
- 2021 PL: Yoshinobu Yamamoto 21.8, Yamamoto
- 2020 CL: Yudai Ono 15.0, Tomoyuki Sugano 14.9
- 2020 PL: Yoshinobu Yamamoto 11.2, Kodai Senga 11.1
- 2019 CL: Shota Imanaga 13.9, Shun Yamaguchi 13.7
- 2019 PL: Kodai Senga 15.6, Senga
- 2018 CL: Tomoyuki Sugano 21.4, Sugano
- 2018 PL: Yusei Kikuchi 12.6, Kikuchi
- 2017 CL: Tomoyuki Sugano 23.9, Sugano
- 2017 PL: Dennis Sarfate 17.5, Yusei Kikuchi 17.3
- 2016 CL: Tomoyuki Sugano 19.5, Yusuke Nomura 12.5
- 2016 PL: Chris Martin 14.0, Shohei Ohtani 13.7
- 2015 CL: Kenta Maeda 19.9, Maeda
- 2015 PL: Dennis Sarfate 18.1, Shohei Ohtani 16.5
- 2014 CL: Tomoyuki Sugano 17.0, Sugano
- 2014 PL: Chihiro Kaneko 19.0, Kaneko
- 2013 CL: Kentaro Nishimura 18.4, Kenta Maeda 16.8
- 2013 PL: Masahiro Tanaka 27.1, Tanaka
- 2012 CL: Kenta Maeda 19.7, Tetsuya Utsumi 13.2
- 2012 PL: Mitsuo Yoshikawa 18.3, Yoshikawa
- 2011 CL: Tetsuya Utsumi 18.2, Kazuki Yoshimi 16.9
- 2011 PL: Masahiro Tanaka 29.4, Tanaka
- 2010 CL: Kenta Maeda 22.3, Maeda
- 2010 PL: Yu Darvish 20.6, Tsuyoshi Wada 12.7
The 2011 vote is interesting since Yoshimi beat Dragons middle reliever and teammate Takuya Asao 174-54 in the Best Nine vote, with Utsumi receiving 15 votes. The same voters, writing out their votes for MVP on the very same page, gave 170 first-place MVP votes to Asao and 70 to Yoshimi; 156 second-place votes to Yoshimi and 55 to Asao.
Utsumi received two first-place votes, nine second-place and 46 for third place. Takashi Toritani, the league’s win shares leader, got one second-place vote.