The Craziness of Demotions

Let us consider the case of two players on the Hanshin Tigers. Check the table below as you trek with me through some thoughts:

GP AVG HR RBI PA AB R H 2B 3B Total Bases SB S SF BB HBP K SLG OBP
Player A 59 .248 5 24 257 214 25 53 8 0 76 7 0 6 37 0 42 .355 .350
Player B 31 .231 2 11 124 104 13 24 6 0 36 1 0 2 16 2 21 .346 .339
Player B x 2 62 .231 4 22 248 208 26 48 12 0 72 2 0 4 32 4 42 .346 .339

Let us explain a little about Player A. He is in his 13th season with the club. His career average entering the season was .285 and his career on-base percentage was .372. Obviously he is slightly below those numbers this year, despite a pretty good last 2 weeks. He has also played in every inning of every game, whether he was hitting the ball well or not. Oh, and he is tied for second in the Central with 8 GIDP (ground into double plays) and in errors with 7 (though several plays were clearly not called errors because of a scorekeeper’s bias). His salary, for the record, is ¥400 million.

HagueDPPlayer B joined the team this season after winning the MVP of the International League (AAA) last year. He his .339 with 11 homers and 92 RBIs. He started this season strongly for the Tigers but fell into a slump after a high fever knocked him out near the start of April. After coming back too soon and not hitting the ball well, he was sent down to the farm on April 18. While down there, he hit .423 and got the call back up to the big squad on May 19. He was shown the bench in two of the 14 games that the team played during his time back up, and reached base safely in 10 of the twelve games in which he saw action. His batting average was not stellar (9 of 42 = .214) but he also took free passes 5 times to make his on-base percentage a more respectable .298. He also had three multi-hit games, a home run and some well-hit line drives that did not find the outfield turf fast enough. He hit into three double plays (including two in his final game before being re-farmed) and committed 4 errors during his time in the field.

As you may have guessed, Player A is captain Takashi Toritani and Player B is new import Matt Hague.

toritanierrorLet me set the record straight: I am not saying “Toritani should be farmed too” or “Hague shouldn’t be farmed.” Wait… maybe I am saying the latter. Before I explain further, let me put the point forward: why is one player allowed to play EVERY INNING to ride out his slump, while the other regularly sees the bench (and the farm) when things do not go as expected? Honestly, both players have an incredible amount of talent and neither has played up to his standard in 2016. (The third row of the table shows what Hague’s stats would look like if he got as much playing time as Toritani AND if he maintained the exact same pace. Not too far off the captain’s numbers, are they?) If all goes well, both will peak at the right time for the club, but that can only happen if both players are given an equal vote of confidence… and rest when necessary, too.

Why should players be farmed? If they have been injured or are unable to play at the top level due to fundamental issues or mental issues. Players who are already on the farm to begin with are placed there because they are not seen as being ready for the level of play at the top. However, when talking about the above players, this is clearly not the case. Hague hit a monster .423 during a month on the farm last time. What is he going to “learn” or “improve” down there? Does he need to hit higher than .423 to get another call-up?

Consider the first and second squad stats of the following players:

Player/Level GP AVG HR RBI PA AB R H 2B 3B Bases SB S SF BB HBP K SLG OBP OPS
Hague 1 31 .231 2 11 124 104 13 24 6 0 36 1 0 2 16 2 21 .346 .339 .685
Hague 2 15 .423 1 7 61 52 5 22 3 0 28 0 0 0 7 2 3 .538 .508 1.046
Yohkawa 1 16 .205 1 2 40 39 4 8 0 0 11 0 0 0 0 1 15 .282 .225 .507
Yohkawa 2 27 .375 6 29 119 112 20 42 13 0 73 2 0 1 3 3 29 .652 .403 1.055
Yokota 1 32 .198 0 3 95 91 13 18 2 0 20 4 0 0 2 2 13 .220 .232 .452
Yokota 2 17 .317 2 8 69 63 11 20 2 1 30 5 0 1 5 0 8 .476 .362 .838
Egoshi 1 30 .241 4 11 91 79 16 19 1 0 32 1 0 1 10 1 32 .405 .330 .735
Egoshi 2 21 .256 2 6 90 78 15 20 8 0 34 8 0 0 10 2 16 .436 .356 .792
Umeno 1 19 .120 0 2 54 50 2 6 0 0 6 1 3 0 1 0 14 .120 .137 .257
Umeno 2 17 .218 1 4 60 55 6 12 1 0 16 1 0 0 4 1 12 .291 .283 .574
Tiger Totals 128 .207 7 29 404 363 48 75 9 0 105 7 3 3 29 6 95 .289 .272 .562
Farm Totals 97 .322 12 54 399 360 57 116 27 1 181 16 0 2 29 8 68 .503 .383 .886

Naomasa Yohkawa joined the team on April 13 and despite not putting up quality numbers, stayed up until May 21. Shintaro Yokota started on the top squad but despite quite poor results, was used as a starter constantly for four weeks, then stayed on the top squad until May 6. Taiga Egoshi started on the top squad but did not get regular playing time until he exploded with power in the first week of April. He quieted down quickly but remained on the team until May 8. Ryutaro Umeno was also on the top squad on Opening Day, and despite hitting about as poorly as anyone could have imagined, stayed up until April 27. This means each of these guys was given a much longer leash than Hague (who has now been shuffled down twice).

Looking at the above graph, the gap between these players’ performances on the top squad and the farm is extremely wide. Obviously this shows a huge difference between the quality of pitchers on other teams’ second squads. Egoshi and Umeno have not shown enough tenacity even on the farm to be recalled, but both Yohkawa and Yokota have gotten called up in the past week. How much of a leash will THEY be given?

I really don’t think this constant shuffling of talented players between the two levels is healthy for the team or the (mental) health of the players being shipped to and fro. A former NPB player had this to say about the constant lineup shuffles: The biggest thing is that often we tend to view the game in a very small window. In a short span anyone can struggle & frankly anyone can do well in a small sample size. The key is consistency over long periods. Finding the players that are your best players & allowing them to play. You can always find someone to do it for a few weeks at a time, but that’s not how you win championships.”

It’s time to stop the carousel that is sending players down for “refinement” or whatever they want to call it. We all know that Hague is a good player with a strong bat. It’s time to give him a regular chance to show it, without the constant worry that the next double play will send him down to the farm again. I thought we graduated from Wada’s School of Peewee Baseball!

Your comments and thoughts are always welcome. Feel free to post them below.

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