Archive for the ‘NPB’ category

Mac Williamson Set to Join KBO’s Samsung Lion

July 23, 2019

Former San Francisco Giant Mac Williamson has reportedly reached a deal to play for the Samsung Lions of South Korea’s KBO.  Williamson is an ideal player to try his luck in the KBO, since it now appears clear he’s never going to establish himself as an MLB major league regular.

What is particularly interesting about the signing is that the Lions will be finishing the season with two position players — big time KBO star Darin Ruf is the Lions’ 1Bman.  KBO teams universally elect to start each season with two pitchers and one position player for their three permitted foreign players.  When the circuit expanded from two foreign players per team to three, the rules required that the third player had to be a position player, since foreign pitchers are considerably more valuable to KBO teams than foreign hitters.

Ruf is one of the highest paid foreign players in the KBO this year.  He’s making $1.4M plus an additional $300,000 in performance incentives, most of which he’s likely to earn because he’s been reasonably healthy this year.

As a result, if Williamson hits well enough in the Lions’ remaining 50 games, Williamson may take Ruf’s roster spot in 2020.  Ruf turns 33 in a few days, so he’s not getting any younger.  If Williamson plays well enough to take Ruf’s roster spot, Williamson likely won’t be much cheaper, given Williamson’s fairly extensive MLB major league experience, particularly because Williamson could also draw interest from Japan’s NPB after a successful 50 game run in the KBO.

How well Williamson actually plays in his 50 game KBO trial run remains to be seen.  Williamson certainly hit in the Pacific Coast League over parts of the last two seasons, but his inability to hit in the majors in spite of numerous opportunities over the last five seasons suggests he may not hit the ground running in South Korea.  If Williamson can get off to a hot start, he certainly has the tools to become a major star in the KBO.

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Carter Stewart Pitches in First Japanese Game Action

July 11, 2019

MLB Draft buster Carter Stewart made his first game-action pitching appearance for the SoftBank Hawk’s third team against Mitsubishi Motors’ industrial league team based in Kyushu.  He threw two shutout innings after surrendering a lead-off double, and hit 93.8 miles per hour on the radar gun, throwing at what Stewart described as “90%”.

NPB teams maintain a second team which plays at NPB sole minor league level, while the third team of players, whom I assume are mostly young players just getting started in professional baseball, play mainly against independent minor league teams, industrial league teams and university teams, at least according to jballallen.com.

As I understand it, there are several independent minor leagues in Japan, including the Baseball Challenge (BC) League, in which Eri Yoshida famously pitched, and the Shikoku Island League, which has sent All-Stars teams to play against teams in the Indy-A Can-Am League for at least several of the last five seasons.  There are urban areas in Japan not big enough for the 24 major and minor league NPB teams which are likely good homes for independent minor league teams, particularly with so many NPB teams centered around Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas.  Indeed, my review of wikipedia indicates that the vast majority of Japanese independent minor league teams play in prefectures underserved by NPB.

Tommy Joseph Is Out; Carlos Peguero Is In

July 11, 2019

The KBO’s LG Twins put former Philly and SF Giants’ prospect Tommy Joseph on waivers today as a prelude this release and announced the signing of former marginal MLBer and brief NPB star Carlos Peguero, who had been playing in the Mexican League this season.  Not a big deal as far as the baseball world goes, but it interests me in terms of what it says about what KBO teams are thinking.

Joseph hadn’t been terrible in the KBO.  He hit nine home runs in 55 KBO games this season, and his .761 OPS wasn’t terrible this year what with the KBO having introduced less resilient baseballs that cut deep into offensive production.  However, he missed 33 games so far this year, mostly due to back problems; and he was highly paid by KBO standards, having inked a deal that gave him a $300,000 signing bonus and a $700,000 salary.  That’s about as much as first year foreign players can expect to make in the KBO now that a $1M salary cap for first-year foreigners has been imposed.

Peguero will earn $150,000 for the rest of the way with an additional $30,000 in performance incentives.  By my rough calculation, this means the Twins will save between $90,000 and $120,000 by replacing Joseph with Peguero.  That’s not much when you consider that Joseph hadn’t been playing badly, and the odds aren’t great that Peguero will play significantly better.  After only 22 Mexican League games, Peguero had been slashing only .259/.362/.481, which isn’t impressive in what has been an extreme hitters’ league this summer.

The Twins are currently in 4th place in the KBO.  The top five teams make the playoffs and then play a weird system where the 5th place and 4th place teams play, the winner plays the 3rd place team, the second winner plays the 2nd place team and the third winner plays the 1st place team.

The Twins are 6.5 games up on the 5th place NC Dinos and eight games up on the 6th place KT Wiz.  The Twins are three and 3.5 back of the 3rd and 2nd place teams.  In short, the Twins could move up to 2nd or 3rd place with improved performance from their lone foreign position player, but they likely make the post-season with or without the move.

In sum, the move seems to be based primarily on saving $90,000 to $120,000 this season, which sure isn’t much for a play-off bound team, even in the KBO.  It does suggest, perhaps, that KBO team finances aren’t all that strong.

Munetaka Murakami Hits 20th Home Run of 2019 NPB Season

July 3, 2019

19 year old rookie Munetaka Murakami today became the first NPB player to hit 20 home runs in a season before the age of 20 since Kazuhiro Kiyohara accomplished the feat in 1986 and/or 1987.  Kiyohara went on to blast 525 NPB home runs.  We’ll have to wait and see how many home runs Murakami hits.

Murakami is currently slashing .230/.328/.504, so he’s still got a lot of developing to do as a hitter.  He’s listed as 6’2″ and 213 lbs, which suggests an MLB-sized body.  If he stays healthy and develops as one would expect for a player capable of hitting 20 home runs in a major league at age 19, there’s a good chance we’ll see him in MLB one day.  It doesn’t hurt that he plays for the Yakult Swallows, a small market team that should be willing to post him when the time comes.

Anyway, Murakami has entered the NPB record books, and MLB fans can put a bookmark in on him for the next six or seven seasons.

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

2019 NPB Update

June 21, 2019

Up until March of this year, yakyudb.com was my go-to source for Japanese baseball news beyond the box scores available on NPB’s English-language website.  However, Yakyu DB hasn’t posted since the eve of the 2019 season, and until about a week ago, I was hard pressed to find any good information in English.  Then I found Jim Allen’s blog, and I can start to get a little “color” again beyond the box scores and leader boards.

Here is a run-down of some of the things that have been happening in NPB as we approach the 2019 season’s half-way mark.

Former New York Yankee Zelous Wheeler became the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ first foreign player to reach 100 NPB home runs a few days ago.

Former Seattle Mariner Jose Lopez set an NPB record for 1Bmen by playing 1,632 consecutive chances without an error.  The streak began on August 31, 2017 and ended on June 2, 2019, thus enabling Lopez to become in 2018 the first qualifying NPB 1Bman to record a 1.000 fielding percentage for a full season.  You may remember that Lopez played mostly 2B and 3B in the MLB majors.  He’s now an bigger, slower power-hitter, but he’s still got the same soft hands.

Shinnosuke Abe, a catcher who was an MLB major league talent who never left Japan, became the 19th player in NPB to hit 400 home runs on June 1st.

Rakuten Golden Eagles ace and likely future MLBer Takahiro Norimoto made his first minor league rehab appearance a few days ago.  He hit 150 kph (93.2 mph) on consecutive pitches.  Norimoto says he’s now at “60%” but he should be pitching in the NPB majors within about a month.  He had his elbow cleaned out of loose bodies in late March.

Another MLB major league caliber star, Yuki Yanagita won’t be back until late July after tearing a muscle behind his knee early in the season.  Yanagita became only the second player in NPB history (the other being Sadaharu Oh) last season to lead his league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the fourth year in a row.  He’s unlikely to get enough plate appearances this year to do it for the fifth consecutive season.

Daisuke (“Dice-K”) Matsuzaka is at age 38 working on another come back.  He’s pitched effectively in two minor league appearances for the Chunichi Dragons.  Former Seattle Mariner Hisashi Iwamura is also attempting to come back at age 38.  He’s training at the Yomiuri Giants’ minor league facility but hasn’t pitched in game-action yet.

Former MLBer Norichika Aoki collected his 1,500th NPB hit and 100th NPB home run early this season for the Yakult Swallows.  Although Aoki has played well, it hasn’t been a good year for the Swallows — they tied an NPB record with 16 consecutive losses in a streak that ended on June 2nd.  The NPB Central League’s best team of the last few seasons, the Hiroshima Carp, turned their 2019 season around recently with an 11 game winning streak.

Another former MLBer reliever Ryota Igarashi celebrated his 40th birthday on May 29th by pitching his 800th NPB game.  Including his 83 MLB major league appearances, he’s pitched in 889 major league games and counting.

A 20 year old minor leaguer named Yuto Furuya became the first Japanese left-hander to throw a 100 mph pitch in game action earlier this season.  Unfortunately, he still has no idea where the strike zone is, so it may be some time before he reaches the NPB majors.

A couple of NPB foreign “rookies” I’ve been watching closely this year are Taiwan’s Wang Po-Jung and the Virgin Islands’ Jabari Blash.

Wang hit .400 in consecutive seasons (2016-2017) in Taiwan’s CPBL, earning him a lucrative three-year deal to play with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters starting in 2019, his age 25 season.  Wang’s .291 batting average is currently 10th best in NPB’s Pacific League, but his OPS is only .744, because he has yet to hit for any power in Japan.  There has been talk that Wang might one day be an MLB-level talent, but for now I expect him to peak as an NPB star.

After a slow start, Blash has gotten hot and is now one of the Pacific League’s most productive hitters.  I’ve been writing for a couple of years now that he was an ideal candidate to try to become an NPB star.  He waited until he was an old 29 (he turns 30 on July 4th), but it looks like he has now firmly established himself as an NPB star.  I’d guess he has at least four more good NPB seasons in him after this one.

Cuban players have an out-sized role now among NPB foreign players, nowhere more so than for the SoftBank Hawks. Four of the Hawks’ seven foreign players starting the 2019 season are Cubans — Alfredo Despaigne, Yurisbel Graciel, Livan Moinelo and Ariel Miranda.  Miranda is the only defector and former MLB-system player in the bunch: Despaigne, Graciel and Moinelo are all the product of contracting between Cuba’s baseball federation and the Hawks.

There are reasons to believe that none of Despaigne, Graciel or Moinelo were prime MLB prospects, and that this was part of the reasons why they never defected, but they’ve all sure played great in NPB and are making a hell of lot more money in Japan than they’d ever make in Cuba.

The Hiroshima Carp have something of a similar relationship with Dominican players.  Until recently a small market team, the Carp have maintained a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, looking to turn up players who got overlooked by MLB.  They currently have two players — Xavier Batista and Geronimoa Franzua — who washed out of the low MLB minors, but are now helping the Carp win ballgames a few years after asking for a second chance at the Carps’ Dominican academy.  Sometimes beating the bushes will turn up some legitimate baseball talent.

NPB Salaries 2019

June 2, 2019

How much is it in Tokyo has put out its lists of all 12 NPB teams’ salaries and of the 100 best paid players in Japan.

Yomiuri Giants’ ace Tomoyuki Sugano is the best paid player in Japan at 650 million yen ($5.85 million).  I’m pretty sure that this ties Sugano with the highest annual salary in yen in NPB history, although with inflation, it’s less than what the guys who got first to 650 million yen made more than a decade ago.

Sugano may also take a pay cut in 2020.  He pitched like his usual self his first five starts but hasn’t been good the last two or three, and he may be hurt because it looks like he’s missed two starts.  Players take pay cuts in NPB if they don’t perform at the level they once did: Shinnosuke Abe, one of the most recent players to earn a 600 million yen contract, is making only 160 million yen this year as he winds down his career at age 40 as NPB’s best pinch-hitter.

The Hawks’ CF Yuki Yanagita, who was 2018’s highest paid player, is making 570M yen ($5.1M) this year.  He’s also hurt and has missed most the 2019 season so far, playing in only nine games.

Giants’ SS Hayato Sakamoto, Lions’ 1B Ernesto Mejia, Hawks’ closer Dennis Sarfate, and Golden Eagles’ 2B Hideto Asamura are all making 500M yen ($4.5M).  Mejia looks to be in the last season of his NPB career, and Sarfate hasn’t pitched in more than a year due to injury.

Yoshihiro Maru, Wladimir Balentien and Tetsuto Yamada are all making from 450M to 430M yen ($4.05M to $3.9M).  Eight more players are making exactly 400M yen ($3.6M).

102 NPB players are making at least 100M yen ($900,000).  That’s well down from last year when 107 NPB players made at least 110M, and it’s down slightly from 2017, when 105 players made at least 100M yen.  It appears, that as with MLB, the players at the very top are making even more while players a couple of tiers lower on the star charts are making a little less.