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  • Writer's pictureBruin Sports Analytics

The Next MLB Asian Sensations

By: Nathan Kim

Source: Yonhap


As Asian stars in the MLB continue to proliferate, stars like Shohei Ohtani, Kim Ha Seong, Bae Ji Hwan, and Kodai Senga are able to garner increased attention from international fanbases.

However before these players were able to display their talents on the field, many other Asian baseball pioneers such as Yu Darvish and Ryu Hyun-Jin paved a path for these players to come to the MLB today. These players were able to transition to the MLB through the MLB posting system, which allows Asian athletes an opportunity to advertise their talents to MLB organizations, and sign through free agency.


With the emergence of Shohei Ohtani and numerous Asian ball players, fans may be wondering who the next Asian sensation will be. Fans have already seen a taste of Asian baseball talent with current athletes with the Boston Red Sox’s Mastaka Yoshida or the New York Mets Kodai Senga. In this article, we will be discussing two players with the most potential to transition to the MLB with Orix Buffaloes Starting Pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Kiwoom Heroes Center Fielder Lee Jung Hoo.


We will be analyzing these players’ career statistics excluding this ongoing 2023 baseball season in the respective NPB and KBO leagues. Both athletes will be compared with other pitchers and outfielders who moved to the MLB or had interests from MLB organizations. Within the comparison group, we will be analyzing those players’ career statistics before they moved to an MLB organization or when they were placed in the posting system but failed to move to the MLB.


The starting pitchers whom we will be analyzing are: Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda, Yusei Kikuchi, Kodai Senga, and Shintaro Fujinama.

The outfielders whom we will be analyzing are: Kim Hyun Soo, Seiya Suzuki, Masataka Yoshida, Son Ah Seop, Kim Jaehwan, and Shogo Akiyoma.


For starting pitchers, we will analyze these statistical values:

-K/9: Strikeouts per 9 Innings; BB/9 Base-On-Balls/Walks per 9 Innings

-ERA: Earned Runs Average; WHIP: Walks and Hits per Inning

-BA: Batting Average Allowed; BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Play Allowed

-Wild Pitches/HBP: Hit by Pitches


For Outfielders, we will analyze these statistical values:

-wOBA: Weighted On Base Average; BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Played

-SO: Strikeouts; BB: Base-On-Balls

-Fielding Percentage: Properly handle batted ball; RF/G: Range Factor per Game: put-outs+assists over games played; Errors: Number of errors made


Here we will discuss the players’ accolades and whether they entered the MLB or not. Players written in blue are players who are still playing in the MLB.


Key

Name

Age in Posting/MLB FA​

Career Accolades before Posting/FA

Posting System

Y/N


Entered MLB

Y/N


Blue: Currently MLB

Black: Not in MLB


Yu Darvish

25

(2012 MLB Season)


5x NPB All Star

3x Pacific League SO Title

2x Pacific League ERA Title

2x Pacific League MVP

2x Pacific League Mitsui Golden Glove Award

2x Pacific League Best Nine Award

Eiji Sawamura Award

Japanese Series Champion


Y

Y

Texas Rangers


Shohei Ohtani

24

(2018 MLB Season)


5x NPB All Star

Pacific League MVP

Pacific League ERA Leader

Designated Hitter Best Nine

Pacific League Battery Award

Japanese Series Champion


Y

Y

Anaheim Angels


Yusei Kikuchi

28

(2019 MLB Season)


3x NPB All Star

Pacific League ERA Title

Pacific League wins Leader

Mitsui Golden Glove Award


Y

Y

Seattle Mariners

Kenta Maeda

27

(2016 MLB Season)


5x NPB All Star

3x Best Nine Award

5x Mitsui Golden Glove Award

2x Central League wins Champion

2x Eiji Sawamura Award

3x Central League ERA Champion

2x Central League strikeout Champion

Japanese Triple Crown


Y

Y

LA Dodgers


Shintaro Fujinama

29

(2023 MLB Season)


3x NPB All Star

Central League SO Leader


N

Y

Oakland Athletics


Kodai Senga

30

(2023 MLB Season)


3x NPB All Star

5x Japanese Series Champion

Japanese Triple Crown

2x Pacific League SO Leader

Pacific League ERA Leader

Pacific League wins Champion

2x Pacific League Best Nine Award

2x Mitsui Golden Glove Award


N

Y

New York Mets


Yoshinobu Yamamoto

25

(2024 MLB Season)


2x Pacific League MVP

2x Eiji Sawamura Award (CY Young equivalence)

2x Japanese Triple Crown

3x Pacific League ERA Champion

4x NPB All Star

2x Pacific League

Golden Glove Award

2x Pacific League Best Nine Award


-

-


Key

Name

Age in Posting/MLB FA

Career Accolades before Posting/FA

Posting System

Y/N


Entered MLB

Y/N


Seiya Suzuki

28

(2022 MLB Season)


5x Central League Golden Glove Award

6x Best Nine Award

5x NPB All Star

2x Central League Batting Champion

2x Central League OBP Leader


Y

Y

Chicago Cubs


Masataka Yoshida

29

(2023 MLB Season)

2x Pacific League Batting Champion Japanese Series Champion 4x Pacific League Best Nine Award 4x NPB All Star NPB HR Derby Winner

Y

Y

(Boston Red Sox)


Son Ah Seop

27

(2015 MLB Season)


4x KBO Golden Glove Awards

2x KBO Hits Leader


Y​

N

Kim Jaehwan

29

(2020 MLB Season)


2x Korean Series Champion

KBO MVP

2x KBO Golden Gloves Award

KBO HR Leader

KBO RBI Leader


Y

N

Kim Hyun Soo

28

(2016 MLB Season)


4x KBO Golden Glove Award

KBO Batting Champion

Korean Series Champion


N

Y

Baltimore Orioles


Shogo Akiyama

32

(2020 MLB Season)


6x Pacific League Golden Glove Award

4x Pacific League Best Nine Award

5x NPB All Star


N

Y

Cincinnati Reds


Lee Jung Hoo

25

(2024 MLB Season)


KBO Rookie of the Year

5x KBO Golden Glove Award


-

-


These accolades display how successful these athletes were and that they had potential to compete in the MLB. Before analyzing players’ data. It is essential to note that not all statistical data values were recorded for some of these athletes.


First, we will analyze the average wOBA and BABIP from all the outfielders. wOBA is the weighted on base average and BABIP represents Batting Average on Balls In Play. wOBA assigns differing weights to BB, hit by pitch, singles, double, triple, and home runs. With this value, we can determine an accurate representation of the offensive value a batter has to offer,whether it is how well players are able to get on base or score runs. Meanwhile, BABIP evaluates the percentage of balls hit in play. This value can determine how successful batters are able to hit the ball.


In these plots, we graphed a horizontal intercept that represents the average value for each players’ values. We notice that in the plot below, Lee Jung Hoo ranked third in the wOBA and first in BABIP. Lee Jung Hoo has a strong ability to hit the ball and his wOBA is extremely promising considering that he is much younger than Seiya Suzuki and Masataka Yoshida when they entered the MLB.



When analyzing players like Son Ah Seop and Shogo Akiyama, who are talented at hitting but have a smaller wOBA average, we can infer that they are not strong at reaching extra bases. If their averages in their respective leagues are not high compared to other athletes, their chances of getting on base and contributing their offensive values in MLB may be low. We also have athletes like Kim Hyun Soo and Kim Jaehwan who had the lowest BABIP and wOBA averages.


With strong wOBA and BABIP averages, players’ capability of reaching on base will transfer over if they are adapting to different competition. Lee Jung Hoo displays high averages in both categories and proves that he is a capable hitter and productive at getting on base. He could provide additional hits and boost teams’ offenses. The next category to analyze will be plate discipline:the strikeout to base-on-ball ratios over the number of at bats.



While we have to take into effect that certain athletes faced more at bat situations based on age and injury history, we notice that Kim Jaehwan had the highest number of strikeouts to base-on-ball ratio while Yoshida had the lowest ratio. Lee Jung Hoo does not have many at bats considering that he is young, but his ratio is second to Yoshida.


Lee Jung Hoo has strong plate discipline considering his age. We notice that major leaguer Suzuki ranked fourth lowest with Kim Hyun Soo ranked third. Strong plate discipline is necessary to succeed as an MLB hitter. Since plate discipline is difficult to teach, athletes need to develop their plate discipline approach in their respective leagues. Especially for athletes who never competed in the MLB or minor league, adjusting to MLB pitchers, schedule, and stadiums is essential to achieve once transferring to an MLB organization. Therefore, MLB organizations would prefer to sign athletes with strong plate discipline and batting numbers. Lee Jung Hoo has that offensive capability and plate discipline. He is offensively talented, but it is also important to analyze defensive statistics as well.


The next plots we will analyze are Fielding percentage, Error count, Range Factor per Game, and ARM values.



Fielding percentage is simply the percentage of positive plays that outfielders make when the ball comes in their direction. Range factor per game is the number of plays made compared to the total number of games. ARM measures whether outfielders are able to or unable to stop runners from advancing baserunning. Although his range factor per game is not large like Yoshida and Suzuki, Lee Jung Hoo still proves that he is a capable player on defense. With the second lowest number of errors and second highest ARM value he proves that he can provide strong defense in the outfield.


Overall, we notice how offensively and defensively capable Lee Jung Hoo is compared to other athletes. Especially compared with KBO athletes, his statistical values are more significant. These values display why he has garnered much interest and potentially explains what makes him a special outfielder. Now that we have finished analyzing the outfielders, the next players to analyze are Yoshinobu Yamamoto and previous Japanese starting pitchers.


Our first plot we will be analyzing is strikeouts per 9 innings compared to walks per 9 innings.


We notice that Kenta Maeda had the lowest average number of walks and strikeouts per 9 innings, Shintaro Fujinama had the highest average number of walks per 9 innings, and Kodai Senga and Shohei Ohtani had nearly the highest average number of strikeouts per 9 innings.


In this plot, we notice that Yoshinobu Yamamoto had the second lowest average number of walks per 9 innings and is third in strikeouts per 9 innings. He proves that he possesses much control since he allows few base-on-balls while being effective at striking batters out. The next plots we will analyze are ERA vs WHIP, BA vs BABIP allowed, and Wild Pitches vs Hit by Pitch plots. One key observation is that while ERA, WHIP, Wild Pitches, and Hit by Pitch values display the strengths and weaknesses of a pitcher, a pitcher’s BABIP and BA allowed can be based on luck due to the number of seasons that pitchers had thrown.




In our ERA vs WHIP plot, we observe that Fujinama had the highest career ERA and WHIP, while Yamamoto had the lowest values for both statistics. Possessing the lowest career ERA is an exceptionally difficult task and Yamamoto’s capability to maintain low values proves that he is an extremely talented starting pitcher compared to previous pitchers who moved to the MLB. Hence, he also offers the lowest career BA and BABIP allowed to opposing batters. We see that even with less average strikeouts per 9 innings, he is extremely stingy at allowing runs or hits to opposing batters.


Lastly, another essential aspect that MLB teams want to see is control. We see that Yamamoto had the least number of wild pitches and hit by pitches. Both these qualities display strong control of pitching as he is least likely to throw a wild pitch that causes runners to advance into scoring positions or allow runners to get on base. We can conclude that Yamamoto provides ace-level qualities that could be vital for teams looking for an ace pitcher within their rotations. A pitcher that offers much control and capability of preventing batters from hitting or scoring, he can be a true difference maker.


Source: Yonhap


Assuming these players do not get injured this season, we still have to wait and see how well both players perform. However, based on career averages, we can state that both players have much potential and can offer their talents to any MLB organization who are interested in these players and are willing to meet their teams’ demands.


Career accolades alone do not guarantee an athlete’s success in a different competition. Personal strengths and weaknesses must also be analyzed. One observation for Yamamoto is that he may be the one of the best pitchers to come out of the NPB based on his statistics alone. With more foreign players in the NPB and demand for faster pitching velocity, Yamamoto has been able to emerge amongst his peers. A high quality of control and strong strikeout rate is what makes him the ace he is today. Meanwhile for Lee Jung Hoo, it is startling to see how talented he is as a batter and in defense. As the youngest outfielder in our study, he displays much maturity and skills at his position. His skills compared to Yoshida and Suzuki display the quality of outfielders that MLB organizations are looking for.


Even beyond the analysis of these two players, there are many talented Asian baseball players the MLB can look forward to. Youngster ace pitchers Roki Sasaki, Ahn Woojin, and Kim Seo Hyeon,-with quality infielders like Kim Hye Seong and Munetaka Murakami, prove there are many quality prospects and players within each league that can compete in the MLB, either through the posting system or free agency.


References

https://www.statiz.co.kr/

http://npbstats.com/

https://www.baseball-reference.com/


Github Code

https://github.com/NathanKim0107/BSA-Spring-2023-R-Code


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