With the severe lack of runs over the past few seasons, it's hard not to get a little skeptical as to whether the Dragons ever scored runs with an proclivity whatsoever. I often find myself looking back into the Dragons' history for the greatest that have played the game for the team. And while those celebrated by fans quite commonly come up with a scour through the data and statistics, I'm always excited to find cases that challenge those conceptions or that highlight the careers of players long since forgotten. I am also keen here to find out if the Dome era has really been such a negative for Dragons hitters over the past 25 years.
In this post, I'm using data on wRAA (weighted runs above average) and WRC+ (weighted runs created plus) to give you an idea of some of the most productive seasons by players in a Dragons shirt.
Here's some definitions before we move on:
wRAA measures how many runs a hitter contributes, compared with an average player -- so a player with a 0 wRAA would be considered league average, offensively. It's calculated by finding the difference in the number of runs contributed between a player and the league average (which is determined by the league average wOBA).
wRC+ takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for important external factors -- like ballpark or era. It's adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.
First, as WRC+ is a statistic that is based on wRAA plus a few bits and bobs, I will present to you the greatest career years for Dragons based on position and wRAA. This will be followed but a top 10 list not constricted to position.
I quite enjoyed the results I got here. The majority aren't huge surprises, but there are a few standouts that piqued my interest. First of all, we must all just marvel at Kosuke Fukudome's 2006. Historically, it's the highest wRAA for any Dragons player in history followed up by Tyrone Woods' effort in the same year. Somewhat surprising in the lack of a clear standout at second-base. While Takagi pips the next best by a few points, I thought Takagi was going to be a clear winner. Some of the more interesting pick-ups here is Kiyoshi Sugiura's 1950 season. Masaru Uno and Hirokazu Ibata are the most commonly cited best players in Dragons history at this position, but Sugiura's inclusion is an interesting one. His production at short-stop was very good for someone playing in a time guys that could hit 25+ homers a year were at a premium. Sugiura had a career best .929 OPS in 1950 which contributes highly to his presence on this list. Overall, we're still seeing a lot of what we'd appreciate as the established greats of the team. Sugiura and perhaps Woods are the only real outliers here.
Next, the all-time highest wRAA in a season list:
A lot of familiar names here. Apart from Fukudome, most our players here have positions that are usually reserved for bigger hitters and this shows. Topping the list of course is Fukudome and Woods while Kazuhiro Wada's 2010 MVP winning season manages to slip into the top 3. Shinichi Etō once again appears for his 1965 season while two seasons from Hiromitsu Ochiai show his value as a hitter for the Dragons. Michio Nishizawa, the first "Mr Dragons" comes in at #7 while his team-mate, Satoshi Sugiyama rounds out the top 10. The big surprise here is perhaps Dayan Viciedo's 2018 season clocking in. Among all these great seasons, it's quite a surprise to see such a modern hitter make the list in the Nagoya Dome and uniform ball era. Perhaps more credit is due to El Tanke than I first thought.
Now, let's weigh these statistics down with some ballpark measurements, history and all the rest. What does our line-up now look like with WRC+. Once again, I will follow-up with the top 10 regardless of position.
Well, with the weighting of this run production, there has been a bit of a shake-up. Woods, Naka and Sugiura have been replaced while Hiromitsu Ochiai changes positions with more weight given to his 1991 season. First of all, the eyes pop now at Shinichi Etō's 1965. Etō lead the league in average (.336) and has an OPS of 1.032. A massive 233 wRC+ puts him in touching distance of the legendary Sadaharu Oh who led the league in wRC+ in the same year with 266, his career best until 1973. Kōsuke Fukudome's 2006 continues to earn the respect it deserves, while we must continue to marvel at the kind of destruction that Hiromitsu Ochiai was capable of, this coming after his consecutive triple-crowns seasons with the Lotte Orions in his age 37 season.
The big surprises here are the two men that appear at third base and short-stop. That being Hiroji Okajima and Akiteru Kawano. If you've never heard of either of these players, you are not alone. I wasn't aware of their existence until doing this list. Leo Gomez of the late 90s Dragons had the highest career wRC+ for a Dragons third baseman, but he somehow doesn't make it onto this list as his best season was a 147. Okajima stole 47 bases and hit 16 homeruns in 1958 where the ball just didn't fly as much as it did in the modern game. Who then fits into the top 10 seasons of all Dragons hitters if we're not restricted by position?
There are 5 players that have cracked 200+ wRC+ points in a season and two of those seasons belong to Shinichi Eto. That's quite an achievement. Eto here fully shows how much of a star he was in the mid-1960s. Alongside Morimichi Takagi and Toshio Naka, Etō was one of the modern day stars of the day. Eto had 11 all-star appearances to go along with 5 selections in the Best 9 during his career. There's more to go into, but we might leave that for another day. Alongside the usual suspects, it is perhaps Kimata's 1970 season that sticks out where he hit 30 homeruns for a .283 average, the best production of any Dragons catcher ever. Kenichi Yazawa's 1980 also needs to be appreciated as he hit a league leading .369 average with 27 homeruns despite his team finishing dead last and overall underperforming horribly.
Now we have an idea of the individuals, what about some of the teams? Out of the Dragons top 5 run producing teams, unsurprisingly, only one of them has occurred in the Dome era that started in 1997. You'd also be unsurprised to learn that this was the pennant winning 2006 Dragons that had Fukudome and Woods firing on all cylinders. Alex Ochoa and Kazuki Inoue also showed off above average offensive capabilities in this season, this however only clocks in at #2 in wRC+ although it does top the list in wRAA with 103.5. I'll add in some key contributors for each season but limit them at requiring 200+ plate appearances.
|1||1962||122||90.6||S. Etō (171), D. Newcombe (161), M. Maeda (143)||3rd|
|2||2006||117||103.5||K. Fukudome (212), T. Woods (191), K. Inoue (130)||1st|
|3||1966||115||65.3||S. Etō (204), T. Naka (168), M. Takagi (165)||2nd|
|4||1996||114||81.8||T. Yamasaki (167), T. Chen (149), A. Powell (141)||2nd|
|5||1991||114||74.9||H. Ochiai (206), T. Chen (140), K. Tatsunami (121)||2nd|
For what it's worth, when the Dragons have a good hitting team, they don't tend to win the league. In each of these seasons outside of 2006, the Dragons still finished in the top 3 but often a step or two off the top teams. In most of these seasons, the Dragons had the best offense in the league based on wRC+. Some interesting stories here and some names popping up that we haven't seen before. Tai-feng Chen, the Taiwanese power-hitter comes up twice on this list as a key contributor, while Kazuyoshi Tatsunami finally shows his name. Don Newcombe is an interesting name on this list. The American trail blazer played right-field in his one season in Japan where he hit 12 homers and 43 RBIs in his age 36 season. What is perhaps the sad part, is the best team offensive season was a season where the Dragons finished third behind the Hanshin Tigers and the Taiyo Whales in 1962.
In a way, I was hoping to see more to defend the ideas that Dragons hitting teams can still win, but this is apparently not the case. 1991 is a particularly interesting season given the team has a wonderful offence and some big names in the rotation. On parsing through the pitching statistics, it's apparent that the ilk of Shinji Imanaka, Masa Yamamoto and Tatsuo Komatsu did not have particularly good years. Unfortunately, apart from 2006, there are no other seasons in the top 10 for wRC+ for the Dragons that have occurred in the Dome era.
From this brief overview, we must really just marvel at the 2006 season where the prodigious talents of Kōsuke Fukudome and Tyrone Woods made the difference in making the walls of the Dome seem a little smaller. Should we give up on ever seeing a highly productive Dragons team in the current condition of the Vantelin Dome? The statistics are unfortunately quite damning. Kōsuke Fukudome and Kazuhiro Wada are the only two to have seasons of note since the move. Both of these players were hitting before the uniform ball was introduced across the NPB as well. Knowing this, it's quite hard to feel optimistic about the team going forward. That being said, as I have mentioned previously on the blog, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Dragons drafting over the past 10-15 years has reflected a focus on players that are more suited to defensive kinds of baseball. The team hasn't really gone after many power-hitters in the drafts. Takaya Ishikawa and to a lesser extent, Kōsuke Ukai could mark a significant derivation from this former philosophy and with Norihiro Nakamura on board as hitting coach, it's hard not to want to feel optimistic.
The weight of history is on the 2022 Dragons to turn their offensive woes around. While the days of glamourous hitters like Shinichi Etō, Takeshi Yamasaki and Hiromitsu Ochiai may be gone with the Nagoya Stadium era, there is still a chance to overturn what has come before to create a new kind of team with a dangerous pointy end to it.
* I would like to thank the curator at the 日本プロ野球RCAA&PitchingRunまとめblog for the data used in this analysis. This is the go-to for any advanced historical data I need on Japanese baseball teams.