Sunday, January 06, 2008


Hi first timers at Baseball Japan. Maybe you`ve dropped by from LoHud and Pete Abe`s blog. Welcome.

This blog will be absolutely brimming with Japanese baseball posts in the near future. I`m coming back from Japan in a week with an armful of baseball mags and new info about what`s happening here. This season will be huge for the sport of `yakyu` as it`s called over here. NPB, MLB, Amateur baseball, and the Olympic Games in Beijing. Good stuff.

Stop by again in about a week for more.....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FA Update

In my last post I gave you a peek at some important free agents with potential to join the Major Leagues. As most of those players have decided their 2008 situations, I thought I'd do a short recap:

Kosuke Fukudome - outfielder
Fukudome signed a 4-year deal worth 48 million with the Chicago Cubs. Those were the numbers I expected as well as the destination. For what it's worth Nate Silver at BP posted the following PECOTA for Fukudome, noting that the numbers are built on a truncated 2007's data. Bump the plate appearances by 100 or so and you get the idea that a 40 double, 20 home run season isn't out of the question. The .905 OPS also looks very nice.

465 80 30 4 15 58 70 94 9 3 .289 .401 .504 .303 29.2 4.4
Me likes. Might have to get a Fukudome Cubs' jersey. I was on WGN radio last week and they seem very excited about Fukudome, as they should be.

Hiroki Kuroda - right-handed starting pitcher
Kuroda is reportedly signing a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seems like a good fit. The NL West has a collection of generally poor offensive teams and a few pitchers parks as well. I expect 13-14 wins.

Hitoki Iwase - left-handed reliever
Iwase resigned with Chunichi. I was disappointed to see him stay in Japan, actually, but he has a chance to break many of the records for closing pitchers and you can hardly blame him to want that.

Yasuhiko Yabuta - right-handed reliever
Yabuta signed with Trey Hillman's KC Royals. He should be able to close for them if that's the plan in Missouri. I like this signing a lot, and I expect him to be an All Star in 2008. Someone has to rep Kansas City, right?

Masahide Kobayashi - right-handed reliever
Kobayashi signed with Cleveland and should be the closer by year's end. He is much better than anyone they have for that role right now, although the young arms look extremely promising. Look for big strikeout numbers for Kobayashi and a big fanbase in the midwest.

Kazuhiro Wada - outfielder
Wada replaces Fukudome in the Chunichi outfield and should help the team get back to the Japan Series. He is a first class veteran player in the NPB, while he would be a league average player in the Majors.

Yoshinobu Takahashi - outfielder
Takahashi decided to stay with Yomiuri, forgetting about free agency altogether. That made sense and there probably was no better place on Earth for him than the Giants outfield.

Takahiro Arai - 3B
Arai signed with the Hanshin Tigers. This makes sense as the Hanshin lineup had so little power it was almost comical. His dismal OBP should fit right in though.

Daisuke Miura - right-handed pitcher
Miura resigned with Yokohama for a little more than a million dollars in 2008. Thus ending the least interesting free agency in history.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Japan's Free Agents

In a recent article at Baseball Prospectus I identified a group of players eligible for free agency with possible ties to the Major Leagues. The complete list, and a running discussion of the players on it, can be found at Michael Westbay's excellent site Japanese Baseball. I'd like to spell out the basics of my BP list here and give you an update on the status of the players it contains.

If you've read my BP article, you'll know that I grouped the short list of target free agents by my assessment of their chances to impact an MLB roster. The groupings are done in 3 tiers, where the top tier are players with a chance to join the household names Matsui, Matsuzaka, and Ichiro. The next tier are players who can help an MLB club, but fall short of star power. The final tier are marginal types who could make a roster, but look more like bench fodder.

Top Tier

Kosuke Fukudome - outfielder
Hiroki Kuroda - right-handed starting pitcher
Hitoki Iwase - left-handed reliever

Of this top tier, Fukudome and Kuroda remain. Iwase was recently offered several attractive options by his home club, Chunichi. With a chance to set a number of NPB records, Iwase has chosen to remain at home. I can't say I blame him. Sometimes being the biggest fish in a slightly smaller pond is a great life to lead. Fukudome has been linked to the Octagon group in terms of his ongoing MLB representation and rumor has it that they've fielded a lot of interest among the clubs on the US side of the pond. Persistent rumors have linked the Cubs to the most aggressive pursuit of Fukudome, but I expect that the bidding for his services will heat up among several teams before it's all said and done. Count the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants among those teams, with the Giants seeking to be very aggressive in keeping the star outfielder in Japan. Watch the money there. Kuroda also figures to be on the Cubs radar, but with the real lack of depth in the MLB free agent pitching ranks, I imagine that we'll see some unexpected players emerge alongside the big money organizations. Kuroda is in a prime position to score a huge payday somewhere.

Second Tier

Yasuhiko Yabuta - right-handed reliever
Masahide Kobayashi - right-handed reliever
Kazuhiro Wada - outfielder

The second tier is headlined by a pair of bullpen mates from Bobby V's Chiba Lotte Marines. Both of these guys will defect to the Majors with a lot of rumors swirling about them in the US. Yabuta is a late inning set up guy with real MLB potential and Kobayashi is a fireballing closer with a chance to do some nice work as well. Recent ties to Kansas City, and former Nippon Ham manager Trey Hillman, have been cited with respect to Yabuta (a WBC standout) but other teams are also rumored to be in pursuit. The same can be said of Kobayashi, who figures to draw interest from the big time organizations looking to drop cash on a bridge to the closer. Kazuhiro Wada may or may not make the jump. The interest in him could dry up quickly with his age and likelihood of decline a reality, but small market clubs could jump at the chance to fill a hole with a short term solution at a bargain price. I expect Wada will get a better offer from Seibu and severl other NPB teams.

The Bottom Tier

Yoshinobu Takahashi - outfielder
Takahiro Arai - 3B
Daisuke Miura - right-handed pitcher

Takahashi is going to stay with Yomiuri, if he hasn't already made his plans public. His status as a Giant and the payday he will enjoy to stay with the first place club will be more than he can get in the US. Arai on the other hand stands a chance at an MLB look. I would guess that he will be on a new NPB roster next season, leaving Hiroshima, but he might take a long hard look at a lesser role in the Majors as a personal challenge. Miura is a junk baller who likely will stay put, but as I mentioned earlier, there are desperate MLB clubs looking to fill out rotations and Miura can certainly give you innings.

That's it for the current news. As I hear anything regarding any of the names on this list, or the list available at Japanese Baseball, I will post them here. Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Home Base

Welcome to Baseball Japan, if you haven't by by before. This blog has been in service off and on for the last couple of years, but has been overshadowed by the work I've put together at Matsuzaka Watch. With the retirement of Matsuzaka Watch, I aim to dedicate my writing to this blog in covering all aspects of the sport of baseball as it is played in Japan at the amateur, industrial, and professional levels.

In addition to Baseball Japan, perhaps you've been by to look at some of my other player-oriented blogs such as Darvish Watch, Yuki Saito Watch, or Uehara Watch. These blogs, in the crunch of my current graduate work, have been under used and have fallen significantly behind. In the coming weeks and months, I will be rededicating my efforts to those sites to bring them up to date and provide new and dynamic coverage on each of the players they represent. My work at Baseball Prospectus has continued, and I am proud to be a regular contributor to their fine body of baseball writing. I will continue at BP as long as they'll have me and create an ebb and flow between my work here at Baseball Japan and in my columns there. If you don't have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, it is well worth it. I promise you'll be satisfied with the content at BP as I was a subscriber long before I dreamed I'd be writing there.

Coming up in the near future at Baseball Japan, I will look at a few of the top prospects from the high school and college/industrial drafts. In addition, there will be some work to do on free agency, the university season, and wrapping up the Hawaiian Winter Baseball season. There's always something to write about at Baseball Japan, and I'll be here to cover everything from A to Z. If you are a member of Facebook, you'll be able to talk Japanese baseball at my Baseball Japan group dedicated to extended discussion of the topics I present in this space, as well as anything that's on your mind.

See you back here.
Mike Plugh.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Nakata Shares the Crown

With his 86th home run against Hatsushiba High School of Osaka, Sho Nakata has tied Hiroyuki Oshima, currently of the Seibu Lions, on the all time home run list. With half a year remaining before he "retires", Nakata should easily eclipse 90 homers, and has set a personal goal at 100. I believe he can do it, even if it seems absurd.

In the 6th inning of a 14-0 blowout, Nakata stepped to the plate for the 4th time and launched home run #85 well over the left center field wall. With every at bat cam the anticipation that he could tie the standing mark of 86. The 9th inning saw Nakata take his final crack at history in his 6th at bat, and he delivered on a 1-1 changeup from right-hander Kamei that got too much of the plate. The ball flew to the back screen on a high line drive that hit the upper part of the net at a distance of 394 feet and a height of 46 feet. Those of you familiar with historical home runs might remember that Mickey Mantle's famous shot which hit the facade at Yankee Stadium touched 102 feet, and is believed to have been about 507 feet distance unimpeded. Albert Pujols is credited with a home run which impacted at 95 feet against the light tower at 352 feet. That ball would have sailed about 455 feet if it had continued unimpeded. Mark McGwire hit a monster 470 foot home run against Livan Hernandez on May 16th, 1998, during his 70 home run season, which is reported to have hit at 46 feet up. Considering this ball was a line drive with a small arc, it seems safe to say that Nakata's historical ball had a chance at being in the 450 foot range.

When the ball cleared the wall, the Osaka Toin players jumped out of the dugout and gathered near the first base line. Nakata pumped his fist and seemed to enjoy every second of his moment in the sun. It seems only a matter of days before he holds the record alone, and the pitcher/right fielder will be the brightest star at Koshien with a lock on the #1 spot in the upcoming amateur draft. Which NPB team will tank its season with the most zeal to get a shot at this once in a generation talent?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Japanese Baseball Q&A

Eric over at The Exrapolater sent me some questions about Japanese baseball a while back and we had an interesting back and forth. He's put the interview together for his readers, and I thought I'd link to it. It's a look at some of the important things to know about baseball in Japan, and I think readers here may enjoy it as well.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Subscriber Reading

Hey all. I haven't been as prolific here as I would have liked so far, but you can find my work in a lot of other places these days. I've stretched myself thin between baseball writing, my job, my family, and various other things, so I don't get around to these parts as often. The best thing to do here is subscribe to the Atom feed at the top right of the page, and wait for the updates to be sent to you.....I use the word subscribe, but everything is free, of course.

What's not free is my work over at Baseball Prospectus. You'll need a subscription to their premium content to get my articles on Japanese baseball, but I think you'll find that it's money well spent. The writers at "BP" are of the finest quality, and their coverage of the sport takes fandom to the next level. Here are the links to my pieces at Baseball Prospectus. You'll get the first paragraph of each piece if you haven't purchased a subscription, but the rest will be blocked. Sign up, get your fill of great baseball writing, and keep checking in here for more. I'll do my best to update this blog more often during the season.

Live From Akita City: The Nippon Professional League
Mike shares his perspective on the roots of Japanese baseball, and readies you for a season preview.

Live From Akita City: Pacific League Preview
Mike takes the plunge with the six team Pacific League division, spotlighting outstanding talent across Japan.

Connecting the Dots: Central League Preview
Mike turns his attention to the second Japanese major league, and makes predictions as to how it's going to shake down.

Impact Talent in Japan: Give Us Your Best, Yearning to Be Enriched
A review of who might come to the States as free agents, through the posting system, and names you just want to know.

The Foreigners: Impact Imports in the NPB
Which foreign-born ballplayers in the Japanese leagues should you know something about?

Coming up at BP in the next week, Central and Pacific recaps of the first month of the 2007 campaign. I highlight each team and some of the main storylines that are important to the position each team holds in the standings. Thanks for reading.