|Asian Pitchers in Major League Baseball||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on July 02, 2003
The history of Asian players in the majors goes back to 1964-1965 when a left handed pitcher by the name of Masamori Murakama came from Japan and pitched for two seasons for the San Francisco Giants. He came to the majors, without friends, a guide, or any form of support network - in many ways it was remarkable that he lasted as long as he did. In those two seasons he compiled a 5-1 record with 9 saves in 54 games while pitching 89.3 innings with a 3.43 ERA. The Japanese government fearing that Major League Baseball would raid the Japanese Leagues and cause their collapse like they did with the Negro Leagues, pressured Murakama to return. Murakama acceded and returned to Japan following the 1965 season.
It took almost 30 years for another Asian to make it to the Majors - Chan Ho Park made it in 1994 and since then approximately 40 Asian players have made it to the big show from countries including Japan (22), Korea (8), Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and American Samoa. Of those, roughly two-thirds have been pitchers. In addition a lot of players of mixed descent including Danny Graves, Jim Parque, Ron Darling and Atlee Hammaker have made their mark on America’s game. Perhaps not surprising in this day where the home run is king, most of the player who have made it have been pitchers.
In 1995 baseball once again saw a successful Asian pitcher, Hideo Nomo. He is currently in his ninth season in the majors and he has been pretty damn good. He is considered to be one of the best pitchers for the Los Angeles Dodgers and has a been a dominating strikeout pitcher. His numbers over 8.5 seasons sure look good.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa (RHP - Japan) Played with Anaheim and Seattle. To this point he has been the second most successful Asian pitcher statistically though working as a reliever.
Byung-Hyun Kim (RHP - South Korea): Kim has spent most of his career as a closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks where he broke into the bigs in 1999. Twelve of his thirteen career starts have come in 2003 - half with his new team the Boston Red Sox. The Bosox recently announced that despite his sucess as a starter that he would be moving back to the closer role to fill their greatest need.
Kazuhiro Sasaki (RHP - Japan): Now in his 4th year in a Mariners uniform Sasaki has found a definite niche as the closer - suitcase accidents notwithstanding. He has been one of the most dominating closers in the game from his rookie year on, and one of the most overlooked - yet he has had at least 37 saves each season since reaching the bigs.
Tomo Ohka (RHP - Japan): Tomo has been around the big leagues since 1999 spending his first 2.5 years with the Red Sox before moving onto Montreal in 2001. It was in 2002 with Montreal that his career really came alive as he compiled his first winning record at 13-8. This year he is 7-7 but has pitched fairly well. His overall numbers are decent but not outstanding.
Jae Weong Seo (RHP - South Korea) Seo is a terrific looking kid who has been the brightest spot for the Mets this season. He doesn’t have enough seasoning yet to judge but looks to be one of the top imports for some time to come.
Jung Bong (LHP - South Korea) Another lefthander who so far has looked very decent. Of course working with Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone has never hurt anyone - especially a rookie pitcher. Bong could easily blossom into something special but could just become a nominal player.
Sun-Woo Kim (RHP - South Korea): Another young pitcher who still is figuring out his role is Montreal pitcher Sun-Woo Kim. Kim has been a starter this season and has been treated quite rudely. Still there is not enough information on him to figure out where exactly he belongs in the pecking order of asian pitchers.
Of course there have been many players in recent years too who have done their best, some for the good, some not.
Hideki Irabu (RHP - Japan) His 7 year career is currently in jepordy as he is currently not playing in the Majors as of earlier this season. He’s played for the Yankees, Rangers, and Expos. Without a question the low point in his career was being called a “Fat Toad” by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner who soon after dealt him to Texas. His numbers have taken somewhat of a nosedive and its likely he won’t be back.
Makoto “Mac” Suzuki (RHP - Japan): Suzuki pitched six years in the Majors and may still be in someone’s minor league system. He’s played for Milwaukee, Kansas City, Colorado, and Seattle. His numbers were very unimpressive.
Satoru Komiyama (RHP - Japan) Billed as the Japanese Greg Maddux the New York Mets signed him to a contract. After some rough outings he ended up as little more than a long reliever -inning eater. Not even close to being as good as even the 2003 version of Maddux. Just proof that success in Japan does not necessarily translate to the major league level.
In looking over the records of Asian pitchers it is clear that not all of them cut it, and most have been fair to middling pitchers rather than stars and dominators. Without a doubt that will change as time goes by. The few that we have seen provide a sample too small to make solid overall judgements.
The records of those who have pitched in places which are considered pitchers' parks, such as Dodgers stadium really show how well they can do with the little extra forgiveness that those parks bring. In smaller parks, and hitters' parks, these pitchers have had a much harder time. Perhaps that comes from facing lesser hitters in other countries or just that many of these pitcher cannot match the velocity that is typical in the Major Leagues. Without a question a fastball in Japan is slower than one in the bigs, so the pitchers have to rely more on guile - and there are some very smart hitters out there.