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  • Reflecting on the Nishioka Experiment

    In assessing the Twins' payroll situation for next year, a depressing reality became clear. Between the contracts of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Nick Blackburn, along with the $250,000 buyout that will be owed to Matt Capps, the club was set to be on the hook for about $9 million in what appeared to be totally sunk costs – all the results of clearly misguided decisions. That's a pretty significant chunk of money for a team with payroll restraints that needs to be putting all available resources toward improving its considerable weaknesses.

    Fortunately, that burden was lessened today when Nishioka, one of the most spectacular failures in the team's recent history and an almost guaranteed non-factor in next year's plans, asked for his unconditional release, thereby releasing the Twins from their $3.25 million commitment to him next year.

    It's a somewhat surprising development, given that there aren't many past examples of a professional athlete walking away from millions of dollars in guaranteed money. But to understand the decision, it might help to consider some of the cultural differences between Japan and America.

    I'm currently reading a book called Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It details the true story of an American Olympian named Louie Zamperini who became a bombardier in World War II, had his plane shot down over the Pacific and ended up in a Japanese POW camp. It's a fantastic book and a highly recommended read.

    At one point, in discussing the Japanese army's torture and degradation tactics with American prisoners, Hillenbrand touches on the psychology behind this sad (but of course hardly unique) practice:

    Few societies treasured dignity, and feared humiliation, as did the Japanese, for whom a loss of honor could merit suicide. This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers in World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose.
    Now, I certainly don't mean to imply that Nishioka shares the mentality of a 1940s military torturer, but the passage above touches on a distinct aspect of Japanese culture that traces back throughout history. Pride and dignity tend to be valued more highly than most things, including money, which might be difficult to understand in our very different American society where the almighty buck is often priority No. 1.

    In Japan, Nishioka was a preeminent star. He came to the States and was a total failure, unable to produce quality numbers even in the minor leagues. It's not hard to see how this could be extremely difficult for someone with such a mindset to cope with, and given that Nishioka's stock has done nothing but plummet after an abysmal rookie season, his outlook here was grim – grim enough that he was willing to give up millions of dollars to get away. (With that said, I suspect he'll be able to land a fairly substantial deal back in Japan.)

    He seems like a perfectly decent guy who's gone through an inordinate number of bad breaks (both literally and figuratively) over the past couple years. He probably did both himself and the Twins a favor by asking out of his contract, and I hope he's able to return to Japan and regain the level of success that brought him notoriety there.

    Meanwhile, the Twins will go back to the drawing board as they attempt to address their ugly middle infield situation. I applaud the creativity that led them to sign Nishioka, but going forward the execution will obviously need to be better.
    This article was originally published in blog: Reflecting on the Nishioka Experiment started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 37 Comments
    1. wagwan's Avatar
      wagwan -
      Why should Blackburn walk away from the money? He earned it based on past performances. Nishi wants to play in Japan. Now he can. He is not retiring like Meche and the others mentioned. He is going to see if he can make more money somewhere else. To imply Blackburn is without honor seems to be pretty silly and completely unwarranted.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I'm not sure if this was posted in the other Nishi thread but fangraphs has an awesome look back at nishi's career. His best game was 8/2/11 against the Indians. He had 2 RBI singles and committed 4 errors in the 6th inning (GIFs posted at fangraphs). http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index...iokas-big-day/
    1. Fire Dan Gladden's Avatar
      Fire Dan Gladden -
      Nishi wasn't too concerned with the Player's Union on this subject. He will never be back to play in the Majors.

      Everybody is talking about how this is the honorable thing for Nishi to do, but what if honor had nothing to do with it? Staying here he would be paid, but he would still be in the minors, being in a country and cities that I am sure he doesn't want to be in, away from his family and friends, and ruining his professional baseball career. By walking away and going back to Japan, he can fix all of these things. Plus, I am sure he will make a comparable salary in Japan this year.

      It may be an "honorable" move. But considering (as usual) we the people don't have all the reasons, I am not quite ready to anoint him the Patron Saint of Bad Contracts.
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      I'm surprised that he wasn't able to get a little money from the Twins to leave though.
      ---I've wondered about that. But did he even try? Everything I've read said he asked for a release. I haven't seen any references to a buyout. I would think he could have gotten a few hundred grand out of the Twins had he asked for it.

      I think the honor thing has been overstated, but if it's true he asked for nothing, I'll give him a few honor points there.

      It's one thing to walk away from the promise of money when you have to spend a year of misery earning it. But turning down easy money is a different deal.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by one_eyed_jack View Post
      Good take, Nick. Here's my parting thoughts on Nishi.

      1. As bad as he was, and he was really, really bad, he was not the only or even one of the biggest problems with this team the last 2 years. As I posted in the other thread, The Twins have played 318 games in 2011 and 2012. Nishioka appeared in only 71 of those games. The Twins record on those games? 31-40. Record with no Nishi? 97-150. Though he became everyone's favorite whipping boy, much of the ripping on Nishi ended up being a distraction for more serious problems. It was like going on about an ugly facial scar while ignoring the fact that a deadly disease was spreading through the internal organs.

      2. I was actually fine with the gamble. After a decade of Tony Batistas, Mike Lambs and other low-cost, low-risk, low-ceiling free agents, the Twins finally decided to go for it. They swung for the fences, and they missed. My concern is that they'll be gun shy about doing it again and go back to hunting through the bargain bin. But I hope I'm wrong. Don't stop trying to hit it out of the park, just be smarter about it and do it better next time.

      3. I'm also a bit concerned about the team turning its back entirely on Asia. I've seen all sorts of "well, that's why you don't sign Japanese players" comments. But it's neither fair nor rational to judge an entire region by a single player. Keep looking in Japan. Not every guy will turn out to be another Nishi. Maybe next time we'll get a Tad Iguchi.

      4. The Nishi thing is over, so hopefully the incessant whining about him will stop. There's nothing to be gained by peeing on the grave of his now dead MLB career.
      Well Posted!!!

      Nishi will end up being a big swing and miss. There are more at bats to come.
    1. strumdatjag's Avatar
      strumdatjag -
      In the pantheon of worst Twins (includes expectations and hype vs. results, disappointment and embarassing intangibles) - Nishi has securted the shortstop position:
      1b: Scott Stahoviak
      2b: Tommy Herr
      SS Nishi
      3b: Danny Valencia
      c: Dave Engel
      OF: Rick Sofield, Dan Ford (all on those intangibles), Willie Norwood
      Four man Pitching Rotation: Terry Felton, Willie Banks, Steve Carlton, Nick Blackburn (someone from this year's staff has to make it!!! And Blackie was given big bucks and then proceeded to stink it up)
      Closer: Ron Davis
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      I've gotta think Valencia ranks squarely behind Tony Batista (and probably several others) at 3B.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      I always laugh at the zeal Twins bloggers and fan rip Nishioka. Honestly his numbers in Rochester were probably better than most of the middle infielders in this organization. I just dont get how Alexi Casilla can get a free pass for what?? 5 seasons?? of complete and total ineptitude but the 3 games Nishioka played this year are supposed to be what I'm supposed to be so upset about.

      Whether its Butera being the worst hitter in the majors the last 2 years or Nick Blackburn this organization has way more issues than Nishioka who basically was like every other middle infielder (save JJ Hardy) this team has run out there in the last 4-5 seasons.

      Any honest assessment of this team would lead you to believe Nishioka had nothing to do with how horrible this team has been the last 2 years.

      I guess people are going to need a new scapegoat when they lose 90 games again next year.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by savvyspy View Post
      I always laugh at the zeal Twins bloggers and fan rip Nishioka. Honestly his numbers in Rochester were probably better than most of the middle infielders in this organization. I just dont get how Alexi Casilla can get a free pass for what?? 5 seasons?? of complete and total ineptitude but the 3 games Nishioka played this year are supposed to be what I'm supposed to be so upset about.

      Whether its Butera being the worst hitter in the majors the last 2 years or Nick Blackburn this organization has way more issues than Nishioka who basically was like every other middle infielder (save JJ Hardy) this team has run out there in the last 4-5 seasons.

      Any honest assessment of this team would lead you to believe Nishioka had nothing to do with how horrible this team has been the last 2 years.

      I guess people are going to need a new scapegoat when they lose 90 games again next year.
      Casilla has been a substantially better player than Nishioka, which is really saying something about Nishi. I think you're underestimating how horrible Nishioka was as major leaguer. Also, of 62 qualifying hitters in the International League, he ranked 56th this year in OPS.

      Was he the primary reason the team has been terrible over the past two seasons? Of course not. But he stands out as one of this organization's most monumental failures in recent history and his case is symbolic of the team's staggering inability to evaluate middle infield talent.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      1. Nishioka represents "swinging for the fences"? The Twins invested less than $15m over 3 years in him. Only a Twins fan could view that as "going for it". Yu Darvish represents going for it. Matsuzaka represents swing for the fences. Tsuyoshi Nishioka represents trying to poke a ground ball single to the opposite field, in a true Twins philosophy way. Sheesh, people.

      2. Claiming Nishioka had no role in the Twins 2 year suck fest is incredibly uninsightful. The fact he wasnt even good enough to perform at a below average level in the major leagues has left the Twins with a middle infield hole they're still trying to cover over, with no fix in clear sight. Dumping Hardy for Nishioka isn't Nishioka's fault, but let's not pretend it isn't one of the Twins biggest issues for the past two years, and most likely into the future as well. Just because it might not be the biggest issue doesn't mean it has no effect on wins and losses. Having a hole in your roof doesn't mean you can ignore the termites eating away at your foundation.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post

      ...the team's staggering inability to evaluate middle infield talent.
      Is this hyperbole? If it isn't I gotta disagree. I'd bet money the team's field staff and ML scouts could all rattle off a pretty good pecking order of ML SS and 2B that you would agree with. If you had phrased it: "the team's staggering inability to acquire and field superior middle infield talent." I would agree with you. I think that narrows the focus to the real 2-fold problem.

      A) Acquisition B) Gettin him out there. I would further narrow the focus to SS, as the value to the team is significantly more there than at 2B.

      Acquisition is the easy part. All it takes is a little bit of love, a little salesmanship, and MONEY. These guys are extremely rare. The top SS of this generation make a lot.

      Gettin him out there is apparently a problem. I think Gardy's history gets in the way. He was a very good div 1 SS. He's a very BB smart guy. He's had 35+ years to study and dissect the position full time. I think he intimidates the young ones. And I think he pissed off and chased off the one vet worth a crap that he had.

      When Gardenhire retires I hope he stays with the team ala TK. I think his expertise would pay great dividends with the very young middle infielders in the organization. But I think it gets in the way with the ML team.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Good post Chief.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul View Post
      Is this hyperbole?
      No, it is not hyperbole. And I'm not talking about "superior middle infield talent" – my expectations are way lower than that.

      The Twins have had almost no stability in the middle infield for close to a decade, especially at shortstop. Their farm system is mostly bereft of even remotely decent middle infield talent. When they finally are able to find guys who can play (such as Hardy and Bartlett) they get rid of them. I challenge you to find another team that has struggled to this degree with finding and keeping palatable major-league options at both second base and shortstop over the past eight years.
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      1. Nishioka represents "swinging for the fences"? The Twins invested less than $15m over 3 years in him. Only a Twins fan could view that as "going for it". Yu Darvish represents going for it. Matsuzaka represents swing for the fences. Tsuyoshi Nishioka represents trying to poke a ground ball single to the opposite field, in a true Twins philosophy way. Sheesh, people.

      2. Claiming Nishioka had no role in the Twins 2 year suck fest is incredibly uninsightful. The fact he wasnt even good enough to perform at a below average level in the major leagues has left the Twins with a middle infield hole they're still trying to cover over, with no fix in clear sight. Dumping Hardy for Nishioka isn't Nishioka's fault, but let's not pretend it isn't one of the Twins biggest issues for the past two years, and most likely into the future as well. Just because it might not be the biggest issue doesn't mean it has no effect on wins and losses. Having a hole in your roof doesn't mean you can ignore the termites eating away at your foundation.

      1) By Twins standards, yes, it was. This was a higher risk/higher reward move than their previous signings. Darvish and Daisuke are beyond swinging for the fences. When you're forking over $50 mil in posting fees, that's shooting for the moon, and it's beyond what the Twins would ever be involved in.

      2) Nobody said he had no role. The point is that the role is grossly overstated. I posted the with/without Nishi records, and they speak for themselves. The guy played in less than 25% of them team's games the last 2 years. It's "pretending" to claim he was one of the biggest issues "for the past 2 years and likely into the future as well." You're not the first one to blame him for games lost that he didn't play in, that's absurd enough. But with the "likely into the future" claim, you're setting up to blame Nishi for games played after his release that haven't even been played yet.

      I'm with savvyspy, there are too many fans with Nishioka Derangement Syndrome.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by one_eyed_jack View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      1. Nishioka represents "swinging for the fences"? The Twins invested less than $15m over 3 years in him. Only a Twins fan could view that as "going for it". Yu Darvish represents going for it. Matsuzaka represents swing for the fences. Tsuyoshi Nishioka represents trying to poke a ground ball single to the opposite field, in a true Twins philosophy way. Sheesh, people.

      2. Claiming Nishioka had no role in the Twins 2 year suck fest is incredibly uninsightful. The fact he wasnt even good enough to, perform at a below average level in the major leagues has left the Twins with a middle infield hole they're still trying to cover over, with no fix in clear sight. Dumping Hardy for Nishioka isn't Nishioka's fault, but let's not pretend it isn't one of the Twins biggest issues for the past two years, and most likely into the future as well. Just because it might not be the biggest issue doesn't mean it has no effect on wins and losses. Having a hole in your roof doesn't mean you can ignore the termites eating away at your foundation.

      1) By Twins standards, yes, it was. This was a higher risk/higher reward move than their previous signings. Darvish and Daisuke are beyond swinging for the fences. When you're forking over $50 mil in posting fees, that's shooting for the moon, and it's beyond what the Twins would ever be involved in.

      2) Nobody said he had no role. The point is that the role isi grossly overstated. I posted the with/without Nishi records, and they speak for themselves. The guy played in less than 25% of them team's games the last 2 years. It's "pretending" to claim he was one of the biggest issues "for the past 2 years and likely into the future as well." You're not the first one to blame him for games lost that he didn't play in, that's absurd enough. But with the "likely into the future" claim, you're setting up to blame Nishi for games played after his release that haven't even been played yet.

      I'm with savvyspy, there are too many fans with Nishioka Derangement Syndrome.
      I repeat...only a Twins fan.
    1. darin617's Avatar
      darin617 -
      Quote Originally Posted by dberthia View Post
      Wow- after this move I have a lot more respect for Nishi. Too bad Blackburn won't man-up and do the same thing.
      Same thing will be thought of Joe Mauer in 3 more years.
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      Quote Originally Posted by darin617 View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by dberthia View Post
      Wow- after this move I have a lot more respect for Nishi. Too bad Blackburn won't man-up and do the same thing.
      Same thing will be thought of Joe Mauer in 3 more years.

      ---Yep, similar players in similar situations, Mauer and Nishioka.
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