Jim Albright / the japanese insider
Players discussed in this article:
|Yutaka Fukumoto||Isao Harimoto||Shigeo Nagashima|
|Katsuya Nomura||Hiromitsu Ochiai||Sadaharu Oh|
This article will review the major league equivalents of the top seasons of six of the seven NPB position players I concluded in this article were worthy of plaques in Cooperstown. For those six, I will also provide the most similar player in the majors that same year for comparison. The outsider is Katsuya Nomura. I'll look at his runs created per the projection against the major league catchers of the same years.
For the guys other than Nomura, the seasons chosen are those where the player (in over 100 games) is projected to hit .290 or better, slug .500 or better, have an on-base percentage of .400 or better or to hit 30 or more homers. I also added in any of their Japanese MVP or Triple Crown seasons which didn't make the above standards.
For this study, I did not use the same measure of similarity I used for careers. The deductions for differences in average and slugging percentage remained the same, but the defensive deductions were halved and the remaining deductions were doubled. The reasons for doing so were 1) since I was limiting the field to one season, I wanted to loosen the requirement that a player play the same defensive position, and 2) to reduce the dominance of the deductions for average and slugging. Even with the changes I've made, players with rather similar averages and slugging marks score as rather good comparisons even if the difference in games played is as large as 50 games. If I hadn't made these changes, average and slugging percentage would be almost the sole measure of similarity, which I think is intolerable for this study.
I wish I could do a similar piece for the Japanese pitchers I thought worthy of Cooperstown, but the Japanese patterns of usage of pitchers, especially stars, were far heavier per season than in the majors until at least around 1980. I really don't have a satisfactory means to deal with this on a season by season basis. Therefore until or unless I come up with an acceptable method to do so or someone suggests one to me I shall not be doing such an article.
One advantage of the study below is that it helps us to put the player in the context of the majors in his own time. Another advantage is it helps us assess his peak performance in major league terms. One point I must make here is the comparisons made in this article are meant only to cover the season in question. For instance, just because Sadaharu Oh is most similar in the view of the method to Dick Stuart in 1964, it doesn't necessarily carry over to any other seasons. The same goes if I say I prefer Shigeo Nagashima to Ken Boyer in a given year (or vice versa), I'm only talking about that one season.
I also decided to include the Win Shares of the major league comparables to help us further put the NPB players in perspective. I even estimate differences in Win Shares. My method is derived from the short form Win Shares calculation and my runs created formula (which I've used all along in my analyses--a variation of the Johnson method introduced in the Bill James Abstracts). A difference of 36 outs more outs is worth a negative one Win Share. The following increases are worth about a plus one Win Share: 6 singles, 4 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, 9 walks, and 18 steals.
Bill James gave the following description of Win Shares to help us get further perspective:
I haven't done all the seasons of any of the players in this way, so I certainly could have missed an All-Star quality season or two for somebody. That said, I believe the increase in information on the topic is positive even if it is not comprehensive.
We'll start with the man I regard as unquestionably the best ever to play in
Japan, Sadaharu Oh. In 1964, we get the following:
Stuart was a butcher with the glove (all accounts I've read indicate he earned the nickname "Dr. Strangeglove") while Oh was a good defensive first baseman. Stuart also played less than Oh's projection and had lower production across the board, especially in walks. Cepeda was better than Stuart with the glove (who wasn't?) but not likely the equal of Oh. He was also more productive when he came to the plate than Stuart, though he still was nowhere near Oh in plate discipline. Furthermore, Cepeda wasn't as durable as Oh's projected 1964. I'd say Oh was easily worth at least 25 Win Shares, probably more like 29.
In 1965, these are the results:
Oh is a hard man to match because of his exceptional walk totals, and that certainly shows up here. Whitfield is a poor match and White is hardly great, but the formula I'm using doesn't emphasize differences in walks. I'd estimate Oh was again worth at least 25 Win Shares, probably more like 31 this time.
In 1966, Oh gets a decent comparable in Boog Powell:
Oh's advantage in walks certainly pushes him ahead to at least 30 Win Shares, probably something like 34.
In 1967, Oh is paired for the first of several times with Willie McCovey:
Oh has two clear edges over Willie this year: walks and durability. Those edges almost certainly propel him over 30 win shares, likely around 35.
In 1968, Oh is paired with McCovey again:
When I try to balance it all out, the only difference between them this year is Oh's extra walks. Conservatively, he's worth over 35 win shares, and probably more like 40.
In 1969, the formula picks Rich Reese and Boog Powell:
The formula prefers Reese, but I'd go with Powell because of walks and Powell's greater playing time. Oh projects as more durable and to walk a good bit more than either of them. Powell compensates with more power, but I don't think he closes the gap. I'd say Oh was certainly worth over 30 win shares that year, say about 34.
In 1970, Boog Powell is the most similar, with Orlando Cepeda being a decent match as well:
Powell is close in walks this time, and his other edges put him ahead of Oh's projection as I see it. Cepeda, on the other hand, gives up a lot of ground because of the difference in walks. I think Oh is clearly worth at least 25 win shares, probably about 29.
In 1972, Mike Epstein is the best match:
Epstein played in a pitcher's park in Oakland, and Oh's projection is meant to be to a neutral major league park. However, Oh played more, walked more, and had more homers. He was better, worth at least 30 win shares, most likely about 33.
In 1973, Oh's two best comparables are both Hall of Famers: Willie McCovey and Frank
McCovey is a darned good match when he played, but he played far less than Oh's projection. Robinson is excellent, but he gives ground in playing time, average and walks. I'd estimate Oh was worth at least 30 win shares, probably 35.
In 1974, Oh's best comparable is a man with a constituency trying to get him into the
Hall, Dick Allen:
Oh is projected to play more and have 101 walks. Oh was worth over 30 win shares, approximately 36.
In 1975, Oh was good, but not as good as most of the years of his we'll cover. He might
have been All-Star quality in 1975, because he's right near the dividing line. Of course, that
means he might not have been All-Star quality in 1975 as well. His two best comparables
that year are Mike Jorgenson and Lee May:
Oh clearly has an edge on these two due to his walks, and I'd say he's worth just over 20 win shares, probably 21.
In 1976, Oh is paired with George Foster.
This is a tough call. Foster may have made a bigger defensive contribution in the outfield, hit for a little better average, had 17 more singles and 14 more steals. Oh counters with a little more playing time and 73 walks. I'll just estimate this one to be a tie at 25 win shares.
In 1977, Oh has three fairly similar players to be compared to, Steve Garvey, Willie McCovey,
and Bob Watson.
Watson played in the Astrodome, which was a great pitcher's park, which certainly increases his value. McCovey is closest except for playing time, and Garvey had more hits. Oh is projected to get a lot more walks than any of them, though. I'd say he was worth at least 25 win shares, and I think a reasonable estimate is 27.
Review of Oh's Top Seasons
Oh has seven MVP candidate/"Hall of Famer" type years, and he would have been a worthy All-Star at least 12 times, maybe 13 or more. There are certainly worthy Hall of Famers who can't come close to matching those marks. He'd have earned at least 360 win shares by my conservative estimates for the years discussed, though I think the total would have been more like 404. He played rather regularly in another six seasons, so he'd add over another 60 win shares to that. Everybody with over 400 win shares is in the Hall, and Oh would be well over that mark. Once again, an analysis which shows Oh was clearly a Cooperstown quality ballplayer.
Since Nomura's a catcher, the approach of using comparables just didn't work as well as does for the other six players. The problem stems from the fact that other than catchers, the nearest spots in defensive value are shortstops and then second basemen. However, if a guy at one of those defensive spots ran like most catchers do, he's either moving to a new defensive spot or is out of the majors, and probably professional ball. This leads to a serious lack of good candidates for comparative purposes.
My solution is to compare Nomura's runs created to other catchers of the time. As a key component of Nomura's value was his incredible durability, both in terms of individual seasons and for his career, I addressed this on the single season level by bringing catchers up to 600 plate appearances by giving them some credit for minimal hitting to that level. The level of production is better than nothing, but rather low, as one would expect from a reserve catcher.
I can't account for defense, but I don't do that using the other method, either. In Nomura's case, though, the evidence suggests Nomura should have been at least a reasonable quality defensive player at catcher even at a major league level (why else would he catch so much?).
This approach, when applied to the 19 seasons I project Nomura as being in the majors, places him in the top four among major league catchers (and therefore around All-Star level) eleven times , and close enough that defense might move him up to that level three more times. He finishes first six times, second twice more, and fourth three times. I think it's safe to conclude he was All-Star quality the years he finished first or second. Two of the three times he finished fourth, he has an edge over the next finisher of 10 or more runs, which is probably too much for his pursuer to overcome. He's therefore almost certainly All-Star quality 10 times. Further, in two of the years he finished out of the top four, he only has to pass Earl Williams to achieve that level, and Williams had a poor defensive reputation.
1961 is a tough year to figure out. He's not far behind Earl Battey, but then again, he's not far ahead of Earl Averill and Johnny Roseboro. Roseboro had a good glove reputation, which makes things even harder.
A table summarizing the fourteen seasons Nomura has a realistic shot at being considered
All-Star quality follows:
Review of Nomura's Career
There's good reason from this analysis to think Nomura was the best catcher in baseball anywhere from 1960 through 1968. That's an excellent definition of a Hall of Famer in my opinion.
Now we can go back to the similarity approach. The first Nagashima season we'll look at is
1959. That year, he's paired with a player he'll match up with several times, Ken Boyer:
When you balance the differences between the two, you come up with a tie. I'll go along with that and say Nagashima deserves 20 win shares too.
In 1960, Nagashima is matched with Ken Boyer again, but also with Brooks Robinson:
Nagashima's triples are too high, but at least his doubles are too low. Again, he's a good match with Boyer. He outshines Brooks because of the edges in walks, power, and steals. I'd say he's worth 31 win shares, like Boyer.
In 1961, we get the last match with Boyer:
I give Nagashima the edge this time because of the 55 walk margin. Credit him with 30 win shares.
In 1963, he's matched with Vada Pinson:
Pinson played in Crosley park at the time, which was generally a hitter friendly place. Since Nagashima's projection is meant to put him in a neutral park, this alone should give him something of an edge. However, even more important is the projected difference of 78 walks in Nagashima's favor. All in all, Nagashima should easily be worth over 30 win shares, probably about 37.
In 1966, Nagashima is matched with Pete Rose, who played mostly at second that year. Nagashima
was an accomplished third baseman at the time, and Pete wasn't a defensive star at second. I
doubt there's much difference in their defensive contributions that year.
Pete had more plate appearances because of his role as a leadoff man, but Nagashima's edges in walks and power even things out. I think Nagashima is also worth 25 win shares.
In 1968, Willie Mays is the match:
Willie wasn't a youngster anymore by 1968, so I think it should be close defensively as well. Nagashima is probably better that year because he's projected to play more. I'd say he was worth at least 30 win shares, probably more like 35.
In 1971, Sal Bando playing in Oakland's pitching friendly park is the match. Nagashima is
getting old for playing ball by now.
Nagashima's extra projected playing time comes close to balancing the scales. I think I'd take Bando's year, but Nagashima was certainly worth at least 25 win shares, probably more like 27 or 28.
Review of Nagashima's Top Seasons
Nagashima had four MVP candidate/Hall of Famer type years, which combined with at least two other years which were clearly All-Star quality and a third year which might have been an All-Star effort plus excellent defense sounds like a Cooperstown resume, especially when he had nine other seasons, at least five of which would be the quality one would expect from a good regular. The seven years we looked at are worth at least 191 win shares, probably more like 207. He should have accumulated over 350 career win shares had he been in the majors, and over 80% of players with between 350 and 400 career win shares are in so long as they don't get into Pete Rose/Joe Jackson-type problems.
We'll review 13 of the 20 we project Harimoto would have had in the majors, starting with 1961 when he's paired with a guy who eventually went to Japan and was a star for a time there, George Altman:
I don't have the means to decide which one was better in the field. Altman has the edge in power, Harimoto in steals, walks and playing time. I think it comes out a dead heat, so I'll put Harimoto at 20 win shares also.
In 1962, his best match is Johnny Callison:
Callison has a little more power, and was a right fielder while Harimoto played left. Those two things give him a small edge. However, Harimoto is projected to play more, steal 13 more bases, and most importantly, walk 66 more times. Those things are bigger than Callison's edges. I'll estimate Harimoto was easily worth 25 win shares in 1962, probably 28.
In 1964, his best comparison according to the formula is Joe Christopher:
Harimoto is projected to have more steals and walks, but less playing time. Overall, I think he rates a small advantage over Christopher, say 23 win shares.
In 1966, Harimoto is paired with two guys he should better defensively, Frank Howard and Leon
From what I read of Wagner, he certainly was a character--and he strikes me as an airhead. Howard just wasn't very fast. Harimoto is projected to have an average significantly better than either of them, and on that basis, I think he's better. I think he's certainly worth over 20 win shares, probably about 23.
In 1967, Harimoto's most comparable player is Lou Brock:
Brock played more and stole more bases, which in this case is enough to outweigh Harimoto's edge in walks. I conclude Harimoto was worth around 26 win shares that year.
In 1968, Harimoto is paired with Cleon Jones:
Jones played more, stole 10 more bases, and had a big edge in doubles. However, he's 53 walks down, and in this case, that gives Harimoto the edge. I'd say Harimoto-san is worth over 20 win shares, probably around 23.
In 1969, he's matched up against Brock again:
Brock had 33 more steals and then was fairly productive in his extra at bats. However, Harimoto came to the plate only five less times--and he took 52 more walks. That's enough to overcome Brock's advantages, though not by much. I'd say Harimoto was worth at least 20 win shares, probably more like 24.
In 1970, Harimoto had what would have been one of his biggest years in the majors. His best
match that year is Tony Oliva:
Oliva's edge or extra at bats and 19 extra doubles don't quite overtake Harimoto's higher average, 11 more steals and 54 more walks. Oliva may have a defensive edge, but then again, he played in a good hitters' park to blunt that advantage. Harimoto is worth well over 25 win shares, and I'd estimate he was worth 32.
In 1972, Harimoto was again at the top of his game, and this time is paired with Dusty Baker:
Dusty didn't play as much and also concedes 49 walks to Harimoto. Clearly, Harimoto is the better of the two. I'd say Harimoto was worth over 30 win shares that year, probably 34.
In 1973, Harimoto's most comparable player is a Hall of Fame left fielder, Billy Williams:
Billy would have had more win shares had he not been playing in Wrigley Field when they still only played daytime baseball there. As it is, the big difference is walks, so Harimoto is clearly better than 20 win shares, probably around 25.
In 1974, Harimoto is most similar to Lou Piniella:
Piniella has less power and 85 less walks in less playing time. Harimoto is clearly better and certainly worth over 20 win shares, probably about 25.
In 1976, Harimoto is paired with a rising young star named Dave Parker:
Parker played less and drew 43 less walks than the projection. However, by this time Harimoto was an old left fielder while Parker was young, fit and playing a good defensive right field. I'd say Harimoto was worth over 25 win shares, probably around 30.
In 1977, Harimoto is paired with Al Oliver, who played center field then:
Harimoto has a small edge in walks, but you've got to think Oliver would hold the edge in the field. Call them even.
Review of Harimoto's Top Seasons
Harimoto had two seasons in which he'd have been an MVP candidate, and would have been an all-star a minimum of five times, but likely 7-10 times and possibly even as many as 13 times. In the 13 years we looked at, he's worth at least 290 win shares and probably more like 338. When you then consider he had seven other seasons, 3 of which were good but not great and another 3 of which were decent full time efforts, he clearly surpasses the 350 career win share level, at which over 80% of players get into the Hall, and maybe even 400 win share mark, at which point everybody who's eligible gets in. There's little question he has a HOF resume.
As I noted in the previous examination of Ochiai's worthiness of Cooperstown, he got a late start in NPB because he bucked the system. However, since the problem was his ideas were more in line with the major league approach, he wouldn't have been held up like that in the majors. When Ochiai began in NPB, he played a lot at second. I can't see that happening in the majors, so I capped his defensive rating for comparison purposes at the level used for third basemen.
The first year we'll look at for Ochiai is a year in which the majors lost over 50 games to a
strike, namely 1981. He's paired with Chet Lemon that year:
Ochiai played more, walked more, and had a little more power. He certainly has an edge over Lemon. I'd say Ochiai was worth over 16 win shares, probably more like 19. Given the strike, that's an all-star performance for that year.
In 1982, Ochiai is matched with Toby Harrah and George Brett
Ochiai's a pretty good match for these guys. He's certainly worth at least 25 win shares, and my estimate is 27.
In 1983, Ochiai is matched with three guys: Don Baylor, Hal McRae, and Ray Knight.
Ochiai has an edge in walks on all three. He beats Knight in power as well, and Knight has no big plusses to put on his side. McRae was mostly a DH, which means no defensive value, but he did play more. Baylor had better power. I'd say Ochiai was a little better than the best of them--certainly worth over 20 win shares, about 22.
In 1985, Ochiai had a spectacular year, even better than George Brett's monster season that
Ochiai's projection has edges in average, walks, homers, playing time and slugging percentage. Some of the edges are small, but they're there. Brett has more doubles. As good as Brett was, Ochiai was better that year--he's worth at least Brett's 37 win shares, probably more like 40, which would qualify as a "historic season".
In 1986, Ochiai is most similar to another Hall of Famer in Kirby Puckett:
Puckett played more, and had significant advantages in steals, doubles and triples. Ochiai counters with a nice edge in homers and a huge edge in walks. I'll call it a wash. Give Ochiai 26 win shares, too.
In 1987, Ochiai is paired with Bobby Bonilla:
Ochiai has big edges in playing time and walsk. He's clearly better and certainly worth over 20 win shares, and I'd peg him around 27.
In 1989, Ochiai and Bonilla are paired again:
Bonilla has edges in doubles, triples and steals, but gives them back on homers and walks. His average isn't as good, either, so you've got to prefer Ochiai. I'd say Ochiai was worth over 30 win shares, probably around 35.
The last season of Ochiai's we'll look at here is 1991, when he matches up with Will Clark and
Ochiai has a big edge in walks, but played less. This one's hard to estimate since Clark played in a poor hitting environment, and Palmiero in a good hitting one. I'll estimate Ochiai was worth over 25 win shares, probably 26 or 27.
Review of Ochiai's Top Seasons
We've looked at eight seasons of his career, and he could have been an all-star each time. There's little doubt he deserved it in five of those years, two of which were MVP candidate-type years. One of the two MVP candidate years was even around the level of a "historic season". In those eight seasons, he was worth at least 197 win shares, and probably more like 221. He had nine other full time seasons and three other part time years in his projected career, even without giving him any extra years for an earlier start. He certainly should have surpassed 350 career win shares, which is a level at which over 80% of the eligible players are in Cooperstown.
I've lately realized Yamamoto was a right fielder and not a center fielder, which to me decisively moves him into the not quite worthy of Cooperstown camp. However, I will not throw away data I derived when I thought he might well be worthy of the Hall.
The first year of the Hiroshima Carp's great right fielder we'll look at is 1975, when he's paired with two men who also played center that year, Al Oliver and Cesar Cedeno:
Oliver had a lower average and didn't walk as much. Cedeno also had a lower average and less power, though his home park, the Astrodome, might account for those differences and maybe even more. However, Cedeno had significantly less playing time as well. I'd say Yamamoto was worth well over 20 win shares, probably 24 or 25.
In 1977, Yamamoto's most similar player is a Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson:
Both men played right, but Yamamoto played more and walked more. It's clear Yamamoto had a better year. He was certainly worth over 25 win shares, more like 28.
In 1978, Yamamoto's best comparables are Amos Otis and Fred Lynn:
Otis and Lynn had wonderful years. However, Yamamoto is projected to play more, walk more, and hit more homers. I'd say Yamamoto was worth over 30 win shares, probably 34 or 35.
In 1979, he's matched with Andre Dawson:
Dawson isn't quite as valuable because he didn't take walks, while Yamamoto did. Yamamoto's certainly worth over 20 win shares, probably about 25.
In 1980, he's paired with Ben Oglivie:
Yamamoto has an edge defensively plus in walks, but is behind in homers. Overall, I'd go with Yamamoto. He's certainly worth over 25 win shares, and I'd estimate the right value to be 29.
In the strike year of 1981, when there were over 50 games lost, Yamamoto's best \
comparison is Chet Lemon.
Lemon played less and had significantly more homers, though he did compensate with higher double and triple totals. I'd go with Yamamoto in this case, giving him over 20 win shares, probably about 23. In such a shortened season, that's a heck of a performance, certainly an All-Star quality effort.
In 1983, Yamamoto is matched up with Larry Parrish:
Parrish played less, had a lower average, and walked a lot less. You've got to prefer Yamamoto in 1983--I'd say he was worth 20 win shares.
Review of Yamamoto's Top Seasons
He had 1 MVP candidate type year and two others which are knocking on that door. He was All-Star quality in at least six years and maybe in a seventh. In just the seven years we looked at, he was worth at least 160 win shares and probably more like 177. He played in eight other years, all of them full time. However, in four of them he performed at fairly modest levels. In the other four, he was quite good. That puts him in the gray area, and given his comparables, I can leave him out.
Fukumoto didn't have a lot of really big years, as is evident from the fact we're only going to look at four of Fukumoto's seasons. However, he had superlative steal totals which definitely would have gotten him noticed. Add to that his strong ability to draw walks and play stellar defense for a consistent playoff team, fans would have been very aware of him.
In many ways, players on the borderline for Cooperstown who fit the above profile are the ones who get in.
The first year we'll look at is his 106 steal year of 1972. He's got three decent
comparables that year in Joe Torre, Amos Otis and Bobby Tolan.
Fukumoto had a ton more steals than his comparables and walked more than all of them as well. He played more than all but Tolan, who was well behind him in power and on-base percentage. He was worth over 25 win shares, probably 30.
The next year we'll look at is 1974, when he's matched with Willie Davis:
Fukumoto's advantages in steals and walks are decisive. I estimate he's worth over 20 win shares, approximately 26.
The third Fukumoto season we'll look at is 1978, when he's paired with Jose Cruz and Ron
LeFlore, neither of whom were in his class with the glove.
Fukumoto's edges in doubles and triples are significant and cover his deficits in homers. Cruz played a little better when he played, especially since he did so in a tough hitting park like the Astrodome. However, he played less. Fukumoto was worth over 25 win shares, probably about 28.
The last season we'll look at is 1980, when his best comparables are Ken Griffey, Sr. and
Fukumoto played more than Cedeno or Griffey, Sr., and was a little better than Griffey, Sr. when they did play. Cedeno was a little better when he was in there, but, as noted, was absent more often. Fukumoto was certainly worth over 30 win shares, I'd say approximately 34.
Review of Fukumoto's Top Seasons
In the four seasons we've reviewed, Fukumoto was worth at least 100 win shares, probably more like 118. He had two MVP-candidate type years and clearly was all-star quality the other two times. That's a good start. He adds fourteen more full-time seasons and the equivalent of one part-time year (combining his first and last years), he should amass over 350 win shares, at which point over 80% of players eligible are in Cooperstown.
This little exercise has only reinforced my belief that each of these seven players is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. Maybe you see it differently, and that's OK because a couple of them fall into territory where reasonable people disagree. However, one point is clear: these guys were top-notch players in their own time, no matter the competition.