Who’s Gonna Win?

» 13 September 2015 » In npb » Comments Off

On September 13, 2015, the Central League achieved symmetry. Yomiuri beat DeNA 3-0, Chunichi tied Yakult 2-2, and Hanshin lost to Hiroshima 0-3. This is something of a microcosm of how the Central League pennant race has played out. For most of the second half of the season, Hanshin, Yakult and Yomiuri have taken turns holding first place, while Hiroshima hovers a few games back. Over the last two weeks, the race has tightened up even further, with four teams within 3 games of first place, and the top three locked in tie-like conditions.

(Standing as of Sept 13)

# Team W L T GB
1 Yakult 65 60 2 -
2 Hanshin 65 61 2 0.5
3 Giants 66 62 1 0
4 Hiroshima 61 62 3 2.5

So who’s gonna win?

It’s still anyone’s pennant.

Remember that in Japan, the champion is whoever loses the fewest games, so this race is maybe even a little more neck and neck than it appears. In pretty much every game, each of the four contenders a chance to add to their win column, but also bump up an opponents lose column. But in doing so they also help their other rivals.

Erm, so who’s gonna win?

Let’s also point out that the top three placed teams will qualify for the playoffs, but the league champion gets a bye in the first stage of the Climax Series playoffs, and a one-game advantage in the second stage. Given the parity of the teams this year, that’s a big prize.

Right, okay, who’s gonna win?

Yakult wins if… their starting pitching holds up through the rest of September. The Swallows have been on a bit of a run lately, going 9-3-1 over the last three weeks. Over that stretch, rainouts and off days have allowed them to rely almost entirely on four starters: Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa, Taichi Ishiyama, Masanori Ishikawa, and Shohei Tateyama. Over the second half of September, the Swallows will have 11 games over a stretch of 13 days, and will probably have to dig a little deeper in to their rotation, especially as Tateyama is returning from his third Tommy John surgery. A well-timed gutsy performance from a guy like Hirofumi Yamanaka or Orlando Roman could be the difference between a league title and a third-place finish. Key players: Yamanaka, Roman, Tateyama’s current ulnar collateral ligament.

Hanshin wins if… they can keep Hiroshima at bay, which they have so far not managed to do. Hanshin is 7-12-2 on the season against Hiroshima, but more importantly entered September with nine of their last 27 games to play against the Carp. So far five of those nine games have been played, and Hanshin is 1-3-1. Unfortunately for the Tigers, three of the remaining four games are on Hiroshima’s home ground, so their work is cut out for them, but they have to find a way to put a few losses on Hiroshima’s ledger. Aside from that, Hanshin has four more games against DeNA and Chunichi, whom they’ve enjoyed beating up on this year. The Tigers need take full advantage of their remaining opportunities to pad their record. Key players: Matt Murton and Mauro Gomez.

Yomiuri wins if… they can gain the upper hand on Yakult. The Tokyo rivals are an interesting matchup; Yakult having the league’s best offense, and Giants being the most adept at run prevention. The Swallows and Giants have perfectly split their 20 meetings so far this year, and have five left to play. Yomiuri’s pitchers have done a good job at keeping Yakult off the board, holding them to 3.1 runs per meeting, compared with their season average of 3.99. But they need to score runs to win, and in nine of their 10 losses to the Swallows, Yomiuri’s offense has put up three or fewer runs. Key player: anyone who happens to be holding a bat.

Hiroshima wins if… they can continue to beat Hanshin, and Yomiuri and Yakult trade wins with each other. After a vexing, underachieving season, the Carp have finally pulled up to the rest of the pack, though they are still on the outside looking in. The key to the remainder of Hiroshima’s season is sort of the inverse of Hanshin’s. They need to continue their success against the Tigers, and reverse their luck against the bottom-dwelling Dragons and Baystars. They Carp might be in first place if it wasn’t for their incompetence against the Central League’s worst two teams, whom they are a combined 16-26-1 against.  But if they can make that record look a little better over the seven games they have left against those two teams, they’ll obviously be in better shape. Key player: Brad Eldred. The Carp seem to win when he hits.

My prediction: I didn’t write it down at the time, but my pre-season pick was Hiroshima and I’m sticking with that. I’m giving them the league, beating Yakult’s winning percentage by a fraction. Hanshin stands to lose the most if Hiroshima succeeds, so I’ll pick them for fourth, with Yomiuri defaulting to third position.

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Power Ranking Methodologies

» 01 August 2015 » In npb » Comments Off

A couple weeks ago, my friend John Gibson asked me to do a monthly NPB power rankings segment for his Japan Baseball Weekly podcast. I’ve been on the ‘cast a couple times and it’s always a lot of fun, so it was an easy decision to accept, despite my lack of recent writing activity.

The other thing that made this an easy decision is the opportunity to do something different with a concept like power rankings. I have to admit I’m not much of a fan of power rankings; I tend to think of them as subjective and lacking real analysis. So if I’m going to do this, I’m going to try to put my own spin on it. Even if turns out to be analytically shallow, it should at least be fun.

The question is how to rank the teams. For me, there is a spectrum of possible answers, ranging from “objective” to “subjective”. On the “objective” side of the spectrum, there’s data. Not just wins and losses and runs scored and allowed, but ideally atomic, granular data on each play, that should be more predictive of how a team is actually performing. On the other side, there’s eyeballs and intuition. “Sure, Hanshin is winning, but they don’t feel like a first place team.” Power is in the eye of the beholder.

In my first attempt I’ve come down somewhere in the middle. At the moment I don’t have the type of play data I want for an entirely data-driven approach, so I used data points that I thought were most indicative of each team’s ability to compete along with my own instincts. The top and bottom teams were pretty obvious; the middle tier not so much. The rankings will be in this week’s JPW podcast, so we’ll see how I did then.

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New Content Coming Soon

» 12 July 2015 » In NPB Tracker » 6 Comments

There will be some new articles here soon. I promise.

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Site Announcement

» 01 April 2015 » In NPB Tracker » 2 Comments

This was, indeed, an April Fool’s joke. I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who were looking forward to content about tiles. I’m already back to extraordinarily infrequently updating the site with the usual stuff. But be warned, there probably will be some off-topic stuff thrown in.

When I started this site back in 2008, I didn’t give much thought to whether anyone would read it or not; it was an endeavor of fun. If I had any dreams for what this site might become, reality has certainly exceeded them. I never imagined meeting people in the baseball industry, or that they would know my work, or becoming friends with writers that have influenced me, or writing an article for ESPN, or making media appearances in three countries.

But over the last couple years, I’ve developed a bit of a desire to branch out from Japanese baseball and explore other topics. I can’t escape the feeling that it’s time to really stretch my arms and test myself as a writer. So today, after a lot of soul searching and careful consideration, I finally decided to move in another direction. I’m thrilled to announce that from this day forward, NPBTracker.com will be all about tile!

Why tile? Well, for starters, everyone can relate to tile — if you’ve ever taken a shower or set foot in a diner, you’ve probably come into contact with tile. But moreover, tile is an extraordinarily rich subject matter. Here are just a few of the many tile-related topics I’ll be exploring:

  • release dates of new tiles
  • tile materials, such as ceramic or marble
  • proper tile maintenance
  • tile history
  • interviews with tile factory employees

Just to get started, here are some pictures of various types of tile I found online:


Ceramic Tile


Concrete Tile


Stone Tile

It’s an exciting time at NPB Tracker, and I hope you’ll all enjoy this new direction as much as I’m going to enjoy pursuing it. It’s been a great seven years, and I’m looking forward to at least seven years of tile-related content!

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Japan Baseball Weekly Appearance & I’m Still Around

» 22 March 2015 » In Uncategorized » 3 Comments

This a post to announce that while this site is in stasis, I’m still around. And I have the podcast appearance to prove it:

Speaking of appearances, I never mentioned that I was on Japanese television last autumn. More on that later.

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DeNA Signs Gourriel

» 12 May 2014 » In international baseball, npb » 1 Comment

According to multiple Media outlets out of Japan (such as Nikkan Sports) the Yokohama DeNA Baystars have signed Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Nikkan Sports quotes Gourriel as saying “Japan is known as a high-level league, so I’ve always wanted to try playing there. I’m very happy to have that hope fulfilled. I appreciate the Baystars for giving me this opportunity.”

Gourriel will wear number 10 for the ‘Stars, and his arrival in Japan is of yet undecided. No other details have been announced as of yet.

For more on Gourriel and Cuban players in NPB, please see this previous post.

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Updated: Baystars Negotiating with Gourriel

» 10 May 2014 » In international baseball, npb » 1 Comment

Update, Sunday 11:30pm Pacific time: Sports Hochi reports that DeNA has a basic agreement in place with Gourriel. GM Takada cautions that “he’s not signed yet”, but DeNA has a representative in Cuba to complete the deal. The Baystars plan to play Gourriel at second base, and bat him third in the order. The article also mentions that Yuliesky’s father, Lourdes, played industrial league ball in Japan for Isuzu.

Word on the street (err, Japanese media) is that the Yokohama DeNA Baystars are looking to follow the Yomiuri’s acquisition of Frederich Cepeda with a Cuban splash of their own: infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Baystars GM Shigeru Takada was quoted in Sanspo as saying, “We’re headed in a good direction. It won’t take much time. We’re going to wrap up the talks.” Nikkan Sports adds that DeNA scouted Cuba in the offseason.

Cuban defectors Leslie Anderson and Yuniesky Betancourt are currently active in NPB, but Cepeda will be the first Cuban non-defector to play in Japan since an over-the-hill Omar Linares from 2002-2004. If a DeNA is able to conclude a deal with Gourriel, it’s tempting to think that Cuba could become a new, much-needed talent stream for NPB.

From a pure baseball standpoint, I don’t think I could possibly like the idea of this signing any more for DeNA. Part of it is personal bias; Gourriel has been a favorite of mine for years and I’ve written about wanting to see him in Japan as far back as 2009. But in addition to that, Gourriel is still 29 and logically has more of his prime left than Cepeda. And he seems like a good fit for DeNA’s non-pitching needs, as their offense has been sluggish in 2014 and second base has been a hole for years*.

Kudos to Takada and DeNA for going outside the box after a talent like Gourriel. Now, if they could only apply some creative thinking to their pitching woes…

*this assumes they play him at 2b.

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NPB Bullet Points: A Few Articles I Read

» 09 May 2014 » In npb » Comments Off

Every article linked here is written in English:

As a bonus I’ll throw in this highlight of Yuki Nishi spearing a hard line drive that was on a course for his head.

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Fujinami’s Most Egui Pitch

» 07 May 2014 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off

Today’s Japanese word of the day is egui (エグい), which in a baseball context refers to a particularly “nasty” or “sick” pitch.

Hanshin sophomore Shintaro Fujinami’s hard splitter/sinker/shuuto is as about as egui as you’ll find in NPB.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out these gifs that I’ve gleefully borrowed from 2ch:



150 km/h is about 93.2 mph, 147 km/h is 91.3 mph.

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Why Don’t NPB Players Make More Money?

» 05 May 2014 » In npb » 4 Comments

…a later article appears. The delving begins.

The glass is half empty: only 91 NPB players earn JPY 100m ($1m) or more per year, a relative paucity compared to their Major League counterparts.

The glass is half full: 91 is more than 10% of the total number of NPB players and all 91 are probably quite happy to be earning such a comfortable income; the vast majority NPB farm leaguers earn JPY 4.4m ($44k) and up, a relative fortune compared with their MLB-affiliated minor league counterparts.

So why don’t NPB players earn more? And more importantly, why haven’t NPB’s top salaries grown? Aside from the blips of Roberto Petagine and Tony Batista cracking JPY 700m ($7m) in the mid-aughts, the top salaries have leveled off at about JPY 600m ($6m).

This subject probably requires expertise or research that exceeds what I have to offer, but I do have a few observations, ordered numerically for convenient reference, rather than in order of precedence.

  1. Most of the biggest stars move on MLB, rather than driving up their NPB salaries.
  2. Domestic free agency does increase salaries, but is so restrictive that only a small percentage of eligible players even file.
  3. Pre-free agency salaries tend to go year to year, and pay cuts for non-performance or injuries are a bit more common.
  4. The almost complete lack of agents in NPB.
  5. A cultural aversion to crossing the salary thresholds set by previous stars.
  6. Payroll is spread more equitably across the entire baseball operation.
  7. NPB teams are operated as business units of large corporations, rather than independent businesses funded by wealthy investors.

I would point to Hideki Matsui’s departure for the Yankees following the 2002 season as the starting point of NPB salary stagnation. Matsui’s salary in 2002 was JPY 610m, and while we’ve seen that line crossed a couple times (see above), the JPY 600m figure has essentially become the benchmark number for top-notch NPB players. Shinosuke Abe has this year’s top salary, at the magic JPY 600m mark. He could have had more, but he didn’t feel ready to surpass Matsui’s number. If he Abe had had an agent involved. I’m sure he would have nudged him in the direction of the higher paycheck.

Following the 2001 season, Yomiuri offered Matsui an eight-year, JPY 6bn ($60m), which would easily have . Had he taken the Kyojin-gun’s offer, that would have dragged the benchmark up to JPY 750m. Ichiro’s final NPB salary (2000) was JPY 550m. Yu Darvish’s was JPY 500m (2011). Kazuhiro Sasaki’s was JPY 500m (1999), then JPY 650m after he returned to Yokohama. It’s reasonable to think that any of these guys would have raised the bar as well, though none ever had a publicly-disclosed offer of the size of Matsui’s.

Epilogue: I suppose this doesn’t explain much. NPB teams are mostly operated as loss leaders, and the league as a whole has been less aggressive than MLB at developing new revenue streams. I could easily write a whole post exploring the balances sheets of NPB clubs, but the fact that they are less profitable than their MLB counterparts is a big piece of the puzzle here.

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