A tale of two imports

It has become an annual ritual. Every winter, the wealthy teams enter into a bidding war for the latest Japanese import destined to be a superstar.

In the 1990s, the ritual centered around pitchers. Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu led the Japanese migration to the big leagues. Some players lived up to their potential while others burned out.

Then, in 2001, Ichiro’s wildly successful Major League debut opened up the doors for position players to cross the Pacific. By then, Japanese pitchers had become a common sight in the Bigs. But Ichiro’s success led to an outfield migration. Tsuyoshi Shinjo arrived in the States in 2001. So Taguchi came in 2002. Hideki Matsui came in 2003.

While pitchers such as Akinori Otsuka and Shingo Takatsu now make their marks as late-inning specialists, the eyes of Major League scouts have shifted to the infield with decidedly mixed results. Last year, the Mets won the services of Kazuo Matsui. This season, the White Sox landed Tadahito Iguchi.

Kazuo Matsui and Iguchi provide an interesting look into the lives of Japanese players giving it a go in America. The two are both middle infielders, and they have enjoyed vastly different levels of success. Matsui, for all his hype, has been an utter failure for the Mets so far while in Chicago, Iguchi has been an integral part of the White Sox’s successes this year. A comparison of the two reveals the ambiguous nature of bringing Japanese players to America and the importance of good scouting reports.

Matsui’s career in New York has been abysmal, and the Queens faithful are ready to say sayonara to their floundering second baseman. In 603 at-bats – the equivalent of one full season – Matsui has hit .265 with a .321 on-base percentage and a .343 slugging. This year, he’s at .243/.284/.340, and Mets fans are ready for Miguel Cairo to assume everyday duties up the middle. Matsui has hit just 10 home runs, and he has struck out 121 times in those 603 at-bats.

To make matters worse, he has been downright awful in the field. In 110 games at short – his natural position – Matsui has committed 23 errors. At second base, in just 39 games, he has made 6 errors, including a few last weekend that cost the Mets the Subway Series. All in all, this has been a disaster. But is this so surprising?

A closer look at Matsui’s Japanese numbers reveal that he may have been set up to fail in the United States. In Japan, he hit .309/.361/.486 in over 4600 at-bats. He struck out 751 times, including a career-high 124 in his last season in Japan. Only recently had he developed power, and his stolen bases had declined from a high of 62 in 1997 to a low of 13 in 2003. In the field, he was okay. He has a career fielding percentage in Japan of .978 and had committed 17 errors in 137 games in 2003.

Considering that Matsui’s strike out numbers were on the rise, his OBP and slugging had declined from 2002 to 2003, and his fielding was no sure thing, it seems now that the Mets may have been oversold on Matsui. The oft-proclaimed struggles of the Mets’ overpaid Japanese import are not as big as surprised when you consider the big picture.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, the White Sox have the makings of a solid player emerging in the persona of Tadahito Iguchi. This second baseman is hitting a solid .302/.347/.440 out of the two hole. He has seven stolen bases and has made three errors. These numbers wouldn’t blow anyone away, but for $2 million a year, Iguchi is making a significant contribution.

His numbers and trends in Japan reveal a better option at second base than the one Matsui represented. Long a power hitter in Japan, Iguchi developed into a hitting machine following the 2002 campaign. His average went from .259 in 2002 to .340 in 2003 to .333 in an injury-plagued 2004. His slugging and on-base percentage were on the rise as well. He was particularly appealing the field as well as he was among the top two in fielding at second base every year since he switched from short to second in 2001.

The differences between Iguchi who is endearing himself to Chicago fans and Matsui who gets little support from the Shea fans are telling. Success in Japan does not translate easily into America. Matsui and Iguchi, two big power hitters, have seen a precipitous drop in their performances upon arriving the States. Is that because of the different approaches to pitching found in the Major Leagues as compared to the Japanese Leagues? The answer is probably yes.

Fielding-wise, it seems to me as though Matsui’s failures at the plate have affected his fielding. Iguchi, on the other hand, has done a much better job adjusting to the league.

But in the end, none of this is all that surprising. Had the Mets scouts studied the trends in Matsui’s statistics, they may have been able to anticipate a decline. As with any player looking to make it in the Majors, positive trends are a good indication of success while negative trends may call for future failure. That’s been the case with Matsui and Iguchi. As more Japanese position players look to jump the ocean, it will be interesting to see if teams can cut through the hype of past success to study how their possible additions would do in the future.

Making that jump is no easy feat; just ask Kazuo Matsui. But with some insightful scouting, teams could have a better idea of what awaits them from their high-priced investments.

Advertisements

RSS River Ave. Blues

  • Two comebacks aren’t enough, Yankees fall 6-5 to Mariners July 23, 2017
    Source: FanGraphs Well that was a rough one. The Yankees showed some Fighting Spirit and rallied to tie Saturday night’s game against the Mariners twice — twice! — but ultimately, the bullpen took yet another loss. The final score was 6-5 in ten innings. The bullpen has been pretty great since the All-Star break, but […] The post Two comebacks aren’t enough, […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Game 96: Make it Three in a Row July 23, 2017
    The Yankees have won the last two games in convincing fashion, with strong performances from the starting pitching, the bullpen, and the lineup (for the most part, at least). A win tonight would give them their first three-game winning streak since they won six in a row from June 7 through 12, and their first […] The post Game 96: Make it Three in a Row appe […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Trade Deadline Rumors: Darvish, Gray, First Base, Betances July 22, 2017
    The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is only nine days away now, and already the Yankees have made their most significant midseason trade in several years. Since … the Bobby Abreu deal? Nothing else comes to mind. Anyway, here are the latest rumors and rumblings. Rangers gauging interest in Darvish According to Jeff Passan, the […] The post Trade Deadline […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Judge’s monster homer leads Yanks to 5-1 win over Mariners July 22, 2017
    Your browser does not support iframes.I don’t want to alarm anyone, but the Yankees have won two straight games and are 5-4 since the All-Star break. Crazy, I know. They might actually win a series this weekend. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. The Yankees took the second game of this four-game set against […] The post Judge’s monster homer leads Yan […]
    Mike Axisa
  • DotF: Robinson hits two homers in Staten Island’s win July 22, 2017
    Here are the day’s notes: Two roster clearing moves, per Matt Kardos: RHP Branden Pinder has been released and RHP Dillon McNamara has been traded to the Giants for … something. Not sure what. Probably cash. Pinder had allowed just one run (unearned) in 11.2 innings back from Tommy John surgery. 3B Miguel Andujar is […] The post DotF: Robinson hits two homer […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Game 95: CC’s Birthday July 22, 2017
    The Yankees opened this four-game series with the Mariners with a nice win last night. Luis Severino outpitched Felix Hernandez and the offense put just enough runs on the board. The Yankees are 4-4 so far on this eleven-game road trip, so they still need two more wins to clinch a winning trip. That would […] The post Game 95: CC’s Birthday appeared first on […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Friday Night Open Thread July 21, 2017
    The Yankees are still out on the West Coast, which means another 10pm ET start tonight. One more of these tomorrow — that’s actually a 9pm ET start, but close enough — and then that’s it. No more West Coast night games this season. After this series the Yankees will play 62 of their final […] The post Friday Night Open Thread appeared first on River Avenue B […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: July 2012 July 21, 2017
    The calendar has turned over to July and it’s time once again to revisit the MLB Trade Rumors archives. Better late than never this month, right? Right. We’re now into July 2012 and, as always, July was chock full of trade rumors. The Yankees went into July 2012 with a 47-30 record and a five-game […] The post Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: July 2012 appeare […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Scouting the Trade Market: Trevor Cahill July 21, 2017
    After Tuesday’s seven-player trade, the Yankees loudly announced they were buyers. The trade solved many of their issues, but they still have a hole in the back of their rotation with Michael Pineda lost for the season after Tommy John surgery. A veteran innings eater who can more reliably provide solid innings than Bryan Mitchell […] The post Scouting the T […]
    Steven Tydings
  • Mailbag: Judge, Mateo, Hamels, Nola, Girardi, Taillon, Betances July 21, 2017
    We’ve got ten questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us any questions. More than a few were rendered moot by the trade with the White Sox. A few people asked: What could the Yankees get for Judge? Several masochists emailed in asking what sort of […] The post Mailbag: Judge, Mateo, Hamels, Nola, Girardi, Tai […]
    Mike Axisa

Blog Stats

  • 62,492 hits

%d bloggers like this: