Archive > March 2010

Hiroshima Adds Stults; Hanshin to Acquire Standridge

» 31 March 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

Eric Stults’ is indeed heading to Japan, with the Hiroshima Carp emerging as the victor for his services. According to the Chugoku Shimbun, Stults gets a salary of about $700k plus performance bonuses, with a $50k signing bonus and and option for second year. The apparent loser in the Stults derby, the Hanshin Tigers, is apparently set to add Jason Standridge.

I don’t know what happened with the negotiations, but this is the second time in recent memory the Tigers didn’t get the pitcher they were after: during the offseason, Rakuten beat Hanshin to the punch on Juan Morillo. I wonder if the fact that more of Hanshin’s acquisition targets get leaked to the media than any other team has something to do with that. Or maybe they’re naming guys that they really aren’t interested in.

Anyway, getting Stults is an interesting move for the Carp. Rotation depth is a good thing for any team, and the Carp lost Colby Lewis in the offseason and have Kan Ohtake on the shelf. But if I had to pick an area for the Carp to improve on, I’d say their lineup could use a little more pop. I really liked the Andy Phillips acquisition last season. And adding Stults does introduce a roster squeeze for the Carp, as they’ll have to choose which four of Stults, Giancarlo Alvarado, Mike Schultz, Justin Huber and Jeff Fiorentino to carry. Still, this gives them the chance to carry the guys who are contributing the most regardless of position.

Hanshin getting Standridge was a little bit of a surprise for me. Their big issue right now is instability in their rotation, and I’ve always thought of Standridge as a reliever… but that’s kind of a mis-perception on my part. He started in Japan with SoftBank a couple years ago, and has starting experience at several minor league levels. Apparently one of the things Hanshin likes is that he has Japan experience and knows a bit about what’s getting into. According to Nikkan Sports (linked above), Hanshin was looking at guys on the fringes of MLB rosters, but wanted someone who they could sign and have on board quickly, to get the team through April and May.

If waiting was an option, they might have taken a look at Cleveland lefty Jeremy Sowers (my own speculation here). Sowers is a polish/command starter who has been back and forth between the Majors and 3A for the last four seasons. He’s never had any trouble putting up strong 3A numbers, but outside of some initial success hasn’t been effective at the MLB level.

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Ichinoseki Lands in Belgium

» 30 March 2010 » In international baseball » 6 Comments

Remember Shota Ichinoseki, the Aomori University pitcher who looked overseas as a fallback plan to not being drafted? He’s re-emerged after landing a deal to play in Belgium for the Namur Angels.

According to Sports Hochi, Ichinoseki had an MLB tryout last Autumn, but failed. He wound up in Belgium in a Web 2.0 kind of way: an agent his college manager knew posted video of him throwing to a website, and Namur saw it and asked for more video. The team liked what it saw and signed him.

I know very little about Belgium’s baseball league, but its level of play is reputedly lower than the leagues in Italy and the Netherlands. Another fun fact is that Leon Boyd played there prior to getting his Dutch passport and joining the Honkbal Hoofdklasse. Mister Baseball has a brief recap of Namur’s 2009 season here.

Ichinoseki says his goal is to return to Japan and play in NPB. He’s well off the beaten Industrial League / Independent League path, so whatever he winds up he’ll have taken a unique route.

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Opening Weekend Notes

» 30 March 2010 » In npb » 2 Comments

Alright, so NPB is officially in season… here are some observations from the games this weekend:

  • Yu Darvish looked better this weekend against the Marines than he did last weekend, at least in the parts of the game I was able to see. He definitely had his good slider. Darvish also came up with a new pitch called the “one-seam”, but I have no idea if he used it in the Marines game.
  • Shunsuke Watanabe’s pitching seems to have gotten slower, unbelievably.
  • The game I spent the most time with was Sunday’s matchup of Rakuten vs Seibu. Seibu’s Kazuyuki Hoashi doesn’t have great velocity, but was sharp with all his pitches, and commanded the strike zone well. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he got to face Todd Linden three times. Masahiro Tanaka went home with the win, though he was a little less impressive than usual. It was freezing cold (it started snowing at one point) and the ball wasn’t carrying, so a couple of long fly balls he gave up turned into outs and not home runs. Dee Brown has looked terrible every time I’ve seen him this year.
  • Hanshin’s two import bats are off to hot starts. Through Tuesday’s action, Matt Murton is hitting .500 (8/16) and Kenji Johjima is at .389 with 5 rbi.
  • Orix is a surprising 6-1 so far this season.
  • Hayato Doue made his ichi-gun debut last weekend (thanks to Yakyu Baka; I wouldn’t have noticed this otherwise). You might remember Doue as the catcher the Red Sox signed but couldn’t get a visa for. After his Red Sox flirtation, he played another year in Indy ball, got drafted as an ikusei player, spent a year in the minors, and finally earned a promotion to the NPB show.

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Darvish Offers First Hint at MLB Interest

» 28 March 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 7 Comments

Author’s note: It wasn’t until I saw my translation quoted on mlbtraderumors.com that I noticed that I mis-translated Darvish’s metaphor. He said that he was “planning on climbing the staircase” not the “ladder”. Correct meaning, wrong word. It’s been fixed.

Just as soon as I publish my latest “don’t expect Yu Darvish in MLB any time soon” article, this news breaks.

Last Friday, Nikkan Sports ran a story saying that Darvish could make his way to the Majors via the posting system as early as this offseaon. This coincided with the Yankees sending Japan area scout Shoichi Kida to watch Darvish’s Saturday start against the Marines. I dismissed the article as speculation because it didn’t include a quote from a named source. The Yankees watching Darvish isn’t exactly news any more. They employ a full-time scout in Japan and sent Gene Michael to watch him back in 2008.

Then, in a story published on March 29th, Sponichi managed to get a couple quotes from Darvish himself. On being scouted: “evaluation? that’s for others to decide.” In response to a question about moving to MLB in the future: “well, I’m planning on climbing the staircase, step by step.”

Sponichi is usually pretty good with this kind of stuff: they had Junichi Tazawa going to the Red Sox long before anyone else, and mostly stayed out of the Hideki Matsui nonsense last year. And nothing in that quote suggests a posting is on the offing in the near future, and this hasn’t shown up in any of the other sports dailies. But it does seemingly represent a softening of his stance towards staying in Japan, and given Darvish’s stature, that’s newsworthy enough for this site.

Sponichi also points out that the soonest Darvish will become eligible for international free agency would be some time during the 2014 season. To me, it doesn’t make sense for Nippon Ham to post Darvish until it becomes clear that they’re going to lose him, and their contractual control over his services is about to expire. I suppose it might be possible to leverage domestic, NPB-only free agency into a posting, but no one has tried that yet.

By the way, Kida saw a strong outing by Darvish, in which he struck out 11 over six innings of work. He got into trouble in thei first, but he had his good slider and made Saburo look like a fool in a basees-loaded situation in the first inning. Velocity chart here.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-28

» 28 March 2010 » In Uncategorized » Comments Off

  • Hanshin Looking to Import More Pitching: The Central League season hasn’t even opened, and already the Hanshin Tig… http://bit.ly/bjh82F #
  • Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-21: Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-14: Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-0… http://bit.ly/b7WntX #
  • official live streams for Pacific League games; only seems to work in IE http://pa.tv-live.jp/isp/yahoo/ #
  • Rookies to Watch in 2010: In the last of my “things to watch” in 2010 series, today will look at this year’s crop … http://bit.ly/9QCKHz #
  • Yomiuri Giants championship rings. Cost ~$100k http://bit.ly/ddIcjQ #
  • And an awesome grand prix poster http://bit.ly/9DJtDK #
  • One of the things I miss about living in Japan: http://bit.ly/cEaYc0 #
  • Japanese commercial of the day: Brad Pitt's crappy singing, mispronouncing the word "maru" http://bit.ly/aXtCKu #
  • Breaking down a Pete Rose head-first slide. Great shot; I wish it was someone other than Pete Rose. http://bit.ly/aWLDR2 #
  • Re-run: The Quirks of NPB Pitching: This is one of my favorite all-time NPB Tracker posts, and one that generated … http://bit.ly/b3ncy6 #
  • good luck to one of my favorites @extrabaggs Red Sox deal for Kevin Frandsen, ending his time as a San Francisco Giant http://bit.ly/cqBQqS #
  • Add Powell to Hanshin’s List: Casey Fossum has started the season in minors, and Hanshin continues to hunt for rei… http://bit.ly/dtW4QK #

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Add Powell to Hanshin’s List

» 27 March 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 5 Comments

Casey Fossum has started the season in minors, and Hanshin continues to hunt for reinforcements. According to a Sports Hochi report from a couple days ago, the Hanshin Tigers have added former NPB’er Jeremy Powell to their shopping list. Powell has extensive experience in Japan, joining the old Kintetsu Buffaloes franchise midway through the 2001 season, and hanging around with Yomiuri and SoftBank until 2008. He’s pretty not too far away from having enough service time to shed his foreign player status, though he did miss time with injuries while in Japan. Powell put up a 3.74 era in 98.2 innings for Pittsburgh’s 3A club last year.

So this brings Hanshin’s list to:

  • Powell
  • Eric Stults
  • Seth McClung
  • Jo-Jo Reyes
  • Jack Taschner

All indications are that Stults remains Hanshin’s preferred target. Word is that Stults being shopped by the Dodgers since he’s out of options and is no longer a candidate for the team’s  fifth rotation spot. Stults probably has the most MLB upside of anyone on this list (though Reyes is kind of a wild card), and though Hanshin would pay a decent transfer fee for him, LA may prefer to get a player back.

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Re-run: The Quirks of NPB Pitching

» 25 March 2010 » In npb » 2 Comments

This is one of my favorite all-time NPB Tracker posts, and one that generated a good amount of interest in the site. I decided to re-run because seeing the various pitching styles is one of my favorite things about Japanese baseball, and hopefully a new audience will get to see it this time around. I think I’ll do a 2010 version of this at some point.

This post originally ran on August 29, 2008.


It’s been another busy week and I haven’t had much time for baseball, so let’s take a break from the NPB current events and take a look at some pitching.

If you’ve read this blog more than once, you might have observed that it’s very pitching-centric. This isn’t by accident. I think pitching is the most interesting part of the game — pitchers control the pace of the game, and there’s so much variability in styles and approaches. This second point is especially true in Japan, where there are fewer true power pitchers, and more guys rely on breaking stuff. Here are some of the more interesting examples:

  • Satoru Komiyama throws a pitch he invented called the shake. He describes the grip as forkball without applying pressure from the thumb, but to me looks something like a split-finger knuckleball. Komiyama never throws the shake faster than about 55 mph in the video I linked to.
  • Masaki Hayashi has great movement on his slider. Unfortunately he’s rarely healthy.
  • Shinji Imanaka won a Sawamura Award in the early 90’s with his slow curve. He had a short career and was pretty much done by the time I started watching Japanese baseball, but here’s a highlight of him shutting down Hideki Matsui (ed. note: 2010: Matsui video removed by YouTube, so here’s one where Imanaka struck out 16).
  • A current curveballer is Orix righty Chihiro Kaneko. His curve has big movement like Imanaka’s, but he throws it a bit harder.
  • Obligatory Yu Darvish mention: Darvish has probably the best variety of stuff in Japan right now, mixing in 6-7 different pitches. Here’s a video that focuses on the development of his changeup, comparing it to his fastball (00:26) and slider (00:32). Skip to 01:48 for changeup footage. (ed. note: 2010: video removed by YouTube; this post goes further into Darvish’s arsenal)
  • When Daisuke Matsuzaka came to MLB, he brought the legend of the gyroball with him. Matsuzaka admits that he doesn’t throw it intentionally, but here’s a video of him throwing a slider with gyro properties. However, former Hanshin Tigers ace Tetsuro Kawajiri* is an accredited gyroballer and this video shows him strking out Jay Payton and Carlos Delgado with it in the 2000 Japan-US All-Star Series. Note how Payton and Delgado swing under the pitch.
  • And finally, Ichiro was a pitcher in high school and was brought in to face Hideki Matsui with two outs in the 9th inning of the 1996 All-Star game. He drew cheers by immediately hitting 91 mph on gun, but Central League manager Katsuya Nomura pinch hit Shingo Takatsu for Matsui and took a bit of the edge off this legendary moment.

*footnote on Kawajiri: Kawajiri pitched great in that Japan-US series. After that he wanted to be posted to play in MLB, but Hanshin refused. Tigers teammate Tsuyoshi Shinjo also represented Japan in that All-Star series and played well, but left as a free agent to join the Mets. Kawajiri faded into the background and was eventually traded. Neither player was around the next time the Tigers fielded a winning team, which was in 2003.

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Rookies to Watch in 2010

» 23 March 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

In the last of my “things to watch” in 2010 series, today will look at this year’s crop of rookies.

  • Yusei (P, Seibu Lions): The Pitcher Formerly Known as Yusei Kikuchi is kind of a no-brainer for this list. Yusei starts the year at ni-gun but if all goes well I would expect him to spend some time with the top team this year.
  • Ryoji Nakata (1B, Chunichi Dragons): Nakata is fat to the tune of 118kg. He insists his weight is an asset, but I think it’s reasonable to question how it will play over the course of a season.
  • Hisayoshi Chono (OF, Yomiuri Giants): Chono’s old school insistence of playing for the Giants finally paid off when they drafted him last year. I’ve been skeptical of Chono since seeing video of him struggle with Industrial League breaking pitches, but he’s had a good spring. The Giants’ aging outfield could use an injection of youth, so he’ll get his at bats.
  • Kazuhito Futagami (P, Hanshin Tigers): Hanshin’s rotation woes should open up some innings for Futagami, if he were not injured himself
  • Takashi Ogino (OF, Chiba Lotte Marines): Ogino has started Lotte’s first three games and is a robust 5/11 so far. At 24 and with Industrial League experience, like Chono he’s a little more ready to contribute at the top level than some of the younger players.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-21

» 21 March 2010 » In Uncategorized » Comments Off

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Hanshin Looking to Import More Pitching

» 21 March 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

Edit: Sanspo adds Jack Taschner to the list here.

The Central League season hasn’t even opened, and already the Hanshin Tigers are worried about their rotation. Staff ace Minoru Iwata has left the team with pain in his throwing elbow, solid righty Yasuyuki Kubo has suffered from gastroenteritis, and new import Casey Fossum is coming off a bad spring training start. Fossum has also been kind of a question mark this spring, reportedly struggling with poor velocity. The Tigers see him as a starter and if he can’t crack the opening day rotation, he’ll start with the farm team, rather than in the top team’s bullpen.

The solution Hanshin is eyeballing is to import another arm. Sports Hochi gives us three names:

  • Eric Stults (Dodgers)
  • Jo-Jo Reyes (Braves)
  • Seth McClung (Marlins)
  • Jack Taschner (Pirates)

Lotte was after Stults during the offseason, but he’s in the mix for a starting job with the Dodgers. Hanshin was linked to Reyes earlier in the offseason, but nothing came of it. Reyes is an interesting option given that he’s younger and has more of an injury history than the typical Japan-bound player. Like so many other pitchers that go to Japan, McClung brings a mix of good velocity and middling command to the table. I’m not sure why Taschner is an option if they are looking for a starter.

Hanshin’s foreign player roster is already maxed out with Fossum, Randy Messenger, Matt Murton and Craig Brazell, with Taiwanese right Kei-Wen Cheng waiting in the wings. Brazell’s and Murton’s spots are likely safe, so if a new pitcher is added, he’ll have to compete with Fossum and Messenger for roster time.

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