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Patrick Newman

NPB Tracker Archives

The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 2

by Patrick Newman (Dec 3, 2008)

Part two of the series, covering 2004-2006.  Take a look at part one here.

Part three will look at players that came over from 2001-03, and part four will draw some conclusions from the culmination of the last eight years of player movement.

2006

Takashi Saito (RP, BayStars -> Dodgers): Saito explored a move to the majors after the 2002 season, but didn't get a satisfactory offer and returned to Yokohama. After three more mediocre seasons by the bay, he decided to give the majors another shot and signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. He didn't make the team out of spring training, but got promoted when Eric Gagne was injured and has never looked back. 

Yokohama, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth between near-.500 respectability (2005, 2007) and Central League doormat (2006, 2008). I'm sure Westbaystars-san can better explain why Yokohama has been so manic recently. 

Impact: Low. I don't think anyone saw Saito's success in LA coming, as he had never put up such dominant numbers in Japan (MLB K rate: 11.63; NPB K rate 7.63). The impact would have been much greater if Yokohama had been able to get the best out of Saito.

Kenji Johjima (C, Hawks -> Mariners): While SoftBank survived the loss of Tadahito Iguchi, Johjima's last year in Fukuoka would be the last of the Hawks dynasty that saw five Pacific League 1st place finishes, three Japan Series appearances and two Japan Series Championships between 1999-2005. The team effectively re-tooled around an talented, though inconsistent, rotation featuring Kazumi SaitoToshiya SugiuchiTsuyoshi Wada, and Nagisa Arakaki, but couldn't replicate the success of the earlier offense-led dynasty. The Hawks have finished 3rd, 3rd, and 6th in the three years since Johjima's departure.

Other factors have played roles in SoftBank's regression - injuries to the pitching staff, sub-par production from guys like Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hiroshi Tamura, manager Sadaharu Oh's bout with cancer - but I would suggest that the absence of Johjima's stabilizing presence behind the plate and in the order had the largest impact.

Impact: High. SoftBank lost an excellent defensive catcher and a mid-lineup slugger that they still haven't replaced. The Hawks seemed unprepared for Johjima's departure, as they never seemed to have a reliable backup for him while he was there. SoftBank drafted independent league catcher Hayato Doue in the instructional round of the 2008 draft, so maybe he'll develop into a decent offensive or defensive catcher.

2005

Tadahito Iguchi (2B, Hawks -> White Sox): The old Daiei management made two moves in the 2004 offseason that significantly weakened their team without getting anything in return. First, they released Iguchi from his contract so that he could pursue an MLB career. Daiei also "traded" star 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri for nothing. Yes, nothing. Daiei then got out of the baseball business with the sale of the Hawks to SoftBank.

The departure of Iguchi didn't have an immediate effect on the Hawks, as they took their third straight 1st place Pacific League finish with an outstanding 89-45-2 record. For the second straight year, however, they lost in the playoffs and failed to reach the Japan Series. Jolbert Cabrera was signed to fill in for Iguchi until reinforcements arrived, and while he spent two years in Fukuoka he was never really as good as Iguchi.

Impact: Medium. Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki effectively took over the infield leadership from Iguchi,but 2005 was the last year of the Hawks' dynasty. Eventually young infielders Yuichi Honda and Nobuhiro Matsuda emerged, but they still need some time to mature and will probably never be as good as Iguchi was. A double play combination of Kawasaki and Iguchi would have been great to watch as well. Iguchi wasn't posted, which means that Daiei got nothing in return for him. 

Keiichi Yabu (SP, Tigers -> A's): Yabu was one of Hanshin's better starting pitchers during the team's lean mid-90's years, but by the time he left for Oakland he was a more of a back of the rotation kind of guy. He seemed have a way to put a string of good starts together, but was injury-prone and a bit inconsistent. 

Impact: Minor. Pitching depth is good in any league but the Tigers still won the Central in 2005. They got destroyed in the Japan Series, but it's not like Yabu could have prevented that.

Norihiro Nakamura (3B, Buffaloes -> Dodgers): Nori was clearly in decline when he asked the Buffaloes to post him. They happily complied, freeing themselves of his $4.5m salary. He only got a limited look at the MLB level, and failed to impress in the renowned hitter's paradise in Las Vegas. In 2006 he was back with Orix, where his performance hit bottom. After the '06 season he negotiated his release after falling out with Orix's management, then caught on with Chunichi where he rediscovered the plot and managed to win the 2007 Japan Series MVP.

Impact: Very low. I was on the fence about including him in this. Nori's ups and downs are a good story, but I consider his MLB experiment more of a blip.

2004

Kazuo Matsui (SS, Lions -> Mets)Hiroyuki Nakajima picked up right where 'LIttle' Matsui left off, and Seibu went from finishing 5.5 games out in 2003 to winning the Japan Series in 2004. Nakajima also contributed to the Lions' Series win this past season. 

Impact: Low. Seibu obviously had a capable replacement waiting in the wings in Nakajima. Nakajima hasn't been quite the perennial MVP candidate that Matsui was, but he's still been the top shortstop in the Pacific League most seasons since taking over as Seibu's starter. 

Akinori Otsuka (RP, Dragons -> Padres): The old Kintetsu Buffaloes posted Otsuka after the 2002 season, but there were no takers, so they wound up trading him to Chunichi for cash. After a solid 2003 season, Chunichi posted Otsuka again, and this time San Diego won his rights with a $300k bid. 

Chunichi improved from 2nd in 2003 and 1st in 2004, going on to appear in Japan Series' in 2004 and 2006, and finally winning in 2007.  One of the team's strength's was a deep bullpen, even without Otsuka.

Kintetsu didn't fare as well. The franchise collapsed under heavy financial losses in 2004, just three years after reaching the Japan Series, and merged with the former Orix Blue Wave franchise. It looked like NPB was at risk for contraction, but the players went on a fan-supported strike and persuaded NPB to admit the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as an "expansion" team.

Impact: Low. Chunichi got a minimal return for Otsuka, but he was expendable given the team's bullpen depth. Kintetsu, unfortunately, had problems that couldn't be solved by the presence of Otsuka. 

Shingo Takatsu (RP, Swallows -> White Sox): When Shingo announced that he was working out for MLB teams, there was a feeling that he was trying to drive up his price in Japan. Wrong. Shingo had a geniune desire to play major league ball, and put up great numbers in his first year with the White Sox. Yakult got by with out him, going 72-62-2 in 2004 vs 71-66-3 in 2003.

Shingo fell apart in 2005 and was back with the Swallows in 2006, where he pitched two more seasons before getting released. He was in camp this spring with the Cubs, but failed to catch on and played for Woori in Korea in 2008. Shingo seemed to really enjoy his time in Chicago, which endeared him to me as a native Chicagoan.

Impact: Low. What gets overlooked here is that Shingo was pretty inconsistent for his last two years in Japan, and Ryota Igarashi seemed ready to take over as the closer. Where Shingo and Otsuka had a large impact, however, was in establishing the reputation of Japanese relievers as effective in MLB. 

Any comments on this group of players?

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