Hanshin has recently announced the signing of first baseman Jason Rogers. Apparently he is quite excited to be joining the team, as he answered a random fan’s direct messages on Twitter about his arrival date (before the deal was officially announced), and simply tweeted the words “Hanshin Tigers!!” a day later. (The tweet has since been deleted, it seems.) Most fans of the team are keeping their expectations fairly low because of poor showings by Matt Hague (2016) and Eric Campbell (2017). We could go back further in team history and list several other “busts” who failed to live up to their original billings (as we have done on Episode 68 of the podcast), too, but instead let us focus our attention on the two most recent cases, since they fall under the regime of current manager Tomoaki Kanemoto.
If indeed we consider Hague and Campbell (who’s still with the team but is not exactly lighting up farm pitching so far) as failed experiments, we also have to ask ourselves who is to blame. Is it (1) the players themselves? (2) The scouts who put their stamps of approval on these men? (3) The coaches and management? (4) The media? (5) The fans? (6) Or is it just bad luck?
(1) Obviously these athletes make their livelihood based on the numbers they put up. If they are not getting results, they will not have a very long leash. Failure is not acceptable in a game in which the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is one extra hit per week. (Thanks Matt Murton for pointing that out to us in an interview!) So when Hague, Campbell and the rest of the “dame gaijin” (ダメ外人 = bad imports) start cold, part of the onus is on them. However…
(2) In the cases of the two men in question, the team has been in sore need of a slugger. Granted, at least in 2016 (with Hague) Hanshin still had the services of Mauro Gomez (who averaged 20+ home runs in his three seasons with the club) and Kosuke Fukudome (who led the team with 20 homers in 2015), so things did not look as dire as they ended up being by season’s end. Even so, the team’s scouting was definitely misguided when it came to Campbell. When 2016 ended with the team hitting a pitiful 90 home runs, the club knew it needed to acquire a power bat in the offseason, and although Yoshio Itoi was a nice addition, his career high 19 homers was hardly the missing piece in the puzzle. So why on earth did the scouts think that Campbell, he who had just 7 career home runs in the majors (in 438 at bats), was the solution the team was looking for? Surely part of the blame lies with them. But a bigger part of the burden needs to be shouldered by…
(3) The managers and coaches. How many plate appearances did Hague get before he was shoved off the top squad bench? Seventy-seven. That’s 19 games of action. And he played quite well in the first 12 (.333 avg). So basically 20 bad plate appearances (he divulged to me that he was playing through a nasty flu for part of it) were enough to send him packing. After tearing it up on the farm for a month, he came back up and got all of 47 plate appearances to convince the club he was not worth giving any more playing time to. If you think that’s hasty, you’re in for an eye-opener. Campbell started late because of a wrist injury. When he finally got the call-up, he got FIVE starts before the team stuck him on the bench. He was then used as a pinch hitter in eight of the next 17 games (2 for 7 with a walk), and collecting butt splinters in the other nine. He finally got back into the starting lineup after Takashi Toritani got his nose taken off by a pitch on May 24, hit a home run and got 3 RBIs, and stayed in the starting lineup until Batman Returned. A couple of bad outings later, he got farmed. He has been given a total of 54 plate appearances spread out over 21 games to prove himself. How’s that fair? Talk about managers showing impatience! Now, I’m not saying these two guys would be all-stars if given the chance (I’m also not saying the opposite), but guess who else started their NPB careers just as poorly, if not worse?
Brandon Laird, Fighters (45-for-246 = .183 to start 2015, a season in which he ended up with 34 homers) = 2016 Nippon Series MVP, 18 HRs in 2017 as of 7/3
Brad Eldred, Carp (31-for-153 = .203 to start 2012) = 2014 HR King, 21 HRs in 2017 as of 7/3
Zelous Wheeler, Eagles (34-for-167 = .204 to start 2015) = 27 HRs in 2016, 17 in 2017 as of 7/3
Alex Guerrero, Dragons (18-for-86 = .209 to start 2017) = 21 home runs to lead NPB as of 7/3
See what happens when you let imports figure out the pitchers here? They turn things around and produce at the levels they were originally expected to reach! So I’d like to give a great big “SHUT UP” to…
(4) … the Hanshin media, who report every single action, every single at bat, as though it were the be-all-end-all for the team’s fate. When Hague struggled, it was exacerbated by the media. When Campbell failed to stay healthy or produce when he needed to, the media emphasized how the “all-Japanese line-up” was doing swell. (How ’bout that 8-game losing streak in which the team got shut out 4 times and put up just 9 runs total?) Thanks, media folk. It’s not like…
(5) … the fans need any more reason to complain about how the imports are taking precious playing time away from the young developing players. Didn’t Toritani do that through much of 2015 and 2016? Hasn’t Fukudome done the same for most of the past 6 weeks? Let’s not keep spewing garbage about how imports who can’t hit 30+ homers or knock in 100+ runs are unwanted. Nationality should not dehumanize the players. When fans jeered Matsuzaka, Igawa, Irabu and the rest of the mediocre pitching ilk who failed miserably in MLB, it wasn’t because they were from Japan. It was because they sucked. And they did so for a remarkably long time before their teams cut them loose.
(6) Some of this does come down to bad luck, too. Campbell was playing at his secondary position when he committed a couple of errors that had everyone and their dog screaming for his benching. Hague got sick, as I mentioned earlier. He was also given incorrect data (his words, not mine) on one of his crucial double plays that ultimately sent him packing for good in early June 2016.
The bottom line is this. If Jason Rogers is going to succeed here in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers, he’s going to need a lot of luck, and he’s also going to have to produce early and often. (Keep in mind that Hague and Campbell both started their Tigers careers with two straight trips to the hero’s podium in team wins.) He’s also going to need a change of heart from management. But with Masahiro Nakatani and Fumihito Haraguchi also hoping for playing time at first, it’s not like Rogers’ leash will be much longer than his name. And that’s a shame, because I really love seeing our imports succeed and make great memories as members of the Tigers.