Next up in the League Primer Series is one of the two farm team leagues that operate in Japan. The Eastern League (JPEL) begins in play in a little under a month.
The JPEL has been around since the early 1960s when it was created to allow for the two main leagues in Nippon Professional Baseball to keep growing their rosters. For the most part, the JPEL continues year after year with very little in the way of change taking place. Main league teams staff their JPEL teams with younger players and those rehabbing from injury, simple as that. The roster size is limited to 70, and in order for players to get adequate field time some farm teams have begun to use third teams that play in the equivalent of backfield instruct unofficial leagues. The only major shakeups occurred in the early 2000s when NPB instituted a developmental draft that in turn allowed developmental players to compete in one of the two farm leagues. Around the same time, the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes ceased operations in NPB thanks to a merger and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles entered NPB. The end result was a realignment of the JPEL and their sister league, the Western League (JPWL), so that the teams were more geographically centered. That means that the JPEL is made up of farm teams from parent clubs in both the Central League and the Pacific League.
There is no standardized JPEL season. This is due to the policy of every team playing around 80 league games while being allowed to schedule as many interleague games with the JPWL as they so choose. The season starts on March 13th and lasts until October 1st. There are no JPEL playoffs, but the JPEL regular-season champion advances to play in the Farm Championship Game against the winner of the JPWL. The rules of play in the JPEL are unique in that they all depend on the main league affiliation of the home team. If the game is played at the home field of a JPCL affiliated team then the pitcher will bat and the visiting team has the option of using a designated hitter if they so wish. When a game takes place at the home field of a JPPL affiliated team then both teams use a designated hitter. Outside of that, and tied games after 9 innings ending in a draw, the standard rules of baseball are used.
Level of Play
I haven’t seen much JPEL action so I had to rely on people I trust to formulate this ranking. The JPEL has a collection of players with talent levels ranging from ML-level all the way down to Rookie-level. The ML-level to AAA-level players are typically only in the league because they are rehabbing an injury or are trying to work out some kinks from a rough stretch in one of the two main leagues. There are a number of regular JPEL prospects who would more than likely fall into the AA-level, but the majority seem to exist in the A-level to Rookie-level realm. Based on all of the above I feel comfortable stating that the JPEL operates at an A-level.
- Chiba Lotte Marines-farm
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters-farm
- Saitama Seibu Lions-farm
- Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles-farm
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows-farm
- Yokohama DeNA BayStars-farm
- Yomiuri Giants-farm
The NPB English site has statistics for the JPEL however these statistics only go back to the 2008 season (The link provided is for the 2019 season, when the 2020 season starts that will be a new “home” page.) Baseball Reference carries JPEL stats, but their database also only reaches back as far as 2008. As far as I can tell anything pre-2008 is only available in old handheld guides and has not been made available online.
People to Follow
There’s a handful of folx covering Japanese baseball who I really trust. That being said, they only briefly touch on farm league action from time-to-time. If you’re looking for first-hand regular accounts of JPEL action you will need to find someone online who I’m not aware of.
There isn’t a central website, Facebook, or Twitter for the JPEL. However, the NPB English website does have a farm league section where they keep a calendar of games, standings, and statistics (the provided link is for the 2019 season and will be replaced by a new link for the 2020 season as soon as games are played.)
There isn’t an actual streaming service for the JPEL. However, home games for farm teams of JPPL teams are streamed on Pacific League TV. I believe that the Farm Championship Game is also streamed on Pacific League TV. The service is available outside of Japan, costs approximately $15/month, and does have a mobile app.
Special thanks to Jim Allen for all his research assistance.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Nippon Professional Baseball website