Archive > May 2009

More Attention for Kikuchi

» 31 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb draft » 6 Comments

Yusei Kikuchi really knows how to pack ’em in. He pitched in a practice game against Yokohama High School, drawing about 300 spectators, 30 of whom were scouts. Seven Japanese teams were on hand, as were scouts from the Rangers, Mariners, Mets and Yankees. Kikuchi did his part, going six innings and allowing one run on four hits with five strikeouts, while hitting 93 on the gun.

Some reactions to Kikuchi’s performance…

Mets Scout Russ Bove: “I can’t go into details, but he’s a good player.”

Yankees Scout Shoichi Kida: “Going forward we need to see him player a lot more games. I want to see more.”

Kikuchi himself: “Recently I’ve gotten to where I can relax and throw (in front of pro scouts). I was able to hold the other-wordly Yokohama to one run in six innings, so it feels like I’m maturing.”

Kikuchi is showing up in the media as a number of teams’ intended first-round pick in this year’s draft. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if this MLB interest escalates, or if Kikuchi reciprocates.

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Tonight on NPB Live

» 30 May 2009 » In npb » 3 Comments

Hiroshima ace Kan Ohtake is trying to extend his scoreless innings streak against Hisashi Iwakuma and the Rakuten Eagles. Check it out on NPB Live. It’s playing on the topmost player.

Update: Orix vs Yokohama has started on the second player.

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Mexican Leaguers: Yoshioka, Yamamura

» 30 May 2009 » In international baseball » Comments Off on Mexican Leaguers: Yoshioka, Yamamura

Not too long ago, I stumbled across the information that former Rakuten Eagle Yuji Yoshioka is playing in the Mexican League. He’s off to a pretty good start, hitting .302/.409/.469 through 29 games.

Former SoftBank Hawk Michinao Yamamura also played in the Mexican League this year, but has apparently been release after putting up an 8.22 era in 15.1 innings.

Several former suketto such as Pedro Valdes, Derrick White, and Nerio Rodriguez are active in the Mexican League this season as well.

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Player Profile: Ryota Igarashi

» 29 May 2009 » In mlb prospects, npb » 7 Comments

Note: corrected walks total.

Last winter, Yakult Swallows fireballer Ryota Igarashi declined to file for domestic free agency, instead re-signing for 2009 with the subsequent goal of moving to the majors. Igarashi is a righthanded reliever who has spent his entire career with the Yakult Swallows, and just turned 30 on May 28. If I had to pick the top free agent coming out of Japan after this season today, Igarashi would be my choice.

Stuff, Results & Mechanics
Igarashi is known one of the hardest throwers in Japan, and jointly holds the record for fastest pitch* by a Japanese pitcher in an NPB game with a 158 kmph (98.75mph) fastball. Igarashi hit 158 kmph in 2004, when the average speed of his pitches over the course of the season was 154.5 kmph (96.6mph), which is an NPB record he has to himself.

Although he doesn’t throw quite as hard as he used to, but still runs his heater into the upper 90’s, and augments it with a hard splitter that he throws at around 90mph. He’s also got a slider and a curve that he’ll mix in occasionally, but is primarily a fastball/splitter pitcher.

Igarashi’s weakness has been his control. Over the course of his career through 2008, he’s allowed 221 walks and thrown 42 wild pitches over 517.1 innings. I suspect the number of walks would be higher if hitters could lay off the high fastball a little more. On the plus side, he’s balanced things out strking out 586 guys. Igarashi showed a significant improvement in his walk rate after returning from injury (see below) last season, allowing just six walks in 42.1 innings.  This year he’s come back to earth and allowed seven walks in 19.1 innings so far, which is more in line with his career norms.

When pitching out of the windup, Igarashi has a hitch at the beginning of his delivery, a la Daisuke Matsuzaka, but otherwise has a pretty orthodox approach. This YouTube clip from late April 2009 gives a good look at his mechanics. Here’s another clip of him striking out a Yokohama BayStars side in 2008.

*trivia question: who is he tied with?

Injury History
Igarashi had the worst year of his career in 2006, and bounced between the top club and the farm team during the second half of the season. After the season, it was discovered that he had a ruptured UCL in his throwing arm, and he went in for Tommy John surgery. He spent all of 2007 rehabbing, and didn’t return to game action for good until around July 2008. He has regained his velocity post-injury and has had a normal work load since last summer.

Igarashi has been mostly a middle reliever in his career thus far, setting up for Shingo Takatsu
 early in his career and more recently for Chang-Yong Lim. He did spend 2004 as Yakult’s closer after Takatsu left, and recorded 37 saves. He’s a set-up man again this year.

Igarashi spoke last season of making a “Shinjyo-class” move to MLB, which I took to mean he’d be willing to take less money to try his hand at MLB. Recall that Tsuyoshi Shinjyo
, as he spelled it back then, turned down about $12m from Hanshin to take a minimum-pay deal with the Mets. I don’t think Igarashi will have to take that kind of a cut, because he’s making about $840k this year and I think he’d be able to get at least that much from an MLB team. His best offers may still come from Japan though, as he could probably command an NPB closer’s salary.

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Official: Brazell is a Tiger

» 27 May 2009 » In npb » 4 Comments

Hanshin signed and introduced Craig Brazell on May 28 (JST). Craig gets a contract through the end of the season paying him $250k plus performance bonuses. No word current word on when he’s expected to debut but previous reports put it around June 5th. “I want to taste victory,” commented Brazell.

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Kawakami Starts vs the Giants

» 27 May 2009 » In mlb » 2 Comments

So I finally got to see Kenshin Kawakami pitch in a big league game. Being three timezones away from the east coast makes it tough to catch most Braves games, but this week they’re here in California, so in between helping with dinner and the dishes, I got to watch Kenshin pitch against the Giants.

And he didn’t have one of his best games.

On the upside…

  • worked out of a couple of jams
  • decent velocity — hit 94 mph on the gun one time, which is harder than I would normally expect him to throw
  • got a sacrifice down (I wasn’t in the room when this happened, seeing in it the box score)
  • speed giveth: Benji Molina’s lack of pace saved a run for Kenshin

On the downside…

  • got into trouble in every inning he pitched
  • poor control — airmailed a fastball, hit Aaron Rowand, catcther had a passed ball
  • couldn’t get his breaking stuff over for strikes, had a hittable fastball
  • speed taketh away: Rowand stole home

Kenshin’s breaking stuff basically wasn’t working at all. I only saw him get a couple of swinging strikes, and he had a pattern of getting behind on guys and then coming back with very hittable fastballs. 

Anyone else see the game?

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Majoring in Baseball Science

» 27 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 4 Comments

Majoring in Baseball Science… I don’t know if it’s just me, but that sounds truly intriguing.

Shikoku Gakuin Daigaku is installing the major system, which is the most common college academic system in the United States. Starting from the 2010 academic year, the university is restructuring its academic system and installing the major system providing 19 majors and one minor of the students’ choice. This differs from the typical Japanese university system, where students choose a curriculum prior to entering the school, and in the event they want to change majors, have to basically re-apply to the school.

What is interesting about this new development is that the Shikoku Gakuin Daigaku is adding the major of Baseball Science, which is the first such program in any Japanese university. The main subjects the students will be able to study majoring in Baseball Science will be:

  • History of Japanese Baseball
  • Baseball Information Analysis
  • Baseball Methodology
  • Baseball Management
  • Health and Sports Nutrition
  • Introduction of Baseball Communication

The dream of the university is for one of their alumni to become a major league player and expand the business of baseball and develop more “Baseball People” who can contribute to the industry. The school hasn’t produced many NPB players. One of the few baseball alumni from Shikoku Gakuen Daigaku is former Hiroshima Toyo Carp Kouichi Amano, currently the manager of the Fukui Miracle Elephants in the Baseball Challenge League.

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NPB Bullet Points: In Pictures

» 27 May 2009 » In npb » 2 Comments

NPB Bullet Points returns with an all-photographic collection of non-sequiturs. Let’s begin.

In Japanese…

And In English…

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Independent Leagues in Japan

» 26 May 2009 » In international baseball, sports business » 4 Comments

Note: There’s a newer version of this article available here.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend minor league games in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio and was amazed of the quality of the ballparks. Affiliated Minor League Baseball barely exists from a business standpoint in Japan, but a new wave of independent league baseball has been developing in Japan. Even though NPB is the mainstream for baseball in Japan, a number of independent teams have been born over the past five years and it will be interesting to see what kind of role these leagues will play in Japanese baseball and sports business.

Started as the Shikoku Island League with four teams from the Shikoku region and expanded to six teams from the 2008 season. 17 players from the league has been selected in the NPB draft. If a player is chosen from an NPB team, the player contributes their contract money and a portion of their first year salary to the previous team. Terumasa Matsuo was signed to a minor-league deal by the Boston Red Sox and played a season with the 1A Greenville Drive.

Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine once mentioned purchasing a team from the Island League and operate it as their minor league system.

Started with four teams as the Hokushinestu Baseball Challenge League and expanded to six teams for the 2008 season. Every team does not have a home stadium and travels around their home state to play in different stadiums, calling them all their “Home” stadiums. Four players have been selected in the NPB draft from this league and Kensuke Uchimura of the Rakuten Golden Eagles has been the first player to play in an NPB game.

Started this March by creating a buzz with the 17-year old female knuckleballer in Eri Yoshida who drew over 11,000 fans to the opening game. However recently the operating company Stella withdrew from the operation and the current four teams and an expected expansion team from 2010, Mie, agreed to operate the league with the strength of the five teams by building its own corporation.

The purpose for the development of the independent leagues roots from the 2004 Orix Blue Wave-Kintetsu Buffaloes merger. There were signs of new teams developing due to the possibility of other NPB teams disappearing, but the merger and subsequent entry of the Rakuten Golden Eagles put the idea on hold. Although new expansion teams entering the NPB did not occur, former player and manager Hiromichi Ishige stood at the forefront of the development of the then Shikoku Island League and currently is the commissioner of the Kansai Dokuritsu League.

New teams entering the NPB might be unrealistic in the near future, but creating more opportunities around Japan for not only players, but coaches, front office personnel, and umpries should benefit Japanese baseball. The independent leagues are under the philiosophy of creating local fans and opportunities for more people to be able to pursue their dream as a baseball player. As every league is expanding yearly and developing new relationships with each other (such as interleague play), there are no limits to the possibilities.

Operating the leagues is not an easy matter and will take years for teams to have their own beautiful ballparks like many of the minor league teams here in the United States, but as long as more players and coaches along with the people who want to be in sports get involved, and are able to receieve support from sponsoring companies, the development should continue. More opportunities and the expansion of baseball around the country should keep baseball one of the most popular sports in Japan for a very long time.

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Brazell to Hanshin: Done Deal-ish

» 24 May 2009 » In npb » Comments Off on Brazell to Hanshin: Done Deal-ish

Some quotes & paraphrases from around the Japanese media on Hanshin’s impending acquisition of Craig Brazell:

  • “It has become known that the negotiations between Hanshin and former Seibu Lion Craig Brazell have reached a basic agreement” (Nikkei Net)
  • “The posibility of Brazell debuting for Hanshin on June 5  against Orix has increased… Brazell is coming to Japan on May 26th for a physical” (Nikkan Sports)
  • “He likes Koshien! He likes yakiniku!” (Sanspo)

There you have it. The way this has played out, I wonder if the Tigers really ever considered anyone else.

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