Mackey: How will Nishioka fare in transition from Japan to MLB?
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On Friday afternoon, the Minnesota Twins won the rights to 27-year-old Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, reportedly bidding $5.3 million. The team now has 30 days to complete a deal with Nishioka and his representatives.
In the meantime, the Twins must also decide by December 2 whether to offer arbitration to shortstop J.J. Hardy, and they'll be waiting on Orlando Hudson to decide whether to accept arbitration prior to November 30.
Talk about a slew of decisions...
As for Nishioka -- a shortstop by trade who has the ability to shift to second base, according to various reports -- it's unclear what his contract will eventually look like, but one would have to assume something in the neighborhood of three or four years at $3-5 million per year.
The switch-hitting Nishioka led the Pacific League with a robust .346 batting average last season, finishing the year with a .346/.423/.482 slash line and 11 home runs. His career slash line is .293/.364/.426 with 55 home runs and 174 stolen bases in 3,111 at-bats.
Prior to his 2010 outburst, Nishioka's best season came in 2008 when he hit .300/.357/.463 with 13 home runs.
So which is it? Can the Twins expect an MLB-translated version of the .346/.423/.482 Nishioka, or the one who hovers around .300/.350/.430ish?
Considering Nishioka's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was a nearly-unsustainable .389 last season -- Shin-Soo Choo leads baseball over the past three seasons with a .360 BABIP, and .320 is considered high-end -- his 2008 and career numbers are likely more reflective of his true talent level.
Then, of course, those 2008 and career numbers will translate from the Pacific League to the Major Leagues, which generally means another drop-off.
Still, a drop-off from .300/.350/.430ish isn't terrible.
Perhaps the best comparisons for the transition from Japan to the U.S. are fellow middle infielders Akinori Iwamura, Kaz Matsui and Tad Iguchi.
Japanese career (1995-2003): Hit .309 with 150 HR and 306 SB in 4,638 at-bats. Hit 36 and 33 HR in his final two seasons.
MLB career (age 30, 2004-2010): .267/.321/.380 with 32 HR and 102 SB in 2,555 plate appearances
Best MLB season (2008): .293/.354/.427 with 6 HR and 20 SB with Rockies
Japanese career (1997-2004): Hit .271 with 149 HR and 159 SB in 3,175 at-bats. Belted 30, 18, 27 and 24 HR in final four seasons.
MLB career (age 30, 2005-2008): .268/.338/.401 with 44 HR and 48 SB in 2,078 plate appearances
Best MLB season (2006): .281/.352/.422 with 18 HR and 11 SB with White Sox
Japanese career (1998-2006): Hit .293 with 188 HR and 67 SB in 3,649 at-bats. Hit 44, 30 and 32 HR in final three seasons.
MLB career (age 28, 2007-2010): .267/.345/.375 with 16 HR and 32 SB in 1,755 plate appearances
Best MLB season (2007): .285/.359/.411 with 7 HR and 12 SB with Rays
All three players -- and lump Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui into this same boat -- saw drastic drop-offs in power production. These three also failed to steal as many bases per plate appearance, and their best MLB seasons would hardly qualify as spectacular.
Other Nishioka nuggets:
• If the Twins thought Hardy's durability was an issue, it's possible they could experience similar levels of annoyance with Nishioka, who has missed at least 14 games and as many as 29 games over the past five seasons with wrist, knee and neck injuries.
In fairness. Nishioka played all 144 games in 2010, becoming the second player in Pacific League history to tally 200 hits (206).
His injury history helps the Twins in negotiations.
• While Hardy and Hudson ran station-to-station last season, Nishioka stole 22 bases. Over the past six seasons, he has stolen an average of 28 bases.
By comparison, the Twins have had just one player since 2001 steal 28 bases (Carlos Gomez, 33 in 2008).
That said, various reports indicate Nishioka's foot-speed is not top-end, which means he could see a drop-off in his stolen-base productivity in the U.S. Not to mention, his career success rate is just under 72%. League-leaders are well above 80%, and in many cases 90%.
• Defensively, a Fangraphs scouting report says Nishioka has above-average range for a shortstop, but a below-average throwing arm. Per Fangraphs, Nishioka led Pacific League shortstops by committing 19 errors, which also ranked him last in fielding percentage, but he also had more assists (440) and put-outs (222) than his peers.
It's also worth noting Nishioka has won the Japanese equivalent of a Gold Glove twice -- once at shortstop and once at second base.