This post has been made largely irrelevant by the excellent work of Jeff Sackmann over at the Hardball Times (Jeff is also perhaps the primary reason for the author’s GMAT score – thanks again for the great blog, Jeff!). Even so, this subject deserves attention.
Akinori Iwamura has been posted by his team and is pretty much guaranteed to be on an MLB team next year. Earlier, we used the factors Aaron Gleeman developed for his Kenji Johjima projection in an off-the-cuff Iwamura projection. Today we’ll be more rigorous.
Most translation systems include data from players who go both from NPB to MLB and from MLB to NPB. Instead, we will only use data from NPB players born in Japan who later played in MLB. The sample, unfortunately, is quite small: it includes Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kazuo Matsui, Tadahito Iguchi, So Taguchi, and Kenji Johjima. We used data from their final three seasons in Japan and compared that with their first two seasons (assuming they had that many) in America. This was done using matched PAs; thus, in all cases, Japanese numbers were interpolated to match the number of plate appearances each player had in America. Summary data for each statistic gave us the following translations:
Stat NPB MLB Factor PA 6939 6939 N/A AB 6046 6251 1.0339 H 1912 1820 0.9519 2B 348 324 0.931 3B 30 41 1.3667 HR 300 157 0.5233 TB 3220 2697 0.8376 SO 948 927 0.9778 BB 718 516 0.7187 HBP 85 65 0.7647
To use these factors, simply apply them to an NPB line while holding PA constant (for instance, if player X hits 20 HR in 500 PA in NPB, he’d hit about 10 HR in 500 PA in America). The largest factor, by far, is for HR. Going to America is devastating to NPB home run hitters – they hit homers at roughly half the rate per plate appearance in America than they did in Japan. Interestingly enough, this group struck out less in America than in Japan, which indicates they probably changed their hitting approach significantly.
Here are his numbers for 2004-2006 in Japan.
Here are those numbers translated to MLB using the above method.
He loses about 20 points of AVG, 40 points of OBP, and 100 points of SLG on average. Yikes. Here’s a 3-year weighted projection, pro-rated to 160 games played (as he was very durable in Japan).
That’s a little better than my back-of-the-envelope projection from last week, but still not all that great for a third baseman. Basically, it’s a slightly better version of David Bell. Here’s hoping he can play second. He did win another gold glove this year, so that’s something.
Let’s try out this method on some other players, even though it’s cheating (you shouldn’t apply a model to the data used in making it). Below are Iguchi’s projected 2005 line (year in italics) and his actual line (below).
Not bad – I’ll take a projection that is within 21 points of OPS anytime. Of course, we expected this to happen, since his numbers were used to make the model.
What about some other Japanese stars? Let’s take a look.
This star OF for the Chunichi Dragons probably isn’t making the jump any time soon, but let’s take a look at what he might do in the bigs.
As you can see, his skills transfer very well. Along with his good hitting numbers, Fukudome is an outstanding center fielder; he’d find quite a few suitors in MLB if he wanted to try his luck here. Sadly, he turns 30 next April, so we’ll have missed the prime of his career if and when he ever decides to come over.
Abe is the Yomiuri Giants’ starting catcher. He’ll never be posted, so we’ll have to wait for him to come over via free agency if he wants to play in MLB (he won’t be eligible for three more seasons). Here’s his projection.
Abe slugged .630 in 2004, but hasn’t come near that since, and it shows in his projection. His HR have gone 33-26-10 in the past three years. Pass.
Next week, we’ll take another look at pitcher projections using homegrown translations that will hopefully be a little more accurate and/or believable.