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Japanese League Hungry for Right-handed Sluggers

Posted November. 26, 2009 09:03,   


If Ichiro Suzuki, 36, was right-handed, would he be such a great hitter? If he was, he most likely would not have hit 200 or more hits per season for nine consecutive years in the U.S. majors.

Many of Ichiro’s hits are in the infield. Since he is left-handed, he can run to first base immediately after hitting the ball. Left-handed hitters have an advantage over right-handers because the difference between being safe and out is decided in less than a second.

Ichiro was originally right-handed but hits left-handed, earning the distinction of being “a left-handed batter who throws with his right hand.” In Japanese pro baseball, where plays tend to be precise, such players are easy to find.

Many right-handers are trained as left-handed hitters when young. For this reason, right-handed sluggers are rare in Japan.

Japanese baseball analysts say Korean sluggers Kim Tae-kyun, who joined the Chiba Lotte Marines, and Lee Bum-ho, who signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, got lucrative deals because both are right-handed.

Kim will get 700 million yen (7.92 million U.S. dollars) over three years and Lee 500 million yen (5.66 million dollars) also over three years. Both played for the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean league last season.

In Japan’s Central League, where fellow Korean slugger Lee Seung-yeop (Yomiuri Giants) is playing, six of the top 10 home run hitters hit left-handed but throw with their right hand.

Shinnosuke Abe (32 homers), who led Yomiuri to the Japan Series title, Michihiro Ogasawara (31) and Yoshiyuki Kamei (25) are examples of such players.

In contrast, only three of the 10 top home run hitters are left-handed in the Pacific League, where Kim and Lee Bum-ho will play. But in batting average, five of the top 10 players are left-handed batters who throw with their right hand, including batting champ Teppei Tsuchiya (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles) and Tomotaka Sakaguchi (Orix Buffaloes).

As such, all baseball teams in Japan have a strong desire to bring in right-handed sluggers. Lotte manager Norifumi Nishimura said, “Introducing a right-handed slugger was the most important aspect in boosting our team’s capacity,” as he welcomed Kim.

After Lee Bum-ho was set to join Softbank, Japanese media reported, “Lee is a right-handed slugger who has solved all of Softbank’s problems.”