Hirokazu Ibata (井端 弘和)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 8", Weight 165 lb.
Hirokazu Ibata is the shortstop for the Chunichi Dragons.
Ibata was picked in the 5th round of the 1998 draft by the Chunichi Dragons and debuted the same season, hitting .245/.339/.265 in 18 games; he did not play in NPB in 1999 as Kosuke Fukudome became the Dragons shortstop. In 2000, Ibata became a semi-regular for the Dragons and batted .306/.351/.372 in 92 games.
Ibata became an everyday shortstop in 2001 with Fukudome switching positions. He hit .262/.326/.330 for Chunichi. He was with Japan for the 2001 Baseball World Cup and batted .438/.561/.531 with 11 runs in 10 games; he stole successfully in all eight attempts. He led a strong team (which included Yoshinobu Takahashi, Shinnosuke Abe and Tadahito Iguchi) in runs. He was third in the Cup in average behind Luis Ulacia and Jenry Roa and tied Ralph Milliard for the most steals. He made the All-Tournament team at shortstop.
In 2002 in Japanese Baseball, Ibata hit .290/.361/.363 for Chunichi and was chosen to the Best Nine as the top Central League shortstop. He hit .400/.478/.400 for Japan in the 2002 Intercontinental Cup while playing primarily second base (Tomohiro Nioka manned short).
Ibata produced at a .267/.319/.342 rate in 2003 and Masahiko Morino saw some action at short as the Dragons sought more offense there. He was on Japan's squad for the 2003 Asian Championship as they won Gold. In 2004, Ibata again was the everyday option and hit .302/.367/.395 with 81 runs, 30 doubles and 21 stolen bases (in 31 tries) in a big step forward. He was third in the CL in steals behind Norihiro Akahoshi and Masahiro Araki and 4th in doubles. He won a Gold Glove at shortstop and made the Best Nine again.
At age 30, Hirokazu hit .323/.405/.412, stole 22 bases in 30 tries and scored 87 runs in 2005. He was third in the CL in walks (72, behind Tomoaki Kanemoto and Fukudome), triples (5, behind Akahoshi and Fukudome) and OBP (behind Fukudome and Kanemoto). He was 4th in the league in average and fifth in steals. He again won a Gold Glove and made Best Nine.
Ibata was left off Japan's team for the 2006 World Baseball Classic as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Shinya Miyamoto and Munenori Kawasaki were chosen. In 2006, his batting line was .283/.355/.365 and he stole 17 bases in 29 attempts. He was 5th in runs (97) and steals but third in times caught stealing. He made the Best Nine and won a Gold Glove. He hit .200/.238/.350 in the 2006 Japan Series as Chunichi lost.
Ibata batted .296/.368/.393 in 2007 with 87 runs, 34 doubles and 23 stolen bases (in 29 tries). He led the CL in plate appearances (665), was third in doubles, was 4th in runs, 5th in hits (174), tied Takashi Toritani for 8th in walks (63), was third in steals and was 8th in OBP. He made his fourth straight Best Nine and won his fourth Gold Glove in a row as well. He hit .211/.263/.318 in the 2007 Japan Series, which Chunichi won, their first Japan Series title in over 50 years.
In the 2007 Asia Series, Ibata won MVP honors as he led Chunichi to victory. He had the tourney-winning single in the 9th inning of the finale against Mike Romano of the SK Wyverns. He was 0 for 4 with a hit by pitch, steal and a run in the 2007 Asian Championship as Japan clinched a spot in the 2008 Olympics.