Brian LaHair Going to Japan

The Cubs’ Brian LaHair has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks which will pay him $4.5 million, plus an additional $2 million in possible performance bonuses each year.  The Cubs reportedly also receive $950,000 for LaHair’s rights.  LaHair can elect to opt out after the first season if he isn’t happy playing in Japan.

That’s a lot of money for a Japanese team to pay, especially if all of the $4.5 million is guaranteed, although the Hawks are the best drawing team in Japan after the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, and so can likely afford it.

As much as I like LaHair, mainly because he’s an older 4-A type player who finally made good when given a real major league shot last season at age 29), I’m not sure he’s a good bet for the Hawks, given LaHair’s utter inability to hit left-handed pitchers.

Any player given a contract of that size is going to be an every-day player in NPB, and I suspect that LaHair won’t be able to hit Japanese lefties much better than he’s hit major league lefties to date. In fact, it’s doubtful that LaHair will hit Japanese lefties even enough better that he isn’t a major liability when a left-hander is pitching.

LaHair hit so poorly last year against lefties that he couldn’t hold his starting position past the first half of the season.  He now has a career major league batting average of .098 and an OPS of .380 in 96 plate appearances against left-handers.  Against righties, he’s hit .289 with an .835 OPS in 503 plate appearances.  The difference was so extreme that he hardly ever saw a leftie after the 2012 All-Star Break.  He also strikes out a lot, which may give him problems with the wider NPB strike zone.

Clearly, LaHair has value as a left-handed hitting platoon player, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t thump righties in Japan like he has in MLB.  However, it’s equally hard to imagine that the Hawks signed LaHair for all that money to be a part-time player.

Given how hard it has been to hit in NPB the last two seasons, LaHair’s 2013 numbers against lefties could be truly dreadful and make it difficult him to put up impressive season totals no matter how well he hits against right-handers.  There’s definitely a good chance that come August 2013, LaHair will be the best paid platoon player in NPB history.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, Chicago Cubs

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