Nerd that I am, I decided to compile a spreadsheet of all 28 Japanese players who have played in Major League Baseball. You can Download japanese_players_in_mlb_102906.xls here.
Some highlights and fun facts:
You might think that a Japanese player first played in MLB in 1995, when Hideo Nomo took the Majors by storm. Not true. The first Japanese player to play in MLB was reliever Masanori Murakami back in 1964 for the Giants. There’s an interesting story behind that. Not only was Murakami the first, he was the youngest at 20 years old. The next youngest was Mac Suzuki, who came to the Mariners at 21.
The most common type of player to come from Japan is a reliever. Relievers make up almost half of the players to come from Japan to MLB.
The Mets have had eight Japanese players, more than any other team. The best year from any of them was Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s 2001 when he amassed 3.5 wins. Shinjo played all three outfield positions for New York.
Of course you could guess that the best-ever season by a Japanese player was one of Ichiro’s. It was his ’01 debut, when he was worth 9 wins. Best year by a pitcher was Hideo Nomo in 2003; he was worth nearly 8 wins for L.A.
It’s also obvious that Ichiro has totaled the most wins throughout his career (more than 45). You may be surprised to learn that Hideki Matsui places just fifth on the list, behind Nomo, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, and Tomo Ohka.
I bet you think 2006 was the best year for Japanese players, what with guys like Takashi Saito and Kenji Johjima joining MLB. Nope – Japanese players were slightly more productive in 2002. Back in ’02 there were major contributions from Ichiro, Nomo, Ohka, and Kaz Sasaki. You can point to Matsui and Shinji Mori’s injuries as the reason 2006 wasn’t the banner year. Regardless, I’m sure we’ll fly past the Japanese contribution of 36 wins from 2002 in the upcoming season.