Archive > 07 August 2008

Down the Stretch – The Pacific League

» 07 August 2008 » In npb » 2 Comments

For the first time since the current 3-team playoff system was introduced, all six Pacific League teams have a reasonable shot at qualifying for the post-season. Here are the current standings:

1 Seibu 98 55 42 1 0.567
2 Nippon Ham 101 52 47 2 0.525 4
3 Softbank 101 52 49 0 0.515 5
4 Lotte 102 49 53 0 0.48 9
5 Orix 101 48 52 1 0.48 9
6 Rakuten 99 43 54 2 0.443 13

The six teams’ performance has actually been a little closer than their won-loss records might indicate. Let’s take a look at the Pacific League Pythagorean standings:

1 Seibu 499 419 80 0.586 57 41
2 Nippon Ham 365 377 -12 0.484 49 52
3 Softbank 423 429 -6 0.493 50 51
4 Lotte 471 485 -14 0.485 49 53
5 Orix 430 427 3 0.504 51 50
6 Rakuten 415 404 11 0.513 51 48
*Apologies for the somewhat crappy quality of the formatting on these charts — I made them in Excel and didn’t test on a wide variety of browsers.

I was surprised to see that Orix has a positive run differential, but aside from that this is about what I expected. Only Seibu has really separated themselves from the pack, mostly due to a powerful offense. The teams are mostly even with each other; home/road splits and interleague performance might explain the differences in won/lost records.

Now for some thoughts on how things will play out for the rest of the season…

The Lions would have to really slump to miss the playoffs, but if someone else is going to take a run at them, now would be the time. Ace Hideaki Wakui, slugger GG Sato, and PL batting avg Hiroyuki Nakajima are all representing Japan in the Olympics and will miss most of August. I think they’re a lock at this point.

Nippon Ham
The Fighters get it done with pitching and defense, outplaying their expected won-lost record by 3 games. The absence of Yu Darvish for the Olympics will be felt in Sapporo, as will that of leading batter Atsunori Inaba. Still I think they’re in good shape for a playoff berth.

Masayoshi Son’s team wasn’t able to acquire the big bat they were looking for, and now they’re faced with losing twin lefty aces Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tsuyoshi Wada to Olympics, as well as table-setter Munenori Kawasaki. They’ll have to rely on rehabbing Nagisa Arakaki and their foreign starters throughout August to stay competitive.

After a slow start, Lotte has played back into contention. Lotte is losing three key guys to the Olympics — lefty starter Yoshihisa Naruse, infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and catcher Tomoya Satozaki, but has Julio Zuleta and Shingo Ono returning from the injured list. Those guys don’t quite balance out the stars that will be gone, but Bobby Valentine is confident. I’d love to see these guys make it the playoffs; Bobby has done a ton for Japanese baseball, they have great fans and a good group of guys.

New manager Daijiro Ohishi seems to have energized the Buffaloes back to competitiveness, along with the resurgence of veteran import sluggers Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera. The presence of Kazuhiro Kiyohara could serve as motivational factor as well. Orix isn’t sending anyone to the Olympics, so now is their time to strike. I’d love to see these guys make the playoffs; Ohishi turning the team around mid-season is a great story and I’d like to Tuffy in the playoffs again.

The Golden Eagles are sitting in last place despite their +11 run differential, which is 2nd best in the league. They’d have to go on a tear to come back from 11 games under .500, but it’s possible. Young righthander Masahiro Tanaka is Rakuten’s only Olympic representative. I’d love to see these guys make the playoffs; manager Nomura has done a great job making the team competitive and they have some great pitchers that would really be tough in a short series.

So the Olympics will loom large in the already tight Pacific League playoff race. Should be a great pennant race!

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Ranking Iwase, Kawakami & Uehara

» 07 August 2008 » In mlb prospects » 2 Comments

If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know that the top three Japanese free agents this year are pitchers Hitoki Iwase, Kenshin Kawakami, and Koji Uehara. I’ve profiled all three, now it’s time to rank ’em as MLB prospects.

Safest Bet:

  1. Iwase: Standout NPB relievers have generally made successful transitions to MLB, and few have been as good in NPB as Iwase. I don’t think the struggles of Kazuo Fukumori and Yasuhiko Yabuta will scare teams away as Iwase has put up significantly better numbers than those guys in NPB.
  2. Kawakami: Has been consistently good over the last 5-6 seasons, and having another good year. I think he will be slightly better than Hiroki Kuroda. Look out for a post comparing Kawakami and Kuroda head-to-head some time in the near future.
  3. Uehara: Pitched in relief last year; struggled in return to rotation this year, got injured, then came back to the bullpen. He’ll probably only sign with a team that will give him a chance to start.

Highest Upside:

  1. Uehara: I can see him having a great year as a starter if he stays healthy and winds up on the right team (big park, good outfield defense, preferably National League). His control sets him apart here.
  2. Kawakami: I put him a shade behind Uehara because I think Uehara’s superior control could play better in MLB. I still expect him to be a solid MLB pitcher.
  3. Iwase: Best case: Iwase is a solid late-inning reliever. I think he’s the most likely of the three to realize his MLB potential, but as a reliever his value isn’t as high as a starter.

Why do this now, in the middle of the season? Mostly because people outside Japan will get to see all three of these guys pitch in the Olympics this month. It also gives us a chance to watch them over the last two months of the season and see if things change.

Note that it’s not a given that all three of these guys will opt to move over to MLB.

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