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.

Red Sox beat Yankees 11-6 to clinch AL East for third consecutive season

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The Red Sox have clinched the AL East for a third consecutive season, beating the Yankees 11-6 in the Bronx on Thursday night. It’s the third consecutive season in which the Red Sox have won the division, the first time that’s ever been done in club history. In fact, the only other times the Red Sox won the division in back-to-back years were 1903-04 and 1915-16.

AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a two-run single in the second inning off of Masahiro Tanaka and a three-run homer in the eighth against Aroldis Chapman to put the game out of reach. Jackie Bradley and Brock Holt also hit homers. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez was on the hook for five runs in 3 2/3 innings, but three of them scored when Heath Hembree inherited a bases-loaded situation, then served up a grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth. The rest of the bullpen combined to fire five scoreless innings. Steven Wright had three of them followed by zeroes from Ryan Brasier and Craig Kimbrel.

With the loss, the Yankees’ lead over the Athletics for the first Wild Card slot shrinks to 1.5 games. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will try to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a 104-49 record, their closest competitor is the 95-57 Astros. With nine games remaining in the regular season for the Red Sox, they would have to lose every game remaining in the regular season and the Astros would have to win their 10 remaining games in order to fail to claim home field advantage.