The most successful Japanese baseball players to make it in MLB
Japan is often referred to as the home of baseball. Japan has taken the level of baseball to high levels and allowed players from all over Japan to get the chance to play in the highest league in Japan, and the best league in the world (MLB). There are many players who have made it to the top of the best ranking list in Japan, and have moved over to the U.S. to play in the MLB, and today – we take a look at them.
After playing in the NPB (Nippon Pro Baseball League) from 2004-2011, Nori Aoki moved out to the US to play for the Milwaukee Brewers for a staggering $2.5 million. He joined the Brewers back in 2012 and played till 2017 with over 200 hits. His time in the US wasn’t only with the Brewers though, as after two seasons he had left to join the Kansas City Royals. After 132 games at the Royals, he had a further 93 games at the Francisco Giants, 118 games at the Seattle Mariners, and a further 109 games at Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros, and New York Mets before returning to the NPB in Japan.
A slightly older player, Daisuke Matsuzaka played professional baseball in the NPB back in 1999-2006. In 2007, Matsuzaka moved to play for the Boston Red Sox as an eight-year veteran. Boston didn’t see what hit them when Matsuzaka delivered a total of 201 strikeouts in the regular seasons and won game 3 of the 2007 world championship which was amazing for the Red Sox.
Matsuzaka went 18-3 in 2008 after settling in, but after some severe injuries, it was hard for Matsuzaka to recover fully. In a total of 6 seasons with Boston and a further 2 seasons with the New York Mets – Matsuzaka got a combined 720 strikeout, 4.52ERA and went 50-37 overall, which was a great outcome for this Japanese pitcher. Matsuzuka now plays back in the NPB.
Koji Uehara moved out from the NPB in 2009 at age 33 to play for Baltimore Orioles as a relief pitcher. After spending 8 years in total, he received 95 career saves all whilst striking out over 572 batters in 480 innings.
Uehara helped the Red Sox win the world series and he would remain in the majors for years to come until the 2017 when he played out his last season with the Chicago Cubs. Koji is now back in Japan playing in both the 2018, and 2019 season however has not played competitive baseball since.
A more commonly known MLB and NPB player, Hideki Matsu is one of the best players to grace the MLB from Japan. Hideki played in the NPB during the 1993-2002 seasons and saw great success whilst he was there. Known as “Godzilla” because of this ridiculous hitting power, Hideki seeked a move to MLB team New York Yankees for a staggering $21 million deal over three years.
During his time at the New York Yankees, he didn’t hesitate to show off this raw talent. In his first three seasons, he never missed a game and made 197 extra base hits (of which 70 were home runs) that led him to be one of the Japanese’s highest paid players in Baseball, specifically in MLB at a staggering $52 million contract. In total, Hideki succumbed to some injuries but still managed to pull off a total of 1,036 games with 175 home runs, and there is no reason why Hideki is now in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ichiro Suzuki is one of MLBs longest standing Japanese players. Playing in the NPB during 1992 – 2000, Ichiro Suzuki shone like a diamond and didn’t fail to impress his Japanese teammates. In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki moved to the Seattle Mariners for $13 million which turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life.
The then 27year-old became a superstar very quickly due to his 242 hits, 56 steals all as a rookie. In 2004, many fans will remember when he smacked an MLB record of 262 hits and closed the year batting a 0.327. Even so late on in his career, Ichiro Suzuki continued to amaze people for both his performance, and his abilities. Ichiro Suzuki continued to play in the MLB till late 2019 when the man retired from professional baseball.
In total, including his Japanese performances, Ichiro Suzuki has the most all-time hits at professional level at a whopping 4,367 hits – over a 28-season course, making Ichiro Suzuki one of the best baseball players from Japan to ever grace American soil.
In conclusion, there are many Japanese players that move over to the US to play in the MLB, and just some of them might break Ichiro Suzuki’s impressive record one day. Japan is well known for its baseball and we believe that the future holds many more superstars to come out of Japan to play in the big league that is the MLB.
Story by Mia Kaido