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Summarized Cases for Cooperstown of Four Great NPB Position Players

By Jim Albright

Players Discussed in this Article
Katsuya Nomura   Shigeo Nagashima Isao Harimoto
Hiromitsu Ochiai       

Katsuya Nomura

He was a feared hitter and an exceptionally durable catcher who rarely missed a game, even frequently catching both ends of a doubleheader. He was enough of a student of the game to become one of Japan's most successful managers.

He was the first man to win a Triple Crown in Japan after World War II, hit 40 or more homers in four consecutive years (1962-1965). He won nine home run titles in the Pacific League, eight of them consecutively (1961-68). From 1962 to 1968, he never hit less than 30 HR in a season. He was named the best catcher in the Pacific League in 19 seasons, and won five MVPs. He's fifth in career RBI in Japan, second in career homers, and second in career hits.

In William McNeil's Baseball's Other Stars, Nomura is rated the best Japanese catcher by all three men providing such ratings, and McNeil also names him as a reserve to the all world non-major league team and to the second team of the all-time all world team. I rank him as the second best player ever in Japan, to Sadaharu Oh.

Glenn Mickens, from Rob Fitts' Remembering Japanese Baseball page 72: Nomura . . .

"was one of the best hitters in the Pacific League. You had to make a perfect pitch to get him out. If you got the ball up a little bit or out a little bit, he would hit it, and he could hit the ball as well to right center as he could pull the ball. . . . He was amazing. He'd be back there catching a whole round of batting practice and then go out and catch a whole game or even a doubleheader!"

Don Blasingame, Fitts page 111:

"Nomura was a great hitter. He was as good at hitting the high, inside pitch as anyone I've ever seen because he had a short stroke, and he drove the bat through the zone. He would have been a hitting star in the Majors. He wasn't as good defensively as some of the American catchers, but he could hit anywhere. His arm wasn't real strong, but he was a smart catcher. He would call pitchouts, and it was uncanny how often he was right . . . . I was amazed at his stamina. He didn't want to come out of a game. He'd even catch doubleheaders. He just loved baseball."

Nomura's Actual Career Japanese Stats

AB 10472
R 1509
H 2901
2B 397
3B 23
HR 657
RBI 1988
K 1478
BB 1252
SB 117
avg .277
OBP .357
slg .508
games caught 2920

I rank him as Japan's best catcher ever and its second best player.

Nomura's MLB Projection

AB 9285
H 2384
2B 312
3B 46
HR 330
avg .257
OBP .351
slg .407

This projection meets 61 of the HOF standards, certainly a HOF-caliber performance. This projection means his group of most similars includes Bench, Gary Carter, Berra and Fisk along with Ted Simmons and Lance Parrish. He is more durable than even Carter and Bench, and did this mostly in the more run starved enviroment which was the sixties. His defense is short of those guys, but I'd say his overall value is quite similar.

A study of a major league conversion of his best seasons here indicates he would have been a major league all-star at least 10 times, maybe as many as 14 times. By this projection, he would have been one of the two most productive hitters among catchers eight times. I concluded there is sufficient evidence that he was the best catcher in all of baseball for the period 1961-1968.

Shigeo Nagashima

Nagashima's Japanese Record

He is the most popular player ever in Japan, lauded for his clutch play and superb defense. He was named the best third baseman in the Central League in each of his seventeen seasons, and won the only two Gold Gloves awarded in his career (in the final two years of his career). He won 5 MVPs, 6 batting titles, 5 RBI titles, batted over .300 in 11 seasons, and had 25 or more homers 12 seasons. He also was named the MVP of the Japan Series four times.

In Baseball's Other Stars, Daniel Johnson, William McNeil and Fumihiro Fujisawara all name him the best third baseman in Japanese baseball history. McNeil names him as the starting third baseman on his all-world non major league team and as the reserve third baseman on his all-time all world team. I concur that he was the best third baseman ever in Japan, and have named him the third best player there ever. I also consider him the second best player in Japan in the 1960's, behind Oh.

In 1961, the Yomiuri Giants trained with the Dodgers in Vero Beach. Walter O'Malley was so impressed with Nagashima he tried to buy Nagashima's contract, only to be turned down flat by Giant ownership. (pp. 72-73. The Meaning of Ichiro by Robert Whiting)

Wally Yonamine on Nagashima on pp 28-29 of Remembering Japanese Baseball by Robert Fitts:

"Nagashima was such a natural athlete. Nagashima. . . could field [and] could hit. . . He was a showman. . . When you really needed one, he came through for you."

Glenn Mickens, also from the Fitts book:

"Shigeo Nagashima was the best all-around playerI saw over there. Oh was undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters they ever had, but for running, throwing and hustling, Nagashima was the best."

The late Don Blasingame, who also managed in Japan, from the Fitts book: "Nagashima could do it all. He had defense, speed, and he could hit."

Nagashima's Japanese stats

AB 8094
R 1270
H 2471
2B 418
3B 74
HR 444
RBI 1522
BB 969
K 729
SB 190
avg .305
OBP .379
slg .540

Nagashima's Major League Projection

AB 9210
H 2569
2B 401
3B 187
HR 271
avg .279
OBP .368
slg .451

This projection meets 57 HOF standards, and the average HOFer "only" meets 50. I did a study comparing Nagashima to all the third basemen who had at least two thirds of their careers after 1920 and were either in the HOF or finished in the top ten in BBWAA voting. That study is here. The categories examined were runs created, runs created per 27 outs, OPS, runs scored and RBI, pitting Nagashima's projected figures versus the others. Each man scored based on his ranking in the group, and Nagashima came out fifth, behind Schmidt, Brett, Boggs and Mathews and ahead of Santo, Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor, not to mention Freddy Lindstrom and George Kell.

In a study of projected individual seasons here, 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 identified were worth approximately 200 win shares in the majors. 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

Isao Harimoto

Harimoto's Japanese Record

He won 7 batting titles, and was in the top 10 in average 17 times. He is the only Japanese player to reach 3000 hits in their shorter seasons. He is one of only eight men with 500 homers and his .319 career average is a mere point below the record for career average with over 4000 AB. He drew the third most career walks. He won an MVP and was named as one of the three best outfielders in his league 16 times.

He once had a thirty game hitting streak and had 3 hits or more in 251 games.

I've named him the best outfielder in Japan in both the 1960's and 1970's, its best outfielder ever, and its fourth best player overall. In Baseball's Other Stars, William McNeil, Fumihiro Fujisawara and Daniel Johnson all name him as a starting outfielder in their all-time Japanese teams.

Harimoto's Actual stats

AB 9666
R 1523
H 3085
2B 420
3B 72
HR 504
RBI 1676
K 815
BB 1274
SB 319
avg .319
OBP .399
slg .534

Glenn Mickens from the Rob Fitts' Remembering Japanese Baseball:

"Harimoto had big league material. He was a pretty good-sized kid. He was unbelievably talented. He could fly. And he could hit with anybody. . . As [a] hitter I had tremendous respect for him."

AB 10510
H 3093
2B 386
3B 170
HR 300
avg .294
OBP .391
slg .449

This projection meets 58 of the HOF standards, well over HOF quality, as the average HOFer scores at 50. The ten most similar names to his projection has six HOFers (Molitor, Kaline, Brett, Clemente, Winfield and Perez), Rickey Henderson plus Pinson, Baines and Staub. The three outsiders all had averages under .290 and less than 3000 hits, so it's fair to put Harimoto in while they're out.

A study of Harimoto's individual seasons here conlcuded 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 should have surpassed 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-caliber resume.

Hiromitsu Ochiai

Ochiai's Japanese Record

He thought more like American players, which was an impediment to Japanese baseball's insistence on conformity. He bucked the system, which meant he spent a few years in Japan's industrial leagues before getting his chance in their top league. He won 3 Triple Crowns, 2 of them consecutively, was the first Japanese player ever to have consecutive 50 homer seasons, won 10 Best Nines at three different positions (2B, 1B, and 3B), 2 MVPs, 5 batting titles, 5 homer titles and 5 RBI titles. I rank him as the seventh best player in Japanese baseball history overall and as the best player there in the eighties. In Baseball's Other Stars, he makes backup teams for both McNeil and Fujisawara.

Ochiai's Japanese Stats

AB 7627
R 1335
H 2371
2B 371
3B 13
HR 510
RBI 1564
BB 1476
Avg .311
OBP .422
slg .564

Leron Lee from the Fitts book:

"Except for his defense, probably the best player I saw was Hiromitsu Ochiai. He had a very unorthodox swing. You couldn't pitch him in, and he could also hit the ball away. . . He was pretty confident--not arrogant--but not scared. . .[W]hen he hit the ball, it really jumped off his bat. He had good power. . . Ochiai was . . .strong as a bull, and aggressive. I think most of his problems came with the press because he told people exactly what he thought, and Japanese aren't supposed to do that. . . [H]e came out and said," I'm going to win this title" [and then did it]."

Boomer Wells from the Fitts book: "[M]an, Ochiai could hit! He had this attitude, because he knew he could hit."

Alonzo Powell, again from the Fitts book:

"Ochiai was basically an American in a Japanese body. He did everything American style. If he didn't want to take batting practice one day, Ochiai didn't take batting practice. If Ochiai didn't want to take infield, Ochiai didn't take infield. That was totally opposite of everyone else in Japan. . . Everybody told him he couldn't succeed that way, but he was the type of guy that was out to prove that they were wrong. . . . {When he left Powell's team as a free agent,] [t]he thing we missed most about Ochiai was his experience and his knowledge. That was irreplaceable."

Ochiai's MLB Projection:

AB 8873
H 2561
2B 399
3B 30
HR 354
AVG .289
OBP .396
SLG .460
HOF standards 55

Ochiai's resistance to the Japanese way of doing things delayed his entry into NPB. However, his ideas were much more compatible with major league thinking, so it's likely he would have started his career earlier in the majors than he did in Japan. If I had a way to project when he would have started in the majors and how he would have performed which I had confidence in, I would use that and shave off the several unproductive (at a major league level) years I left on at the end of his career. If I could do so, I am confident his projection would look even more impressive than the projection I am actually using. Even so, Ochiai's list of the ten most comparable major leaguers has three Hall of Famers in Tony Perez, Al Kaline and Billy Williams. He has four more guys who finished in the top 10 in BBWAA voting for the Hall in Dwight Evans, Darrell Evans, Ron Santo and Steve Garvey. The list of ten is rounded out with Chili Davis, Dave Parker and Harold Baines.

His projected OPS of 856 beats all of his ten most comparable players. Further, I think his defensive contributions would likely resemble those of Perez and Williams, which further distances him from Garvey, Davis and Baines.

I also looked at his projected seasons on an individual basis here His 1985 Triple Crown year was quite comparable to George Brett's excellent campaign that year. Overall, I 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 (1985) 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

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