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Sadaharu Oh and Cooperstown, Part II


III.  Statistical Analysis

A.    My projection

You have now entered the section of the discussion of Sadaharu Oh some will dismiss as pure fantasy. If you are one of the folks who do not believe it is possible to project what a player would do in the major leagues from his performance in another league, you may want to skip this section entirely.  We will use projections because they place the accomplishments for a player from a non-major league situation into a readily understood context, namely major league performance.  Once we enter such a readily understood context, it is easier to get a reasonable fix on the quality of the player.

 If you want to stick around to consider the evidence presented by such a projection of Oh’s record, you’ll want to be familiar with the methods used to project how many career home runs Oh would have hit.  That article is here.  Other than the fact a home park adjustment is made only for home runs and not the other stats, the methods are identical.  The reason for this is the only data available which resembles home/road splits is for Oh’s homers, because apparently home/road split data is rarely if ever kept in Japan.

In order to deal with playing time issues, I had to use season by season data to make my projections.  However, the adjustment factors are designed for Oh’s entire career, not individual seasons.  Therefore, we will not use the single season projections as part of my formal presentation regarding Oh’s worthiness for the HOF.  Instead, we will restrict ourselves here to working with the career totals estimated for Oh, as these totals are within the intended bounds of the adjustment figures.  Lest we be accused of hiding unfavorable data, it is available for inspection in another article entitled Fun With Oh’s Projections, which is here.

The data and analysis contained therein is interesting, but it does approach the level of estimates of estimates.

The adjustment factors derived from the study of players who played in both the majors and the Central League during Oh’s time are as follows:
hits doubles   triples   homers   walks
0.904   0.829 2.148 0.524 1.148


The walks figure we will actually use is 1.000, without any upward adjustment for playing time for this one piece of data.  Oh already has what would be a major league record number of walks, and the adjustment figure given above multiplied by the factor for additional playing time would give him 39% more walks.  This seems too high, and may be seen as giving some additional credence to the argument Oh received four strikes per at bat, whether it was because he was Sadaharu Oh or because he was a Giant, or some combination of those two.  This approach is conservative, but still recognizes that Oh in fact had superb command of the strike zone.  Similarly, we chose to use Oh’s actual career stolen base figure of 84 both because stolen bases are of no real import in assessing Oh’s career and because the players playing in both leagues were predominantly slow sluggers.  Since Oh arguably is in that classification, perhaps that isn’t a serious concern, but the unimportance of stolen bases to an examination of Oh’s career value frankly did not justify the work necessary to come up with a conversion factor.

At Bats and all other factors will rise by the playing time factor, but the net result for most factors will be that Oh’s totals will actually drop, especially after his first three seasons are dropped on the grounds he wouldn’t have reached the majors until 1962.  The abbreviation of his career will somewhat counteract the drops dictated by the adjustment factors in the percentage stats (average, OB pct, and slugging pct).  He will get about 8% more hits in the seasons after 1962, but in over 20% more at bats in those same seasons.  He will hit less than 64% as many homers in 1962-1980 as he did in real life.  The adjustment factors demonstrate that the circumstances Oh faced were not of major league caliber.  However, even after these adjustments are made, Oh’s career line is most impressive:
Games   AB Hits   2B 3B   HR TB walks avg OBP Slg
2995 9939   2778 372   39 527   4809   2235 0.279   0.412   0.484  

I find it most interesting that this projection closely resembles a) his actual performance in exhibitions against major leaguers, and b) the anecdotal assessments major leaguers made of him. 

One way of examining this career data is by Bill James Hall of Fame Standards method.  An average Hall of Famer scores at 50, and Oh’s score is 56.  The average first baseman who has been inducted scores 45.  According to James’ book on the Hall of Fame, 87% of the eligible players in Oh’s score range are in the HOF.

Another way to examine Oh’s career line is to determine who the most similar players are to Oh’s projection using similarity scores.  I went through every player within 150 homers of Oh’s projected total of 527 to come up with the 15 most similar.  I then took this list and checked the most similar lists of that 15 at baseballreference.com to see how many players with 377 or less homers showed up in their most similar lists.  For each new name with under 377 career homers, I calculated the similarity score to the Oh projection.  None cracked the top 15.  At this point, I double checked my calculations, and the eleven (becasue of a tenth place tie) most similar players to the Oh projection together with their similarity score to that projection are:
Player Name Similarity Score
Reggie Jackson 851
Eddie Murray 844
Willie McCovey 841
Mel Ott 823
Harold Baines 812
Frank Robinson   806
Billy Williams 803
Dave Winfield 801
Tony Perez 788
Mickey Mantle 783
Ernie Banks 783

If you look at the average of these eleven, you’d have a player who is close to the projection for Oh.  Frankly, I would prefer Oh to the composite player mainly because the edge in walks leads to a healthy advantage in on base percentage.  Others who don’t value walks as highly might prefer the composite, but the truth is, you’d have one heck of a player either way.  I’ve posted a chart of the career stats for the 10 most similar players to Oh, and a calculation of the composite player next to the projected stats for Oh here.

The comparison of the composite and the Oh projection are below:
. G AB H 2B 3B  HR BB avg OBP Slg
Composite  2724  9675  2753  465  67 490  1266  0.285  0.367  0.498 
Oh Projection 2995 9939 2778 372 39 527 2235 0.279 0.412 0.484


Another use for the list of most similar players is to look at how many of them are in Cooperstown.  The list has 10 men already in the Hall, and one who is not yet eligible.   Seven of those already in were first ballot selections, and it is likely Ott would have been also except that he came up for consideration when they were still catching up with the greats from earlier times. Baines may get in, but he’s a longshot.  However, he is inferior in quality to Oh. Frankly, no matter how one looks at the list of most similar players, the conclusion is the same:  Oh is clearly HOF quality.

One last way we will use the projection in the formal case examining Oh’s worthiness for a plaque in Cooperstown is to look at how players with various totals in certain categories fared in terms of induction into Cooperstown.  Oh projects to finish 7th in games played, and with 43 more than the level at which everyone with that many or more is or will be in the HOF (so long as they don’t get involved with folks like Pete Rose did),  Oh projects to be 22nd in at bats, 12 more than the level at which everyone is in the Hall.  Oh would finish 42nd in career hits, and the only player with more than his projection who may well fail to be enshrined is Harold Baines.  Oh projects to have hit 527 homers, which is 65 more than Jose Canseco, who is the first player whose case for immortality is questionable.  In total bases, Oh finishes 22nd, 22 above the level of Andre Dawson, who is the first questionable case for the HOF in that category.  Oh projects to be first in walks, and the top 7 in that category are all in.  In sum, Oh projects to exceed the level at which everybody is in the Hall four times, and is at a level with only one possible exception in another category.  For purposes of this paragraph, it is assumed that Cal Ripken, Jr., Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Rickey Henderson will all be inducted.  Since they all had 3000 hits, this should be a safe assumption.

There are two other questions in Bill James so-called Keltner List for evaluating HOF candidates that we can look at with this projection.  They are:  1) Is Oh the best eligible player not in Cooperstown, and 2) Is he the best first baseman eligible not in the Hall?  A review of Total Baseball’s 7th edition, James’ Win Share book, and James’ last two Historical Abstracts indicates the leading candidates of the already retired are the 3000 hit guys listed above (excepting Rickey, who hasn’t retired yet) plus McGwire.  However, none of them are yet eligible.  I realize my review shortchanges the Negro Leaguers, so some of them may well be better than Oh.  I’m not able at this time to address such issues, at least in part due to the fact I don’t have the kind of data necessary in order to make reasonable determinations in this regard.  The caveat about Negro Leaguers aside, the best among the eligibles according to a consensus of these sources would be Minnie Minoso, Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, and Ron Santo.  Other first basemen of note are Keith Hernandez and Will Clark.  Frankly, I would put Oh at the head of the list of eligibles.  I submit he’s the best of all the first basemen, though solid arguments could be made for a preference for McGwire.  Given that they will almost certainly precede Oh into the HOF, I won’t get into that argument.   The only other players I’d consider possibly ahead of Oh are Ripken and Rickey.  No matter what one thinks of these comparisons, if one accepts the projection as being reasonably accurate, it is clear Oh is quite worthy of induction into Cooperstown.

B.    Other projections

Bill McNeil did a similar projection of Oh’s stats for his book King of Swat  His projection was based on 550 at bats, and I  will put my projection in the same terms.

. At Bats   Hits   Doubles   Triples   Homers   Average   Slugging Pct  
McNeil 550 156 30 6 23 0.283 0.485
Albright   550 154 21 2 29 0.280 0.484

As you can see, they are rather similar.  I have exchanged several emails with Mr. McNeil, and he has graciously indicated to me (and granted permission for me to share with you) that he feels that my projection of Oh is superior to his, essentially because his system was devised in the context of evaluating all Japanese players, while my approach was much more focused on Oh’s circumstances.  In either case, we both project Oh to be worthy of the HOF.  In fact, Mr. McNeil’s book Baseball's Other Stars has Oh as the third best first baseman of all time, behind Gehrig and Foxx.

IV.   Other Issues

A.    Home run percentage

In the SABR-L debate about Oh, John Pastier has argued that the projection of Oh’s  homers presents a “journeyman” record, because Oh never projects to hit 40 homers in a season, and because his home run percentage would not put him in the top 60 all time in that category.  The presentation made thus far shows Oh’s record is well above that of a journeyman.  As to the home run percentage argument, Mr. Pastier’s argument is based on facts.  However, very few people other than Mr. Pastier use home run percentage as a determinant of greatness.  The reasons for this become quickly apparent if we compare a list of the top 25 in career homers to the top 25 in home run percentage given by the seventh edition of Total Baseball.  We’ll use both lists from that source in order to be fair to HR Percentage without having to recalculate all the percentages for the recent players listed by HR percentage  The relevant points will stand out better if we delete the cases where either or both lists have identified men already inducted into the Hall.  We will provide the place each man places, which further highlights the contrast between the lists:


HR Percentage    Career HR
 1. Mark McGwire  7. Mark McGwire
 5. Ken Griffey, Jr. 16. Eddie Murray
 6. Juan Gonzalez 17. Barry Bonds
 8. Mike Piazza 23. Jose Canseco
 9. Barry Bonds 24. Andre Dawson
10. Dave Kingman 25. Ken Griffey, Jr.
14. Jose Canseco .
15. Sammy Sosa .
16. Albert Belle .
17. Jim Thome .
20. Frank Thomas .
21. Jay Buhner .
22. Cecil Fielder .
23. Darryl Strawberry  


The fact there are so many active players are listed in the HR percentage list, and that their percentage in most cases will dip before the end of their careers is an indication of one problem with that measure.  The problem is that such a list is far too favorable to active players who have not yet endured the full breadth of the decline phase of their careers.  Also, percentage lists are far more volatile because players can see their percentage drop, while raw total lists are not subject to this element of volatility.  However, even if we eliminate this issue by eliminating the players who were active through 2000 when these lists were compiled, the HR percentage list is a far worse predictor of greatness than the raw total is.  In the raw totals, only Canseco and Dawson are borderline candidates who crack the top 25 (we won’t move anyone up because we’re eliminating actives—but this decision really favors the HR percentage category rather than the raw total).  However, Canseco and Dawson just barely make the top 25 in raw totals.  In home run percentage,there is Kingman in 10th, Canseco in 14th, Albert Belle in 16th, Cecil Fielder in 22nd, and Darryl Strawberry in 23rd.  Maybe people don’t look at career home run percentage precisely because it doesn’t do a very good job of identifying greatness.

B.> Pitchers in Japan are the real stars/ Was Nagashima greater?

Another issue which was raised is that pitchers have been the bigger stars in Japan, and therefore shouldn’t one of them precede Oh into Cooperstown.  The point about pitchers being the bigger stars is arguable, but in terms of who should go to Cooperstown, it is irrelevant.  If we ever get around to honoring players solely for their play in Japan, we should start with the very best in that group and work our way down.  No one can rival Oh as the greatest player in Japan.

Some English-speaking writers have written that the Japanese public regards Nagashima as the greatest player in Japanese baseball history.  I cannot say whether or not this accurately reflects the sentiments of the Japanese public.  It has been suggested that Nagashima is regarded as the best “Japanese” player, Oh being excluded because his father is Chinese.  Another suggestion, courtesy of Josh Reyer, is that while Oh’s statistics were regarded as better, Nagashima was seen as more “clutch” because he came up with more memorable hits, homers, and defensive plays.  Fred Ivor-Campbell indicates that this perception lasted most if not all of Nagashima’s career, but that Oh emerged from Nagashima’s shadow when the latter retired.  That seems reasonable, because much of Oh’s advantage in career numbers came once Nagashima retired.  The fact Oh could sustain that high level of performance for many more years would make his superiority as a player clear.  Certainly, Oh’s statistics are far superior.  Oh and Nagashima were teammates for 15 years, and Oh has 645 more games, 1156 more at bats, 697 more runs, 315 more hits, 424 more homers, 648 more RBI, 1421 more walks, and 4 more MVP awards.  Any reasonable interpretation of the record clearly shows Oh to be the greater player.  It does seem to be true that Nagashima was more popular.  Oh’s Chinese heritage may or may not be one factor.  It also seems that Nagashima was much more outgoing and willing to show his emotions on the field, while Oh rarely showed emotion and was generally reserved.  Fans have always preferred outgoing guys who show their emotion to reserved guys who don’t, and the Japanese seem to be no exception.

C.   The “National” Hall of Fame

The last argument against Oh we will address is the argument that Cooperstown is the National Hall of Fame and is limited to those who have contributed to the game in North America.  First of all, no one in the debate has yet cited anything beyond the name of the institution as proof there is any formal restriction on who the Hall of Fame may honor.  Second, even if such a restriction exists, it certainly can be changed about as easily and rapidly as the sudden decision to allow Negro Leaguers to be honored on an equal basis with white major leaguers.  Third, the Hall should honor all the best players in the game, no matter where they played or who they played against, because they all have helped to make it the great game it is.  Fourth, the game is becoming increasingly international in scope.  In 2002, nearly a quarter of the major leaguers were born outside the 50 states.  Seventeen different countries are represented in the majors, and a total of 31 in the minors.  About half of all minor leaguers were born outside the 50 states.  We now have major league all-stars from the Orient, and undoubtedly we will have more.  We even allow those outside North America to vote for the major league all-star teams.  Under such circumstances, the “National” argument seems to me to be hopelessly parochial and possibly even self-defeating.  It certainly looks hypocritical to promote diversity on one hand while denying the game’s highest honor to foreigners who have been subjected to a de facto bar nearly as sacrosanct as the color line was before Jackie Robinson.  Even honoring the players in Japanese baseball history who are worthy of Cooperstown seems to be inadequate compensation for siphoning off at least some of Japan’s elite players.  Maybe the Japanese wouldn’t have come even if they were given a realistic opportunity to do so, but to deny them plaques in Cooperstown solely on such speculative reasoning is plainly ridiculous.

Furthermore, Oh has had a tremendous influence on Japanese baseball as its greatest player, as its goodwill ambassador, and as a successful manager.  He came into contact with many major leaguers, and his career has touched present day major league managers like Jim Tracy, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and Bobby Valentine.  Isn’t it likely Ichiro learned something from Oh, whether as a youngster or as an opponent of Oh’s teams, or some other way?  Oh’s influence upon major league baseball may be small today, but that influence will almost surely grow with the increased influx of Japanese players.  Also, listen to Steve Garvey:  “ I learned a lot . . . from Sadaharu Oh.  I spent some time with him in spring training in 1971, and again in ’75 and ’79.  He always talked about the use of his legs as the single biggest asset to his power . . . . You’ve got to use your whole body to hit the ball effectively, not just your arms.  That’s the difference between a power hitter and a slap hitter.”

The “National” argument is at best a dinosaur doomed to extinction by the existing trend toward international growth in the game. Eventually, the majors will have a permanent presence in Japan, and at that point, baseball will need to please its Japanese fans.  When that occurs, the “National” argument will surely fall.  It may hold sway until that time, but it is only staving off its eventual losing fate.

V.   Conclusion

There is a large body of evidence available on Oh’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame, and it strongly indicates that he is a very worthy candidate.  All the arguments against his candidacy either do not hold water or are simply overwhelmed by the mountain of evidence in his favor.  For all the reasons set forth in this two-part analysis,  he richly deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, and it is likely that some day there will be such a plaque.  However, there is one more thing we should consider:  Oh is 62 now, and although he is in apparent good health, the time in which he can personally enjoy the honor he so eminently deserves is limited.  Those of you who are convinced by the evidence presented by this analysis should do what you can to see that Oh is honored while he can still enjoy it.  It is the right thing to do.

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