POTD Kawasaki - translating NPB-MLB performance


Q.  Can NPB stats be translated?

A.  They can't, no.  There haven't been enough players come over.  

Translations can't be done in the same way that major league equivalencies (MLE's) have, anyway.  Would we post MLE's if only ten minor leaguers had ever come up?

We remember that Clay Davenport once overhauled BP's translations based on one player -- after Godzilla came over, he ratcheted the estimates way up.  And said so.

With Dr. D's typical great modesty, he announces that this next table will equip YOU to translate NPB-infielder stats about as well as anybody else can do it.

;- )

Here are the four infielders who have come over, plus Ichiro, who is shortstop-sized.  The slash lines represent Dr. D's summaries of how good the guy batted, after he had matured as a hitter.

K. Matsui NPB 320 / 375 / 550
 ... in MLB 290 / 350 / 400
Iguchi NPB 330 / 420 / 550
 ... in MLB 270 / 340 / 400
Iwamura 300 / 380 / 550
... in MLB 270 / 340 / 380
Ichiro 350 / 410 / 535
... in MLB 330 / 380 / 430 (Safeco)
Nishioka 300 / 380 / 450
... in MLB terrible (in first 68 games)

Five previously-played chess positions would be interesting to a master if they were as consistent as these are.  Each one of those first three infielders had exactly the same transition.  They were Nomar Garciaparras in Japan, and exactly MLB-average hitters over here.  Average-solid hitters.

What's fascinating is that these were not only average hitters, but they were average hitters, if you know what I mean.

They hit average-to-good for AVG, they were average for OBP, and mediocre for SLG.  I'm not saying that Matsui, Iguchi, and Iwamura were 100-type hitters.  I'm saying they all represented the MLB slash line, in each category individually.  That's weird.


That indeed gives us a baseline, rule-of-thumb to go on:  your WBC superstar, hitting 300+ / 380 / .550 over there, is going to run you a prototype MLB median slash line.

In fact our mini-database of 10 Japanese hitters kicked back a slash line of .288 / .349 / .412.  About league average, except more contact and less power.  Moderately.  And no, Ichiro and Godzilla weren't all that atypical.  All the NPB stars can hit .270 with decent gap power (or better, in the case of the big two).

Johjima-san was also in this mold, by the way.  His slash line didn't veer far from the MLB slash, in any category.  It's weird, I tell ya.


Two notes:  Kazuo Matsui came to New York City, flopped horribly, and is remembered for that.  But if you check it, the very instant that he left New York, he became a good offensive player.  So suddenly that it reminds you of Miguel Olivo's three hits (IIRC) the game after leaving Seattle on a 132-strikeout streak.

Secondly:  Nishioka-san was nowhere near the NPB hitter that the other guys were.  You might as well compare Nick Swisher to Steve Braun, as to compare Nishioka to these other guys.


Q.  Leaving Kawasaki where?

A.  Well, he hits .300 / .350 / .400 in Japan.  So let's say -- pending further info -- that the translations work like this.  We're talking about players with infielder body types:

All-Star hitter in Japan 270 / 340 / 420 in America
Good hitter there (Nishioka) 80 OPS+ guy here
Mediocre there (Kawasaki) You better brace yourself

You'd guess that the scouts are right.  Figure on maybe a .250 with some doubles and some speed.

Klat Categories: 


Taro's picture


Another thing you have to consider is that most times you're getting these guys in their 30s. In most cases, they are in their decline phases and you're not getting that 1.000 OPS NPB guy.

When guys like Iguchi and Johjima went back to the NPB, they started OPSing in the mid-800s.

Also, the level of hitting in general seems to have signficantly declined in recent years in the NPB. There are a few tremendous pitchers, but there is not a single guy I'd be confident in as a plus hitter in the MLB. The late 90s, early 2000s seem to be the peak for NPB hitting talent.

Not only are there no more Ichiro, H.Matsuis, and Ogasawara monster type hitters, but there are no Johjima, Iguchi, Iwamura type hitters anymore either.


And have also had the impression that 1995-2000 was a sort of golden era over there.


The age thing is one reason that Prince Fielder looks attractive to me, by the way.  Saw an Albert Pujols discussion on TV and not only will somebody have to pay 8/$225 to get his age 32-40 seasons, but ... they also have to fret about whether Pujols' age is actually 32 in the first place.


Taro's picture


Yes, and with HGH testing now.. Pujols is a pretty big gamble with HGH regulation and the questions regarding his age. Would definetly stay away now.

Prince seems naturally big to me (who knows though). It really comes down to the terms.


Taro's picture


As for acquiring Kawasaki.. I would offer him a minor league deal. He says he'll take one to play for the Mariners. If hes valuable, you'll control him for a while.

Hes more athletic than Nishioka with a stronger arm, so its possible he could adjust defensively. You could give him some regular time at AAA initially for a feeling out processs.

Offensively, I'm skeptical but there is So Taguchi. Taguchi was basically the OF version of Kawasaki and ended up hitting better in MLB (in his decline phase no less) than he did in the NPB.

If Kawasaki could hit like Taguchi (his upside), he'd be quite valuable. No reason not to at least offer him a minor league deal to see if he can pull it off.



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