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Reevaluation of Cooperstown Worthiness of Japanese Pitchers Who Pitched Before 1945

by Jim Albright

List of Pitchers Covered in this Article:

Akira Bessho Hideo Fujimoto Jiro Noguchi
Victor Starffin    Tadashi Wakabayashi  

Now that I've researched the changes in pitching performance from before 1945 to after, I must reevaluate whether or not the pitchers I have previously thought at least worthy of further study as possibly being of Cooperstown caliber. Anyone already rejected remains safely so, as the overall impact of post-1945 ball in Japan is even less favorable than I had previously indicated.

This leaves five pitchers to reevaluate: Jiro Noguchi, Tadashi Wakabayashi, Hideo Fujimoto, Victor Starffin and Akira Bessho. I will first evaluate their statistics converted into major league equivalents in the manner using the data in this article: Who Else From NPB Might Be Worthy of Cooperstown? However, the conversion factors will be those derived for pitchers from this article: Japanese Baseball Before 1945. Those pitchers who appear might have a case after that step will have their major league equivalent examined in the manner of this article: Further Examination of Qualifications of NPB Stars for Cooperstown. The conclusions reached in this article are meant to supersede the conclusions reached in the aforementioned articles.

The new conversion factors seem to do in the candidacies of Noguchi and Wakabayashi. See below:

Jiro Noguchi

Games   Won   Lost   SV IP    hits    HR    walks K    runs     ER     ERA   HOF Stds
483 207 151   3317.2 3417 322 514   1084 1437 1231 3.34 37

Tadashi Wakabayashi

Games   Won   Lost   SV IP    hits    HR    walks K    runs     ER     ERA   HOF Stds
479 176 173   3231.2 3729 152 740   730 1603 1403 3.91 17

The HOF standards are too low to go any further with these two guys, and Wakabayashi looks like a very durable but otherwise very average pitcher.

Next, we'll look at the case of Hideo Fujimoto:

Hideo Fujimoto

Games   Won   Lost   SV IP    hits    HR    walks K    runs     ER     ERA   HOF Stds
358 185 94 0   2604.1 2316 144 606   985 917 756 2.61 47

His case is at least worthy of going the next step, to the ten most similar to the projection. This time, when I have done the ten most similar list, I've omitted any adjustment based on the era in which the Japanese pitcher performed. My reasoning is that there's elements of 19th century and deadball major league baseball in Japanese professional ball from 1936 to 1944. Granted, I attempted to convert the data to the contemporary time of the Japanese pitchers in question, but in the final analysis, I felt the situation was muddied enough that I was no longer certain making that era adjustment made the comparisons more rather than less accurate. When we apply these rules to Fujimoto, none of his ten most similar (Sam Leever, Larry Corcoran, Deacon Phillippe, Bob Caruthers, Urban Shocker, Ed Reulbach, Jesse Tannehill, Jeff Pfeffer, Ron Guidry and Art Nehf) are in Cooperstown. Some have arguments that can be made for them, and perhaps one or two will eventually receive that honor. Overall, though, I think these comparisons clearly point in the direction that Fujimoto doesn't have the requisite record, and I'm comfortable with that conclusion.

Next is Victor Starffin.

Victor Starffin

Games   Won   Lost   SV IP    hits    HR    walks K    runs     ER     ERA   HOF Stds
547 275 172 5   4109.1 4031 226 1002   1553 1677 1422 3.11 52

His major league conversion suggests he's Cooperstown caliber, so it's time to look at his list of ten most similar major leaguers to said conversion. The top seven and ninth pitchers are all HOFers: Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, Charles Radbourn, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, John Clarkson, Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt. The above list is in order of similarity. The two of the ten not in the Hall are Tony Mullane and Charlie Buffinton, and Mullane at least can make a decent argument. Some in the Hall may not be the strongest or most deserving candidates, but the results overall seem to me to favor the notion Starffin is indeed of the caliber usually enshrined in Cooperstown. I particularly like the comparisons of Radbourn and Grimes.

The last man on our list of cases to reconsider is Akira Bessho:

Akira Bessho

Games   Won   Lost   SV IP    hits    HR    walks K    runs     ER     ERA   HOF Stds
635 293 197 6   4334.1 3998 204 1216   1692 1654 1386 2.88 58

As the projection indicates he would win 293 games and meet 58 HOF standards, it's safe to say it supports the notion he's of the quality usually enshrined in Cooperstown. We'll review his ten most similar pitchers list, which has nine HOFers on it (in order of similarity): Mickey Welch, Charles Radbourn, John Clarkson, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, Vic Willis, Jim Palmer, Kid Nichols and Lefty Grove. The lone outsider is Tony Mullane, and, as noted earlier, he can at least make a decent case for enshrinement on his own. I think the evidence solidly supports the idea he's a pitcher of the caliber which has earned a plaque in Cooperstown.

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