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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.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 14, 2014 at 10:42 PM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dan szymborski, guillermo moscoso, japan, scouting, yokohama bay stars, yulieski gurriel

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. kthejoker Posted: August 15, 2014 at 09:40 AM (#4771608)
Dan's comments make them sounds like zoo exhibits or freak show performers: "Come see the magnificently bizarre TTO men, who know nothing of the opposite field single!"
   2. Juilin Sandar to Conkling Speedwell (Arjun) Posted: August 15, 2014 at 09:48 AM (#4771614)
This was a really fascinating article, definitely recommend reading the full thing.
   3. vortex of dissipation Posted: August 15, 2014 at 03:43 PM (#4771968)
Very good article indeed. Thanks for posting it.
   4. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: August 15, 2014 at 04:22 PM (#4772005)
Yep, worth the read.
   5. sotapop Posted: August 15, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4772011)
A guy I know, father of one of my kids' friends, does exactly this. He raked in the minors but just couldn't make it in the majors, finished with a cup of coffee with the Giants in 2006. (Ironically, his best season.) I'm completely blanking on which team he represents, but he basically travels up and down the IL cities, taking notes, making contacts. He's a good dude. EDIT: BBref shows he played in Japan with Seibu, so that's probably his employer.
   6. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: August 15, 2014 at 04:51 PM (#4772018)
Great article. I await the breaking of Sadaharu Oh's career HR record by Joey Gallo in 2034.
   7. valuearbitrageur Posted: August 15, 2014 at 07:00 PM (#4772117)
Great article. I await the breaking of Sadaharu Oh's career HR record by Joey Gallo in 2034.


I think you meant 2024.
   8. DJS, the Digital Dandy Posted: August 15, 2014 at 08:56 PM (#4772181)
Dan's comments make them sounds like zoo exhibits or freak show performers: "Come see the magnificently bizarre TTO men, who know nothing of the opposite field single!"

It is, kinda, though. The same in wrestling - Japan loves importing very large Westerners.

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