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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

ESPN's WBC Coverage

(j-note: I started this article last weekend, but ended up getting involved in a few other projects and didn't finish it until now. Nevertheless, it should still be useful (and applicable) as we move forward in the WBC)

I've enjoyed the Pool A games in the World Baseball Classic. I've watched all the Japan games. While the first two games were blowouts, the Korea/Japan game was excellent. The Lee home run in the 8th was the first real "moment" in the WBC, where something unexpected and exciting happens late in a game that changes the complexion of a game...and maybe the tournament.

However, I've been pretty frustrated with ESPN's coverage. Japan's players, in particular, come from a very solid, professional league with good press coverage. So it's mystifying to me why they have told us almost NOTHING about what these players have done in those leagues. I can summarize the info I've heard about Japan's players' accomplishments in only a few lines:
  • Ichiro is an immortal, a "special" player, was excited to play in the WBC, and was talking trash before the Korea/Japan game, and is the unofficial captain of the team.
  • Nishioka went 41 for 41 in stolen bases last season.
  • Matsunaka is the "power source" of Japan's team.
  • Iwamura wants to play in the Major Leagues and is upset that the Japanese rules don't allow him to do so until he plays for 10 years.
  • Matsuzaka is considered "the best" pitcher in the Japanese leagues.
And that's just about it. This is fine info, it's interesting, but it's just about all they have. And they repeat it every game, sometimes several times a game (particularly the bits about Ichiro and Iwamura). There is almost no discussion of their performance in the japanese leagues, not even last year's average, HR, RBI's. To combat this, I've used to assemble a compilation of last year's stats for all of the Japan team's players (it also contains links to their career records). Since this blog isn't really set up to deal with large tables, I've hosted it over at Geocities. Click here to view these stats, or the link in the title of this post.

Just looking at these stats, one can come up with all sorts of interesting things about these guys. Why we can't get this information during broadcasts I'll never understand:
  • While Nishioka did go 41-41 in SB's last year, he hit only 0.268/0.320/0.394 (0.714 OPS) in 447 AB's. Given that (and the other players on the roster), it's a bit surprising that he's hitting 2nd.
  • Japan has 6 players who hit over 0.900 last year in the Japanese Leagues, but only 5 of them are starting. The 6th (who has the 3rd best OPS on the team at 0.970) is Kazuhiro Wada, who is a reserve outfielder. Tamura and Kufudome had similar seasons, however, leaving no spot for the powerful Wada other than DH. And that's occupied by the guy who was definitely their best hitter last year, Matsunaka, who is a first baseman. Ogasawara, who is playing first, is also a superb hitter.
  • There are only six hitters out of 17 on this team who had less than a 0.350 ERA last year in their respective leagues. Three of them are starting: #1 hitter Ichiro Suzuki (0.349), #2 hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka (0.320), and #9 hitter Munenori Kawasaki (0.326).
  • Centerfielder Kosuke Fukudome is probably the best-rounded player in their lineup, having hit 0.328/0.430/0.590 with 28 HR's (515 AB's) and 15 steals. He also had a 1.000 fielding percentage and 12 assists from the outfield. Sounds like a 5-tool player to me.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa, a reliver (not a closer), had a 1.36 ERA (1.58 FIP) and struck out a lidge-like 13.6 hitters/9 innings, walking ~2 per 9 and allowing only ~.5 HR/9. He's only 25, and looks like a very promising player.
  • Naoyuki Shimizu had a dreadful season last year (.490 FIP), although his ERA indicates that he was reasonably lucky (3.83). His FIP was 1.2 higher than the next worst player, and his ERA was 0.76 runs higher. Even his best season (3.13 ERA in 204 1/3 innings wouldn't rate very well vs. others on his team Why was he selected?
  • Japan's catcher, Tomoya Satozaki, has never had more than 297 AB's in a season (they play ~145 games, and many players reach 500 AB's).
  • Ichiro Suzuki ranged from 0.923 to 1.002 OPS in the japanese leagues as a starter, but has hit between 0.786 and 0.869 in the majors. Therefore, perhaps it's appropriate to subtract ~0.150 from OPS when trying to adjust Japanese league performance to major league performance? Suzuki is a rather odd hitter, though, so what about Hideki Matsui? Matsui hit between 0.983 and 1.151 OPS once he hit his stride in the Japanese Leagues. In MLB, excepting his first year, Matsui has hit 0.863-0.912. So at first blush (with low sample size) I'd say a ~0.1-0.150 adjust is probably an appropriate adjustment for a lot of hitters.
So come on, ESPN. Let's get some better info on these unknowns. Korea and Japan's players need more exposition, as do players on teams like the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa, Canada, or even South Africa. The players deserve it, and your viewers want it! -JinAZ