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How NPB differs from MLB - 15 topics

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  • How NPB differs from MLB - 15 topics

    Baseball is not just a national pastime for Americans but also has been one of the most popular sports in Japan since the it was introduced in 1872. After a long history of baseball in Japan, or “Yakyu” (野球), some say it has been transformed into something different from American baseball.
    After playing for Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the 1987 season, former Atlanta Braves slugger Bob Horner refused to come back to Japan for next season because he did not want to “go halfway around the world to play something that isn`t baseball”.
    In the last 3 decades, many Japanese superstars such as Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish, and yes Shohei Ohtani traveled around the world in the other direction to play in the major league. Not only US fans have been amazed by those great talents from Japan who became all-stars in MLB and even broke some historical MLB records, but also baseball fans in Japan are thrilled to watch them playing in MLB fields on TV despite of the late night or early morning broadcasting times.
    Although the distance between American and Japanese baseball seem to have become narrower and mutual understandings and respects have been enhanced, there are still significant differences between those professional baseball organizations that probably perplexed Horner in the late 80s and are still confusing baseball players and fans in the both countries. Here is a list of 15 things you need to know about NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) and how it differs from MLB (Major League Baseball).

    1. Number of Teams (NPB: 12, MLB: 30)

    NPB consists of 2 leagues (Central League and Pacific League) each having 6 teams with no division while MLB has 30 teams in 2 leagues each divided into 3 divisions. Because Japan is almost same size as California, away games are not too far away for NPB players.

    Central League

    Chunichi Dragons (Nagoya, Aichi)
    Hanshin Tigers (Nishinomiya, Hyōgo)
    Hiroshima Toyo Carp (Hiroshima, Hiroshima)
    Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Shinjuku, Tokyo)
    Yokohama DeNA BayStars (Yokohama, Kanagawa)
    Yomiuri Giants (Bunkyō, Tokyo)

    Pacific League

    Chiba Lotte Marines (Chiba, Chiba)
    Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (Fukuoka, Fukuoka)
    Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (Sapporo, Hokkaidō)
    Orix Buffaloes (Osaka and Kobe)
    Saitama Seibu Lions (Tokorozawa, Saitama)
    Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Sendai, Miyagi)

    2. Owners (NPB: Company, MLB: Individuals)

    As shown by team names, NPB teams are owned by sponsoring companies while MLB teams are usually owned by super-rich individuals like Steinbrenner family (New York Yankees).

    3. Number of Regular Season Games (NPB: 143, MLB: 162)

    The regular season of NPB runs in similar months and durations as MLB. It starts on later March and ends on early October. However, NPB plays lesser number of games (143) than MLB (162) by having no-game days at almost weekly (usually on Mondays).

    4. Number of All-Star Games (NPB: 2, MLB: 1)

    Both NPB and MLB all-star games occur annually in July at almost halfway of the regular seasons. The starting fielders are selected by fans voting, then pitchers and reserve fielders are selected by managers.
    The biggest difference is that NPB plays multiple all-star games in multiple locations while MLB plays just one game at a venue annually selected. NPB played 3 all-star games in a series until 2013 and currently plays 2.

    5. Number of post-season games (NPB: 16 games as maximum, MLB: 20 games as maximum)

    The Japan Series is equivalent to the World Series. It is a best-of-7 series between a top team from the Central League and the Pacific League.
    The post-season system to determine a team to advance to Japan Series is very different from MLB. It is called as the Climax Series. As there are no division within a league, the top 3 teams in the regular season advance to the Climax Series. In the First Stage, #2 and #3 teams play a best-of-3 series. The winner of the First Stage then plays the Second Stage that is a 6-games series against #1 team. In the Second Stage, the #1 team is granted a one-game advantage.

    6. Number of Farm System Layers (NPB: 2, MLB: 7~8)

    Most of the NPB teams has only 1 affiliated team in their “minor” league as each organization can contact up to 70 players as maximum. Only Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants have 2 “minor” teams. Some teams hire few additional “out of rosters” players who are not eligible to play in the official games. There are only 2 “minor” leagues under NPB: Eastern League and Western League.
    Typically, MLB team has “minor” teams 3A, 2A, 1A +, 1A, 1A Short, Rookie +, and Rookie levels. Each MLB minor level consists of 2~3 different leagues.

    7. Number of Drafted Rookies (NPB: 120 each year, MLB: 1200 each year)

    NPB’s rookie draft acts differently from MLB. It is more like NFL or NBA. It is held during the off-season and each team picks only 7~8 rounds. The draft order of the first round is determined by rotary and the rests are determined based on the season's standings (a team with the worst winning percentage is granted the first pick). It is also common that 1st or 2nd round picks immediately promote to the “major” teams following year without playing in the farm teams.
    MLB’s rookie draft is held during the regular season and each team picks players up to 40 rounds. The draft order for all rounds is determined based on the previous season's standings. All drafted rookies including the first picks start in the minor league.

    8. Number of Foreign Players (NPB: 4 per team, MLB: No limit)

    Both NPB and MLB hire players from foreign countries. However, NPB limits up to 4 non-Japanese players per each team’s roster. Foreign-born players in NPB are often called as “outsider” (外人) or “helper”(助っ人). 
    MLB does not have such limitation. According to MLB official website, its 2019 opening rosters had 251 foreign born players (28.5%) from 20 different countries.

    9. Number of Indoor Stadiums (NPB: 6 out of 12, MLB: 1 out of 30)

    Probably because of rainy climate in Japan, half of NPB ballparks are indoor and domed structure (Tokyo Dome, Nagoya Dome, Sapporo Dome, Seibu Dome, Osaka Dome, and Fukuoka Dome).
    Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay is the only MLB stadium with indoor and closed roof. There are 5 MLB stadiums that have retractable roof.

    10. Artificial Turfs (NPB: 9 out of 12, MLB: 3 out of 30)

    The most of NPB ballparks are on artificial turfs surface. The exceptions are Hanshin (Koshien), Hiroshima, and Miyagi that are on grass.
    MLB is opposite as the most of its ballparks are on grass with exception of Arizona, Toronto, and Tampa Bay.

    11. Extra innings (NPB: maximum 12, MLB: No limits)

    NPB has a 12-innings limit in the regular season and a draw is declared in case of tie scores. It is extended to 15 innings in the post season games but there is still a draw ending game.
    MLB has no draw decision and there is no limit on extra innings until a winner is declared.

    12. Unwritten Rules

    Both NPB and MLB has own unwritten rules. Because they are not clearly defined, players who come from a country to the other are sometimes confused by those rules. Here are relatively noticeable differences in the two leagues.
    • Many NPB batters do bat-flips after hitting home runs. Some even backflip on home base. Unlike MLB, it is not considered as rude or offensive behavior.
    • A winning NPB team never stop attempting to get extra score no matter how large a deficit is. Stealing bases when a score is 10-0 is sill a fair play because it shows respects to a losing team.
    • NPB pitchers apologize to batters after throwing Hit-By-Pitch by taking hats off and bowing.
    13. The balls used

    NPB uses the baseballs that are slightly smaller and lighter than the ones used by MLB. NPB balls are close to the lowest range in the international regulation and MLB balls are in the highest.
    • NPB official baseballs are manufactured by Mizuno. It weighs about 5 ounces (142g), and 9 inches (229 mm) in circumference.
    • MLB official baseballs are manufactured by Rawlings. It weighs about 5 1⁄4 ounces (149 g), and 9 1⁄4 inches (235 mm) in circumference.

    Many Japanese pitchers also complain that MLB balls are slippy and cause elbow injury because they must hold the balls more firmly.

    14. Instant Replays (NPB: By Request, MLB: By Challenge)

    Both NPB and MLB has recently implemented the instant replays to overturn the call made by umpires. However, they initiate the process in different names. In NPB, a manager has to “request” a replay while MLB managers “challenge” it. NPB followed MLB’s this new procedure but seemed little hesitant to be confronting to umpires.

    15. Managers (NPB: Former super stars, MLB: No experience as a player required)

    In general, NPB managers have better playing career than MLB managers. For the 2019 season, 10 out of 12 active NPB managers had played in the all-star game as a player at least once. The majorities of the hall-of-famers in NPB history had taken manager’s role including Shigeo Nagashima (5-time MVP), Sadaharu OH (868 career homeruns), Masaichi Kaneda (400 career wins), Hiromitsu Ochiai (3-time triple crown), and so on.
    MLB managers are not necessarily former star players. Some did not even make it to the major level as a player. For example, Joe Maddon (Chicago Cubs) only reached to Class A+ level in the Angels organization for four years from 1976-1979 as a player but had won 2 World Series Championships (2002 and 2016) as a manager.

  • #2
    Excellent writeup. Welcome to the site, and thanks for sharing.
    Put it in the books.


    • #3
      Originally posted by afernandez View Post
      As shown by team names, NPB teams are owned by sponsoring companies...
      Who can't relish the joys of following the Nippon Ham Fighters?
      "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
      "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
      "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
      "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


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