More than 75% of foreigners fail in NPB. Former major leaguers come to Japan every year in hopes of reviving their career and most fall on their face.
It has never been harder to be a productive player in Japan, as it’s a step above AAA and presents difficult challenges for any foreigner.
The biggest myth in baseball might be that your favorite quad-A player is gonna rake in Japan, guys like Freddy Galvis got paid millions to perform in NPB yet failed miserably, this is not an anomaly but rather the norm, the reality is that Japan chews and spits out foreigners like they are gum, but just how bad are they struggling? Let’s dive deeper.
The criteria for a player being categorized as a hit or miss is a batter must qualify in atleast one of these statlines, only hitters with over 100PA’s qualify:
- Player must accrue over 2.0WAR in the 2022 season. *WAR by npbstats.com
- Player must have 120WRC+ or higher with atleast 300 plate appearances in the 2022 season.
With that out of the way, let’s first talk about the few success stories in 2022.
- LF Adam Walker, Yomiuri Giants / 428PA 133WRC+ 2.8WAR
- 1B Dayan Viciedo, Chunichi Dragons / 532PA 134WRC+ 3.8WAR
- DH Alfredo Despaigne, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks / 331PA 135WRC+ 1.6WAR
- 1B Ryan McBroom, Hiroshima Carp / 508PA 131WRC+ 3.2WAR
- 1B Neftalí Soto, Yokohama DeNa Baystars / 412PA 133WRC+ 2.8WAR
As you can see, just 5 players made the cut, with all of them being bat first 1B/DH or a bad LF in Walker, and not a single foreign ranked in the top 20 in WAR for hitters, with Dayan Viciedo coming in 22nd.
Out of the 5 that made it, Viciedo, Despaigne and Soto have atleast played the past 5 seasons in Japan, while McBroom and Walker were rookies in 2022.
This demonstrates to an extent how foreigners (especially hitters) are treated in NPB, if you hit the ground running and can sustain production they will try their hardest to keep you, if you slump in your rookie year it probably means the end of your pro career in Japan.
NPB teams can’t afford to keep struggling foreigners for long, as they can just cycle through players hoping one of them sticks, but most don’t.
Now let’s go through the busts, with recognizable names like 9-year MLB veteran Freddy Galvis and 2020 KBO MVP Mel Rojas Jr.
- RF Gregory Polanco, Yomiuri Giants / 484PA 116WRC+ 1.5WAR
- LF Mel Rojas Jr, Hanshin Tigers / 211PA 115WRC+ 0.8WAR
- 1B Jefry Marte, Hanshin Tigers / 102PA 82WRC+ 0.0WAR
- LF Ariel Martinez, Chunichi Dragons / 286PA 133WRC+ 1.5WAR
- 1B Joe McCarthy, Orix Buffaloes / 212PA 112WRC+ 0.5WAR
- 1B Breyvic Valera, Orix Buffaloes / 127PA 72WRC+ 0.2WAR
- LF Yurisbel Gracial, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks / 386PA 116WRC+ 1.0WAR
- 3B Freddy Galvis, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks / 130PA 60WRC+ 0.0WAR
- 2B Arismendy Alcantara, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters / 285PA 95WRC+ 0.0WAR
- DH Renato Núñez, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters / 180PA 51WRC+ -0.9WAR
- LF Brian O’Grady, Saitama Seibu Lions / 465PA 112WRC+ 1.3WAR
- 1B Jantzen Witte, Saitama Seibu Lions / 128PA 46WRC+ 0.0WAR
- DH Brandon “Sushi Boy” Laird, Chiba Lotte Marines / 396PA 64WRC+ -1.1WAR
- RF Leonys Martin, Chiba Lotte Marines / 266PA 83WRC+ -0.9WAR
- SS Adeiny Hechavarria, Chiba Lotte Marines / 257PA 56WRC+ -1.0WAR
- 1B José Osuna, Tokyo Yakult Swallows / 529PA 108WRC+ 1.3WAR
- 1B José Marmolejos, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles / 223PA 84WRC+ -0.5WAR
If you can see through the lasagna of names, the bad outweighs the good vastly, with only 5/22 passing the test, good for a 22.7% hit rate on foreign hitters.
These numbers do not bode well for the “NPB is a minor league” and “he’s gonna rake in Japan” crowd, as every player save for Jantzen Witte on this list that played minor league ball also reached the majors, and yet none of them found their footing in NPB, and this isn’t even counting the dozens of foreigners who weren’t good enough to accrue 100PA.
The reason for this systemic failure is due to a couple factors.
Why are NPB Foreign Hitters struggling?
It can be hard for players to adjust to Japan’s culture, even on the diamond. Japanese baseball heavily stresses fundamentals and small ball, something that has faded away from the game in America.
The talent pool is underwhelming. Since the MLB is the biggest league in the world with vast resources, they aren’t going to offload valuable players for nothing, and if those players reach Free Agency they will always prefer to play in MLB, as the pay and prestige is higher.
And lastly, the NPB is a better league than most realize, especially on the pitching side, Japan is a country that cares deeply about baseball, more than in the US, and the homegrown players are the stars, not the foreigners.