Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reasonable expectations for Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Twins' new middle infielder, adds a touch of the exotic to the team.

What he adds to the lineup remains to be seen.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka
We know that he hit .346 last season for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan's Pacific League, that he was the first player in that league to top 200 hits since Ichiro, that he has won their Gold Glove at both second base and shortstop.

We also know that 2010 was far, far better his previous seasons. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was a lack of nagging injuries, maybe it was legitimate improvement — most likely it was a combination of factors.

Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, took pains on Saturday to note that the Marines didn't have to post Nishioka and didn't have to accept the Twins bid. He thanked Chiba Lotte for doing so. It's quite possible that Chiba Lotte figured it was selling high on Nishioka.

We ought not expect an infielding Ichiro to step into the Twins lineup next spring. The Twins clearly do not; it took, in 2000, a bid of more than $13 million for the Mariners to win the rights to Ichiro. The winning bid for Nishioka was a comparatively paltry $5.3 million. The contract the 26-year-old signed last week — $9.25 million over three years with a club option for a fourth season — is considerably lower than that signed by Kaz Matsui when he came stateside.

Matsui is perhaps an informing comp for Nishioka. As Aaron Gleeman has pointed out repeatedly, Nishioka's career season is a bit less that what Matsui averaged in Japan. And Matsui is generally regarded as having been a bust in MLB. (Matsui came over for his age 28 season; Nishioka turns 27 in July.)

Matsui — who has signed with a Japanese team for 2011 — hit .267/.321/.380 in seven U.S. seasons. That is essentially what Orlando Hudson hit for the Twins in 2010 (.268/.338/.372).

Hudson, who is about six years older than Nishioka, signed with San Diego on Friday — two years at more than $5 million. Even if you include the posting fee, Nishioka figures to be cheaper than Hudson per year, and with the Twins for a longer period.

Replacing Hudson with Nishioka makes sense on the margins. It doesn't figure to be a major upgrade. Don't expect a star.


At least three teams in the past decade advanced to the World Series with a Japanese regular at second base: the  2005 Chicago White Sox, with Tadahito Iguchi; the 2007 Colorado Rockies, with Matsui; and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, with Akinori Iwamura. Each was a short-timer.

That doesn't mean a lot, but at least winning with a Japanese infielder isn't unprecedented.


  1. But Ed, people are going to expect a star, and they will be disappointed if they don't get one, you know.

  2. Sounds like his babip was a fluke, sure to regress to his mean.

    so i bet his team posted him and cashed in quickly.....

    fangraphs writer with scouting report on Nishioka

    In the field:

    "Nishioka has two Gold Gloves on his resume, awarded in 2005 (as a second baseman) and 2007 (as a shortstop). My observation is that he really has great range, but his arm is a somewhat below average as a shortstop. Nishioka's 2010 fielding results illustrate how traditional stats can be misleading — he led Pacific League shortstops in errors with 19 and finished last in fielding percentage at .972, but he also had more assists (440) and putouts (222) than anyone else …. Overall though, Nishioka feels more like a second baseman to me in MLB. And the standard disclaimer about adapting from turf to natural grass applies."

    At the plate:

    "After a career filled with nagging wrist, knee and neck injuries, 2010 was the first season that Nishioka was healthy enough to play a full, 144-game schedule, and he responded with a career year. Notably, he led the Pacific League in hits with 206, becoming the second Pacific Leaguer to surpass the 200 hit mark (Ichiro Suzuki the first) . He posted career highs in all three slash categories, at .346/.423/.482 easily eclipsing his previous bests of .300/.366/.463. Nishioka's batting average was backed by a robust .389 BABIP, so regardless of what league he plays in next year, it will remain to be seen whether his 2010 performance was the result of luck, a genuine step forward, or good health. My guess is that a little of each was involved. Nishioka is not much of a home run threat, but has good speed and will leg out the occasional triple, and swiped 22 bases in 33 attempts last year. He is a switch-hitter, who hit well from both sides of the plate last year (.387 as a righty, .329 as a lefty)."