In an effort to continue doing what I can for the victims of the earthquake in Japan, today’s post is on a few of the notable Japanese players in the game, as well as one who could be tearing up MLB hitters in as little as a year.
Ichiro Suzuki: The most well-known of Japanese MLBers, and with good reason, Ichiro is Mr. Consistency. Since being posted by the Orix Blue Wave after the 2000 season, Ichiro has batted leadoff for the Mariners in nearly every game, played above par defense and hit for a wRC+ above 100 in each of his 10 seasons, and played more than 157 games in each season besides 2009. He’s been between 4 and 5.5 WAR in each of the last 5 years, and last year was right in the middle of that range at 4.8. Ichiro’s been in the bottom six outfielders in strikeout rate in each of those seasons, and although he’s never hit for more than 15 home runs in a year, his combination of speed, defense, consistency, and pure hitting ability makes him one of the most valuable players in baseball over the past decade. Ichiro’s also provided some extremely well-publicized support for his home country in the wake of this tragedy, donating 100 million yen (roughly $1.25 million).
Hideki Matsui: Matsui, who came over from the Yomiuri Giants in his tenth professional season and entered MLB as a Yankee, has signed on with the A’s as one of several new faces in Oakland’s retooled lineup. Matsui is pretty much exclusively a DH at this point, having not played more than 200 innings in the field since 2007. However, he’s had a wRC+ better than 120 in 6 of the last 7 years, flashing decent power (49 home runs over the last two seasons) and getting on base at a decent clip.
Hiroki Kuroda: One of the most underrated starters in baseball, Kuroda came over from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 2007 after 10 years as a professional, moving to LA and donning Dodger Blue. Kuroda’s put up an average of 3.3 WAR per year in LA, and resigned with the Dodgers this offseason for a year at $12 million. Kuroda has been below a 3.60 FIP in each of his MLB seasons, and is beginning to show an aptitude for striking out MLB hitters, as he’s raised his K/9 significantly in each MLB campaign to date.
Colby Lewis: Ok, so he’s not technically from Japan. Lewis, a 31-year old hailing from Bakersfield, CA, put together a very mediocre 6-year MLB career between 2002 and 2007. He had amassed only 0.5 WAR in those 6 seasons before his career took a turn, as Lewis caught on with the Hiroshima Carp in 2008. He took off, leading the league in strikeouts in both seasons and tied for second in wins and ERA in 2008. Lewis returned to MLB last season and was an integral part of the Rangers’ AL-champion starting staff, putting up 4.4 WAR and a 3.55 FIP in 201 innings. Lewis is one of a few examples of MLB castoffs who have resurrected their careers in Japan.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: Nishioka, a second baseman, played 8 seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines before coming over to the Twins this offseason. A five-time NPB All-Star and 3-time Gold Glover, Nishioka will bring a smooth glove and a fairly potent bat to Minnesota. Nishioka is only 26 and led NPB in games played (he didn’t miss a contest all year), runs, hits (over 200 in a 144 game season), total bases, and average last season. He will be a significant contributor to a team that should have a pretty good shot at an AL Central title next season.
Yu Darvish: Darvish is in his sixth season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. A two-time Pacific League MVP, two-time strikeout and ERA champion, and a four-time All-Star, Darvish is expected to be posted next offseason and play in MLB in 2012, with ten teams already expressing interest. Darvish has a career 2.12 ERA and 974 strikeouts 1036.1 professional innings in Japan. He’ll command big money, with all the usual big-budget suspects involved in the bidding process as well as a number of other teams looking to make a splash.
Thanks for reading, and, once again, please donate what you can to the aid efforts for Japan (Link is for the Red Cross' Japan donation page).