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Summarized Cases for Cooperstown of Six Great NPB Pitchers

By Jim Albright

Players Discussed in this Article
Masaichi Kaneda   Victor Starffin Kazuhisa Inao
Akira Bessho   Yutaka Enatsu   Masaaki Koyama

Masaichi Kaneda

Actual Japanese Record

He won three Best Nines and three Sawamuras spread over 4 different seasons. He won 30 or more twice, and 20 or more in 14 consecutive seasons, frequently for awful clubs. All in all, he finished with 400 wins, the most in Japanese baseball history. He led in strikeouts 10 times and has the most career strikeouts by a pitcher, 4490. He led in ERA 3 times and was in the top 10 in that category 8 times. He was a true workhorse, pitching 300 or more innings in 14 consecutive years on his way to the most innings pitched in NPB at 5526.2 innings. He served the Swallows as an ace starter/relief ace, pitching in at least 1/3 of his games every year from 1951 to 1963, occasionally as many as half his team's games. He also pitched two no hitters in his career, one of them a perfect game. His 82 shutouts are second most in Japanese baseball history. He had 103 games of 10 or more strikeouts and a 64.1 inning streak without a run scored against him.

From 1955 through 1958, he pitched at least 332 innings each year, and his ERA never exceeded 1.78!

Kaneda's career Japanese stats are:

365  complete games

I rank him as the best Japanese pitcher ever, the fifth best Japanese player ever, and as the very best player of the 1950's in Japan. I also have him as the best pitcher of the 1960's in Japan. Bill McNeil's Baseball Other Stars gives McNeil's, Daniel Johnson's and Fumihiro Fujisawara's all-Japanese teams, and Kaneda makes all three. McNeil also gives all-world non major league teams and all-time all world teams, and Kaneda makes both on the second team.

Kaneda's Major league projection

791 games
387 wins
216 losses
5303.2 innings
3850 strikeouts
2.72 ERA

Usually, projected MLB win loss records are close to but a little below actual Japanese records, as the projection assumes the player goes to an average MLB team. This means more run support, as average MLB teams have outscored even most good Japanese teams. Thus, while a pitcher's ERA will rise, his winning percentage won't drop much. Kaneda benefits more than usual, since he pitched for many pathetic Swallow teams in Japan, and thus gains even more by being projected onto an average MLB team. This projected record yields a HOF standards score of 76, well above the 50 mark of an average Hall of Famer. His list of most similar pitchers to this projection is, in order: Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Pete Alexander, Early Wynn and Bert Blyleven. Blyleven is the only one not in Cooperstown, has a good case for belonging there, and in any event is the least similar of those ten names. In terms of the BBF HOF, seven are in the BBF HOF already, and Blyleven is close. Sutton and Wynn are not yet near that mark.

Victor Starffin

He won 2 MVPs and a Best Nine, though the latter award wasn't given during many of his best years. He's the Japanese career leader in shutouts with 83. He led his league in wins six times, winning percentage once, ERA once and strikeouts twice. He had six years with 26 or more mins, one with 38 and one with the record (shared with Inao) at 42 wins. He once had an 18 game winning streak. He was in the top four in ERA every year from 1937 to 1942.

Starffin's Japanese record

586 games
4175.1 innings
303 wins
176 losses
350 complete games
1960 strikeouts
2.09 ERA

I rank him as the second best pitcher ever in Japanese baseball history, and its sixth best player. I also see him as the best player in Japanese professional ball from its start in 1936 through 1949. He makes Bill McNeil's all-Japan team in his book Baseball's Other Stars.

My conversion of his stats to major league levels is difficult, as the majority of his pitching was done in Japan's deadball era (before 1945). Even so, with a number of Japanese pitchers I rank below him clearly demonstrating Hall of Fame talent in my opinion, I think he belongs. The prime examples of Japanese pitchers I rank below him showing HOF talent are: Kazuhisa Inao, Akira Bessho, Masaaki Koyama and Yutaka Enatsu. Personally, I find him most comparable to major league deadball pitcher and HOFer Joe McGinnity.

Kazuhisa Inao

This man holds many Japanese baseball records, including the most ERA titles (5), wins in a season (42, with Starffin), the highest career winning percentage with over 2000 IP (.668), the greatest number of consecutive wins (20, in 1957). In the Pacific League, he holds many other records, such as most seasons leading in wins (4), most best nines for a pitcher (5), lowest ERA when qualifying for an ERA title (1.06), most strikeouts in a season (353), most innings pitched in a season (404). He won 2 MVPs, led the league in winning percentage twice and strikeouts three times. He had eight consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins, 4 of those 8 being 30 or more. He was in the top five in ERA 9 times.

I rank him as the third best pitcher in Japanese baseball history and the 9th best player in Japanese baseball history. I also think he was the best Pacific League pitcher of both the 1950's and 1960's.

He was used very hard in a combined ace starter/relief ace role. This might have been defensible in the many seasons his team was in a tight pennant race, but he was also used 402.1 innings for a 1959 squad that finished 22 games out. Had his managers been more protective of his arm, it is easy to believe he would have accomplished even more.

Inao's Japanese Stats

725 games
276 wins
137 losses
3599 innings
179 complete games
43 shutouts
2574 strikeouts
1.98 ERA

In Bill McNeil's Baseball's Other Stars, McNeil gives his all Japanese, all-world non major league and all-world all league teams as well as the all Japanese teams of Daniel Johnson and Fumihiro Fujisawara. All of them have him on their all-Japan teams.

Inao's MLB projection

262 wins
129 losses
3592.2 innings
2275 games
2.46 ERA

This projected record meets 67 HOF standards, and 50 is average for a HOFer. Usually, projected MLB win loss records are close to but a little below actual Japanese records, as the projection assumes the player goes to an average MLB team. This means more run support, as average MLB teams have outscored even most good Japanese teams. Thus, while a pitcher's ERA will rise, his winning percentage won't drop much. The ten major leaguers most similar to this projection are all HOFers: Marichal, Hubbell, Palmer, Whitey Ford, McGinnity, Grove, Drysdale, Gibson, Three Finger Brown and Bender. All but Bender, Drysdale and McGinnity are already in the BBF HOF as well.

Akira Bessho a/k/a Takehiko Bessho

He was named to six Best Nines, more than any other pitcher in Japanese ball. He won 2 MVPs and led the league in strikeouts three consecutive years (1950-1952). He was a workhorse, setting the record of 47 CG in a season in 1947. Had a good enough bat to play in the field on occasion. He has the fourth most complete games with 335 and the fourth most shutouts with 72. He was in the top six in ERA ten straight years, won 20 or more 8 times, led the league in wins three times, and ERA, strikeouts and winning percentage once each.

Bessho's Japanese stats

662 games
310 wins
178 losses
335 complete games
72 shutouts
1934 strikeouts
1206 walks
2.18 ERA

Wally Yonamine from the Fitts book (Yonamine reached AA ball, then went to Japan, where he earned a spot in the Japanese baseball HOF. He also managed there.):

"Bessho was one hell of a pitcher. Just like an American pitcher--good fastball, good curve, threw for strikes, and challenged the hitters. . . He used to do a lot of relief pitching, too [besides starting]."

I rank him as the fourth best pitcher in Japanese baseball history and the 11th best player overall, and he makes the all-Japan teams of all three persons presenting same in Baseball's Other Stars

Bessho's MLB projection

635 games
293 wins
197 losses
4334.1 innings
1692 strikeouts
1216 walks
2.88 ERA
58 HOF standards

Nine of the ten pitchers most similar to this projection are in the HOF: Mickey Welch, Charlie Radbourn, John Clarkson, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, Vic Willis, Jim Palmer, Kid Nichols and Lefty Grove. The lone outsider is Tony Mullane, who can make a decent case of his own. I think the evidence clearly stacks up in Bessho's favor.

Masaaki Koyama

He was an 11 time all star in Japan on his way toward the third most career strikeouts and the third most IP. He won a Sawamura Award, which was given to the best starting pitcher in the Central League (recently, Pacific League starters became eligible). He was dominant in 1962, with five consecutive shutouts in July of his 13 all season, the latter mark being a Central League record. I rank him as the 9th best pitcher in Japanese history.

Koyamam's Japanese stats

856 games
4899.0 innings
320 wins
232 losses
296 complete games
74 shutouts
3159 strikeouts
978 walks
2.45 ERA

Koyama's MLB projection

762 games
322 wins
192 losses
4605.2 innings
2687 strikeouts
986 walks
2.73 ERA
71 HOF standards

Of the ten MLB pitchers who are most similar to his projection, there are seven HOFers in Seaver, Plank, Jenkins, Palmer, Alexander, Roberts and Nichols. The other three are Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Dennis Martinez, all of whom had career ERAs over 3.00 and less than 300 wins, while Koyama's projection is on the positive side of both of those marks.

Yutaka Enatsu

He's the Japanese version of Dennis Eckersley--a successful starter who was converted in mid career to a dominant closer. Enatsu was on 16 all-star teams, won a Sawamura award (best starting pitcher in the Central League) and 2 MVPs. He was Fireman of the Year five tims and led the league in saves six times. Before becoming a closer, he was a successful starter who set the Japanese record of 401 strikeouts in his 1968 season behind 20 games with 10 or more Ks.

Enatsu's Japanese Stats

829 games
3196.0 innings
206 wins
158 losses
193 saves
154 complete games
45 shutouts
2987 strikeouts
936 walks
2.49 ERA

He ranks as the tenth best pitcher in Japanese history in my system, which may well underestimate relief pitchers. I also rank him as the second best pitcher of the seventies. He makes the all-Japanese teams of McNeil, Johnson and Fujisawara in Baseball's Other Stars

Enatsu's MLB Projection

810 games
3191.1 innings
212 wins
140 losses
2641 strikeouts
1003 walks
2.77 ERA
53 HOF standards

Even though his stats suffered from the combination of relief work and NPB's decision not to record saves until 1974, he still has a better ERA and Fibonacci score than the three HOFers who are most similar to his projection (Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter) as well as the three who finished in the top ten in BBWAA voting (Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Mickey Lolich). The remaining names on his list are Bob Welch, Vida Blue, David Cone and Orel Hershiser. He's really tough to get a good comparable for, because of the relieving, yet he's hanging with an excellent set of pitchers.

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