Kaz Matsui returns to Japan as teams wait to hear results of Tsuyoshi Nishioka bidding

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After seven seasons in the majors Kazuo Matsui has returned to Japan by signing with the Rakuten Eagles, which is interesting timing as the baseball world waits to see which team won the bidding for negotiating rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Nishioka is a speedy, switch-hitting middle infielder who won a batting title in Japan last season and has Gold Gloves at both shortstop and second base. And once upon a time Matsui came to the United States with essentially the exact same resume.

Matsui left Japan in 2003 following seven straight seasons with a .300-plus batting average and smacked 33, 36, 24, 23 homers in his final four years there. He also averaged 35 stolen bases per season and was a four-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop.

If anything, the scouting reports on Matsui then were even better than they are for Nishioka now.

Matsui signed a three-year, $20 million deal with the Mets, but proved to be a shaky defensive shortstop who was eventually moved to second base and hit just .267 with a .321 on-base percentage and .380 slugging percentage in 630 career games while totaling 32 homers in 2,302 at-bats.

I’m certainly not suggesting that Nishioka must be compared to Matsui simply because they were both born in the same country any more than I’d suggest Joe Mauer must be compared to Jeff Mathis. However, even seven years after Matsui signed with the Mets he remains the only prominent Japanese shortstop to play in MLB and it’s tough not to think about Matsui’s disappointing seven-year career when reading the remarkably similar-sounding reports about Nishioka.

Projecting how hitters will perform in MLB based on their production in Nippon Professional Baseball is hard enough, but projecting how they’ll hit while also trying to determine if a shortstop there has what it takes to be a full-time shortstop here adds another layer of unknown. And unfairly or not, the fact that right now Matsui stands as the lone data point dramatically increases the skepticism surrounding Nishioka’s upside.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.