Recent Goings-On in Japan’s NPB
Here are notes on a few events that have happened recently in Japan’s NPB:
Slugger Takeya Nakamura hit his 16th career grand slam, moving him out of a tie with the immortal Sadaharu Oh into 1st place all-time on the NPB list. Nakamura is a burly slugger whose power would drop significantly in MLB, doesn’t have impressive on-base percentages, and doesn’t have any defensive value, so we’ll never see him in MLB. However, he’s a fine player, and one of many, like Yoshio Itoi and Toshiya Suguichi, who will probably never play in the Show, but keep NPB the second best professional baseball league in the world.
Seung-Hwan Oh recently became the first foreign pitcher in NPB history to record 30 or more saves in his first two seasons. Fellow South Korean Dae-Ho Lee is also having a tremendous season. These are signs, along with the MLB success of Jung-ho Kang, that South Korea’s KBO is rapidly improving and that we’ll see more South Koreans playing in Japan in the future. However, we probably won’t see a lot more, because former KBO stars are much more expensive for NPB teams to sign than 4-A players coming out of the MLB system or the Mexican League.
Former MLBer Ryota Igarashi recently surrendered a home run to Alfredo Despaigne ending a streak of 557 batters faced without allowing a long-ball. Despaigne is widely regarded one of the world’s best hitter not playing in MLB. However, his second season in NPB isn’t as impressive as his first. While he still has an .831 OPS as I write this, that’s a huge drop from last year’s 1.001, albeit in fewer games played.
I have doubts about whether Despaigne would have succeeded in MLB had he chosen to defect a few years ago. He isn’t a patient enough hitter, which I think is a major reason his batting average has dropped so dramatically this season. However, another explanation might be that Despaigne is now playing baseball year ’round with little opportunity to rest injuries, because NPB’s and Cuba’s Serie Nacional’s schedules overlapp on both ends. Needless to say, both leagues want as much of Despaigne’s playing time as they can get.
Motonobu Tanishige set a new all-time NPB record by playing in his 3,018 career game. What is truly amazing about this feat is that Tanishige is a catcher who has played an astounding 2,841 NPB games at the position (at least according to Baseball Reference). By way of comparison, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez holds the MLB record with 2,427 games and a total of only four other catchers have played 2,000 MLB games at the position.
While Tanishige is largely unknown in the U.S., he was indeed a fine player during his long peak from 1996 to 2006 (his age 25 to 35 seasons). He didn’t typically hit for a high average, but he had power and drew lots of walks, making him a valuable offensive, as well as defensive, player. Baseball Reference lists him as 5’10” and 180 lbs, while NPB’s website lists him as 5’9″ and 178 lbs. That’s a great size for a long career as a catcher.
Now that MLB no longer allows catchers to block home plate, I expect that we will see more smaller-sized catchers rather than the behemoths we have gotten used to. The small ones certainly don’t put a much pressure on their knees, ankles and backs as the big boys do, making longer careers more likely.