Get To Know This Year’s Foreign Imports: Takashi Toritani

Earlier in the offseason, Mike detailed two potential imports from Japan in Kenta Maeda and Chihiro Kaneko. The pair started games one and two of the Japan All-Star Series. Maeda dazzled in his audition, throwing five shutout innings. Kaneko struggled a bit, allowing three runs in his five innings of work. Both pitchers are likely to be posted, and both would go towards filling the gap in the Dodgers’ rotation.

Over the past few days, a new name has popped up, this time at shortstop. The Dodgers need one of those! This time, it’s 33-year-old Takashi Toritani. Toritani has played for the Hanshin Tigers for the past eleven seasons, captaining the team on a run to the Japan Series this year before they fell to the SoftBank Hawks in five games. Toritani is now an international free agent and recently hired Scott Boras to represent him with the intent of finding a home in MLB.

Toritani’s most impressive feature is his durability. He has played in 1444 straight games, spanning nearly his entire career. His last missed game was in the same year which featured Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis, Dave Roberts, and Hideo Nomo in the Dodgers’ opening day lineup. That’s certainly a change from what the Dodgers have been seeing at the position since Hanley Ramirez came to town, and he shares that characteristic with trade possibility Alexei Ramirez. He also led NPB in WAR in 2013, though I don’t think I need to tell you how many grains of salt to take that with.

Let’s break Toritani’s skills into two sections with the help of some video. First, the defense:

There are a few flashy plays in there, but also some plays which may not have required a dive for Erisbel Arruebarrena or Miguel Rojas. It’s still fun to see him slide around on Koshien’s all-dirt infield, though. To my eyes (not even not a scout), he looks like he has solid-average range with good instincts making up for below average speed for the position. Maybe like Jhonny Peralta? I’m bad at this.

Obviously the Dodgers would want to sign Toritani as a shortstop, but it appears that he has the arm and ability to charge the ball which could make him a good third baseman (the first play in the video is from 2013’s WBC, but he has never played there in an NPB game). He looks like a better defender than Jeong-ho Kang, who Mike profiled here, at least.

So, probably a good defender. What about his offense? First, a video:

These are all home runs, which is pretty misleading since he’s only hit ten homers once in the past four years. He’s definitely not a power hitter, but you can see him taking the ball to all fields in this video, which is a pretty good sign. Also, a lefty-hitting shortstop! Not unheard of, but obviously opposite of his throwing arm.

Toritani’s statistics over the past four years paint a pretty good picture of what he has been in Japan:

2014 .313 .406 .415 12.4% 13.5% .102
2013 .282 .402 .410 10.1% 16.2% .128
2012 .262 .373 .375 14.5% 15.1% .113
2011 .300 .395 .414 12.2% 13.2% .114

There are a few things we can get from these. First, the lack of power, which has already been discussed. There aren’t many homers in there, but he’s not just a singles slap hitter either. Second, he has low strikeout rates (the league average strikeout rate in Japan last season was 18%). Third, he walks more than he strikes out. Over the past four seasons, Toritani has walked 363 times and struck out 308 times. The actual slash line numbers vary from year to year as his BABIP fluctuates, but the overall skills are similar.

This also lets us look up MLB players by the same season “type.” Via Baseball Reference’s play index, here are the last ten seasons for major league players with at least 400 plate appearances, an ISO less than .150, a higher walk rate than strikeout rate, and a strikeout rate greater than 10%:

Year Player BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO wRC+
2012 Joe Mauer .319 .416 .446 13.7% 14.0% .127 138
2010 Daric Barton .273 .393 .405 14.9% 16.0% .131 126
2010 Carlos Ruiz .302 .400 .447 12.5% 12.7% .146 127
2009 Luis Castillo .302 .387 .346 10.0% 11.9% .043 104
2009 Nick Johnson .291 .426 .405 14.6% 17.2% .114 129
2009 James Loney .281 .357 .399 10.4% 10.7% .118 103
2009 Marco Scutaro .282 .379 .409 11.0% 13.2% .127 112
2008 Russell Martin .280 .385 .396 12.8% 13.8% .116 112
2007 Brian Giles .271 .361 .416 11.1% 11.6% .145 112
2007 Joe Mauer .293 .382 .426 10.8% 12.1% .133 114

The lowest wRC+ among this group was James Loney, at 103. The median is in the low 110s. For a good defensive shortstop, that’s fantastic. Really, the best thing you can say about what Toritani has been in Japan is that he’s a post-power Joe Mauer. Or, a Marco Scutaro type with higher strikeout and walk rates. Brian Giles would have popped up a lot more if we went back more than eight seasons. That type of strike zone control might translate to the majors a bit better than other types of hitting profiles, though I don’t know if there have been any studies done to back this up.

Toritani should come cheap, since no posting fee is required to sign him. His offense has been good in Japan, but not great, and is likely to get a bit worse here. He’ll also be 34 next June. The “good defensive shortstop with plus-plus durability” part of his profile makes some of the concerns seem more minor, though. He wouldn’t be my first choice for starting shortstop next year, but I’d seriously consider giving him a look before handing the reigns over to the internal options.

About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.