On August 23, Munetaka Murakami crushed a three-run shot off Sotaro Shimauchi for his 45th home run of the season to lead his Yakult Swallows to a 5-4 comeback victory over the Hiroshima Carp. In doing so, the superstar third baseman became the first left-handed hitter in Nippon Professional Baseball to hit 45+ home runs in a season since American Craig Brazell in 2010. The last Japanese lefty to reach that mark was Nobuhiko Matsunaka in 2005. He’s also the first player since Masayuki Kakefu in 1979 to hit 45+ homers while also reaching double-digits in stolen bases.
With 32 regular season games left to play, he’s getting awfully close to making even more significant history. Oh, and he’s only 22 years old. Let’s take a closer look at this young phenom’s unprecedented season.
With 45 homers through 110 games, Murakami is now on pace for 58 this season (the NPB regular season is 143 games). Former Swallow Wladimir Balentien set the single-season NPB record in 2013 with 60 home runs, but the all-time record for a Japanese-born player is still held by the legendary Sadaharu Oh, with 55 back in 1964. Only four other Japanese players have posted 50+ home runs in a season: Makoto Kozuru, Katsuya Nomura, Hiromitsu Ochiai, and Hideki Matsui – all members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
Following his first Central League Most Valuable Player award and Japan Series title last year, Murakami stated that his goal was to hit over .300 with 40+ HR and 100+ RBI this season. He’s completely eclipsing his own expectations. His season got off to a strong start, with 15 home runs and an OPS of .982 through May. But he took things to a new level in June with a 35 RBI, 14-home run outburst – including six multi-homer games – to give him an OPS of 1.455 for the month. He hasn’t looked back since then, even setting the NPB record by homering in five consecutive plate appearances between July 31 and August 2.
Currently, Murakami leads NPB in all categories of both the traditional Triple Crown (Batting Average, Home Runs, Runs Batted In) and the slash line Triple Crown (Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage), as he’s hitting .327/.457/.728 with 45 HR and 110 RBI. His on-base percentage is boosted by an 18.3% walk rate. His .401 Isolated Power places him in the upper echelon of all-time great sluggers, as only Sadaharu Oh, Alex Cabrera, and Wladimir Balentien have posted a .400+ ISO in a season. Murakami’s colossal production has netted him 8.2 Wins Above Replacement and 231 Weighted Runs Created Plus (League Average = 100). He has 21 more long balls, 37 more ribbies, and 2.7 more WAR than the next closest player in the Central League.
The Swallows appeared to have the pennant on lockdown after going 19-4 in June to extend their lead to 12.5 games at month’s end. But a 14-23 record since then has shrunk their lead to just four games over the DeNA Baystars. It will take a team effort for the Swallows to get their season back on track and repeat as Japan Series champions. But there’s no doubt that the steady presence of Murakami in the middle of the order has prevented their season from completely derailing.
Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, Munetaka Murakami’s 2022 will go down as a historically great campaign – perhaps even the greatest ever. You don’t want to miss it.