Globally renowned for its pitching, with players able to throw over 95 miles per hour, hurl breakers and with impeccable ball control, the Japanese Baseball League founded in 1936 became a professional system in 1950, which has featured many international players, not all of whom, however, find success.
This is why the performance of Cuban fielder Alfredo Despaigne from Granma province is so noteworthy. Fourth batter in the Chiba Lotte Marines regular line up, his offense stats are the most outstanding of the country’s Pacific League, a result which saw him become a hopeful for the league’s All Stars Team, as best designated hitter.
So far, Despaigne has been the only Cuban player contracted by the country’s National Baseball Federation to surpass 500 appearances, with 570 this year, after participating in 134 games during the regular season, as well as two more in the play-offs. He qualified in 12th place among the best batters of the Pacific League, where only six players managed to reach a .300 average, five of them ranging between .304 and .314. Batting is never easy in a game like baseball.
Despaigne’s average was .280 (139 flares for 496 official at-bats), with 27 RBI (runs batted in) doubles and 24 home rums, in addition to 92 runs and scoring 81 points. If we add these last two results together then subtract the total from his 24 homes runs we’re left with 149 runs, and average of 1.11 per game, undoubtedly an excellent result and the main reason why Chiba Lotte managers have kept him as fourth batter in their regular line-up.
A slugging percentage of .480 and average of .361 errors speak for themselves in regard to his all-round batting ability. Despaigne also made adjustments to his game which saw the number of base on balls increase to 64, with no change to his 89 strike out rate, despite 100 more plate appearances than in 2015.
In the two play-off matches against the powerful Soft Bank team on October 9, Despaigne batted 8 for 2, two of which were consecutive home runs.
The slugger, born in Santiago de Cuba and an adopted son of Granma, made his debut in the Japanese baseball league in 2014, averaging .311 and hitting a dozen blasts in only 45 games, with 161 times at bat, 26 runs and 33 runs batted in.
A year later he played 103 matches and although his average dropped to .258 – Asian baseball is very demanding, above all for a player unaccustomed to a season featuring over 100 games, with only one days rest a week – he made 18 home runs, with 49 runs and 62 runs batted in.
Despaigne has participated in 282 matches with a total of 56 home runs, 187 runs batted in, 156 runs, 280 base hits in 1,010 officials at-bat for an average of .277. At thirty years of age (born June 17, 1986, in Palma Soriano) he still has a lot of baseball left to play. However, he can now boast of having gone to play in the Japanese league… and boy did he play!
JAPANESE BASEBALL ON THE RISE
It can be said that Japanese baseball is currently experiencing its highpoint. At the end of the regular season – play-offs are still going on – 24,981,514 fans had attended games played at the 12 teams’ stadiums, with the highest number (3,004,146) coming out to see the most popular squad of the league, the Yomiuri Giants.
There are many reasons for this new-found success according to El Bate del Samurai journalist Claudio Rodríguez Otero, including new and more comfortable stadiums such as the Mazda in Hiroshima or the Rakuten Eagles’ home turf, the Kobo stadium in Sendai.
An interesting case was that of the Nippon-Ham Fighters, who saw over two million people attend their games due to the incredible performance of 22-year-old stellar pitcher Shohei Otani, with a 102 mile an hour throw, who won 10 games and struck out 174 rivals, with a 1.86 earned run average and .322 as a designated hitter, securing 22 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 104 games.
According to Rodríguez Otero, Japanese baseball can stand up against that of the U.S. Major League in regards to attendance figures. If Japan’s professional baseball league had 30 teams like that of the U.S., the total number of fans would rise to over 69 million, close to the 73 million that attended MLB games this year.