The Yomiuri Giants hit fewer singles, doubles, triples and home runs in 2011 than they did in 2010. The Kyojin also drove in fewer runs and struck out more.
Being that the Giants are the Giants, it was hardly surprising they would, fairly or unfairly, find someone to shoulder all the blame, and amiable slugger Alex Ramirez was the fall guy.
Ramirez had his worst season in Japan, but he wasn’t the sole reason for the Giants’ struggles. But with a contract due to expire, he was an easy target.
Changes after such a down season are understandable, but it’s possible the Giants jettisoned the wrong player.
With Ramirez left unsigned, the Kyojin essentially swapped him for a younger, less productive version of himself during free agency, signing former Yokohama BayStars slugger Shuichi Murata, as Ramirez headed to the BayStars.
Defensively, the move was fairly savvy.
Murata isn’t the best fielder in the world, but he’s durable and should hold down third base, which allows Michihiro Ogasawara to focus on first base and solidifies the NPB’s most fluid corner infield situation. There may also be gains made in the outfield, depending on who replaces Ramirez in left field.
But is the slight bump in run prevention Murata offers more valuable than what Ramirez could produce with his bat?
Both sluggers had down years in 2011, though Ramirez was slightly better, hitting .279, with an on-base percentage of .322, slugging percentage of .453, 23 home runs and 73 RBIs. Murata put up a 253/.321/.423 line, going deep 20 times and driving in 70 runs. Ramirez also posted a superior 5.13 runs created per 27 outs to Murata’s 4.39.
Ramirez’s higher rate of production holds up over a larger sample size. Over the past five seasons, Ramirez (in 56 more games) has more extra-base hits (384 to 286), more homers (177 to 153) and more RBIs (552 to 442). He also holds a .404 to .375 edge in weighted batting average, which takes all the aspects of hitting and weighs them in proportion to their actual run value.
Murata’s last big year was in 2008, when he posted a .323/.397/.665 line, with 46 homers and 114 RBIs. But career numbers of .274/.325/.545 suggest that was somewhat of a positive aberration.
Both players suffered with the introduction of the NPB’s new ball in 2011, which dulled offensive production around Japan.
But Murata hit just .257 with 26 homers and 88 RBIs in 144 games in 2010, and wasn’t much better last season. Considering the drop Ramirez took from 2010 (.304, 49 homers, 129 RBIs) to 2011, he may far outpace Murata by just approaching his usual rate of production, especially with a year adjusting to the new ball already under his belt.
Murata is a fine player, but with the upgrades the Giants made on the mound, coupled with the NPB’s new offensive environment, one could argue Yomiuri would be in a better position with Ramirez — unless of course Murata has another big year.
With Shinnosuke Abe and Hisayoshi Chono in the lineup, the Giants should be strong whether Murata produces or not.
But if the Kyojin fall short of the pennant again, they may regret it if the missing piece has a resurgent year in Yokohama.