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Thursday, August 14, 2014

How Japan Finds American Baseball Talent

Now, Lopez’s job is to find current Triple-A players who look capable of clicking the same way. He sees every Independent League team at least twice over the course of a season. He completes his first circuit before July, attempting to see everyone in case the BayStars need midseason reinforcements. In the second half, he starts cherry-picking players at the positions that he, Kakazu, Yates, and GM Shigeru Takada expect to have to fill the following season. Eventually, Lopez becomes a quasi stalker, shadowing the player or players he thinks would be the best fit. “It gets tricky because they get called up or they get sent down,” Lopez says. “I’ll fly to a city and go to the park and, next thing you know, he’s been sent down or called up. So you’ve got to follow him, but that’s part of the scouting gig.” Trips to Japan are also on the itinerary, always during spring training and often during organizational meetings at the end of the year.

Lopez is primarily looking for pitchers, outfielders, and corner infielders. Catchers are problematic because of the language barrier; middle infielders are less desirable because they lack power. As Lopez puts it, “If you’re going to bring a foreigner over, why not bring someone who can hit home runs?” The sweet spot for pitching is “a guy that has good command and spots the ball, [and] can throw 90-92.” Lopez would love to sign someone with nastier stuff, but he knows he’s shopping at the outlet store, where every item has a flaw. “If we go any [faster],” he says, “they’re probably in the big leagues anyway.”

The BayStars use statistics to supplement their scouts’ reports. “For us, the most important factor in evaluating players is scouting reports by [Lopez and Yates], whose opinions we trust most,” Kakazu says. “With that said, we do take stats into consideration. We have analyzed the past performances of recent foreign players and how their Triple-A and MLB stats correlate to their NPB stats, so that we can predict how our candidates might do if they come to Japan.”....

ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski offered a theory via email. “The players from the US that translate the best over there are kind of the opposite ones to the NPB guys who do well here,” writes Szymborski, who created the ZiPS projection system, which translates stats between leagues to forecast the performance of foreign players. “The ‘three true outcomes’ guys fare the best — take any fourth/fifth outfielder type that’s a fringe major leaguer with good power and they have a reasonable shot at success there. Brad Eldred, Wladimir Balentien, Wily Mo Pena aren’t surprising success stories over there. My hypothesis is that a baseball culture that still has a bias against strikeouts and for putting the ball in play/pitching to contact is a good fit for guys like that, that are fairly easy outs when you go right at them.”


 

 

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