This was originally written on November 9th. It has moved back to the front page as a reference for Twins fans who want to read about their newest potential acquisition.
On Monday, a story that had been circulating around the Japanese press re-emerged in the US, with Tim Kurkjian reporting that Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka is due to be posted this week. The Japanese media heavily covered the story when it first broke, but died down during the Nippon Series, which the Marines won. Now that hot stove season has kicked into gear there’s more to talk about.
Lotte’s management is understandably not too keen on the idea of posting Nishioka. Lotte’s management has been has made somewhat inconsistent remarks in the media. Prior to Kurkjian’s article, team director Akira Ishikawa commented in Sports Hochi “personally, I want to say no to a posting. I can’t imagine how our competitiveness would go down in the case that he isn’t here. It’s just not something I can decide, so I’ll consult with our president [Ryuzo Setoyama, the guy Bobby Valentine had a bunch of disagreements with].” Ishikawa was more positive in a Sanspo piece published on the same day: “we haven’t developed a new shortstop, but I also feel like I want to make his dream come true. If I hear something that changes me mind I want to consider it.” The latest is that the posting hasn’t been agreed to, and the two sides will discuss it on the 10th.*
So what kind of player is Nishioka? A pretty good one. Nishioka is coming off of a phenomenal year, which netted him the distinction of being my pick for Pacific League MVP. I think the question that I’m likely to be asked is how he compares to Hiroyuki Nakajima. The simple answer is that I like Nakajima better, but I wouldn’t call you crazy if you made the case that Nishioka’s skills are more transferable to MLB.
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 lead Pacific League shortstops in errors with 19 and finished last in fielding percentage at .972, but he also had more assists (440) and put-outs (222) than anyone else (data taken from this Japanese blog). The fact that he played every inning in 2010 helps his accumulated stats, though. 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 lead the Pacific League in hits with 206, becaming the second Pacific Leaguer to surpass the 200 hit mark (the first was someone you’ve heard of). He posted a 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).
If the Marines do post him, he’ll have the benefit of being a part of a rather weak class of middle infield free agents. At 26 he has some upside left, but overall I see him as a Ryan Theriot/Chone Figgins type.
* Update: Nishioka requested to be posted on the 10th (JST). The discussion with the team will take place after the Japan-Korea Club Championship game, which is scheduled for November 13th.