The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Japan’s NPB – 2015 Update

Here is an update on last year’s post listing the best foreign pitchers to have pitched in Japan’s NPB in terms of career NPB wins, ERA (800 innings pitched minimum), Strike Outs and Saves.


1.  Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo) 117-68

2.  Gene Bacque 100-80

2. Joe Stanka 100-72

4. Nate Minchey 74-70

5. Jeremy Powell 69-65

6. Seth Greisinger 64-42

7. D. J. Houlton 63-39

7. Jason Standridge 63-54

9. Randy Messenger 61-54

10. Kip Gross 55-49

Tai-yuan Kuo, known in Japan as Taigen Kaku, was a Taiwanese pitcher, who pitched for the Seibu Lions from 1985 through 1997, the most successful period in the team’s history.  Kuo/Kaku is generally recognized as the best pitcher to come out of Taiwan prior to Chien-Ming Wang breaking through to have MLB success in 2005.

Gene Bacque and Joe Stanka were two Americans whose Japanese careers roughly overlapped in the early and mid-1960’s.  Stanka was a marginal major leaguer of the type typical among players from the Americas who try to make a go of it in NPB.  He pitched in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1959 at the age of 27, and apparently realized he had little chance of future major league success, and somehow got a job with the Nankai Hawks (now the Softbank Hawks) in 1960.

Gene Bacque was a mediocre minor league pitcher who got cut by the Hawaii Islanders of the AAA Pacific Coast League after only two relief appearances early in the 1962 season.  What he had going for him was the fact that he was still only 24 years old and apparently the physical proximity to Japan when his minor league career ended.  Japanese Hall of Famer and Hanshin Tigers teammate Masaaki Koyama taught Bacque how to throw a slider, and he also improved his knuckleball and became a star.

Bacque and Stanka both had their best NPB seasons in 1964.  Bacque went 29-9 with a 1.88 ERA and 200 Ks in 353.1 innings pitched, while Stanka went 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA and 172 Ks in 277.2 IP.  Bacque was awarded the Eiji Sawamura Award, NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, becoming the only foreign player ever to win that honor.

Bacque and Stanka faced off against each other in the sixth game of the Japan Series that season.  I have to assume that Stanka won the game, because the Hawks won the series in seven games and Stanka was named the Series MVP.

Randy Messenger, who is currently the ace of the Hanshin Tigers, is a good bet to move up the all-time charts in a number of categories.  He just wrapped up the second year of a lucrative 3-year deal the Tigers gave him this past off-season (at least $10 million total which could climb to $15 million with performance bonuses, which is big money for a foreigner playing in NPB).

ERA (800+ IP)

1.  Gene Bacque 2.34

2.  Joe Stanka 3.03

3.  Randy Messenger 3.05

4. Seth Greisigner 3.16

5.  Taigen Kaku 3.16

6.  Jason Standridge 3.19


1.  Taigen Kaku 1,069

2.  Randy Messenger 939

3.  Joe Stanka 887

4.  Jeremy Powell 858

5.  Gene Bacque 825


1.  Marc Kroon 177

2. Dennis Sarfate 132

3.  Chang-yong Lim 128

4.  Eddie Gaillard 120

5.  Rod Pedroza 117

6.  Micheal Nakamura* 104

7.  Dong-yeol Sun 98

8. Tony Barnette 97

Foreign relief pitchers have had quite a bit of success in Japan, going back to the late 1990’s.  Marc Kroon was an American with a high 90’s fastball, who didn’t throw enough strikes in the U.S. to have MLB success, but was dominating in NPB.  Dennis Sarfate, who is currently the Softbank Hawks closer, is the same kind of pitcher as Kroon.

Dong-yeol Sun, Chang-yong Lim and now Seung-hwan Oh (80 saves in his first two seasons with the Hanshin Tigers through age 32) are products of South Korea’s KBO.  All three were or are probably good enough to be successful MLB pitchers, but ended up starring in NPB instead.

Last year’s comments indicate that NPB did not treat Micheal Nakamura as a foreign player.  However, he was born in Japan, most likely to a Japanese father and a Anglo-Australian mother.  He graduated from high school in Australia and attended college at the University of South Alabama.  Out of college, he pitched for years in the minor leagues before returning to Japan, so I have decided to list him for at least one more year.

Tony Barnette had another fine season for the Yakult Swallows in 2015 and will likely more up the list in the future.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, Baseball History

2 Comments on “The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Japan’s NPB – 2015 Update”

  1. Burly Says:

    Please let me know if I have omitted anyone from my lists.

  2. Burly Says:

    Tadashi Wakabayashi was a Japanese American born in Hawaii. He played in NPB from 1936 until 1953. He originally held duel citizenship but renounced his Japanese citizenship in 1928, but then renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1941, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. His career record was 237-144 with a 1.99 ERA (early NPB featured exceptionally low ERAs) with 998 strike outs.

    I will probably add him to next year’s list. One thing about trying to put together a list of the best “foreign” players in NPB history, and in many of the other lists I’ve created for this blog, is how much interpretation (and subjectivity) it takes. Who is “foreign” and who isn’t?

    I haven’t included Victor Starfin in my lists, because while he was born in Russia, his family emigrated to Japan after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when he was a small boy. He grew up in Japan, before becoming NPB’s first great ace.

    Wally Yonamine, another Nisei, clearly seems “foreign” to me for NPB purposes because he had a professional sports in the U.S. before going to Japan, and he died in Hawaii as well as being born there.

    Wakabayashi played high school ball in Hawaii and then went on a playing tour in Japan, where his pitching earned him a scholarship at a top Japanese University (Hosei University). That certainly makes Wakabayashi less “foreign” than Yonamine — even today foreign players who play at Japanese Universities for four years before going pro are not considered “foreign” for NPB roster-limit purposes.

    Is Wakabayashi more foreign than Micheal Nakamura, who was born in Japan, but graduated from high school in Australia, played college ball in the U.S. and had a long U.S. minor league career before joining NPB. Someone commented last year that Nakamura was treated as “Japanese” for NPB roster-limit purposes.

    Technically, however, Wakabayashi is still a “foreign” player by virtue of his U.S. birth. I will probably put him on my list next year, primarily for completeness, full disclosure purposes.

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