Early returns favor Blyleven

One of my favorite December and January blog activities last year was checking out Baseball Think Factory’s website and its “Hall of Fame Ballot Gathering Machine.”

Bert Blyleven

Is this the year that Bert Blyleven gets circled by the Hall of Fame? Associated Press photo

The website takes the ballots posted online by writers that vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame and combines them to figure out percentages and see who is on pace to get elected this year and who will get snubbed.

I learned last year that you can’t take too much from it. Early returns had Roberto Alomar getting in and he surprisingly didn’t. But in the case of former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven, the returns weren’t far off from the final tally.

This time around, Blyleven has enough votes so far among those voters who has made their picks public, sneaking past the 75 percent threshold needed for induction. According to these returns, Blyleven and Alomar would make it in, with Barry Larkin coming up just short. But I do emphasize that it is extremely early with just 71 ballots in so far.

Blyleven got 74 percent of the vote last year. Nobody has ever gotten that close without eventually getting elected.

It’s interesting how with some of these players, I feel like I become bigger fans of them after they retire than when they played. Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez are examples of that. I’m convinced Raines will one day get in, that his numbers show he was likely one of the five greatest leadoff hitters in baseball history if not one of the three best. And Martinez does well with modern-day numbers like OPS, though his inability to stay healthy and lack of time spent doing anything other than DH-ing hurts him. He probably never will get in.

But I think Raines will. He got only 30 percent of the vote last year. But I’ve noticed a lot of the voters on MLB Network have given him the nod this year, and the early returns have him at 52 percent. So things are looking up for him.

One other link worth checking out is the ZiPS projects for the 2011 Minnesota Twins. Some interesting projections:

  • Japanese import second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is picked to hit .281 and steal 38 bases. Twins would probably take that. He’s also picked to get caught stealing 17 times though.
  • Closer Joe Nathan, who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery, is projected to post an ERA of 3.00 for 2011.

Impact of Nishioka’s addition to Twins would be tough to predict

I blogged last week about the Minnesota Twins being awarded exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I mentioned in that post how it was unusual to see a Midwest team win the bidding, since seemingly the majority of well-known Japanese imports (Hideki Matsui, Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, etc.) have ended up on the West or East Coasts.

But according to Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Joe Christensen, Nishioka sounds pretty excited about the possibility of playing for the Twins if a contract agreement can be reached.

Nishioka is coming off a career-best season in which he hit a Japanese Pacific League-leading .346. He can play both shortstop and second base.

You could argue that infielders from Japan have had the least amount of major league success when compared to other position players or pitchers from that country. The three Japanese infielders that come to mind are Tadahito Iguchi, Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura.

The first conclusion I would draw from this is that power does not transfer over well from the JPL to Major League Baseball. In fact, it virtually disappears. But in looking at the three infielders above, speed actually does. Two of those three actually stole more bases in their first seasons in MLB, despite playing in far fewer games in each case.

For Nishioka, that’s not terrible news. Last season, he was more speedy (22 steals, has a career high of 33) than powerful (11 homers, career high is 14). And at Target Field, it’s safe to say he would be nothing more than a gap hitter.

The other thing to keep in mind is age. Nishioka would be the youngest of the group, being only 26 years old on Opening Day 2011. Iguchi was 30 when he started out. Matsui was 28 when he debuted with the Mets. And Iwamura was 28 in his first season in Tampa.

So Nishioka, at least in terms of age, has more good years ahead of him than his predecessors. But at the same time, his skills could be less refined. His rate of efficiency in stealing bases in Japan isn’t the greatest. No doubt that the Twins wouldn’t mind getting Rod Carew or Paul Molitor to help him out in that area should he sign with the team.

Iguchi and Iwamura have actually been pretty good players at one time or another in the big leagues. The problem is neither aged (or in Iwamura’s case, appears to be aging) very well. But that’s not hard to understand when you consider that in Japan, they both relied heavily on the home run. In the United States, that ability was diminished (though in Iguchi’s case, he had 33 homers combined between 2005 and 2006).

There’s no doubt the Twins would be taking a gamble in signing Nishioka. But considering how weak the free-agent market is with middle infielders this year, it’s a gamble worth considering.

Minnpost’s Aaron Gleeman gives his take on Nishioka here.

Here’s a video of an ad that Nishioka did in Japan:

Twins awarded negotiating rights to Japanese infielder

The Minnesota Twins, reportedly with a bid of $5.3 million, will get the right to negotiate with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Nishioka, who plays both second base and shortstop, won the batting title in the Japanese Pacific League last season with a .346 mark. I blogged about him here (video included).

The Twins have one month to agree to terms with Nishioka. I wonder how intrigued Nishioka is with Minnesota. Seems like almost every Japanese import that requires a bid to get negotiating rights for ends up with a West Coast or East Coast team.

Also worth keeping an eye on shortstop J.J. Hardy. The Twins could decide to non-tender Hardy if they get Nishioka. Without knowing what the Twins plan to spend on payroll, there has to be some within the organization uncomfortable with just handing Nishioka a starting job at shortstop. You just don’t know how he’ll adjust to the American game if he does decide to come here.

Patrick Newman of FanGraphs breaks down Nishioka in this post.

Twins look across Pacific for infield help

Considering how weak the middle infield market appears to be this offseason, the Minnesota Twins are believed to be interested in a Japanese batting champion.

This according to Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Joe Christensen, who reports that the Twins are expected to make a bid this week on Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. You can watch a video of him at the bottom of this blog post.

Nishioka, 26, led the Japanese Pacific League with a .346 batting average and had league highs in hits and total bases. Not bad for a shorstop with a little pop (11 homers) and some speed (once stole 41 bases in a season).

Sounds like an interesting project. I definitely approve of the Twins pursuit of a player like this. Makes me wonder if the Twins were able to get him if they’d let J.J. Hardy walk as a non-tender candidate. I suppose that would depend on how much it would cost to get Nishioka.

Looks like Nishioka would prefer to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that’s out of his control.

Other Twins news this week was Twins third baseman Danny Valencia falling short in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Valencia finished third in the voting, which is pretty good for someone who didn’t start the year with the big league club.

Texas Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz won the award.

Here’s the highlight video of Nishioka: