Meet James, a teacher in Shimane-ken, Japan, and a very devoted Pirates fan.
Over the last year, James has shared some of his vision with me about the club and recently wrote some very profound material which he has agreed to allow me to share with you today.
I’m going to post the writings as I received them so they will be broken up a bit, but well worth following.
In James’ own words:
A couple things to know about Japanese baseball. Well, I’m not an expert but I have read up on it at times. The ball is slightly smaller, so that’s something the players have to adjust to when going to the states. Also, each club gets to choose what kind of ball they use. The size and color is regulated, but not the maker. So teams can choose to use balls that really fly off the bat.
A lot of the Japanese parks are smaller than US parks, so again easier to jack one out. Japanese teams only have 1 minor league team each and often top HS players start in the Japanese majors. (That’s why you have 10 year free-agents in their late 20’s).
Recently I heard Japanese staff use 6 man rotations, so putting a Japanese starter in the Majors may wear him out before the season is done (see Matsuzaka). The Japanese game is much more conservative. Looking now I see this year’s #13 hitter for average had 51 SH’s!
The bi-yearly HS baseball tournament makes stars out of HS players. Last year a kid who would wipe his forehead with a blue cloth won it all and became a national idol, he decided to go to college and led Wasada to the national college title this year. He said he’d be interested in playing in America, but wanted to be allowed to start in the majors like he would in Japan.
But beware that pitchers who go deep in that tournament often will pitch EVERY game their team plays, go the distance, and do it again the next day. We’re talking 350 pitches in 2 days sometimes!
Well, Darvish would be awsome, but he’s young and very unlikely to be moved by his club. Also, since he’s half-Iranian, the US may not be his favorite place right now.
Norichika Aoki looks good. Career .335 hitter with rising power each year while his K’s have dropped each year.
Kyuji Fujikawa has a career 2.11 ERA, strikes out way more than 9 per 9 IP, walks almost nobody, and gives up very few hits.
James captures a swing on film
— day two —
Yu Darvish is now perhaps the most famous pitcher in Japan. He just finished his 3rd season and recently turned 21. 26 GS, 208 IP, 123 H, 49 BB, 210 K, 1.82 ERA.
Easily as good or better than the best season Matsuzaka ever had. If you took him to America and doubled that ERA, it would still be good. We would have to give up some serious talent or money to get him, but it would be worth it. Imagine the media circus and money Matsuzaka generated for Boston. Darvish would be the same, maybe more since he is younger, wilder, and better looking.
The guy with the blue handkerchief I mentioned is Yuki Saito. He had 42 IP in the last 4 days of the 2006 Koshien Tournament! He had an epic duel in the championship game with Masahiro Tanaka, who broke Matsuzaka’s HS record for K’s.
Tanaka just finished his first pro season. Given that he turned 19 last month, he was 18 the whole season. After a rough start, he finished 11-7, 186 IP, 183 H, 68 BB, 196 K, 3.82 ERA. Imagine a HS pitcher in the states going straight to AAA or the ML and doing that!
In America my JHS & HS teams played maybe 2 or 3 games a week. But here, (at least in JHS) the teams mostly just practice after school and go to occational tournaments. There is no "baseball season" for these kids. If you are on a sports team, you practice that sport all year.
So it’s possible that the Japanese players are more polished at a younger age. America has a much larger population with people from all around the world, so we may have more people with a high level of athletic ability. That said, as guys like Tommy John showed, skill can be as important if not more important than pure athletic ability.
Other ideas I’ve had that a desperate franchise with a terrible minor league system may try:
* Allow those guys who were good hitters and pitchers in HS or college to develop as both. When you go through minor league stats as much as I have lately, you notice there are a lot more people than you’d think that have changed rolls and made it to the majors.
If they managed to become near major league level in both, then you’d have a pretty useful player. That’s an extra bat on the bench or arm in the pen. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see if JVB was as good of a power hitter in the pros as he was in college?
* Sign the best HS knuckleballers you can find. Nobody else is, so you’d be able to grab all of the best without wasting a draft pick. Ask Boston if they think Wakefield is useful. Having 1 or 2 of those guys on the major league staff would make the average stuff of the rest of the staff look a little better.
* Let other guys who aren’t top prospect learn the knuckleball and mix it in with their normal stuff. Contrary to the old belief that the knuckle messes up a pitcher’s other pitches, there is zero evidence for that.
* Sign top junk ball pitchers. Again, most are not drafted, so can be gotten for almost no cost. Most teams just draft guys who throw hard and hope they can learn other pitches later on. Why not sign guys who already are good at other pitches? Worst case, they don’t make the majors but help their teammates learn those pitches better.
— at this point I kidded James that the Pirates should add him to their scouting staff part-time, and he reponded:
That would be fun, but I have no eye for judging talent. I’ve just played computer sims for a long time, so I have some experience messing with stats and #’s. Real life is different. But I’m a big believer that if a guy consistently gives you good stats, he must be doing something right. You can only be lucky for so long.
Then you see guys like Terry Leach who put in great stats almost every year, but didn’t get a fair chance until he was 33. Guy was in his 3rd season of putting in a sub-2 ERA in AA before he was up to AAA+ for good. Why? Because he was a submariner? Just dumb. Now there may have been other reasons.
One thing I like about your blog is that you often discuss some of these other reasons that I don’t see just looking at the #’s.
— here I interjected that the Pirates might not be quite ready to jump into the Japanese market too heavy, and James said:
Unfortunately, I think you are right. The behind the scenes changes this year didn’t impress me at all. You had guys with experience, guys good teams wanted, local guys that would have played well with the local media, and we didn’t grab them.
Now we have to suffer front office guys learning the ropes as well as the players. Just crazy.
I like to play OOTP baseball sim. I like to take the worst team in the league and see how long it takes to make them a good team. First thing I do is sign all the top scouts and coaches. Takes top dollar, but it pays off. There are a lot fewer coaches and scouts than players, so it’s not such a strain to pay them well. And if you have ace scouts and coaches, then the players have a lot more respect for them and are more likely to listen to their advice.
How kewl is that?
I live for this.
Keep the pictures and profiles coming folks! You are getting a lot of rave reviews from everyone around the team.
How to add $12 million to current payroll and build a contender
To build a winning small market team, one needs big winning maneuvers. Simply nibbling at the team chemistry and makeup will not build a contender. Instead, it will modestly improve a loser. Instead, significant change should be pursued, but rather than gut the team, here is how I propose Pittsburgh accomplishes it with realistic financial constraints.
Step One: Address a weakness boldy.
This should be done through a free-agent signing that will 100% solidify a position while giving us an influx of players at the position to deal over the winter. I will concede Pittsburgh may have to pay more than market value for the signing, but it will be worth it. I propose Aaron Rowand. Who wouldn’t want a gold glove centerfielder who hit above .300 with close to 30 home runs? Pittsburgh would have to act serious to get him, it would be difficult, but now would be the time to strike. Get him for $12 million, and let the remaining steps fall into place.
Step Two: Deal the influx.
After signing Rowand, the Pirates would clearly have a more than enough capable outfielders with other team weaknesses. This is where Xavier Nady comes into play. I would package Jason Bay with Ian Snell and go after a third basemen. There are plenty of teams who would take Snell and Bay for a third baseman. The one that comes to mind for me…the Colorado Rockies and Garret Atkins. Sure he had a slow start, so his value is slightly down, but a torrid second half maintained decent value for the young, cheap third-basemen.
Step Three: Trade the deadweight and fill the holes.
This includes trades for anything from low-level prospects to proven, veteran, utility men for the likes of Chris Duffy, Jose Bautista and Ryan Doumit or failed pitchers…we all know who can go. Beyond that, the pitching staff needs finalized. Go for Kyle Lohse, Carlos Silva, Jason Jennings and Matt Clement. Use the savings from Bay’s salary to pay for a combination of these pitchers. Finally, get a few relievers to fill out the pen. Now look at the team:
C – Ronny Paulino (gotten count on Russell)
1B – Adam LaRoche
2B – Freddy Sanchez
3B – Garrett Atkins
SS – Jack Wilson
LF – Nyjer Morgan
CF – Aaron Rowand
RF – Xavier Nady
Steven Pearce – can get plenty of time at First and in Right
Andrew McCutchen – unless he wins the LF job in ST
Jose Castillo – good for IF backup
Nate McLouth – will help smooth the learning curve for M&M – could also earn the job in LF
Utility IF of your choosing
Carlos Silva/Matt Morris
Kyle Lohse/Matt Morris
Bullington/Burnett/whoever else wins a job in the pen
Is this team young? Yes. Is there risk? Yes – any small market team must assume that every year. We as fans must understand some years will be a hit, some a miss. But you can’t continue to attempt the same thing over and over again to no avail. Does this team lack the one big bat we may need? Maybe, but I see four guys in that lineup who would easily project for 30 HRs each.
Add to that some other pop and speed on the field and on the bench. Is the rotation unproven, yet again? Yes, but the likes of Silva, the potential of Lohse or any of our other young starters to hit their stride are there. We know we have enough young arms that at least one will work.
Is this team deep? No, but a small market teams should not be. A small market team must be very willing to hold commodities and move goods, and be fearless of being a constant participant in that cycle. If Atkins goes down, plug in Walker. If Rowand goes down, plug in McCutcheon. If Nady goes down, plug in Pearce. If Morgan goes down, plug in McLouth. If a pitcher goes down, reach down into the farm until the cream rises to the top.
Yes, this is a bold plan. Yes, it would push the financial constraints of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it would certainly be fresh faces with the potential to compete. If this plan doesn’t work, rewrite a new one next offseason.
However, my number one concern is the new management does not have a plan, bold or not. I would prefer a bold plan, but I am hoping management sat down, figured out what they needed to legitimately compete, and mapped a way to get there. Any team can do it, but they have to focus on building a team within financial constraints, not being financially constrained while building a team.
I encourage the new management to think bold. But more importantly, I encourage them to have a plan. Something that appears to be desperate lacking at this point.
Bucco Blog is going to start a new feature called the Guest Writer Column. If you have something to say to Pirate fans or an idea on improving the club, send it to us using the email link on the right sidebar. Each Sunday we’ll post the best of the best right here.
BC submitted the following letter November 2cd:
— start guest column —
I was reading Nate Silver’s article at BP on a "Wins" budget – where you set a target number of victories, and then build towards that goal at the least cost.
If the Pirates goal is 85 wins (definitely enough to compete in this division), it would take about an extra 120 VORP. It could be spread roughly 50 hitting, 50 pitching, 20 defense.
First, identify the holes. In season they did a good job of improving the bench. There were quite a few less negative VORP guys in 07 than in 06.
Trade Nady, Bautista, LaRoche. We have Pearce. Get 2b, rf (prefer lefty), 4 & 5 starters. Strive for no one in lineup below avg in offense or defense.
CF might be nice too, make Nate 4th of, Nyjer 5th. Everyone in top half [Zone Rating] is either expensive or can’t hit, so search high minors for ML ready player.
I put Pearce at first. His career MLE [major league equivalency] come in just about the same as LaRoche, last year was more like Aramis Ramirez. This makes LaRoche is available in trade.
Bauitista is a hole. His hitting in the majors exactly matches his minor MLEs. This is as good as he gets, and his defense is bad.
Look for a 2nd baseman, moving Freddy back to 3rd where he is much better defensively than at 2b. Set parameters – under 27, better than average fielder, better than average hitter – guys like Aaron Hill, Mark Ellis, Ian Kinsler – LaRoche for Kinsler? There may be more in high minors, but I’m leery of trading established ML value for someone who’s not yet proven.
Nady hits lefties well, but he’s very average against righties – but there are many more righties out there. He’s also at best avg on defense. Lets find a left batter who can flip that, and who would replace LaRoche’s lefty power (with the avg RF in PNC, but long left center, LaRoche lost many left-center HRs). Fukudome would be nice, but he’ll probably be overpaid (I project him 300/380/470, good defense, ex arm, 30-40 VORP – I’d give him something like 3/25+option for 4). Going back to young, cheap, above average, Jeremy Hermida looks nice, flips Nady’s splits, and has vg ZR. Luke Scott is a little older.
Look to improve 3-5 in the rotation. Maholm might do, but Morris and Duke I have no confidence in. Just getting Maholm level (league avg, 10-15 VORP) replacing Morris and Duke would help alot.
Paulino can’t hit righties, Doumit can’t hit lefties – put then in a strict platoon, like Nicosia/Ott.