The Best Asian Players in MLB History
The Best Asian Players in MLB History

by Nick Selbe

More than ever before, baseball has become a globalized sport. Here's the best Asian players in Major League Baseball history.

Baseball is America's past time, but a quick scan of Major League Baseball rosters illustrates just how international the game has become. The league boasts elite-level talent from all corners of the globe, and the inclusion of players from foreign countries has undoubtedly elevated the stature of the world's premier baseball organization to new heights.

PointAfter -- a sports data visualization site powered by Graphiq -- took a look at the best MLB players from across the globe. First up, we rank the 30 best Asian players in MLB history.

When settling on the top 30, we relied largely on career Wins Above Replacement and career WAR rate -- that is, WAR per a certain amount of playing time. Because Asian players often come over to America midway through their careers, many play only a few seasons in their early-to-mid-30s in the states. For each type of player, WAR rate is calculated as follows:

    - Position players: WAR per 162 games

    - Starting pitchers: WAR per 200 innings

    - Relief pitchers: WAR per 70 innings

In addition to WAR, we also took into account each player's traditional statistics -- slash line, ERA, strikeouts, etc. -- and their accolades. With active players, there was a bit of projection involved in settling on their final ranking, as their MLB careers are still ongoing. Finally, players were judged solely on their MLB careers, so any awards won overseas were not taken under consideration.

No Asian player has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame, though there's at least one name on this list who's likely to change that in the coming years.

Note: For active players, all stats are current as of July 20, 2016.

 

30. 2B Kazuo Matsui

Career WAR: 5.27
WAR per 162 games: 1.4

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2004-10

Many Mets fans probably consider Matsui a bust, given the hype that surrounded him prior to his MLB career. He won the 1998 Nippon Professional Baseball MVP Award at age 23 and signed with Mets on a $20.1 million contract in 2003. He burst onto the scene with a bang, hitting a home run on the first pitch of his big-league career.

Though he never came close to reaching All-Star status, Matsui was a steady contributor and had his best season in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies. He posted a .288/.342/.405 slash line with a career-best 32 stolen bases in a 3.4-WAR campaign. Matsui hit .304/.347/.500 in the postseason as the Rockies won the NL pennant, only to be swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

 

29. 2B Akinori Iwamura

Akinori Iwamura

Career WAR: 4.5
WAR per 162 games: 1.8

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2007-10

Iwamura became a fan-favorite in Tampa, and was a key member of the franchise's lone World Series appearance in 2008. That year, Iwamura's second in America, the infielder posted a career-best 3.1 WAR, with a .274/.349/.380 slash line. His most iconic moment came when he made the final out of Game 7 in the 2008 ALCS, recording an unassisted fielder's choice on a ground ball by Jed Lowrie.

 

28. RP Hung-Chih Kuo

Hung-Chih Kuo

Career WAR: 4.7
WAR per 70 innings: 1.1

Country of origin: Taiwan
Years active: 2005-11
Accolades: All-Star (2010)

Kuo developed into an elite setup man for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 96 batters in 80 innings during the 2008 season, and made his lone All-Star appearance in 2010 when he posted a 1.20 ERA. Kuo underwent five surgeries on his pitching elbow during his career, and his MLB career ended at age 29.

 

27. SP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Career WAR: 5.0
WAR per 200 innings: 2.8

Country of origin: South Korea
Years active: 2013-present

Ryu immediately endeared himself to Dodgers fans with an impressive rookie campaign, posting a 14-8 record with 154 strikeouts in 192 innings and a 3.00 ERA. He finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting that season, behind a formidable trio in Shelby Miller, Yasiel Puig and winner Jose Fernandez. Ryu had another solid year in 2014, but injuries have derailed his career since. He missed all of 2015 with a shoulder injury, and has pitched just 4.2 innings in 2016. Ryu is only 29 years old, so he has time to recover from these setbacks, but right now his MLB career is one of what-could-have-been.

 

26. C Kenji Johjima

Kenji Johjima

Career WAR: 5.3
WAR per 162 games: 1.9

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2006-09

Though he never won any awards or made an All-Star team, Johjima was a reliable, underrated player during his brief career with the Seattle Mariners. In his first two seasons, the catcher played in 279 games with a .289/.327/.442 slash line. In 2009, Johjima led the Majors by throwing out 53.7 percent of would-be base-stealers. Johjima returned to Japan in 2010 and retired in 2012 at age 35.

 

25. SP Jae Weong Seo

Jae Weong Seo

Career WAR: 6.3
WAR per 200 innings: 2.1

Country of origin: South Korea
Years active: 2002-07

Seo signed with the Mets in 1998 but didn't appear in the Majors until 2002. He spent the majority of his career as a starter, and his best season came in 2003 when he threw a career-high 188.1 innings with a 3.82 ERA. After spending the majority of the first half of the 2005 season in the minors, Seo enjoyed a stellar big-league campaign. He made 14 starts and had a 2.59 ERA, his lowest in any single season. The Mets traded Seo to the Dodgers in 2006, and he finished his career with the Devil Rays in 2007.

 

24. RP Kazuhiro Sasaki

Kazuhiro Sasaki

Career WAR: 3.7
WAR per 70 innings: 1.2

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2000-03
Accolades: All-Star (2001, 2002), 2000 AL Rookie of the Year

Sasaki pitched 10 seasons in Japan before coming over to the States at age 32. He notched 119 saves in his first three seasons, earning two All-Star berths and finishing 19th in AL MVP voting in 2001. Sasaki's MLB career was cut short after he suffered a broken rib in 2003 during "drunken horseplay," according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He returned to Japan in 2004 and retired the following year.

 

23. RP Danny Graves

Danny Graves

Career WAR: 6.0
WAR per 70 innings: 0.5

Country of origin: Vietnam
Years active: 1996-2006
Accolades: All-Star (2000, 2004)

Graves is the only Vietnam-born player in MLB history. Though advanced metrics aren't too kind to him -- he has the lowest WAR rate of any player on the list -- he did make two All-Star appearances while serving as the closer for the Cincinnati Reds, saving a career-high 41 games in 2004.

 

22. OF Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts

Career WAR: 9.0
WAR per 162 games: 1.8

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 1999-2008
Accolades: Wold Series champion (2004)

Roberts spent the majority of his career as a fourth outfielder/defensive specialist type, though he was a steady contributor throughout his decade-long career. Despite playing in only 48 total games (regular season and playoffs) with the Boston Red Sox, he's revered among the fan base for his heroic steal of second base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox famously went on to beat the Yankees in that series after falling behind 3-0, then defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to capture their first World Series title since 1918.

 

21. 2B Tadahito Iguchi

Tadahito Iguchi

Career WAR: 6.3
WAR per 162 games: 2.1

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2005-08
Accolades: Two-time World Series champion (2005, 2008)

Iguchi only played four seasons in the Majors, but he made the most of them. In his rookie season (2005), he started at second base for the Chicago White Sox as the team won its first World Series championship since 1917. Iguchi had another productive season in 2006, then was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007. His 2008 season was an unproductive one, and though he was not on the Phillies' postseason roster, the team opted to give him a World Series ring.

 

20. SP Tomo Ohka

Tomo Ohka

Career WAR: 11.9
WAR per 200 innings: 2.2

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 1999-2009

During his 10-year career, Ohka spent time with five franchises -- the Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians. His best season came in 2002 when, as a member of the Expos, he threw 192.2 innings with a 3.18 ERA and a career-best 4.0 WAR.

 

19. OF Nori Aoki

Nori Aoki

Career WAR: 8.5
WAR per 162 games: 2.3

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2012-present

Upon arriving in America, Aoki enjoyed two stellar seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He posted a combined 6.6 WAR from 2012-13, with a .287/.355/.399 slash line and 50 stolen bases. He was the starting right fielder for the Kansas City Royals in 2014, helping lead the team to the World Series. He's currently in his fifth season, now a member of the Seattle Mariners.

 

18. SP Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda

Career WAR: 1.8
WAR per 200 innings: 3.4

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2016-present

Of the 30 players on the list, Maeda is the one whose selection required the most speculation. Midway through his first big-league season, the right-hander looks every bit worthy of being an All-Star-caliber starter. In his first 19 starts, he posted a 3.25 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 108 innings. Since he's only 28 years old, he may end up much higher on this list when his career has reached its end.

 

17. RP Hideki Okajima

Hideki Okajima

Career WAR: 6.9
WAR per 70 innings: 1.9

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2007-13
Accolades: World Series champion (2007), All-Star (2007)

Okajima may have peaked early in his MLB career, but he was practically untouchable in his first couple seasons. As a rookie in 2007, he made his only All-Star appearance, posting a 2.22 ERA in 69 innings, with 63 strikeouts and 17 walks. His unusual pitching motion -- in which he turned his head down to the ground before he released the ball -- made for quite a spectacle, though few could argue with the results.

 

16. SP Daisuke Matsuzaka

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Career WAR: 9.3
WAR per 200 innings: 2.4

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2007-14
Accolades: World Series champion (2007)

The Red Sox spent over $103 million to sign the much-hyped Matsuzaka in 2007. Though his career eventually was derailed due to injuries, he proved himself worthy during his first two years.

Matsuzaka posted a combined 9.4 WAR during his first two seasons, with a 33-15 record and a 3.72 ERA in 372.1 innings. He finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 and fourth in AL Cy Young voting in 2008. He won his lone start in the 2007 World Series, pitching 5.1 innings and allowing two runs in Boston's 10-5 Game 3 victory.

 

15. RP Shigetoshi Hasegawa

Shigetoshi Hasegawa

Career WAR: 11.6
WAR per 70 innings: 1.1

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 1997-2005
Accolades: All-Star (2003)

Hasegawa -- known to most fans as "Shiggy" -- spent the majority of his career as an effective setup man. At age 34, he made his lone All-Star appearance as a member of the Seattle Mariners, pitching 73 innings with a 1.48 ERA. He spent his first five seasons with the Anaheim Angels before finishing his career with four years in Seattle.

 

14. SP Wei-Yin Chen

Wei-Yin Chen

Career WAR: 9.8
WAR per 200 innings: 2.4

Country of origin: Taiwan
Years active: 2012-present

Chen fits a similar mold as Tomo Ohka and Jae Weong Seo -- reliable, innings-eater-type starting pitchers who can fill out a starting rotation. In his first four seasons -- all with the Baltimore Orioles -- Chen had a 46-32 record with a 3.72 ERA, striking out 547 batters in 706.2 innings. Though those numbers were nowhere near ace-level production, the Miami Marlins signed Chen to a five-year, $80 million contract prior to the 2016 season.

 

13. RP Byung-Hyun Kim

Byung-Hyun Kim

Career WAR: 11.2
WAR per 70 innings: 0.9

Country of origin: South Korea
Years active: 1999-2007
Accolades: Two-time World Series champion (2001, 2004), All-Star (2002)

In 2001, Kim became the first Korean-born player to ever play in the World Series. Unfortunately for him, he's probably best remembered for his complete implosion on the big stage. As the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he gave up a game-tying, two-run home run in the ninth inning of Game 4, then allowed a walk-off home run to Derek Jeter in the bottom of the 10th. The next night, Kim again coughed up a two-run lead in the ninth inning, this time allowing a two-run bomb to Scott Brosius.

The Diamondbacks still won the series, and Kim enjoyed a successful nine-year career, later winning a ring with the Red Sox in 2004.

 

12. RP Takashi Saito

Takashi Saito

Career WAR: 10.5
WAR per 70 innings: 2.2

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2006-12
Accolades: All-Star (2007)

Saito didn't make his Major-League debut until he was 36, but he made up for lost time by becoming one of the game's most dominant relief pitchers. He spent his first three seasons with the Dodgers, throwing a combined 189.2 innings with a 1.95 ERA. Saito remained effective during his next three seasons -- one each with the Red Sox, Braves and Brewers -- before finishing his career in Arizona in 2012.

 

11. SP Chien-Ming Wang

Chien-Ming Wang

Career WAR: 12.9
WAR per 200 innings: 3.1

Country of origin: South Korea
Years active: 2005-present
Accolades: World Series champion (2009)

After a mediocre first season in America, Wang enjoyed a breakout year in 2006, posting a 19-6 record with a 3.63 ERA and finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. He went 19-7 the following year before injuries began to take their toll on the right-hander. After throwing 533.2 combined innings in his first three seasons, Wang threw only 258.2 from 2008-13.

In the following years, Wang bounced around various stops, playing in the minor leagues with the Braves and pitching for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League, before signing a minor league deal with the Royals in 2016. He's since made his way back to the big leagues as a member of the Royals' bullpen.

 

10. SP Chan Ho Park

Chan Ho Park

Career WAR: 18.2
WAR per 200 innings: 1.8

Country of origin: South Korea
Years active: 1994-2010
Accolades: All-Star (2001)

Park was the first South Korean-born player in Major League history, making his debut on April 8, 1994. His 124 career wins are the most ever for an Asian-born pitcher, and he lasted a remarkable 17 seasons in the big leagues.

Park spent nine seasons with the Dodgers, making his lone All-Star appearance in 2001. From 1997 to 2001, Park made 165 starts, posting a 75-49 record with a 3.79 ERA and 966 strikeouts.

 

9. RP Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara

Career WAR: 13.0
WAR per 70 innings: 2.1

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2009-present
Accolades: World Series champion (2013), All-Star (2014)

Similar to Takashi Saito, Uehara came to America on the older side, debuting with the Baltimore Orioles at 34 years old. He thrived in relative anonymity before signing with the Red Sox prior to the 2013 season.

In Boston, Uehara evolved into a lights-out closer, finishing seventh in the AL Cy Young voting in 2013 and anchoring the Red Sox bullpen en route to a World Series championship. Uehara made the All-Star team in 2014, and for his career he has saved 92 games with 510 strikeouts in 426.2 innings.

 

8. SP Hiroki Kuroda

Hiroki Kuroda

Career WAR: 21.7
WAR per 200 innings: 3.3

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2008-14

It really is a shame that Kuroda never made a single All-Star team during his seven-year career, because he was among the league's most reliable starters during his time. He pitched at least 183 innings in six out of seven seasons, never posting an ERA worse than 3.76.

His lowest WAR total for any full season was 2.4, which came in his last season (2014) at age 39. In five career postseason starts, Kuroda had a 3.94 ERA and a 2-2 record, with 22 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.

 

7. SP Hisashi Iwakuma

Hisashi Iwakuma

Career WAR: 15.8
WAR per 200 innings: 4.1

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2012-present
Accolades: All-Star (2013)

Though Iwakuma has dealt with injuries throughout his career, he's been one of the better starters in the league since arriving with the Seattle Mariners in 2012. His best season to date came in 2013, when he threw 219.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA and 7.0 WAR, finishing third in AL Cy Young voting. On Aug. 12, 2015, Iwakuma threw a no-hitter against the Orioles, striking out seven hitters with three walks in Seattle's 3-0 victory.

 

6. SP Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

Career WAR: 9.2
WAR per 200 innings: 4.4

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2014-present
Accolades: All-Star (2014)

Tanaka signed an enormous seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees prior to the 2014 season, with Tanaka acknowledging his desire to play for a "world-famous team." With the sky-high expectations that come with a contract that lucrative, Tanaka has largely delivered on the hype -- at least when he's been able to stay on the field.

The righty made the All-Star team in his rookie year, going 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA. His season was cut short due to an elbow injury, limiting him to just 136.1 innings. The following year, Tanaka's elbow injury hampered him during the first half but he rebounded and pitched well down the stretch. He's been reliable in 2016, with a 7-2 record and 3.15 ERA through his first 19 starts.

 

5. SP Hideo Nomo

Hideo Nomo

Career WAR: 21.8
WAR per 200 innings: 2.2

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 1995-2008
Accolades: All-Star (1995), 1995 NL Rookie of the Year, two-time league-leader in strikeouts (1995, 2001)

Though he was not the first Japanese-born player in MLB, Nomo is frequently credited with inspiring a new wave of Japanese players to play in America. As a rookie in 1995, Nomo won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and finished fourth in Cy Young voting, striking out a league-leading 236 batters in 191.1 innings.

Nomo finished fourth again for the Cy Young Award the following year and was a steady starting pitcher throughout his career, notching seven seasons with 10 or more wins.

 

4. SP Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish

Career WAR: 13.6
WAR per 200 innings: 4.8

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2012-present
Accolades: Three-time All-Star (2012-14), AL strikeouts leader (2013)

Darvish was one of the most hyped-up pitchers prior to the 2012 season, when MLB teams lined up to bid on his services. The Texas Rangers signed him to a six-year, $60 million deal, this after submitting a $51.7 million posting fee in order to negotiate with him.

Darvish has been nothing short of electric since coming to the States, making the All-Star team in each of his first three seasons. He was the runner-up for the 2013 AL Cy Young Award, boasting a vast array of pitches that left even the best hitters guessing at what would come next. Darvish missed the 2015 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but has since returned, looking very much like his old self.

 

3. OF Hideki Matsui

Hideki Matsui

Career WAR: 21.3
WAR per 162 games: 2.8

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2003-12
Accolades: Two-time All-Star (2003, 2004),World Series champion (2009), World Series Most Valuable Player (2009)

Matsui was one of Japan's most decorated players of all time when he signed with the Yankees prior to the 2003 season. He immediately made a strong impact, making the All-Star team in each of his first two seasons.

In seven years in New York, Matsui hit .292/.370/.482 with 140 home runs and a combined 22.3 WAR. The highlight of his career was his winning the 2009 World Series MVP Award, as the Yankees defeated the Phillies in six games. For the series, Matsui hit an astounding .615/.643/1.385, with eight hits -- including three home runs -- in 13 at-bats.

 

2. OF Shin-Soo Choo

Shin-Soo Choo

Career WAR: 29.9
WAR per 162 games: 4.2

Country of origin: South Korea
Years active: 2005-present

Perhaps it's a bit surprising that Choo is so high on the list -- he's never made an All-Star team or won a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger Award. But Choo has been among the game's most underrated players since becoming a full-time starter for the Cleveland Indians in 2009.

From 2009-15, Choo posted a slash line of .280/.383/.449, with 122 home runs and 103 stolen bases. He accumulated 24.4 WAR during that span, topped by his 2013 season in which he had 6.5 WAR with a .423 on-base percentage. Choo signed a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Rangers prior to the 2014 season, and though injuries have cause him to miss significant time, he's still been a productive player when healthy.

 

1. OF Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki

Career WAR: 60.0
WAR per 162 games: 4.0

Country of origin: Japan
Years active: 2001-present
Accolades: AL MVP (2001), 10-time All-Star (2001-10), 10-time Gold Glove Award (2001-10), three-time Silver Slugger Award (2001, 2007, 2009), AL Rookie of the Year (2001), MLB single-season record with 262 hits (2004)

Was there ever a doubt? Baseball's worldwide hit king (depending on your perspective) took the league by storm in 2001, winning both the AL MVP and ROY awards and flashing his cannon of a right arm on a regular basis. The Mariners tied the all-time record with 116 wins that season, the only year they made the playoffs with Ichiro on the team.

Ichiro began his career with 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, including his record-setting 2004 campaign in which he had 262 hits. He's poised to become the first Asian-born player to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and he'll go down as one of the most gifted hitters the game has ever seen.

 

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