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Masanori Murakami's Japanese Career

Masanori Murakami was a 6 foot tall, 183 pound southpaw who wasn't a strikeout pitcher. An article from the Philadelphia Daily News about him says he had an excellent curve and good control. I'd suspect he worked on setting up hitters and locating his pitches. That style seems to work better when you see less batters in an appearance, and especially if you don't see the same guy several times in a game. In short, the style is better suited toward relief.

When I evaluated his career in Japan, a pattern emerged: the more he was used like a pure reliever, the better he produced. This is true despite the fact the system I used recognizes a starter pitches more innings and regards those innings as additional opportunities to be productive.

I think that he was definitely best suited to a pure relief role, and this fact explains a great deal about him. It explains how his career in MLB came about and why he wasn't overly successful in NPB after he returned there after a rather successful time in MLB. In the early 1960's NPB managers were basically doing what MLB managers had done before WWII but move away from thereafter. That is, the best pitchers were starters and also closed whenever possible. When the Hawks looked at Murakami with this model of usage in mind, they didn't see him as a great prospect. However, when the San Francisco Giants organization got ahold of him, they tried him in a purely relief role, and it clicked.

Once Murakami had experienced success in the majors, the Hawks desperately wanted him back. Certainly, his success in the majors had altered their opinion regarding his ability. However, it had no effect on the way they wanted to use him. Another key issue was that the whole NPB power structure had numerous concerns over any of its players going to the majors, and sought to shut that door before it opened any further.

The Hawks regained Murakami's services after allowing him one more season in the States. They only agreed to this to resolve a nasty dispute with the majors over whether they or San Francisco had the rights to his services. When Murakami returned to Japan, the Hawks tried to force him into a starting role. In the third season of trying this, in 1968, they got an 18-4 year out of him. After that, though, he never had much success as a starter. Accordingly, he came to be viewed as a disappointment in Japan. Pure relief pitchers became more prevalent in Japan, and eventually Murakami drifted toward such a role Lo and behold, he began to have some success before age caught up with him.

Personally, I feel he would have been more successful had he stayed in the States. I think the majors would have been far more likely to leave him in a relief role. Even if someone had tried to use him as a starter, I'm sure they would have been quicker to return him to such a role if he ran into difficulties.

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