NPB DFS: What I've Learned About Japanese Pitching

I don’t know a damn thing about Japanese baseball (NPB), but you can bet your ass I’ll be playing the short slate on Friday morning on DK because, well, baseball.

I started digging and found stuff I thought was interesting and decided to share it with you all.

First, the league has to be put in context. We’ve been made somewhat familiar with Korean baseball (KBO) and we’re extremely familiar with Major League Baseball (MLB), so it’s helpful to look at how NPB measures up to what we’re accustomed:

When looking at all of the numbers, it’s useful to get rid of the noise and isolate those signals, using the little data that we have from What we confirm is that MLB is a powerhouse. The HRs and Ks are through the roof, compared to the two leagues, so expecting MLB types of dongs and whiffs is a fool’s errand. In this way, NPB is much closer to the KBO.

That said, despite the parallels between NPB and KBO in terms of HR/9 and even ISO, where the KBO rate is .146 to NPB’s .140 (compared to MLB’s .186), run-scoring in the KBO are sky-high. This is largely due to the extreme rate of baserunners generated in KBO. Is KBO hitting that much better than NPB? Probably not. Pitching is probably worse.

NPB is a pitcher’s league. The runs are low, the walks are low, the power is low. The KBO WHIP is 1.444, compared to 1.323 in NPB. The Ks play a role because it gives the hint that counts are getting to two strikes more often. Another important point to make is that fielding is far worse in the KBO. The 2020 KBO fielding percentage is .982, compared to NPB’s .986.

The fielding is important because it makes pitch-to-contact junkballers far less scary.

Not sure we have to go there, often, though. DK is only offering contests where we play one pitcher. Ten pitchers finished 2019 in NPB with 8.0 or more K/9 in at least 100 IP:

Kodai Senga — 11.3
Atsuki Taneichi — 10.4
Haruto Takahashi — 10.3
Shun Yamaguchi — 10.0
Shota Imanaga — 9.8
Kohei Arihara — 8.8
Taisuke Yamaoka — 8.2
Enny Romero — 8.1
Kota Futaki — 8.0
Yoshinobu Yamamoto — 8.0

Of the ten, only Futaki and Romero had an ERA over 4.00. The points we get from Ks are also preventing runs.

Five had RA/9 rates under 3.00 (min. 100 IP):

Yoshinobu Yamamoto — 2.33
Yudai Ono — 2.63
Kohei Arihara — 2.68
Kris Johnson — 2.87
Kodai Senga — 2.99

Performing a little verbal Venn diagram, we see Senga, Arihara, and Yamamoto as elite targets. Yamamoto is the second-most expensive pitcher on the slate, Arihara’s number-three, and—for some reason—Senga is $5k and listed as a RP. I have no idea what’s going on here.

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