NPB Position Players

Q: Is it true that NPB position players coming to MLB have all been busts other than Ichiro?

A: No!

Player Position Age Posting Contract 3 Yr fWAR 3 Yr PA 3 Yr Value 1st Yr fWAR 3 Yr Net Val. $5M/W Val.
Ichiro Suzuki OF 27 $13M 3/$14M +16.2 2191 $42.7M 6.1 +$16M $81M
Tsuyoshi Shinjo OF 29 FA 3/$2.5M +3.4 960 $8.5M 2.0 +$5M $17M
So Taguchi OF 33 FA 3/$3M +1.5 284 $4.3M 1.7 +$1M $7.5M
Hideki Matsui OF/DH 28 FA 3/$21M +6.0 2079 $19.6M 0.2 -$1M $30M
Kazuo Matsui SS/2B 28 FA 3/$20M +1.0 1069 $3.4M 0.4 -$17M $5M
Tadahito Iguchi 2B 30 FA 3/$5M +6.8 1742 $25.1M 3.4 +$20M $34M
Norihiro Nakamura 3B 31 ??? 1/$0.5M^ -0.4 41 -$1.2M N/A -$2M $0M
Kenji Johjima C 29 FA 3/$16.5M +5.3 1464 $20.7M 2.9 +$4M $26.5M
Akinori Iwamura 2B/3B 28 $4.5M 3/$7.7M +6.6 1562 $25.5M 2.7 +$13M $33M
Kosuke Fukudome OF 30 FA 4/$48M +5.8 1622 $25.4M 1.6 -$24M $29M
Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS 26 $5M 3/$9M -1.4 240 -$6.2M N/A N/A N/A
Norichika Aoki OF 30 $2.5M ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???

This is looking at NPB position player productivity over their first three seasons and/or the life of their initial MLB contract. Things to note: So Taguchi was handled weird (the Cardinals kept him in the minors for a few years) and for a variety of reasons his numbers may not be a very useful comparison; Norihiro Nakamura was signed on a minor league deal and only had a cup-of-coffee in the majors, so ignore his numbers; Tsuyoshi Nishoka was horrible last season but he's relatively young and was injured so it's very possible he turns things around and earns his contract; Hideki Matsui would have been worth much more if the Yankees hadn't stubbornly kept him in the OF (including CF) where he totaled more than -50 UZR (roughly -5 WAR) over his first three seasons; Kaz Matsui was similarly bad at SS (-12 UZR) before he was moved to 2B where he struggled with injuries, but he later had some very solid seasons in Colorado and Houston.

If you ignore the players who barely played (<300 PA) and adjust for a more realistic 2012-14 Dollar/WAR of $5M, the average production over their first three years in MLB for NPB position players has been worth $31,900,000. If you throw out Ichiro for being a robot, the average production drops to "just" $24,900,000 over their first three seasons, but that's including Hideki Matsui lumbering around CF for some reason. If you throw out the high (Ichiro) and the low (Kaz Matsui), the average 3-year production has been $28,250,000.

Q: Did Doug Melvin pay Norichika Aoki anywhere close to $25M-$32M?

A: Doubtful! Ask again later.

Q: Were all of these players way better than Aoki?

A: No! Career stats at time of NPB->MLB jump:

Player Position AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Ichiro Suzuki 3B/OF 0.353 0.434 0.522 0.956 0.420
Tsuyoshi Shinjo OF 0.249 0.307 0.422 0.729 0.315
So Taguchi OF 0.277 0.334 0.387 0.721 0.318
Hideki Matsui OF/DH 0.304 0.413 0.569 0.982 0.424
Kazuo Matsui SS/2B 0.309 0.361 0.486 0.847 0.367
Tadahito Iguchi 2B 0.271 0.349 0.471 0.820 0.355
Kenji Johjima C 0.299 0.360 0.517 0.877 0.376
Akinori Iwamura 3B/2B 0.300 0.366 0.519 0.885 0.380
Kosuke Fukudome OF 0.305 0.389 0.542 0.931 0.401
Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS 0.293 0.364 0.426 0.790 0.348
Norichika Aoki (pre-2011) OF 0.336 0.411 0.472 0.883 0.390
Norichika Aoki (post-2011) OF 0.336 0.401 0.454 0.855 0.379

By "wOBA" I just mean a rough estimate using the formula: (OBP*1.75+SLG)/3

Obviously Ichiro is the best, but one could argue that Aoki is third best or even second best, factoring in defense and the fact that NPB used a different ball pre-2011. It's important to note that the main thing that seems not to translate is power and SLG. Fukudome was a slugger in Japan; his OBP did not actually fall that much when he jumped to the states, relatively speaking, but his SLG plummeted.

Q: Did Aoki have a poor 2011 in Japan?

A: Yes, so what!

Q: Only three players on that list have a career .400+ OBP: Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, and Aoki. Is one of these players near the prime of his career and currently on the Milwaukee Brewers?

A: Yes!