Shinnosuke Abe (阿部 慎之助)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 215 lb.
Abe was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts as the backup to Akihito Fujii at catcher for the Japanese national team in the 1997 Intercontinental Cup. The 18-year-old amateur was on the Japanese team that handed Cuba its first Gold Medal game loss in a major event in 15 years. Abe hit .300/.356/.500 in the 1998 Baseball World Cup. He was the club's right fielder. He appeared in the 1999 Asian Championship. He went 2 for 18 with 2 walks and a double in a woeful turn at the 2000 Olympics. In the 2001 Baseball World Cup, he batted .265/.316/.471 with 8 RBI in 10 games for #4 Japan.
After a .223/.293/.373 as a rookie starter, he improved to .298/.377/.478 in 2002. He was named to the Best Nine team as the best backstop in the Central League and hit 18 homers; he played a role on the Giants team that won the Japan Series that year. He kept improving in '03, hitting .303/.392/.500 though he missed the Best Nine. In 2004 he had an even better year at the plate, hitting to the tune of .301/.391/.625 with 33 HR. He was third behind Greg LaRocca and Hiroki Kokubo in slugging percentage and again missed out on a Best Nine. Early in the year he had a shot at breaking Sadaharu Oh's Central League home run record before fading as the year progressed. The Giants set a new NPB home run record thanks to Abe, Kokubo, Tuffy Rhodes, Yoshinobu Takahashi and Roberto Petagine all hitting 29 or more.
In '05, Abe dipped a bit to .300/.365/.498 with 26 homers. He finished 10th in the Central in OPS and slugging. On a Giants team noted for not developing players and instead relying on free agent signings, Abe represented the top home-grown product. In 2006, his production fell further with a .294/.349/.427 line and only 10 home runs.
Abe's 3-run homer off of Masahiro Tanaka in the second NPB All-Star Game of 2007 helped give the Central League its sixth straight win; Abe was named MVP and won the 2 million yen prize for being so honored.
In the 2007 season, Abe rebounded, hitting .275/.355/.513 with 33 home runs and 101 RBI. He drove in the most runs on a team loaded with sluggers like Takahashi, Seung-yeop Lee and Michihiro Ogasawara. He was 5th in the CL in homers, tied Shuichi Murata for 4th in RBI, led in sacrifice flies (10) and was sixth in slugging percentage. He made the Best Nine as the top catcher in the Central League.
Abe batted .769/.769/.923 in the 2007 Asian Championship to lead Japan to the title and a spot in the 2008 Olympics. He scored two and drove in four in three games and led the Championship in average. Abe was named tournament MVP.
After his great work in the Olympic qualifiers, Abe struggled in the 2008 Olympics, going just 3 for 25 with a walk and a homer. His solo homer against Wen-Hsiung Hsu helped give Japan the lead in its win over Taiwan. On the other hand, his throwing error allowed the South Koreans a key insurance win in a 5-3 loss by Japan. He also made the final outs in their semifinal loss (to South Korea) and their Bronze Medal game loss (to Team USA).
In the 2008 season, Abe hit .271/.350/.502 with 24 HR. He tied Michihiro Ogasawara for 9th in the Central League in doubles (27) and tied Norihiro Nakamura for 7th in homers. He won a Gold Glove and was picked to the Best Nine. A shoulder injury kept him from catching in the 2008 Japan Series, but he went 4 for 10 with a double and a homer as a DH and PH. Unfortunately, Yomiuri lost the Series.
As Yomiuri's captain in 2009, Shinnosuke produced at a .293/.357/.587 rate with 32 home runs. He was again an All-Star. He was among the CL leaders in average (10th), homers (2nd to Tony Blanco), total bases (240, 10th) and slugging (1st, .043 ahead of #2 Aaron Guiel). He finished 5th in voting for the 2009 Central League Most Valuable Player Award and won Best Nine honors again. Abe was named MVP of the 2009 Japan Series. He hit .304 with 5 RBI, including the walkoff game-winning homer against closer Hisashi Takeda in game five and the winning double off Masaru Takeda in game six. He then hit a 3-run homer in the 2009 Japan-Korea Club Championship.
Abe continued to shine in 2010, winning All-Star and Best Nine honors with a .281/.368/.608 batting line, 44 homers, 85 runs and 92 RBI. He became the third NPB catcher to hit 40 homers in a year (after the legendary Katsuya Nomura and Koichi Tabuchi). He was MVP of the first 2010 NPB All-Star Game, driving in two of the CL's four runs. For the season, he was among the league leaders in runs (tied for 8th with Masahiko Morino), homers (3rd behind Alex Ramirez and Craig Brazell), RBI (6th, between Kazuhiro Wada and Matt Murton), total bases (303, 6th between Murton and Norichika Aoki), walks (58, 8th between Terrmel Sledge and Blanco) and slugging (3rd after Wada and Ramirez).
With a new baseball in use, offensive numbers fell in NPB in 2011; Abe hit .292/.363/.500 with 20 HR. He was among the CL's leaders in homers (tied for 4th with Sledge and Murata) and RBI (61, 9th between Brazell and Murton); had he qualified (he was limited to 114 games), he would have led in slugging (31 points ahead of Wladimir Balentien) and been 4th in OBP and tied with Aoki for 7th in average.
Abe cranked it up yet another notch in 2012, producing at a .340/.429/.565 clip with 27 dingers and 104 RBI. He led the CL in average (29 points ahead of teammate Hayato Sakamoto), RBI (23 ahead of runner-up Wladimir Balentien), OBP (43 points more than Balentien) and OPS (36 more than Balentien). He was also among the leaders in runs (72, 5th, between Lastings Milledge and Takashi Toritani), hits (159, 4th, between Yohei Oshima and Wada), home runs (2nd, 4 behind Balentien, just missing a Triple Crown), walks (69, 4th between Wada and Balentien) and slugging (2nd, 7 points shy of Balentien). He not only got Best Nine honors but ran away with the 2012 Central League Most Valuable Player Award, getting 259 of 261 first-place votes. In the 2012 Japan Series, he went 3 for 12 with a double and 3 RBI but missed almost half the Series with a knee injury and was replaced by Kazunari Sanematsu; Yomiuri beat the Nippon Ham Fighters for the title. Abe also split the Matsutaro Shoriki Award with his manager, Tatsunori Hara, to become the first player to win since former teammate Hideki Matsui 12 years prior. Abe was the first backstop to be named CL MVP since the great Atsuya Furuta in 1997.