Jim Albright / the japanese insider
For a complete list of the players discussed in the article, click here,
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In the past, I've focused on the case of Sadaharu Oh for Cooperstown. In fact, I've done five articles on the topic: Main Article, Part I , Main Article, Part II, Fun With Oh Projections, Comparing Oh to Hall of Famers, and Comparing Oh to Top HOF candidates. However, I do not believe he is the only NPB player or manager worthy of such an honor. While I do not have the depth of information on other players that I had for Oh, I can take the preliminary step of identifying those players and managers who are worthy of further consideration. Most if not all of the players discussed below are individuals about which I have gaps in my knowledge about. Those gaps in knowledge in most cases could be significant enough to change my assessment of an individual's worthiness of Cooperstown. Examples of this are a realistic understanding of the player's defensive abilities, better NPB to MLB adjustment factors, and unique home park effects (especially Hanshin's stadium). For this reason, I will keep guys who seem to present weak cases at this time. In fact, the main thing we are actually accomplishing now is ruling out pretty much everyone not appearing in this article. On the other hand, we don't want to prematurely rule out players who will prove to be good candidates.
The means I have used to select the players discussed in this article was to start with all the players who received a score of 500 Excellence Plus points, pitchers who scored over 200 career Estimated Win Shares or 450 Excellence Plus points and add a few other players I thought might be appropriate to include. The 500 Excellence Plus points limit was chosen as that figure is very near where the worthy selections to Cooperstown end if a similar approach is used with Win Shares. That standard is essentially selecting all the everyday players who are clearly worthy of the Japanese Hall of Fame. Pitchers do not tend to score quite as high in Excellence Plus, so that's why they get a slightly lower standard. The career EWS standard is essentially meant to capture modern pitchers who wouldn't rate as highly solely due to their lower numbers of innings pitched, as discussed in this article.
After the players were selected for consideration, I did a major league equivalent of each man's career, and after trimming off years he almost certainly wouldn't have played in the majors, I then took his projected career totals and got a score in Bill James Hall of Fame standards measure. By this measure, an average Hall of Famer scores at 50 points. Outfielders, pitchers, and first basemen seem to cease to be viable candidates at around 40 points, while players at the other spots seem to be viable candidates to about 35 points. Even at the low end limits, players tend to be fairly weak candidates. With that in mind, I eliminated all but a few of those players below those scores in the Hall of Fame standards. The few I kept may have split time at two positions or have some other quality which makes me think they might have a case to make for Cooperstown. While I am at a preliminary stage of inquiry, I have no desire to increase the number of mistakes made in the selections to Cooperstown, so I think these standards are appropriate.
A few notes on the methods used:
Another issue I will raise is that I would not induct into Cooperstown any player who has not been inducted into the Japanese Hall of Fame if that player started his career in NPB before reaching the highest level of the American minors at the time (currently AAA) or the majors. I know that Japanese players wait far longer than American players do for induction, and then may be subject to rules which do not allow for people in uniform in the past five years (such as managers) to be inducted. Those rules may seem unfair, but I want to avoid the situation where a guy is enshrined in Cooperstown but is awaiting the same honor from the Japanese Hall. Such a situation would be somewhere between awkward and embarrassing. Since a major reason I support inducting worthy NPB players into Cooperstown is that such inductions would improve international baseball relations, it is safe to say it would be wise to avoid such a scenario. Besides, if the Japanese who watched these players perform choose not to honor these players, it may be they have good reason to do so. Even though I propose such a limitation on NPB player inductions to Cooperstown, I do not believe such a limitation should prevent us from researching the case of players who are not yet in the Japanese Hall but appear to be worthy.
One group of players I will eliminate from consideration is active players. The time to consider those players is when we have a clear picture of what they have done. We will consider men like Kiyohara, Furuta, Ichiro, and the two Matsuis in good time. Really, guys born before 1967 or so deserve to be evaluated solely on NPB performance. On the other hand, guys born after 1975 or so are going to have to play in the majors and perform at HOF levels to get into Cooperstown. Guys with birthdates in between those points will have to be looked at on a case by case basis. Men who toiled at a position with a high attrition rate like catcher may have a better excuse for not going to MLB than those at other positions. Similarly, players born earlier in this gray area generally shouldn't face the same level of expectation they would in fact go to the majors as players born later will. You may or may not approve of the need of a player to prove himself in the majors, but I am quite certain that players who had a realistic chance to do so and declined will have little chance of getting into Cooperstown.
We'll cover the everyday players first, in descending order of Excellence Plus scores. After that, we'll do the pitchers in the same order. Finally, we'll do the managers in descending order of their success scores.
Every Day Players
Please note we will use the number of career steals the player had in NPB. This is necessary because the HOF Standards system requires this information, and the players who have played in both NPB and MLB until quite recently have fallen into at least one of two categories: older players and/or slow-footed sluggers. Thus, we really don't have a proper base to analyse the conversion factor for stolen bases. For similar reasons, I am somewhat suspicious of out triples conversions, and therefore I have limited players to no more than 20 triples in a year.
Katsuya Nomura Position: catcher
The only significant question I can see about his worthiness for Cooperstown is whether his defensive skills plus his bat would have kept him at the catcher spot in the majors. If the answer is yes, this man is clearly a good choice for a plaque. He had phenomenal durability at the position, catching 2920 games in NPB, and hit quite well for a catcher. He was also a major part of champion teams and added a very successful managerial career to his resume.
Shigeo Nagashima Position: Third Base
The fact Cooperstown hasn't selected Ron Santo could cause some problems for his candidacy, but I think so long as we are able to support Nagashima's perceived defensive excellence as a third baseman with numbers which at least support the notion he was at least at the level of an average third baseman at a major league level with the glove, he's got a very good case for Cooperstown. He certainly was a champion and he's the most popular NPB player ever. He even boasts a successful NPB managing career, though he did have the tremendous advantage of managing the Yomiuri Giants.
Isao Harimoto Position: Left Field
Since he played left field, he really doesn't face too many questions on the defensive front. The only area I'd question for him is the possibility of some park effect giving him a big advantage. If such an effect exists, it isn't obvious from the runs scored and allowed by the teams he played on. Even if he benefitted from some such effect, it would have to knock him down quite a bit from 3093 hits and a .294 career average to keep him from being a good choice for Cooperstown.
Hiromitsu Ochiai Position: First Base- Third Base
He only retired after the 1998 season and now is managing. It will be at least 10 years before he's eligible for the Japanese Hall of Fame. That will give us a lot of time to study his case before we make a final determination if we require him to be in the Japanese Hall first. I must note that I kept four subpar years at the end of his career to boost most of his numbers a bit. I did so on the grounds that his reluctance to go along with traditional ways in Japanese baseball delayed his start in NPB to age 26. I don't believe he would have had the same problems breaking into the majors, and actually would have started in the majors at a younger age. I'd like to know if his defense at third was major league quality or not, but even if it wasn't, I think that once he's in the Japanese Hall, he's got a solid case for Cooperstown.
Koji Yamamoto Position: Center Field
I think that his numerous Gold Gloves provide solid evidence he would have been at least a decent quality major league right fielder defensively (he played right in Japan). He was a champion who was a driving force in the Carp powerhouses of 1975-1985. He's just been inducted into the Japanese Hall due to their 15 year wait plus ineligibility for coaches and managers. It seems he may well have a solid case for Cooperstown.
Tetsuharu Kawakami Position: First Base
The conversions for pre-1945 play may not be great, but I doubt they're hurting his case a lot. In fact, it is quite possible this projection overstates what he would have accomplished in the majors, as first basemen in his time were expected to hit homers in the majors. It is hard to show he would have done well in that skill in the majors. He would have hit for a good average, and Frank McCormick had a good career in the same era as a high average but relatively low home run hitting first baseman with a fine glove. The problem is that McCormick is the exception rather than the rule, and he had the benefit of playing for a manager (Bill McKechnie) who wanted high average hitters and glove men at every position he could. In fact, McCormick didn't really get much of a chance before McKechnie arrived. For all these reasons, I find Kawakami's case for Cooperstown as a player to be unpersuasive. We'll discuss his qualifications as a manager later.
Yutaka Fukumoto Position: Center Field
He might well have had less stolen bases in the majors, but he is so far over the level at which his steals stop adding to his HOF standards score that he would surely have had enough to reach this score. He won a bushelful of Gold Gloves, so he's another guy who I think there is more than enough evidence he would have been at least an adequate center fielder at the major league level. He was a champion as well, so I think he presents a good case for Cooperstown.
Hiromitsu Kadota Position: Right Field-Designated Hitter
The HOF standards measure says he has a weak case, and if he weren't projected to get as many at bats and hits, I'd agree. Those two stats put me in the undecided camp. After the Achilles heel injury, he was a DH all the way, and we'll have to see if there's any bias against such players. I'm not sure if his defense before the injury would be enough to get and keep a right field spot in the majors, either. Mark him questionable but open for further review.
Fumio Fujimura Position: Third Base
The HOF standards measure says he's a weak case, and I tend to agree. Yes, he lost time to WWII, but a lot of guys in the majors did as well, and some of them are at least as impressive as this guy's projection. If you could demonstrate he was a really top-notch glove man, it would help. This is another questionable but open for further review case, in my opinion.
Sachio Kinugasa Position: First Base-Third Base
His case is actually quite weak if we base it solely on the projection. The projection gives him longevity he might not have had, especially if his defense at third base wasn't up to major league standards. On the other hand, if he really could have played a decent third base, that longevity might hold up. Also, I think it is clear that had he played in the majors, he would have sat some during his injuries, especially some of the broken bones, most notably the broken shoulder. As a result, he wouldn't have his main claim to fame, the consecutive games streak, but his other stats might look better because he'd be dumping relatively unproductive playing time. The problem is I suspect his case would stay rather weak until or unless his average rose over .260 at a bare minimum. That's a lot of ground to make up, and it might not work out. Mark this case as one for further study.
Shigeru Chiba Position: Second Base
He lost some years to WWII, but many major leaguers did, too. Among them is second baseman Joe Gordon, who was renowned for his glovework and also outhit Chiba's projection. Gordon is not in the Hall of Fame, and if he's not, it's hard to justify putting Chiba there. Chiba is also more of a table setter, and Cooperstown hasn't been terribly generous to that kind of player unless he had a high average. Chiba doesn't. I'd call his case for Cooperstown doubtful.
Tsutomu Wakamatsu Position: Left Field-Center Field
I gave him 7.5 points for defense, which is halfway between what centerfielders and left fielders get. SABR Asian Committee chairman Rob Fitts advises me that Wakamatsu was listed as a left fielder most years, but played center when his teams were championship quality. The quality of his defense is critical to a proper evaluation of him, as his only other positive is the high average. He wasn't a power hitter or a great table setter, so even with nice high averages but mediocre left field defense, he could face frequent challenges for his job. If he was a legitimate major league centerfielder, he would have been a big star, maybe even a Hall of Famer with his high averages. If he is regarded as a centerfielder, his HOF standards score would rise to 39--not great, but with a .295 lifetime average to his credit, it might be enough. As a leftfielder, his rating would sink to 30--if he managed to keep his job throughout his career. That is well below what we're looking for in Hall of Fame candidates. The fact he apparently played more in left suggests he might not have been capable of being a decent major league centerfielder on defense. On the other hand, the fact he played that spot for championship teams suggests he was capable of that quality of play. I'd love to know more about his defense--and the defensive abilities of the guy(s) who some manager(s) selected to play center instead of Wakamatsu. Definitely a case requiring further study.
Hiromichi Ishige Position: Third Base-Shortstop
He recently retired and therefore is a long way from being selected to the Japanese Hall of Fame. He was a Gold Glove shortstop in NPB who was switched to third base, where he continued to win Gold Gloves. It wouldn't take much to convince me he could have played short in the majors and would have stayed there. That said, his case for Cooperstown is still weak unless he was an Ozzie Smith-quality fielder. I doubt he was that good. He's got the best case of any retired Japanese shortstop for Cooperstown, though. The reasons for that are that few NPB shortstops could hit as well as Ishige, and two of the main ones who could (Yasumitsu Toyoda and Taira Fujita) both spent several years at the end of their careers as first basemen. They were good enough hitters to do so in NPB, but not in the majors. That creates a problem in that one has to prove they could have played at second or third at a major league level after they ceased playing shortstop--which is something they didn't do in NPB.
There are several issues regarding pitchers I want to bring to your attention. First, saves weren't recorded in NPB until 1974, so most of these pitchers don't get credit for any despite being used frequently to close games. Even for a guy like Enatsu, who was probably the first man to star in NPB as a pure reliever, his save totals may be artificially low for this reason. Second, I assigned 1 decision per 9 innings pitched unless the pitcher had less than 1 decision per 9 innings pitched. In that case, the lower figure was used. Wins and losses were calculated by Bill James Pythagorean Theorem under the assumption of average run support. Finally, I think the usage pattern for these pitchers would have been dramatically different in the majors, especially less use of starters in relief and lower numbers of innings per year. However, most if not all of them would likely have pitched more seasons than they did in NPB. Thus the only assumption that made sense to me was that these two factors would cancel each other out.
One concern is the projected number of home runs (433), which is a lot. Otherwise, you've got to love the durability, the number of wins, the winning percentage, and the ERA. Fortunately, the component ERA calculation recognizes the number of homers and accounts for it, so I don't see that as a major issue.
So long as the means used to get him into the NPB live ball era result in realistic projections for him, he's got a great HOF case: a low ERA, over 300 wins, and a high winning percentage. On top of that, he was a champion. Another area of concern is his low level of projected strikeouts per 9 IP of 3.35. Even so, I tend to think he's a strong candidate, though I will be interested in seeing the list of comparables to his projection.
His projection gives him an excellent career ERA and winning percentage. He adds over 260 projected wins, and he was a huge star for one of NPB's dynasties. If you accept the conversion, he's got a great case for induction.
His projection isn't quite as good as Starffin's, but it's much the same story, but with a better strikeouts per 9 IP.
You've got the standard issues of the quality of the projection and the projections for seasons before 1945. On top of that, he projects to only 2.84 K/9 IP. The only HOF pitcher with a career which overlaps the existence of NPB with a K/9 IP that low or lower is Ted Lyons, at 2.32 K/9 IP. Lyons pitched a lot in the 20's, so he's a questionable comparison. The next lowest HOFer from the 1930’s forward in that stat is Bob Lemon at 4.03 K/9 IP. However, Noguchi had pinpoint control, which I suspect makes the projection reasonable, so you've got to love the ERA and winning percentage, and almost 250 projected wins with those other positives is nothing to sneeze at. It will be interesting to see the comparables to his projection.
The revised pitching projection moves him up almost to the level of an average Hall of Fame pitcher instead of midway between an "average" Hall of Fame pitcher and a weak choice for the Hall of Fame. He carried a team to a championship, so if the comparables to the projection support the Hall of Fame standards take on him, I'd say he's a worthy candidate.
You've got the standard issues of the conversions for a pre-1945 pitcher plus "only" 193 wins. He's also got a relatively low K/9 IP figure but good control to balance it. His ERA and winning percentage are the keys to his case, and I'd like to examine his case more closely.
Like Kaneda, he's projected to give up a lot of gopher balls. In many ways his case is similar to Kaneda's, though not quite as good.
The revision to the pitching projection helps his case quite a bit. He still may be hurt by the fact NPB did not keep track of saves until 1974. He was voted the best pitcher in NPB history by the fans in I believe the year 2000. That is partly because among the best, he is the most recent, but it gives you an idea of how he is perceived in Japan.
The revised pitching projection helps his case a lot. Now he has almost 300 wins to go along with great durability, and his ERA isn't spectacular for a Hall of Famer, but it's no longer weak in such distinguished company.
He's the first of the crop of pitchers added to this article by the revision of the pitching projection method. He projects quite well, but since he was a career Tiger and that franchise has had a quite pitcher-friendly park, I'd want to investigate that issue before saying he belongs in Cooperstown.
Suzuki is more typical of the new additions in that he's a marginal candidate, at least in the eyes of the Hall of Fame standards measure. He sure gave up the home runs, and projects to do it an awful lot in the majors.
Another marginal candidate according to the Hall of Fame standards measure. If anything would increase his ERA projection (and thus also hurt his won-lost mark), he'd clearly not be a quality candidate. His case certainly needs more scrutiny.
His strikeouts per nine innings pitched is low, and the Hall of Fame standards system sees him as a marginal candidate. Unless the comparables to his projection look much better than I expect, I think he's a no-go.
According to the Hall of Fame standards measure, he's just below where I want to draw the line on players I would advocate belong in Cooperstown: about halfway between an "average” Hall of Fame pitcher, and a clearly marginal candidate. The comparables to his projection should help us clarify the picture.
Everything I wrote about Sugiura above also applies to him, but with the added complication that he pitched in NPB before 1945, which complicates his projection.
Unlike the players, I do not believe the managers' accomplishments need any adjustment. I'd keep the rule requiring Japanese Hall of Fame membership before someone made Cooperstown. Beyond that, a manager's job is based on knowledge of the game, talent evaluation, teaching ability, and the ability to lead people. All managers are creatures of their own time and place. Leo Durocher's penchant for public humiliation of his players would not succeed for today's players, but it worked for Leo.
As noted earlier, my rating system largely parallels the system Bill James used to measure the level of success attained by major league managers in his book on managers. James noted that in that system a manager needed to reach about 30 points to make the Hall of Fame. The lowest score I have for a manager discussed below is 39 points. I'll list the managers from the highest score to the lowest.
Successful managers are often a huge influence upon the game, as they not only influence their players, but because others try to emulate what they see as the keys to the success of such managers. Further, the players they manage may become managers as well. Some will try to follow in the footsteps of the man who led them to championships, others will be influenced by what the successful manager(s) they played for did, though some will choose to do things differently because they saw some action(s) by the men they played for as counterproductive. This influence on the development of the game these men had in NPB baseball should be recognized by Cooperstown.
Kazuto Tsuruoka Manager's Success Points: 70
He is Japan's winningest manager, with 1807 regular season victories to his credit as well as a .609 winning percentage. His teams were over .500 in 21 of the 23 seasons he managed, and he won 11 pennants. In those 11 pennants was a stretch of 4 pennants in five years and another stretch of 4 pennants in six years.
Shigeru Mizuhara Manager's Success Points: 62
He won eight pennants in nine years from 1951 to 1959 for the Yomiuri Giants. He also won four Japan Series in the period 1951 to 1955 and won a pennant for the Flyers.
Tetsuharu Kawakami Manager's Success Points: 60
He managed fourteen seasons for the Yomiuri Giants and was over .500 each season. He won 11 pennants and won the Japan Series every time. Nine of those pennants were consecutive, the fabled "V-9" Giant club.
Sadayoshi Fujimoto Manager's Success Points: 49
He established the Yomiuri club as a powerhouse, winning pennants in every season from the 1938 Fall season through 1943.
Osamu Mihara Manager's Success Points: 44
He won pennants as a manager for three different franchises, most notably the Lion dynasty he presided over. He won 4 Japan Series in a stretch of five years.
Yukio Nishimoto Manager's Success Points: 43
He won pennants for three franchises and had a stretch of five pennants in six years. Unfortunately, though he led eight teams to the Japan Series, he never grabbed the brass ring, five of the losses coming to Kawakami's "V-9" Giants.
Masaaki Mori Manager's Success Points: 42He's not yet in Japan's Hall yet, so I wouldn't enshrine him yet under any circumstances. However, I'd hold a place for him since he won 7 pennants in 8 years, and six Japan Series in seven years within that stretch.
Toshiharu Ueda Manager's Success Points: 39
He's also awaiting enshrinement in Japan's Hall, but I expect he will make it as well, especially since the Japanese have honored managers with far lesser credentials. He won four pennants in a row, capturing the Japan Series title in a stretch of three consecutive years within that period.
I know some people will take the position that no NPB player who didn't play in the US should be in Cooperstown. They may do so on the poorly informed grounds that the NPB players had a choice. That argument is fallacious, as can be seen in this article. The more likely approach for those taking that stance is what I call the "National Hall of Fame" argument. I've already put my response to that approach in writing here, so I won't repeat it at length. With the possible exception of the managers and maybe two or three others, all of the candidates I discussed have questions which I feel must be resolved before we put them in Cooperstown. That said, I feel it is clear there are a number of players in NPB besides Oh who are worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.
List of Players and Managers Covered in this Article: