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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NPB Tracker: 2013 Free Agents

Who will kick the tire on these Japanese imports?

Hiroyuki Nakajima, shortstop/infield, Saitama Seibu Lions
If Nakajima’s name sounds familiar, that’s probably because he was posted last offseason, and his negotiating rights were won by the Yankees. Nakaji and Bombers failed to agree to a contract, so he hopped in his Ferrari and headed back to the Lions for another year, and put up a healthy .311/.382/.451 slash line. His batting average might have led the Pacific League had Lotte not gutlessly pitched around him on the last day of the season, but instead he ended up one point behind Katsuya Kakunaka. His OBP ranked second in the Pacific League, and his slugging pct was fourth, and well ahead of the next middle infielder. In the field he seems to make the play he gets to, but has lost some range, and the consensus is that he’s probably not a full-time MLB shortstop.

Anyway, now Nakajima is back on the market as a free agent. I was a big fan of the idea of Nakaji in New York, acclimatizing himself to MLB while getting 300 or so at-bats spelling Derek Jeter at SS and Alex Rodriguez at 3B, but obviously that didn’t come to fruition. There were other MLB teams interested in Nakajima last time around, so I think there is little doubt he’ll find an MLB deal this year, but it will remain to be seen what kind of role he winds up in….

Hideki Okajima, relief pitcher, Softbank Hawks
You guys remember Okajima. After the Yankees terminated his contract last year (that’s two nearly-Yankees Jima’s this list), Okie signed with Softbank and had a strong year, not allowing an earned run until August. He’s angling for an MLB return this offseason.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:42 AM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: free agency, hideki okajima, japan

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   1. Chris Fluit Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:54 AM (#4289125)
In the field he seems to make the play he gets to, but has lost some range, and the consensus is that he’s probably not a full-time MLB shortstop.


If that's the case, Nakajima might be the best second baseman on the free agent market. Who's ahead of him? Jeff Keppinger coming off a career year at 32? Kelly Johnson? I guess it's probably Marco Scutaro unless teams are still looking at the playoff whirling dervish as a shortstop. I know my favorite team (the Orioles) could use an upgrade at second and they might have some money to spend.



   2. . . . . . . . . . . Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:06 AM (#4289136)

If that's the case, Nakajima might be the best second baseman on the free agent market.


Because the track record for Japanese 2B making the transition is SO GOOD.
   3. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:16 AM (#4289144)
Because the track record for Japanese 2B making the transition is SO GOOD.
Well, there are a couple notable successes among less heralded NPB signings - both Tadahito Iguchi and Akinori Iwamura were minor NPB stars who performed up to expectations (in Iguchi's case above expectations) in the majors. Obviously Kazuo Matsui was a failure of transition - though he turned out to be a minor contributor, he was massively overpaid - but who else is there? Tsuyoshi Nishioka was awful, so he goes on the list. Maybe there should be a "broken leg" asterisk, but he was awful before he got injured, too.

In a sample of four, I see one total failure, one relative failure, one break-even, and one success. That's not a good track record, but I don't think it's enough to say that NPB middle infielders should be avoided forevermore. I'd say it all pretty much depends on the evaluation of the individual player, rather than of the population.
   4. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:23 AM (#4289149)
he hopped in his Ferrari and headed back to the Lions for another year, and put up a healthy .311/.382/.451 slash line. His batting average might have led the Pacific League had Lotte not gutlessly pitched around him on the last day of the season, but instead he ended up one point behind Katsuya Kakunaka. His OBP ranked second in the Pacific League, and his slugging pct was fourth, and well ahead of the next middle infielder.
This is a really big problem for evaluating NPB players right now. They are in the middle of a crazy dead-ball period. I don't know what the cause is, but scoring in NPB is at late-60s MLB levels. Translated to NPB of 10 years ago, Nakajima hit something like 420/520 or better.

The problem, of course, is that the dead ball also adds in another level of uncertainty. We already know there are qualitative differences between the NPB game and MLB (mostly having to do with how power translates), but now there could be even more qualitative differences in play with run-scoring at a historically low ebb.
   5. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:28 AM (#4289162)
So, I looked it up, and NPB introduced a new ball in 2011. So they are in a literal dead-ball period. It's interesting to consider- perhaps NPB power numbers will actually translate better now, if the ball was one of the major causes of outlying NPB power production from players who weren't that great at hitting for power in the majors. But it's a bit unknowable at the moment.
   6. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:40 AM (#4289170)
I think Jeff Keppinger is both the second-best 2B on the market and the second-best 3B on the market. If this was the NBA he'd get a four-year $60 million contract.
   7. Rally Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:47 AM (#4289174)
Nakaji and Bombers failed to agree to a contract, so he hopped in his Ferrari and headed back to the Lions for another year


I want a Ferrari that can drive from New York to Japan. That would be fun speeding across the pacific, can't imagine any cops would be there to slow you down, especially in international waters. Until you run out of gas, or encounter pirates.
   8. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: October 31, 2012 at 11:42 AM (#4289208)
The orioles desperately need a 2b and should have some money to spend, so Nakajima might be perfect.
   9. spycake Posted: October 31, 2012 at 12:08 PM (#4289239)
I think Jeff Keppinger is both the second-best 2B on the market and the second-best 3B on the market. If this was the NBA he'd get a four-year $60 million contract.

And in a few years, he'd have awesome trade value as an expiring contract.
   10. jobu Posted: October 31, 2012 at 11:33 PM (#4289732)
Well, there are a couple notable successes among less heralded NPB signings - both Tadahito Iguchi and Akinori Iwamura were minor NPB stars who performed up to expectations (in Iguchi's case above expectations) in the majors. Obviously Kazuo Matsui was a failure of transition - though he turned out to be a minor contributor, he was massively overpaid - but who else is there? Tsuyoshi Nishioka was awful, so he goes on the list. Maybe there should be a "broken leg" asterisk, but he was awful before he got injured, too.


Kaz Matsui at least introduced the concept of "anal fissures" to American baseball fans. So in one sense, he was the Japanese George Brett.

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