Players to be Posted: Haruki Nishikawa
The Yankees were kings of the international free agent market for much of the 1990’s and 2000’s through finding great players out of Japan and Cuba. This offseason, 3 players from Nippon Professional Baseball are expected to be posted. Today let’s look at Center Fielder Haruki Nishikawa.
(Image From: Japanese Class)
The History of Haruki Nishikawa:
It is interesting to do background research on players from the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) because so much information is held back if you can’t read Japanese. As much as I have tried to learn this past semester at Lafayette, my vocabulary is quite small and thus it’s very hard to find information on these guys. For Haruki Nishikawa, there is no information about his going to college but we do know that the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters selected him in the 2nd Round of the 2010 NPB Draft to be an infielder. It would take him until 2012 to break into the Fighters NPB team in the the Japan Pacific League (JPPL), coming after a 2011 season spent entirely in the Japan Eastern League (essentially the Japanese Minors) and another 44 games to start 2012. Nishikawa would continue to bounce between the leagues, spending all of the 2014 season in the JPPL and then bouncing around again up to 2017. Since then, he has been a mainstay with the Fighters as an outfielder, a position he transitioned to in 2015.
As with other NPB players that get posted to try and negotiate with a team in the MLB, Nishikawa does have a good amount of accolades in his 9 season NPB career (discounting the full season in the JPEL). In his first full year (2014) in the JPPL, Nishikawa lead the Pacific League in stolen bases with 43. He also did so in 2017 (39 SB) and 2018 (44 SB), and while not doing so in 2020 he still stole upwards of 40 bags (42) in the shortened season. He has also won 2 Pacific League Best Nine Awards in 2016 and 2017 which are given to the best player at each position each year, and 3 consecutive Pacific League Gold Gloves from 2017 to 2019. A 2-time NPB All-Star in 2017 and 2019 and a Japan Series Champion from 2016, Nishikawa does have accolades across the board.
A Left-Handed Hitter, standing at 5’10” and 160 pounds, the 28 year old (going into his age-29 season) Nishikawa does offer a versatility package built around speed which has worked for him in the NPB. A constant threat to steal, Nishikawa knows how to read a pitcher to get a good jump to steal a base and avoid getting picked off. Scouting reports indicate that his speed is also what keeps him a viable option as a defender in Center Field as it allows him to make up for bad jumps on fly balls combined with a slightly-below average arm that can play in Center or Left. However, this could be influenced by an excessive use of shifting in the NPB that has his defensive metrics grade out worse than he truly is. As a hitter, Nishikawa knows the strike zone and has a contact-friendly approach that allows him to go to all fields, but he does lack power.
(Image From: Rakuten)
The Stats of Haruki Nishikawa:
Over his 9-Year JPPL career, Haruki Nishikawa has been a .286/.382/.394 (.775 OPS) hitter with 51 HR’s, 346 RBI’s, a 287:45 Stolen Base rate (SB:CS), 1128 hits, and a 854:591 Strikeout to Walk rate (K:BB). On a year-by-year average (over 140 games) that would come out to be about 125 hits, 6 HR’s, 38 RBI’s (brought down because he is a lead-off hitter), a 32:5 SB:CS, and a 95:66 K:BB.
In 2020, Nishikawa did have better numbers over his 115 games as he hit .306/.430/.396 (.825 OPS) with 5 HR’s, 39 RBI’s, a 42:7 SB:CS, and a 84:92 K:BB rate. To contrast this with another contact-first, speed and defense-heavy player from Japan, we do see that Nishikawa is a few steps behind.
Ichiro (over 9 NPB Seasons): .353/.421/.522 (.943 OPS) with 118 HR’s, 529 RBI’s, 199:33 SB:CS, 333:384 K:BB.
While Nishikawa does have the advantage with number of stolen bases and success rate (86.4% to 85.7%), and while it is unfair to compare an inner-circle Hall of Famer to an All-Star level player, the transition from the NPB to the MLB as a hitter is extremely hard that only a few players have been successful with it. To see an improvement from those stats in the MLB would be highly unlikely.
(Image From: Japan Bullet)
Should the Yankees Be Interested?
Nishikawa’s numbers, if done in the MLB, would be low but he would find a role as a starting outfielder likely as a lead-off man as he is now. However, as these numbers came in the NPB it likely means that as an MLB player we should expect a sizeable drop.
Nishikawa is projected to be a 4th Outfielder/Pinch-Runner type player if he was to make the MLB in a role similar to that of Ben Revere. Unfortunately for Nishikawa, this has lead to very little interest that I have been able to find across the MLB.
I don’t think it is a hard call to say that the Yankees aren’t likely looking for a player like Nishikawa and that I wouldn’t pursue him when internal options like Mike Tauchman or bringing back Brett Gardner again could serve a similar role.
Nishikawa has made himself into a good-to-great NPB player and his aspirations to play in the MLB are admirable, but his value isn’t likely there. Add in a slow-moving and likely very poor free agent market and I would think the best move for him would be to stay in the NPB, try and repeat his 2020 performance to indicate higher level consistency, and see if next season the MLB free agent pool is truly active. If he got there a team may be willing to give him a legitimate shot.
Article By: Ethan Semendinger
Date Published: December 2nd, 2020