Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Hitting for cycle no common occurrence for NPB players

by Jason Coskrey

Let’s talk about the cycle for a minute.

Shohei Ohtani made history on Thursday in Tampa, Florida, when he became first-ever Japanese player to hit for the cycle (single, double, triple and home run) in MLB. Ohtani already gets a ton of attention from Japanese media, but this set off a particular flurry on Friday and Saturday in Japan, in addition to the praise he was already getting from the baseball world at large.

He deserved it, of course, even if the cycle isn’t really the most important thing when you get right down to it. If a team managed only those four hits (in an extreme example) there would only be one run on the board. Still, it’s fun to see a player do it. If nothing else, you’re watching someone have a really, really good day.

While hitting for the cycle isn’t ultra rare (Cleveland’s Jake Bauers did it Friday and there are 327 overall in MLB), it’s not like it happens all the time. Players probably don’t even aim for it until already three-fourths of the way there.

According Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Ohtani wasn’t even shooting for it. In an article in The Athletic on Thursday, Ardaya wrote that when Angels teammate David Fletcher told Ohtani he was a single away, the Japanese star responded with, “No, I want another homer.”

The cycle might not be the most impactful thing, but its pretty interesting.

Japanese fans seem to love a good cycle — hence the Ohtani fanfare.

When a NPB player completes one, they’re often presented with flowers and the crowd gets a chance to acknowledge the feat and shower them with praise.

When the Hanshin Tigers’ Ryutaro Umeno did it in April, there were fans who already had “cycle hit” signs urging him on during his final at-bat. The Yokohama BayStars flashed a message on the scoreboard after Masayuki Kuwahara got his in July of 2018.

Of course cycles don’t happen quite as often in Japan, partly due to shorter seasons and far fewer teams. Entering Sunday’s games, there had only been 74, by 69 players, in Japanese baseball history.

The first, which predates NPB, was by the (then-Osaka) Tigers’ Fumio Fujimura on Oct. 2, 1948 at Koshien Stadium. Fujimura’s second, on May 25, 1950, at Koshien was the first in Central League history.

Japan’s most recent cycle, by Umeno on April 9, was also by a Tigers player at Koshien.

The natural cycle (getting the single, double, triple and the homer in that order) is more rare and has only happened five times in NPB. The last to do it was Arihito Muramatsu for the Daiei Hawks on July 1, 2003.

There were two cycles in Japan that day, with the Yakult Swallows’ Atsunori Inaba completing the other. The Tigers’ Shinjiro Hiyama had one the very next day.

Two players have done it in reverse order, the Chunichi Dragons’ Alex Ochoa on April 13, 2004, and Raniel Rosario of the Hiroshima Carp on Sept. 2, 2014. Ochoa also hit for the cycle with the Mets and is the only player to do it in MLB and NPB

Nine NPB players have needed six at-bats to complete the cycle. The standout there is former Hankyu Braves slugger Daryl Spencer, who recorded the triple in his sixth trip to the plate against the Kintetsu Buffaloes on July 16, 1965.

Hitting for the cycle has been pretty much restricted to the Central League recently. There have been nine in Japan since the start of the 2008 season, with Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks outfielder Yuki Yanagita (April 21, 2018) the only PL player to do it.

The cycle is cool. Ask any player if they’d rather have a cycle or four homers, and they’d opt for the homers. That said, when a player needs a triple for the cycle late in a game that is otherwise decided, it spices things up.

It’s a just a fun oddity of baseball and a perfect footnote for someone like Ohtani, who has already had a career that’s been equal parts exciting and historic. Even if he didn’t get a bouquet of flowers for doing it in the majors.