28 December 2012

Discussing the Orioles and Japanese Baseball with Yakyu Baka

The past off season there was a flurry of moves involving players from Japan without the Orioles winding up with any of them.  This was quite different from Dan Duquette's first off season when he signed Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to a three year contract and Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada.  That effort rewarded the Orioles greatly as Chen provided them with an above average pitcher on a below market contract.  Even when you factor in the 4 MM paid to Wada, who was out all year injured, an above average pitcher for 8 MM in expenditures is still a net positive deal.  Anyway, Duquette's engagement with Japanese baseball was perhaps the greatest move he made last off season.

This left me wondering about this year's class.  I have seen a good deal of video, gone over Pitch f/x, and read the assessments by several evaluators (i.e. Patrick Newman).  However, I thought it might be good to contact Gen again from Yakyu Baka to discuss the current crop, future players who might cross the Pacific, and how the Orioles are perceived in Japan.

Jon: Kyuji Fujikawa, a 32 right handed reliever, signed with the Cubs in early December for two years and nine million.  He is a fastball / forkball pitcher, similar in ways to J.J. Putz.  How well do you think his success in Japan will translate over to Major League Baseball?

Gen: Most think that Fujikawa will do fine in the Majors.  History has also been fairly kind to Japanese relievers as well.  My only concern with him, as well as with any Japanese players going to the Majors, is how well he will fair over the course of a full MLB season.

Over the last couple of years, it seems he lost a little something.  There have been questions about whether or not he can handle a heavy workload off and on over the last couple of years.  Again, if there there's one thing I would be concerned about it, it would be his stamina.  Otherwise, I think he'll be fine.

J: In Baltimore, Wei-Yin Chen was warmly embraced and even had his own celebratory night with fans being given free shirts.  It made many here pay more attention to the Japanese game.  Do you notice more mention of the Orioles in Japan now?

G: I don't really notice a huge presence, but then I don't pay as much attention to the MLB as I used to.  In general, it probably hurt that Wada missed the year.  If he was healthy and pitched, then TV news shows would have show highlights from his starts.  He would have have showed up more often in the newspapers.  Chen, I'm not really sure how much of a following he has in the Kanto region.  I also noticed that many of the online sites didn't provide updates on his starts as they do with other Japanese players.

J: Last year, the Orioles were embroiled in the Kim Seong-min incident (which the Depot wrote extensively about last year and was the first news source that actually asked journalists in South Korea for their perspective).  Did that affect how the team was viewed in Japan?

G: I don't really know how NPB teams are looking at the incident.  I know NPB teams are concerned about losing young players to the Majors.  A lot of eyes were on Shohei Otani.  I think you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief when he decided to start his career in Japan.  Personally, I don't see a reason why a teenage Japanese pitcher would avoid signing with the Orioles.  And I'm not sure if anyone in the NPB feels the Orioles should be singled out as a bad team because of the incident.

J: Who do you think are the Japanese players in the future to keep in mind?  Players who will perform as well as Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish.

G: Hard to say.  Players like Ichiro and Darvish don't really come around too often.  Otani could end up getting posted to the Majors within the next five years, depending on how he develops.  Rakuten's Masahiro Tanaka is a name I'm sure more people around the world will become familiar with after the WBC.  Nippon Ham's Yoshio Itoi wanted to be posted, but the Fighters turned him down.  He might be an interesting player to keep an eye on during the WBC as well.  Softbank's Masahiko Morifuku has expressed an interest in playing in the Majors, but not right away.  He's also on the preliminary WBC roster.

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