Friday, October 22, 2010

Season Stats Comparison between MLB and NPB


I've always been interested in the differences between baseball here in Japan and that played overseas. Of course, there are the obvious things like the longer games that occur regularly here, or the overuse of the sacrifice bunt that , but the smaller things that aren't immediately noticeable. With both regular seasons over, I decided to perform a quick analysis of the differences between the two leagues.

I looked at all the offensive stats plus errors to see if there were any large discrepancies on a per game basis. I used mlb.com for their stats and npb.or.jp for the Japanese equivalent. I simply summed the stats for each team to get the total number over the entire season and divided by the total number of games played.

In Japan, there were 864 games (144 games for 12 teams) while in MLB there were 2,430 (162 for 30) . There are a couple of surprising results: one is how many of the stats are close to one another and the other is how the general perception of the two games isn't necessarily accurate.

Let's start with runs. The average MLB game had 8.77 runs compared to 8.78 for NPB. Pretty much the same. But there was a difference between how runners got on base - there were 18.22 hits per game in Japan but only 17.51 in MLB while the major league pitchers averaged 6.49 walks per game compared to only 5.91 in Japan. This really surprised me, I always thought that pitchers nibbled here more and batters were more patient, thereby drawing more walks and making the games longer. Nope, I was wrong on that one. Interesting that hit batsmen happen more in Japan though at a rate of 0.84/game compared to 0.64 in MLB.

The majors did lead in terms of power, hitting 3.49 doubles per game compared to 3.22 here, 0.36 triples to 0.29 and 1.90 homers to 1.86. What is interesting here is that the home run differential is the least significant of the three; the general belief is that the game here is faster while the majors hit for much more power. Not necessarily true, and stolen bases somewhat back this up with MLB averaging 1.22/game compared to 1.19. By itself, not a statistically significant result but still a bit surprising.

The largest difference is obviously sacrifice bunts, where Japan averages 2.72 times as many (1.73/game compared to 0.64), but intentional walks are also significantly different, being used twice as often in the majors (0.5/game compared to 0.24).

This was a good season to compare the two leagues because MLB finally got tough on steroid users. The fairly severe penalties given to first-time offenders is likely one reason behind the reduced offense in MLB and makes comparisons more meaningful.

Finally, on the other side of the ball, the Japanese do play better defense, at least by the simplest of measurements: errors. There was about 1.13 errors per game in the NPB, 9% less than the 1.25 flubs that the major leaguers made. However, I'm not sure if passed balls are included in either of these calculations.

What's all this mean? I think the general perception is that the NPB relies more on small ball and less on power, but plays a better fundamental game. That's true to a point with sacrifices the most obvious example, but the difference is not as significant as I would have expected.

Below is the complete table of stats. The third column is the percentage difference, simply the NPB total divided by the MLB total less 1, expressed as a percentage.

MLB NPB Diff
TPA 76.36 76.81 0.60%
AB 68.05 67.84 -0.31%
R 8.77 8.78 0.08%
H 17.51 18.22 4.07%
2B 3.49 3.22 -7.90%
3B 0.36 0.29 -17.51%
HR 1.90 1.86 -2.14%
TB 27.41 27.60 0.69%
RBI 8.35 8.40 0.60%
BB 6.49 5.91 -8.95%
K 14.12 13.78 -2.41%
SB 1.22 1.19 -2.57%
CS 0.46 0.47 0.98%
Sac 0.64 1.73 172.32%
SF 0.54 0.48 -9.42%
HBP 0.64 0.84 32.36%
IBB 0.50 0.24 -51.66%
GDP 1.53 1.46 -4.71%
Err 1.25 1.13 -9.03%
Game Times

I've also done a bit of poking around with game times and pitch totals, but I haven't been able to easily find the total number of pitches in Japan. MLB.com has that data (there were 710,066 pitches thrown in 2010 if you care) but I'd like similar data for here. Even better would be ball/strike breakdowns. Also I haven't calculated the average game time in MLB. The NPB actually posts that on their home page (3:13 for 9 inning games and 3:18 overall, 5 minutes longer than last season) in their increasingly futile attempt to speed up the game.

A few months ago I posted a preliminary look at why Japanese baseball games take longer and promised to look into it more. I did end up gathering data for 102 games from each league but have decided to ignore those results (which showed MLB about 8.8% faster using the Pitches Per Minute metric) as the sample size turned out to be too small. Once I get the full season's data from Japan, I'll have one final post on this topic, so check back for that in a couple of weeks.

Best,

Sean

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