Archive for October 2018

Prediction

October 20, 2018

Don’t be surprised if Josh Hader pitches three full innings for the Brute Crew tomorrow.  He hasn’t pitched since his one inning appearance on Tuesday, so he’s ready.

Hader threw 3.0 no-hit innings on July 3, his only appearance that long of the regular season.  Oh, he’s ready for his spotlight moment.  The beauty of baseball is that he does it, or the Dodgers get to him for a couple or three crucial runs.

In an era when post-season over-management is the norm, I’m extremely pleased to see that the Brewers have set themselves up to get the most out of their most unhittable pitcher with all the money on the line.

The Brewers are planning to start Jhoulys Chacin on four days rest.  I’m a big fan of Chacin, because I correctly called a few years ago (and for about two off-seasons) that he was wildly undervalued.  That said, Chacin is no Clayton Kershaw, and short rest is no recipe for post-season performance, even though Chacin only went 5 and 5.1 innings in his first two post-season starts.

The Brewers have set themselves up that the moment Chacin gets in trouble, they can go to Hader and get innings.  That’s more foresight than I’ve seen from any play-off team in a couple of seasons, even if the Dogers win tomorrow.

CPBL’s Wang Po-Jung to Be Posted This Off-Season

October 18, 2018

The CPBL’s Lamigo Monkeys will be posting their best player, CF Wang Po-Jung this off-season to NPB and MLB teams.  It is most likely, in my opinion, that Wang will be playing in Japan’s NPB next year.

Wang had tremendous seasons in 2016 (his rookie year) and 2017, when he hit well over .400 (that’s right — .400) and completely dominated the four-team circuit’s batting stats.  With an enlarged strike zone in 2018, batting numbers across the CPBL came down somewhat, and Wang put up 2018 numbers that were merely among the league’s best.

Specifically, Wang slashed .351/.446/.547, which was good for 4th/1st/4th among qualifiers.  He also led the CPBL with 248 total bases and stole nine bases.

Wang projects as a corner outfielder at the MLB major league level, which hurts him as an MLB prospect.  He could be ready however to step right into a starting outfield position with an NPB team, although there he is hurt somewhat by the four foreign player roster slot limit on each NPB major league team.  If Wang were to sign with an NPB team, I think the odds are good that he’d start on the team’s minor league club, where there are no effective roster limits on foreign players, so that he could then prove he’s too good to keep off the major league roster.  I would expect Wang to start at AA or AAA if signed by an MLB team.

I think that Wang, who is now 25 years odd, would have more value right now to an NPB team than an MLB team.  It makes more sense to let him sign with an NPB club, because if he can prove he’s a great player there, he could still leave Japan for MLB as soon as his age 27 or 28 season, at which point he will be lot more projectable as an MLB player.

I’m glad to see that mlbtraderumors.com reported on this weighty topic, citing to CPBL Stats, a website that has become a go-to place for English language news on the CPBL.

[An aside — one of my pet peeves is that Baseball Reference does not provide stats for CPBL play, even though the CPBL is a better league than many, many leagues for which Baseball Reference provides stats.  The CPBL’s website provides the entire league’s history of stats, but can be difficult to navigate because it uses Chinese characters.  Fortunately, the stats, once you find them, are easy to figure out, although the names of the Taiwanese players are not.]

Wang may be the first of several CPBL position players we might see posted over the next few off-seasons.  The Uni-Lions soon-to-be 25 year old SS Chen Chieh-Hsien could be posted during the 2019-2020 off-season.  He doesn’t have much power, but he’s a middle infielder who gets on base.  The Lamigo Monkeys 20 year old catcher Liao Chien-Fu could be posted as soon as the 2020-2021 off-season.  Again, I would expect that the greatest interest if these players are posted in due course would come from NPB teams.

Winter League Baseball

October 18, 2018

The Winter League seasons in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela started a few days ago, and I’m excited!

I got interested in the Winter Leagues last year, in part because I’ve gradually become more interested in Taiwan’s CPBL.  As far as I can tell, CPBL teams currently base their decisions on which foreign players to sign (each CPBL team can sign three players, all pitchers in recent years, to play at the major league level and a majority of CPBL teams sign a fourth pitcher in case a major leaguer gets hurt or is ineffective), on summer performance, which makes sense.  But they still value Winter League performance, which shows both that the pitcher is healthy enough to at the end of the summer season and that the pitcher is willing to pitch in a foreign league and perform there.

The ability to perform in a foreign league is a bigger factor in pro baseball than most people realize.  Some players can do it, some players can’t, and it matters a great deal if you are trying find the best possible players at your league’s pay scale.

The Winter Leagues are the best pro baseball that people in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and (probably) Mexico get to see, and the best teams in each of these leagues then play in the Caribbean Series, which is major event (and attended and paid for in ticket prices as such) for Latin American baseball fans.  In an era where MLB major league players are enormously compensated, the Winter Leagues aren’t what they once were, since major league players (and top AA and AAA prospects) no longer are allowed to play there, lest they get hurt.  Even so, the Winter Leagues mean a lot to local fan bases, and the baseball played is worth watching.

Players play in the Winter Leagues for a number of reasons, which, aside from domestic players who get to be big stars in their home countries, mostly relate to salaries and a possibility that good performance will be rewarded with a promotion to a better summer league.   For MLB minor league players who have not yet played in the major leagues, the Winter Leagues offer a chance at a living wage playing baseball (at least for the 2.5 months of the Winter League season).  For MLB minor league players over the age of 28 or 29, the Winter Leagues provide a chance to prove the player is still good enough to play in AAA another season and thus be one only step away from the MLB majors.

For native players from the Winter League countries, they can potentially earn enough money in the 2.5 month Winter League season (at least in the Dominican Republic and Venezuala) to support themselves and their families for the whole year.  The Indy-A Atlantic League’s 2018 batting average leaders were dominated by over age 29 Dominican players who, in my opinion, were trying to keep their skills sharp for the Dominican Winter League.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of South Korea’s KBO

October 14, 2018

We are currently in what amounts to the Golden Age of foreign starters in South Korea’s KBO, with most of the leaders listed below still active.  The KBO has decided that what it needs in terms of foreign players is starting pitchers.  Two of every KBO team’s current three roster spots for foreign players are held by starting pitchers, with the third spot typically going to a power hitter, only because under current KBO rules provide that third foreign player cannot be a pitcher.  As a result, the all-time leader boards for foreign pitchers is changing on an annual basis.

Wins

1.  Dustin Nippert   102-51

2.  Danny Rios   90-59

3.  Andy VanHekken   73-42

4.  Henry Sosa      68-60

5.  Eric Hacker      61-37

Dustin Nippert looked like his KBO career might be over last off-season, when the Doosan Bears decided he was too expensive for his likely 2018 performance.  Nippert caught on with the KT Wiz for a lot less money and pitched well enough that he should return in 2019 if the price is right for the Wiz.

Andy VanHekken, like Danny Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB in 2016 immediately following his strongest KBO season.  As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out for VanHekken.  He was able to return to the Nexen Heroes, but they weren’t going to show him much loyalty once they decided he’d gotten old.  VanHekken spent most of 2018 in the Atlantic League, but finished the season with his second stint (the first in 2007) in Taiwan’s CPBL.

Henry Sosa had a very strong 2018 campaign and will almost certainly be back in 2019.  Eric Hacker was released before the 2018 season, but caught on with the Nexen Heroes after highly paid Esmil Rogers got hurt.  If Hacker is willing to accept a modest contract amount ($500K to $600K) the notoriously tight-fisted Heroes could bring him back in 2019.

ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)

1.  Danny Rios    3.01

2.  Andy VanHekken  3.56

3.  Dustin Nippert    3.59

4.  Eric Hacker    3.66

5.  Chris Oxspring    3.90

6.  Henry Sosa 4.32

As far as I am aware, these six are the only foreign pitchers to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off in the KBO’s history.  There should be more in the next few seasons.

Stikeouts

1.  Dustin Nippert   1082

2.  Henry Sosa    963

3.  Andy VanHekken   860

4.  Danny Rios   807

5.  Eric Hacker 675

6.  Merrill Kelly 641

7.  Brooks Raley  615

Kelly and Raley should join the Wins and ERA lists next off-season, as both pitched well enough to return to the KBO in 2019, although neither is likely to get much of a raise on his 2018 salary.

Saves

Jose Cabrera   53

With a limited number of roster spots for foreign pitchers, KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers.  Of the 23 foreigners to pitch in the KBO in 2017, Henry Sosa was the only one to record even one save, the first and only one of his KBO career.

The best season by a foreign reliever was Scott Proctor‘s 2012, when he had a 1.79 ERA and saved 35 games.  However, he returned to the U.S. in 2013 to play at AAA.  The KBO has yet to have a foreign closer last more than a couple of seasons and none in the last few seasons.

Hector Noesi, Ryan Feierabend and Josh Lindblom could be added to my lists after the 2019 season, although Noesi will likely have to take a significant pay cut from his $1.7 million 2018 salary to return to the Kia Tigers (and even if released by the Tigers can’t sign with any other KBO team for more than $1.0 million per new league rules).   Josh Lindblom will probably be the best paid foreign pitcher in the KBO in 2019, as his 2018 salary was already well over $1M, and he was the circuit’s top starter on the best and wealthiest team in the league. I would guestimate that Lindblom will make at least as much next year as Noesi reportedly made this season and maybe a little more.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

October 14, 2018

This is the post-2018 season update on an article I published a year ago.  I have not published a piece on foreign hitters because no foreign position players have played in the CPBL since early in the 2016 season.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.      Jonathan Hurst       76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

3.      Mike Loree                72-41     MiLB, Indy-A stats

4.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer               55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

8.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

9.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even better than either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL or since Oswaldo Martinez’s and Jonathan Hurst’s CPBL careers ended after the 2005 season.  Loree didn’t pitch as well in 2018 as his 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, but he was still an ace (one of the four best starters in a four-team circuit) and enhanced his credentials as one of the CPBL’s best foreign hurlers ever.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

2.     Jonathan Hurst       2.56

3.     Joe Strong                 2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna                3.16

7.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.26

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.  Alas, Roman’s CBPL career ended after the 2017 season.next season.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Mike Loree             797

3.     Jonathan Hurst     779

4.     Enrique Burgos     736

5.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

6.     Orlando Roman   564

7.     John Burgos          541

8.     Mark Kiefer           532

9.     Jose Nunez           511

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

4.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more.  However, Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the 7-11 Uni-Lions as recently as 2015, and in 2014 Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.  Right now, though, CPBL teams seem to have decided that starting pitchers are just too valuable for their three available foreign player roster spaces, even though there are almost always some good relievers in the Mexican League to choose from.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around and too easily replaced.  There are a lot of players of the age and talent level to whom the CPBL salary scale is highly appealing, so CPBL teams can pick and choose their foreign players.

If a foreign player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players come back to the CPBL a few years later for another go ’round when it’s their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

In its early days, the CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  However, with the CPBL season now longer (it has climbed from an initial 90 game season to 120 games today), fewer Latin players are interested in playing in Taiwan, because it interferes with their ability to play winter league ball in their home countries.  In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help, and the (summer) Mexican League has been a prime source for off-season signings.

Slugging It Out in Japan: A Listing of the Top Foreign Hitters in the History of Japan’s NPB

October 14, 2018

In the past several years, I’ve written a couple of posts on the all-time leaders among foreign hitters in the history of Japan’s NPB.  The articles have met with a positive response, so I am updating them whenever new or more complete information comes to me.  This iteration adds stolen base leaders, and has been updated to include Wladimir Balentien’s 2019 performance.

BATTING AVERAGE (4,000 ABs)

1.  Leron Lee .320

2.  Boomer Wells .317

3.  Wally Yomamine .311

4.  Leon Lee .308

5.  Alex Cabrera .303

6.  Alex Ramirez .301

BATTING AVERAGE (3,000 ABs)

1.  Bobby Rose .325

2.  Matt Murton .310

3.  George Altman .309

I received a comment last year arguing that Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto should be treated as “foreign” players for NPB purposes, because neither was a Japanese citizen and were treated as “foreign” by their teams during their careers.  Oh was born in Japan to a Taiwanese (Chinese) father and a Japanese mother at a time when only the sons of Japanese fathers were automatically treated as citizens.  Instead, Oh was and remains a Taiwanese citizen.  Harimoto was an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan, who nevertheless was and remains a Korean citizen.  Questions about who is and is not a “foreign” player for NPB raises difficult questions about the way Japan treats people of foreign ancestry born and raised in Japan.

I personally don’t consider Oh or Harimoto to be “foreign” NPB players, and I have left them off my lists for this year, at least.  You can make your own decisions regarding whether they should be considered “foreign” NPBers.  [Wikipedia lists seven Korean Zainichi players good enough to merit mention.]

Leron Lee was not, as his wikipedia page suggests, the first American player to go to Japan during the prime of his professional career.  However, he was the first first major leaguer of his ability and past MLB success to go to Japan before his age 30 season.  Lee is not just the best career hitter among North American players, he has the highest NPB batting average of any player with at least 4,000 at-bats, and he had almost 5,000 NPB at-bats, so it was no fluke based on a small data set.

Leon Lee was Leron’s little brother and the father of former MLBer Derrek Lee.  Pops never played in MLB, but he was nearly as great an NPB player as his big brother, and that’s saying something.

Wally Yonamine, a Nisei (Japanese American) from Hawaii, was the first foreign player to play in NPB after the Second World War, breaking in with the Yomuiri Giants, far and away NPB’s most popular team, in 1951.  Yonamine was sort of the poster boy for a class of Japanese American athletes during the era between about 1920 and 1950 who were famed on the West Coast and Hawaii for their abilities on both the baseball diamond and the gridiron in semi-pro leagues.

Yonamine was really an exceptional athlete.  He was 5’9″ and 180 lbs, fast and tough.  He was the first Asian American to play pro football that I am aware of, playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 1947, the team’s second season in the All-American Football Conference.  He played in 12 of the team’s 14 games that year and started three times.  He ran for 74 yards on 19 carries, caught three passes for 40 yards, ran back an interception for 20 yards and returned a total of nine punts and kick-offs.  He quit football after injuring himself playing baseball the next summer.

In his only season of minor league baseball, he hit .335 as a catcher in the Class C Pioneer League at age 25 in 1950.  At that age, his MLB chances were slim, so he went to Japan in 1951, where he mostly played outfield.  He had a major impact on NPB, bringing his tougher, more aggressive American style of base running.  He is one of only three only foreign player in the NPB Hall of Fame (NPB’s first 300 game winner Victor Starfin was born in Russia but grew up in Japan after his family fled the Russian Revolution), something I’ll comment on below.

HITS

1.  Alex Ramirez 2,017

2. In-cheon Paek 1,831

3. Tuffy Rhodes 1,792

4. Leron Lee 1,579

5.  Leon Lee 1,436

6.  Bobby Marcano 1,418

7.  Boomer Wells 1,413

8.  Alex Cabrera 1,368

9.  Wally Yonamine 1,337

10.  Shosei Go 1,326

11.  Jose Fernandez 1,286

12.  Bobby Rose 1,275

13.  John Sipin 1,124

14.  Roberto Barbon 1,123

15.  Daikan Yoh (Dai-Kang Yang) 1,091

16.  Ta-Feng Chen (Yasuaki Taiho) 1,089.

17.  Matt Murton, 1020.

Before I wrote the original piece in 2014, I’d never heard of Bobby Marcano, John Sipin or Roberto Barbon (or if I have I’ve long since forgotten).  Marcano hit .317 with an .857 OPS in the AAA Pacific Coast League at the age of 23, but elected to sign with an NPB team the next season.  I don’t know anything about his story, but it was apparently a good move, as he had a very successful 11 career in Japan playing mostly 2B.

John Sipin got into 68 games for the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969.  A couple of big years in the Pacific Coast League at ages 23 and 24, and off he went to Japan for a nine year NPB career.  He also mostly played 2B.  Both Marcano and Sipin played most of their NPB careers in the 1970’s.

Roberto Barbon was a light-hitting (.241 career NPB batting average) middle infielder from Cuba who played 11 seasons in Japan starting in 1955 at the age of 22.  His defense was probably very good for him to last so long, and his 308 career NPB stolen bases is the record for Gaijin players, at least according to some sources.  Here is a NY Times article about Barbon, who still lives in Japan and is involved in baseball.

Daikan Yoh is a Taiwanese player who was so good as a youngster that he was recruited to play high school ball in Japan and never left.  Because he played high school ball in Japan, he does not count as a foreign player for roster limit purposes.

HOME RUNS

1.  Tuffy Rhodes 464

2. Alex Ramirez 380

3. Alex Cabrera 357

4.  Wladimir Balentien  255

5.  Leron Lee 283

6.  Boomer Wells 277

6.  Ta-Feng Chen (Yasuaki Taiho) 277

8.  Leon Lee 268

9.  Ralph Bryant 259

NPB teams pay their relatively high-priced foreign position players to hit home runs, so it isn’t particularly surprising that eight foreign players have topped 250 career home runs in NPB.  Ralph Bryant hit a lot of home runs and also set strike out records, striking out 204 times in 127 games played in 1993, in his eight year NPB career.  Wladimir Balentien is the most recent in a long line of foreign sluggers to top the 250 home run mark; he jumped from 9th to 4th on the all-time list after another productive season in 2019..

RBIs

1.  Alex Ramirez 1,272

2.  Tuffy Rhodes 1,269

3.  Alex Cabrera 949

4. Leron Lee 912

5.  Boomer Wells 901

6.  Leon Lee 884

7.  Bobby Marcano 817

8.  Bobby Rose 808

RUNS

1.  Tuffy Rhodes 1,100

2.  Shosei Go 880

3.  Alex Ramirez 866

4. In-cheon Paek 801

5.  Leron Lee 786

6.  Alex Cabrera 754

NPB teams pay foreign hitters to drive in runs rather than score them, which is why the RBI totals are so much more impressive than the runs scored totals.

STOLEN BASES

1.  Shosei Go  381

2.  Roberto Barbon 308

3.  In-cheon Paek 212

4.  Wally Yonamine  163

5.  Daikan Yoh  140

6.  Larry Raines 114

As I’ve written before, it is no small task to determine who is “foreign” for NPB purposes and who isn’t.  At the time Shosei Go joined Japanese professional ranks in 1937, Taiwan was a Japanese colony, so Go was not considered a “foreign” player during his playing career.  However, as an ethnic Taiwanese born and raised in Taiwan (he attended high school there), he seems more “foreign” to me than Victor Starrfin, who lived in Japan since before his second or third birthday.  Go also seems more foreign than Hiroshi Ohshita, an ethnic Japanese who was probably born in Kobe, Japan but spent part of his childhood, including high school, in colonial Taiwan, but then attended Meiji University, one of Japan’s big six college baseball programs.

Another thing my original research in compiling these lists pointed out is just how much of a fungible commodity NPB teams apparently consider foreign players to be.  A total of fewer than 20 players made any of my six lists.  There are easily more than four times this many foreign players who were great in NPB from between three to seven seasons who didn’t stick around long enough to make my lists.

Since most foreign players are at least 26 to 28 years old in their first NPB season and often quite a bit older, a lot of them simply didn’t have much left by the time they reached their mid-30’s.  However, it’s just as true that in a majority of cases it only took one bad year, even after many good ones, for a foreign player to be sent packing.

Given the fact that NPB teams have become exceptionally good at picking out the most promising foreign players available (usually what we call 4-A players: guys who hit like major leaguers in AAA but have become too old to contend for major league starting jobs), but that even among these players only about half succeed quickly, long and consistently enough to stick around more than a year or two in NPB, its something of a shock how quickly NPB teams give up on foreign players with a proven track record.  This is so much the case that I’m always shocked on those rare occasions when a foreign hitter sticks around as long as three NPB seasons if he’s never had a single season OPS higher than about .815.

In fact, some of the best available foreign players are probably never considered by NPB teams, since their value is in their gloves rather than their bats.  In NPB, all the glove-tree guys are Japanese.

The best Gaijin hitter in NPB history has to be Tuffy Rhodes.  While he wasn’t a .300 hitter, his power and his ability to draw walks account for his exceptional RBI and Runs Scored totals, aside from the fact that he was once tied for the single season NPB home run record with the legendary Sadaharu Oh.

Foreign hitters who should eventually join Wally Yonamine in the NPB Hall of Fame are Rhodes, Alex Ramirez and Leron Lee.  Whether they will is another matter.  Apparently it takes a longer period of retirement before former players become eligible, and NPB’s Hall of Fame seems relatively more exclusive than MLB’s Hall of Fame, at least in terms of players.  The NPB Hall is particularly heavily stacked with non-players — for example, Lefty O’Doul is in Japan’s Hall of Fame for his goodwill tours to Japan in the 1930’s which increased the game’s popularity there, even though he isn’t in the MLB Hall of Fame despite an accomplished lifetime in the U.S. professional game.

The Best “Foreign” Pitchers in the History of Japan’s NPB

October 13, 2018

This is the post-2018 season update on a topic I’ve been writing about and updating for the last few years, when the all-time leader boards change. The post lists the best “foreign” pitchers (see discussion below) to have pitched in Japan’s NPB in terms of career NPB wins, ERA (800 innings pitched minimum), Strike Outs and Saves.

WINS

1. Tadashi Wakabayaski 237-144

2. Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo) 117-68

3.  Genji Kaku (Yuen-chih Kuo) 106-106

4.  Gene Bacque 100-80

4. Joe Stanka 100-72

6. Randy Messenger 95-77

7. Jason Standridge 75-68

8. Nate Minchey 74-70

9. Jeremy Powell 69-65

10. Seth Greisinger 64-42

11. D. J. Houlton 63-39

One of the things you learn when blogging is that the answers to seemingly simple questions often aren’t that simple at all.  Who exactly qualifies as a “foreign” player for NPB purposes?  For some players, that is an extremely complicated question.

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 and became a Japanese citizen again, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

On the other hand, Victor Starrfin, who went 303-176 as one of NPB’s all-time great aces, while being born in Russia, emigrated to Japan after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when he was a small boy. He grew up in Japan and went through Japan’s education and baseball systems, before becoming NPB’s first 300 game winner.  And what about NPB’s all-time wins leader, Masaichi Kaneda (born Kim Kyung-hong), a Korean citizen born and raised in Japan who was not allowed to become a citizen?

Wally Yonamine, another great Nisei star of NPB, clearly seems more “foreign” to me for NPB purposes than Wakabayashi because Yonamine 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, mentioned below, who was born in Japan, but graduated from high school in Australia, played college ball in the U.S. and then had a long U.S. minor league career before joining NPB?  A comment to the original post said that Nakamura was treated as “Japanese” for NPB roster-limit purposes, presumably due to his Japanese birth.

Ultimately, I have decided this year to continue treating Wakabayashi as a “foreign” player, because he was born and raised in the United States.  But I have left Starffin and Kaneda off my lists because, they were products of Japan’s baseball system, even if they were denied equal treatment due to their ethnicities.  I have left it up to you, gentle reader, to make your own determination on this perhaps not very significant question.

Tai-yuan Kuo and Yuen-chih Kuo, known in Japan as Taigen Kaku and Gengi Kaku, respectively, were Taiwanese pitchers both of whom starred in NPB in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The two Kuos/Kakus were the best pitchers 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, which Stanka won, throwing a complete game shutout.  Stanka’s team, the Hawks, won the series in seven games, and Stanka was named the Series MVP.

Randy Messenger, the most successful foreign starter of his generation in career terms, managed to earn his NPB domestic free agent option with eight full seasons of NPB service earlier this year.  This means he will no longer be considered a “foreign” player in terms of NPB roster limits, thus increasing his value, since he will no longer be taking up one of the valuable four foreign player roster slots.  It is expected that he’ll return to the Hanshin Tigers for his age 37 season in 2019.

Jason Standridge’s very successful NPB career ended in 2017.

ERA (800+ IP)

1. Tadashi Wakabayashi 1.99

2.  Gene Bacque 2.34

3.  Glenn Mickens 2.55

4.  Joe Stanka 3.03

5. Randy Messenger 3.05

6. Seth Greisigner 3.16

7.  Taigen Kaku 3.16

8.  Genji Kaku  3.22

9.  Jason Standridge 3.31

Offense was up in NPB in 2018, and Randy Messenger’s career NPB ERA dropped below Joe Stanka in spite of a successful 11-7 season.  However, Messenger moved up to the number one slot as foreign strikeout king, at least so long as I don’t consider Masaichi Kaneda (4,490) and Victor Starffin (1,960) as “foreign” pitchers.

STRIKE OUTS

1.  Randy Messenger 1,420

2.  Genji Kaku 1,415

3.  Taigen Kaku 1,069

4.  Tadashi Wakabayashi 1,000

5.  Joe Stanka 887

6.  Jeremy Powell 858

7. Jason Standridge 844

8.  Gene Bacque 825

SAVES

1. Dennis Sarfate  234

2.  Marc Kroon 177

3.  Chang-yong Lim 128

4.  Eddie Gaillard 120

5.  Rod Pedroza 117

6.  Genji Kaku 116

7.  Micheal Nakamura* 104

8.  Dong-yeol Sun 98

9. Tony Barnette 97

Foreign relief pitchers have had quite a bit of success in Japan, going back to the late 1980’s, starting with Genji Kaku who both started and closed at different times in his NPB career.  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 broke Marc Kroon’s career saves record and NPB’s single-season save record (among everyone) in 2017.  His 54 saves broke the old record by seven.  Unfortunately, Sarfate hurt himself badly a month into the 2018 season, tearing something in his right hip requiring surgery, and he didn’t pitch again in 2018.  He has two years left of his deal with SoftBank, so hopefully he’ll be pitching again in 2019.

Dong-yeol Sun and Chang-yong Lim, like Seung-hwan Oh who saved 80 games in NPB in 2014-2015 before jumping to MLB, are products of South Korea’s KBO.  Sun and Lim were probably good enough to be successful MLB pitchers, but ended up starring in NPB instead.