Every year sees a new crop of foreign players in Japan. 2010 was no different, and several newcomers to NPB were smashing successes, while others completely missed the mark this past season. Let's take a look at some in the Central League:
Matt Murton, outfielder, Hanshin Tigers.
Easily the foreign-born player of the year (and perhaps the story of the year), Murton's season was a record setter. A career .286 hitter over five seasons in Major League Baseball, Murton put up a stunning .349/.395/.499 batting line in his rookie season with Hanshin. He set a new Japanese single season hits record with 214, while leading his team with 105 runs scored. He also knocked in 91 runs while helping the Tigers to a second place finish. As an example of Murton's batting prowess, he had seven games with four or more hits, and only went hitless in 28 (he played in all 144). Murton will undoubtedly be back playing for the Tigers in 2011, perhaps as their everyday right fielder, as they have already picked up his option for next season.
Brett Harper, infielder, Yokohama Bay Stars.
Harper was a pretty good mid-season find for a team that crashed to a 95 loss season.
Harper's final line over his partial 2010 season read .316/.395/.596. That slugging percentage would have easily led the team if Harper had gotten enough playing time to qualify for leader boards. He hit 19 home runs in only 261 plate appearances. Harper looks like a keeper for 2011.
Josh Whitesell, infielder, Yakult Swallows.
Another mid-season pickup, Whitesell was a pretty good find for Yakult. The 28 year-old left handed hitter poked 15 home runs on his way to a .309/.399/.591 line. While he only saw action in 68 games he provides the Swallows with a pretty good first base option going forward. Like many first basemen he struck out at a high clip (71 times), but hit .359 with runners in scoring position. It looks as if Yakult will invite him back to Japan in 2011, though the sample size for his numbers is limited by his late start.
Giancarlo Alvarado, pitcher, Hiroshima Carp.
Alvarado seemed to be the only foreigner on Hiroshima's staff whose season wasn't a disappointment. The Puerto Rican right-hander provided a poor Hiroshima club with an 8-8, 4.07 ERA in 119 1/3 innings. The eight wins were good for second-highest on the team (Kenta Maeda earned 15) and his ERA was a full run lower than fellow newcomer Eric Stults'. Slightly concerning were Alvarado's 4 wild pitches and team high 5 balks.
Justin Huber, infielder, Hiroshima Carp.
The Carp didn't have any foreign hitters with pop in their bat like they have had in previous seasons (Alex Ochoa, Scott McClain, Scott Seabol, and Andy Phillips come to mind). Huber certainly didn't hit the ball out of the park very often, and didn't hit it much elsewhere either. In his 80 games Huber batted .220 for a team that didn't improve their win total very much under new manager Kenjiro Nomura. Huber (like most of the rest of the 2010 Carp foreigners) was a washout.
Casey Fossum, pitcher, Hanshin Tigers.
2010 was not a productive season for the left-handed Fossum. Originally signed to be used as a starter, management changed course with him and tried him out of the bullpen. In 12 games at the ichi-gun level Fossum allowed 36 earned runs over 56 2/3 innings for an unsightly 5.72 ERA and 2-5 record. A demotion to ni-gun helped his numbers, as he posted a 3.10 ERA in 18 games at that level with a single win (1-0). Signed for only one year, the Tigers officially cut ties with Fossum in October.
Dionys Cesar, infielder/outfielder, Chunichi Dragons.
Cesar, a utility infielder who played in the Mexican League prior to coming to Japan, was a disappointment in 2010. Converted to the outfield, the switch-hitter batted a paltry .215 with a single home run (.215/244/.269). He struck out 45 times and walked only 7 times in 194 plate appearances. Chunichi cut ties with the Dominican at the end of the 2010 season.
Tony Barnette, pitcher, Yakult Swallows.
Barnette will not be offered a contract for 2011 after a rather poor 2010 performance. He posted a lackluster 5.99 ERA era at the ichi-gun level over 16 games (79 2/3 IP, 4-5 record). With Yakult's ni-gun team the results were equally sub-par: 1 win, 3 losses, a 5.03 ERA over 34 innings.
One for debate
Jose Castillo, infielder, Yokohama Bay Stars.
In his first year in Japan, Castillo provided a .273/.309./446 year as Yokohama's primary second baseman. He led the team with 16 errors and drew only 22 walks, which kept his OBP low. On the plus side, his 19 home runs were good for a third place tie on the team. It appears that despite his power, Yokohama will look for a player to replace Castillo in 2011.