Sunday, December 23, 2012

NPB Velocity and MLB Success

Continuing our look at the link between velocity and numbers between leagues, I wanted to look at the many NPB (Professional Baseball in Japan) that have come to the United States and pitch and see if we see the same kind of things we have been seeing in other posts. For pitchers that didn't have Fangraphs or NPB tracker data, I just used scouting reports or articles. I used NPB FIP (nFIP) when I could, but, especially with older data, I had to use ERA some, as especially home run totals (Baseball Cube has strikeouts, walks, innings, ERA and the like, but sometimes didn't have homers for older NPB pitchers) were sometimes hard to find. nERA obviously means I used ERA, nFIP means I used FIP. I ranked them by velocity.

Hideki Irabu: 95 MPH, 109 FIP -, 3.60 nERA

Ryota Igarashi: 92.9 MPH, 115 FIP -, 3.30 nFIP

Yu Darvish: 92.6 MPH, 74 FIP -, 2.61 nFIP

Hiroki Kuroda: 92.2 MPH, 91 FIP -, 3.93 nFIP

Takashi Saito: 92 MPH, 65 FIP -, 3.74 nFIP

Masato Yoshii: 92 MPH, 103 FIP -, 3.86 nERA

Daisuke Matsuzaka: 91.7 MPH, 98 FIP -, 3.18 nFIP

Wei-Yin Chen: 91 MPH, 104 FIP -, 3.33 nFIP

Akinori Otsuka: 91 MPH, 70 FIP -, 2.46 nFIP

Yasuhiko Yabuta: 90.5 MPH, 123 FIP -, 4.49 nFIP

Masa Kobayashi: 90.4 MPH,  113 FIP -, 3.34 nFIP

Hisashi Iwakuma: 90.3 MPH, 112 FIP -, 4.11 nFIP

Hideo Nomo: 90 MPH, 101 FIP -, 3.15 nERA

Keiichi Yabu: 89.9 MPH, 101 FIP -, 4.05 nFIP

Kenshin Kawakami: 89.5 MPH, 104 FIP -, 3.59 nFIP

Kazuhiro Sasaki: 89 MPH, 79 FIP -, 2.41 nERA

Hisanori Takahashi: 88.8 MPH, 97 FIP -, 3.95 nFIP

Koji Uehara: 88 MPH, 68 FIP -, 3.30 nFIP

Tomo Ohka: 87.9 MPH, 104 FIP -, 4.40 nFIP

Kei Igawa: 87.8 MPH, 139 FIP -, 3.46 nFIP

Ken Takahashi: 87.8 MPH, 100 FIP -, 4.74 nFIP

Hideki Okajima: 87 MPH, 86 FIP -, 3.72 nFIP

Yoshinori Tateyama: 86.9 MPH, 104 FIP -, 3.19 nFIP

Kazuhisa Ishii: 86.35 MPH, 124 FIP -, 3.95 nFIP

Kazuhito Tadano: 85.48 MPH, 95 FIP -, 4.49 nFIP

Masumi Kuwata: 85.1 MPH, 183 FIP -, 3.82 nFIP

The 26 pitchers averaged 89.66 MPH on their fastballs, and had an average FIP - of 102.38. The pitchers above average in velocity had a 98.5 FIP -, while the pitcher below average had a 106.92 FIP -. When you split the pitchers into quarters, the lowest velocity seven pitchers had a 118.71 FIP -, the next six pitchers had a 92.17 FIP -. The next seven pitchers had a 103 FIP -, while the top six pitchers had a 92.83 FIP -. So the best pitchers velocity wise were the 2nd best pitchers (but above average, for what it is worth) in the Majors. The worst pitchers were the worst velocity pitchers, sort of unlike what we have been seeing (where the worst pitchers have been the 2nd best pitchers, with the high velocity guys being the best). The pitchers closest to the mean, especially the ones just below it, were actually the best this time. What about numbers? Ranking the 26 players by nFIP (and nERA), we get this breakdown:
nFIP of over 4.00: 105.83 FIP -
nFIP of 3.8-3.95: 119.6 FIP -
nFIP of 3.6-3.86: 109.2 FIP -
nFIP of 3.3-3.59: 106.17 FIP -
nFIP of under 3.3: 91.57 FIP - (the three with nFIPs of under 3 had a 74.33 FIP -)

The elite NPB pitchers were definitely better in the MLB pitchers than the rest, but below that, the results are really muddled (the worst NPB pitchers were the 2nd best MLB pitchers). So there is some correlation on top, and you could say, based just on empirical probability, that an elite NPB pitcher statistically has a better chance of success in the Majors than a generic NPB pitcher with better velocity. This is not what we have been seeing in the other leagues we have looked at when it comes to this.

I also wanted to look the other way, pitchers who came from the MLB to the NPB. I used the list of pitchers with NPB Tracker data and found all the ones I could that pitched at least a decent amount in the Majors and the NPB (didn't use a hard cutoff, but it was something like 30 innings). I used Fangraphs data when I could, but when it wasn't available (which I believe was just a couple), I used the NPB Tracker data. I wasn't sure how to deal with Colby Lewis, Scott Atchison, and Ryan Vogelsong as they not only came back to the Majors, they came back better. I decided to leave them out. Kameron Loe and Carlos Torres came back, but weren't really better, so I included them. Again, I sorted by velocity.

Marc Kroon: 94.48 MPH, 139 FIP -, 2.36 nFIP

Dennis Sarfate: 94.1 MPH, 98 FIP -, 2.36 nFIP

Kam Mickolio: 93.9 MPH, 69 FIP -, 2.96 nFIP

Scott Mathieson: 93.6 MPH, 123 FIP -, 2.01 nFIP

Brian Falkenborg: 93.6 MPH, 116 FIP -, 1.46 nFIP

Kelvin Jimenez: 93.6 MPH, 121 FIP -, 3.99 nFIP

Chris Bootcheck: 93.5 MPH, 111 FIP -, 4.63 nFIP

Bob Keppel: 93.2 MPH, 112 FIP -, 4.08 nFIP

Brian Wolfe: 93.1 MPH,110 FIP -, 3.24 nFIP

Yhency Brazoban: 92.9 MPH, 104 FIP -, 2.64 nFIP

Randy Messenger: 92.2 MPH, 108 FIP -, 3.32 nFIP

Alfredo Figaro: 92.2 MPH, 119 FIP -, 3.55 nFIP

Chan Ho Park: 91.9 MPH, 104 FIP -, 3.99 nFIP

Hayden Penn: 91.7 MPH, 152 FIP -, 3.89 nFIP

Jonah Bayliss: 91.6 MPH, 124 FIP -, 4.99 nFIP

Jorge Sosa: 91.6 MPH, 117 FIP -, 2.73 nFIP

Bryan Bullington: 91.5 MPH, 124 FIP-, 3.00 nFIP

Carlos Torres: 91.1 MPH, 101 FIP -, 4.93 nFIP

Vinnie Chulk: 91.1 MPH, 98 FIP -, 3.04 nFIP

Bryan Corey: 91.1 MPH, 104 FIP -, 5.35 nFIP

Jon Leicester: 91 MPH, 115 FIP -, 3.43 nFIP

Jason Standridge: 90.5 MPH, 139 FIP -, 3.33 nFIP

John Wasdin: 90.5 MPH, 107 FIP -, 4.60 nFIP

Stephen Randolph: 90.4 MPH, 128 FIP -, 4.00 nFIP

Buddy Carlyle: 89.8 MPH, 115 FIP -, 4.32 nFIP

Kameron Loe: 89.5 MPH, 95 FIP -, 4.16 nFIP

D.J. Houlton: 89.2 MPH, 121 FIP -, 3.58 nFIP

John Bale: 89.1 MPH, 91 FIP -, 4.80 nFIP

Eric Stults: 88.9 MPH, 112 FIP -, 5.32 nFIP

Dicky Gonzalez: 88.54 MPH, 89 FIP -, 3.36 nFIP

Darrell Rasner: 88.2 MPH, 109 FIP -, 3.87 nFIP

Seth Griesinger: 88.13 MPH, 113 FIP -, 3.17 nFIP

Brian Sweeney: 88.1 MPH, 104 FIP -, 4.82 nFIP

Justin Germano: 88 MPH, 115 FIP -, 3.52 nFIP

Ryan Glynn: 87.91 MPH, 125 FIP -, 4.32 nFIP

Casey Fossum: 87.2 MPH, 110 FIP -, 4.85 nFIP

The 36 pitchers had an average fastball velocity of 91.03, actually close to MLB averages (and better than the pitchers that the NPB has imported). The 20 pitchers with above average velocity had an average nFIP of 3.43. The 16 below had an average nFIP of 3.88, which shows some correlation, but not exactly drastic correlation. When you split them into quarters (9 pitchers per each), and the bottom 9 had a 4.23 nFIP, the next 10 up (to avoid an artificial tiebreaker) had a 4.07 nFIP. The next 9 (I guess, the above average but not elite group) had a 3.48 nFIP, while the elite eight had a 2.98 nFIP. So here, actually got a good ranking as far as correlation, and we didn't see the bottom pitchers do well while the pitchers towards the mean struggle, as we have before. If we sort by MPH:
94: 2.36 nFIP
93: 3.20 nFIP
92: 3.17 nFIP
91: 3.93 nFIP
90: 3.98 nFIP
89: 4.22 nFIP
88: 4.01 nFIP
87: 4.59 nFIP

This isn't perfect order, but it at least is a pattern. What about statistics? The average FIP - of the 36 was  112.28 (obviously, you would expect those pitchers to be worse than league average). The best 6 pitchers in the Majors, the 6 with a FIP - of under 100, had a 3.45 nFIP on average. The worst 7 (124-152, keeping it at 7 to avoid an artificial tiebreaker) had a nFIP of 3.7 on average. Continuing the breakdown:
101-107 FIP -: 4.39 nFIP
108-111 FIP -: 3.97 nFIP
112-115 FIP -: 4.06 nFIP
116-123 FIP -: 2.89 nFIP

It is hard to make any sense of that order, so there appears to be little to no correlation between NPB success and prior MLB numbers. So the below data seems to fit with out hypothesis that velocity is a better predictor than numbers from league to league, while the above data seems to counter it. I find it a little strange that fastball velocity seemed to matter less than NPB numbers when coming to the Majors, but it could speak to the other variables (breaking pitches, control, etc.) that it takes to be a successful pitcher in the Majors. We aren't done though, as we will continue to look at the correlation between fastball velocity, statistics, and success from league to league.


  1. Did you happen to split the results and MLE's based on relief and starting pitchers? A pitcher in relief role would throw harder than they did as SP and therefore have better results in the majors as a RP than they did in the minors as a SP.

  2. Jeff, i could have done that (feel free to do it yourself), but it seems that the roles stayed the same for the most part between countries
    I dont think that there would be a big difference in data. Perhaps it would even reinforce the thesis more as many of the worst MLB pitchers (out of the ones from japan) were decent (and soft tossing) NPB starters that came over and pitched poorly in a relief role in the Majors.

    Sent off the phone so sorry for any gramatical errors. I really appreciate you reading and commenting. Happy Holidays.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Brian Cartwright found some problems with some NPB translations previously:

    Does the data contain RP and SP splits. I know it wasn't available for a while for the NPB data.

  5. My data here is not broken into RP and SP splits. As far as I know, it is available, but only through Japanese sites (which isn't a huge problem if you use something like Google Chrome which will give you a translation, not a good one, but a workable one).

    I've tried my own very simple NPB projections and it has problems:

    The problem is that, and this post is no exception as I simply did not, that when looking at NPB stats, you have to take into account the crazy shift away from offense the league has seen since changing to a new ball after the 2010 season. While K/BB rates are similar, home run rates (and BABIP rates as well I think) have dropped significantly. This makes ERA and FIP compromised (though perhaps a SIERA, K%-BB%, xFIP might help stabilize the statistics). You basically have to ignore what the league did before 2011 if you are going to create a projection for current NPB baseball to the Majors. This could be interpreted as a minor point in my post as well. Use fastball velocity instead of numbers when trying to project players from Japan to the MLB. While the results weren't necessarily great here, (if you click on the Velocity Data tag you can see all the posts) we see that numbers from the minors to the majors, Ni-gun to the NPB, and from KBO to MLB do not translate as well as just fastball velocity does. That is the point. Numbers can be helpful and there are definite variables in pitching beyond just fastball velocity, but fastball velocity is still a pretty solid predictor, at least better than numbers. To me, this makes trying to make a numbers based approach from league to league unnecessary.

  6. I notice your list of NPB > MLB pitchers list is missing some people. (Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Shingo Takatsu off the top of my head.) Any reason for their omission?

    1. Kozo, yes
      Since both of those pitchers played before the "pitch Fx era" velocity data was readily available.