When Wikipedia is all that will do: Hiroyuki Nakajima

Hiroyuki Nakajima has been bid upon, and we here at the Squeeze are anxiously waiting the news.

As an upappologetic fanboy of the Japanese way of playing baseball, I myself am hoping this is a coy Alex Anthopoulos signing, but we’ll keep fandom out of this one, and take a look at where he may end up, and what impact he may have in America. Or, Canada.

About Nakajima

Tangibles:

NPB statistics
(through 2010 season)
Batting average   .302
Home runs   133
RBI   564
Stolen bases   113

Those are some pretty suave counting stats at first glance. Unfortunately, I do not know if a Fangraphs equivalent exists for NPB (if one knows of such a website, let us know), so we cannot really get into advanced metrics. I would assume his career stats in the MLB would approach a .280 AVG, 10-15 HR per season at best, and steals could remain consistent with his NPB numbers, however, this would also depend on his landing place: think Athletics versus Angels. And RBIs, well, they’re just a shitty stat in general – but I imagine based on where he is in the lineup and such, that his RBI rate would diminish.

What I like about Nakajima, and what everyone seems to like, is his unique combination for power and speed, and general hitting ability. In Japan, he’s had a career OPS of .845. In relation to MLB second basemen and shortstops, you’ll see two with a better OPS in the ’10s: Robinson Cano (.899!) and Dustin Pedroia (.861). Now I am assuming Nakajima’s is so high because of OBP and not SLUG%, but you get the idea. The guys seems legit, even if he takes a hit coming to the US.

Year Age Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI SB AVG OBP SLG OPS
2001 18 Seibu Did not play at major league level
2002 19 4 7 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .143 .143 .143 .286
2003 20 44 89 12 23 3 1 4 40 11 1 .258 .327 .449 .776
2004 21 133 502 70 144 22 3 27 253 90 18 .287 .349 .504 .853
2005 22 118 405 56 111 21 2 11 169 60 11 .274 .327 .417 .744
2006 23 105 412 76 126 22 1 16 198 63 14 .306 .368 .481 .849
2007 24 143 533 68 160 28 5 12 234 74 9 .300 .361 .439 .801
2008 25 Saitama Seibu 124 486 75 161 32 0 21 256 81 25 .331 .410 .527 .937
2009 26 144 560 100 173 31 3 22 276 92 20 .309 .398 .493 .891
2010 27 Saitama Seibu 130 503 80 158 33 3 20 259 93 15 .314 .385 .511 .896
Career 815 2994 457 899 159 15 113 1427 471 98 .300 .368 .476 .845

Now, some of the information is a bit outdated, such as:

His playing style has often been compared to that of a young Kazuo Matsui (who currently plays second base for the Houston Astros).

…which isn’t the worst situation. I remember Kazuo being slick at second, but definitely sloppy throwing the ball around the diamond. Japanese 1B are usually excellent fielders and light hitters, so we in North America only see them in International play – with an exception on Hee Sop Choi, who played a brief career with the Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs.

Possible Landing Spots

For this part I am only going to look at best-fits based on gaping 2B holes, financial freedom, and competent ownership and management (sorry Dodgers, Cardinals, etc.)

Although many teams have holes at second base, not all have the financial freedom to first win the bid on negotiating rights, as well as the salary that comes after. And some have just shown no indication of being interested in Japanese players. Because of this, I’ll exclude the Padres, Royals and Marlins (especially if Albert Pujols were to accept the morbidly obese contract of 10-Years/$200 Million).

With that, I’ve narrowed Nakajima’s best fits to the following:

Toronto Blue Jays

  • My own homerism aside, the Jays are a great fit for Nakajima. Also, Nakajima’s agent, Don Nomura has tweeted about the Jay’s interest, which so far we haven’t heard of another team with intent on singing him. The bottom line is that if Kelly Johnson doesn’t accept arbitration (which, as it seems, is likely with no forfeited pick to whoever signs him) the Jays have a hole, money to spend, and a fanbase and management that’s ready to win now.

Detroit Tigers

  • Eventually, Dave Dombrowski will realize that Ramon Santiago…just ins’t that good. Tigers seem open to spending some money this season, and they’ll need to improve a bit this offseason in order to stay ahead of the surging Cleveland Indians.

San Francisco Giants

  • Whether Sabean realizes what’s good for the team or not remains to be seen, but the biggest 2B hole in the bigs is in San Francisco. Of their “depth” in the middle infield, their brightest spot is…(really?) Mike Fontenot.

Washington Nationals

  • Sure, the Nats have Danny Espinosa, yet Nakajima would be a considerable upgrade. Forget what you’ve heard of Espinosa’s potential – he strikes out too much, is an atrocious fielder and though his power is considerable, his other tools, or lack of, are not improving. Plus, the Nationals have a pile of money that they’re itching to spend this offseason.

It remains a possibly, of course, that Nakajima would be an upgrade nearly everywhere in the MLB, as it’s not the best time to be looking for a second baseman. However, in the past he’s played 3B and SS as well, making him out to what seems to be a rather versatile player. Playing devil’s advocate, the same was probably uttered about Tsuyoshi Nishioka last season (who, in his defense, was about the break out before Nick Swisher broke his leg). No matter what, bidding on Japanese players is always going to be a gamble (see Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa). We’ll see how it turns out, and expect to see a new post here either tonight or tomorrow, after the winning bidder is announced.

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