The other day, new Hanshin Tigers import Matt Hague made waves when he jumped the gun in reporting his signing with the club before it made an official announcement. His salary is an estimated ¥80 million (approximately US$650,000), which is much lower than the estimated ¥450 million (approximately US$3.65 million) the club paid Matt Murton in 2015. This will present a huge problem if this is telling us that his ability is less than 1/5 of Murton’s, but the fact is we never know what kind of import player we have signed until we see him play in Japan. But using their major and minor league numbers as a base, we can give you our prediction of what kind of production we can expect from him.
First, looking at his 2015 MLB numbers, he played in 10 games, going 3 for 12 (.250). But in Triple-A, he played 136 games, hitting .338 with 11 home runs and 92 RBIs, taking the batting title in the International League (IL). In the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL), which is known as a hitter’s paradise, there were 16 players who hit better than .300, but by contrast there were only four in the IL. The PCL had 14 players hit 20 or more home runs, whereas the IL had only three. Props to Hague for hitting a full 21 points higher than the second place hitter in the pitcher-friendly IL.
So how does this compare with Murton’s numbers? When he first came to Japan he had played in 346 MLB games, collecting 272 hits while batting .286 with 29 home runs. Clearly those are better numbers than Hague’s, whose 43 games yielded 19 hits and a .226 average with no home runs. However, the major league track record does not necessarily translate into a successful career in Japan.
So we looked at all the data that was available at an American statistics site and compared Murton and Hague’s MLB statistics. First, we looked at a statistic that will go a long way towards determining whether or not he can make the adjustment to Japan: the O-Swing % (swinging at pitches outside the strike zone). Murton’s rate was 22.8% while Hague’s is a little higher at 29.6%. Perhaps it could be said that he may not be as good at adapting to the breaking pitches here as Murton was.
Next, we look at their contact rates. Murton’s was 81.8% and Hague’s was pretty much the same: 81.6%. While he may swing at more pitches outside the zone, when he does swing he makes contact at the same success rate as Murton did.
Next we look at the nature of their hits. Looking at their line-drive rate (LD%), ground ball rate (GB%) and fly ball rate (FB%), Murton’s numbers were 16.6%, 55.1% and 28.3% respectively. Hague’s were 24.6%, 47.7% and 27.7%. Hague’s LD% is about 1.5 times higher than Murton’s. Of the three types of hits, liners are said to have the best chance of being base hits, so perhaps we can expect him to hit a lot of doubles at the vast Koshien park. At the smaller fields like Jingu Stadium and Tokyo Dome, some of those hits may end up in the stands.
Last, let’s see how his numbers compare to one other player. Brandon Laird hit .231 for the Nippon Ham Fighters this year but also produced 34 home runs and 97 RBIs. Before coming to Japan he played in the same league with Hague (the IL) and hit a decent .300 with 18 HRs and 85 RBIs. In the first half of 2015 he struggled to adjust to the Japanese pitchers, but as the team kept plugging him in the lineup, he became a crucial power hitter in their order by the time summer rolled around.
As we compare his numbers with those put up by Murton and Laird prior to their arrival in Japan, we could say that Hague is a little low on power, but when it comes to mid-range power, he could be on par with Murton. Team management should bear with him and continue giving him playing time even if he struggles to find his groove early on. If he is able to adjust to Japanese style baseball early, he could be expected to bat around .300 and hit 15 or so homers.