Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rami-chan, the Dominant Latino Gaijin in Japan

For today’s post, I’ve decided to take a little trip to the Land of the Rising Sun to profile the Latino player that is currently dominating the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) with the Yomiyuri Tokyo Giants of the Central League. Known to the Yomiyuri fans as Rami-chan, this individual is the current 2-time defending MVP of the Central League and helped the Giants to both a NPB championship (the first for the Giants since 2002) and the Asia Club Title. Entering his 10th year in the NPB, he has a chance to achieve a rare milestone in the NPB by attempting to win his third MVP award in a row. His name is Alex Ramirez, of Caracas, Venezuela (Photo Credit http://japanesebaseballcards.blogspot.com/) .

Ramirez was originally signed as a free-agent by the Cleveland Indians in 1991 and spent the better part of seven years within Cleveland’s minor league affiliates before making it to the home club for a brief stint in during the 1998 season. Ramirez played for the Indians in 1999 batting .299 in 97 at-bats with 29 Hits (6 2B, 1 3B, 3HR) with 18 RBI and 11 Runs scored. Ramirez also had an OPS of .801 (.327 OBP/.474 SLG). Ramirez split time between the Indians and the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 2000 season (Ramirez was traded with Enrique Wilson for Wil Cordero). Ramirez batted a combined .247 in 227 at-bats with 56 Hits (11 2B, 2 3B, 9HR) with 30 RBI and 26 Runs scored. Ramirez’s OPS dropped to .716 (.285 OBP, .432 SLG) while struggling against National League pitching (.286 BA in AL/.209 BA in NL). Ramirez’s contract was sold to the Yakult Swallows of the Central League. Ramirez thrived in Japan since he was given the opportunity to play every day in a new environment.

From 2001 to 2007, Ramirez bloomed into a dominant offensive force with the Swallows. Ramirez won the league homerun title in 2003 with 40 and won two RBI titles with 124 in 2003 and 122 in 2007 and in 2007 Ramirez became the first Gaijin (foreign player) to have more than 200 hits in a season. During his years with Yakult, Ramirez averaged 26 HR and 92 RBI with a .304 BA. As with the baseball economics that we see here in the United States, Ramirez had reached superstar status and the Yakult Swallows were not able to keep him. Ramirez looked toward the Tokyo rival Giants for the 2008 season. Wayne Graczyk of the Japan Times noted in his December 16, 2007 article named Readers Chime in About Giants ‘Jinx’ that fans worried about the supposed "Giants jinx":

It seemingly afflicts foreign players who play in Japan for one team, then cannot reach agreement on a new contract, so they move to the Yomiuri Giants, only to find bad luck, coincidental injury or other problems that keep them from performing as they did for the old club.

Well, if there was a jinx Ramirez seemed immune to it. In the two years that Ramirez has been with the Giants, he’s won two straight Central League MVP titles, an RBI title with 125 in 2008 and a batting title with a .322 BA in 2009. As I stated earlier, Ramirez helped lead the Yomiyuri Giants to the NPB Championship during the 2009 Climax Series against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League and led the Giants to an Asia Club against the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) champion Kia Tigers. For those of you who don’t know what the Asia Club Tournament is, it replaced the Asian Series (2005-2008) that pits the champions of the NPB, the KBO, Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL in Taiwan) and the Chinese National team in a round robin tournament.

I’m not sure how long Ramirez’s contract is with the Yomiyuri Giants, but he has the potential to hit for over 300 HR and more than 1000 RBI for his career in Japan. His productivity seems to not be waning since he is still hitting for power and is striking out less and less per year. Whether or not he ever decides to leave Japan for one last stint in the Majors is also unknown, but given the opportunity that Ramirez has fully capitalized in Japan, why would he? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Here are Ramirez’s career statistics in Japan:

Alex Ramirez's Yearly Statistics in Japan (Bold Denotes League Leader)
YrGABRH2B3BHRRBBBKBAOBSLGOPS
0113851060143230298827132.280.320.496.816
0213953965159250249222146.295.325.475.800
031405671051893434012434104.333.373.616.989
04129525791603023111023118.305.341.547.888
05146596701681913210423121.282.315.478.793
06146603791612822611219104.267.289.449.738
07144548802044132912223106.343.371.569.940
0814454884175280451253990.319.373.617.990
0914457766186350311032188.322.347.544.891
Tot127050596881545244102879802311009.305.339.532.871


For Further Reading:
Grazcyk, Wayne Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook & Media Guide, 2010 (Available at www.japanball.com and www.yakyushop.com)

Whiting, Robert You Gotta Have Wa (New York, Vintage Books, 2009);

- Click here for the Alex Ramirez statistics page on Baseball-Cube.com
- Click Here for the English webpage of the Nippon Professional Baseball League
- Click Here for the Japanese Yomiyuri Tokyo Giants webpage
- Click Here for the Japanese Yakult Tokyo Swallows webpage
- Click Here for Wayne Graczyk's article listings on the Japan Times website
- Click Here for the Japan Times Baseball News Page in English
- Click Here for this cool blogpage about Japanese Baseball Cards
- Click Here for Jim Albright's Informative Japanese Baseball Page

- Click Here for Bob Bavasi's Awesome Guide to Japanese Baseball
- Click Here for Rob's Japanese Baseball Cards page in English
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