NPB Bullet Points: While I Was Away

» 07 May 2010 » In mlb, nichibei, npb »

It’s been a while since I’ve written any actual content about Japanese baseball… sometimes real life gets in the way. Let’s see if we can fix that, at least for now.

  • The surprise of the season so far for me has been the performance of the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are neck and neck and neck with the SoftBank Hawks and resurgent Seibu Lions for the Pacific League lead. Lotte is getting it done in style too, leading the Pa-League in team runs scored, runs allowed, batting average and era. Will it continue? You have to figure that Kim Tae-Kyun and Tadahito Iguchi will cool off at some point, but they have a decent lineup 1-9. The pitching is a little bit of a concern too, as new manager Nishimura is letting some of his starters go a bit further into games than Bobby V used to. We’ll see if that turns into a problem down the stretch.
  • Over in the Central League, it’s nice to see the Yokohama BayStars competing with a respectable 16-18 record so far. Yokohama is getting good production from a number of pitchers, including newcomers Naoyuki Shimizu, Shigeru Kaga, and Shintaro Ejiri. The ‘Stars are still struggling in spots offensively, but should be better over the course of the season by virtue of the sheer number of weak bats they took out of the lineup last offseason.
  • Bridging the gap between those first two bullet points is the apparently impending trade of Yuji Yoshimi from Yokohama to Lotte. The big lefty was once a promising starter, but injuries derailed him for a couple of years and recently he’s been more of a middle-of-the-pack long reliever. Lotte seems to want him as a starter.
  • And more on Lotte: reliever Hiroyuki Kobayashi has qualified for international free agency, and is reportedly likely to seek a move to the majors. This has come up before with Kobayashi so it isn’t exactly a surprise at this point. I could see him playing for the San Francisco Giants, if they have an opening for a righthander. Former Lotte man Shun Kakazu scouts Japan for the Giants, and Brian Sabean can be creative in putting together his bullpen.
  • Former Hanshin lefty Jeff Williams wants to return to the Tigers as an active pitcher, but the Tigers want to bring him back as a scout. The idea would be for current scout Andy Sheets to focus on hitters, while Jeff would look for pitchers. Jeff certainly knows what it takes to succeed in Japan, but I would love to see him pitch for the Tigers again and eventually get a proper do-age send-off.
  • Who will be this year’s Junichi Tazawa or Yusei Kikuchi? Maybe it will be Chuo University pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, who seems to be eclipsing Yuki Saito in terms of media ink. The Giants and Mets each had a scout at Sawamura’s most recent scout, with Mets’ Isao Ojimi saying that it would “be a waste for him to say in Japan”, while the Giants’ Shun Kakazu said that he hit 97 on his gun. Draft Reports has a quote from Sports Hochi from February saying that Sawamura is favoring playing in Japan.
  • Moving along to Kikuchi, the young lefty now known simply as Yusei struggled with both his command and velocity in his first couple ni-gun appearances, but showed signs of improvement on May 4th, when he threw five scoreless innings and hit 147 kmph (92mph) on the gun. Seibu is saying he won’t be promoted before the All-Star break, but could get a look afterward.
  • Casey Fossum bought the PSP version of Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 for his five year-old son, but was annoyed to learn that Konami made him pretty bad in the game, and vowed to use it as motivation to do well and be a better player in next year’s version of the game. Speaking of Fossum, he’s blogging about his experiences in Japan.
  • Off-topic bullet point: I came across this essay about the state of Japan’s technology and IT sector (link to PDF file), and why it’s in trouble. It makes some good points, but overall I found it disappointing as it covers the usual tired criticisms of over-reliance on manufactured consumer goods and an under-developed services sector.

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  1. Patrick
    07/05/2010 at 12:58 am Permalink

    Hey, welcome back. Not much to add. Speaking of do-age, have you seen Macha’s do-age?

  2. Patrick
    07/05/2010 at 5:02 am Permalink

    Kim Tae Kyun cool down? Heck, they won 90% of their games with him being the 4th best hitter on the team! He was hitting under .300 with RISP with only 2 HRs. It seems likely he’s going to be better than he was for the first 30 games this year, at least judging by his output the last 7 games.

    As long as Iguchi doesn’t fall into the pit he fell into last May the Lotte offense will be OK.

    Off the top of my head I don’t think the pitch counts for the Lotte starters are extraordinarily high compared to previous years. The only games I can think of that were super high were Watanabe’s 150-ish pitch game (but he could probably throw that every game) and Ohmine’s 155 pitch game in Sapporo. Every other game was 130 or less, I think. Nishimura has been running the same guys out of the pen more than Bobby did, though – Itoh has made 20 appearances so far!

  3. Patrick
    07/05/2010 at 8:50 am Permalink

    Ohmine’s 155 pitch game was what caught my attention last month. Let’s let the data talk though:

    Not as bad as I thought. I saw some of Karakawa’s 138 pitch outing (against Seibu iirc), and he was excellent.

  4. Patrick
    07/05/2010 at 10:07 pm Permalink

    Bobby had Karakara throw 153 pitches in a game last year. So shame on me for assuming Nishimura was running his starters longer.

  5. Patrick
    08/05/2010 at 6:24 am Permalink

    There was a lot of pressure on Bobby to do things the “Japanese way” last year. His biggest problem was that, in an attempt to retain harmony, he gave up too much control and was no longer able to lead (IMHO). I remember being shocked by some of the high pitch counts last year, and was wondering if Bobby had just given up.

    Regarding your off-topic link, the thing about that story that bothers me most is the emphasis that the author puts on “monetizing” everything, and especially creating a “knowledge economy.” Is he trying to say that Japan needs to play patent troll roulette and put tolls (monetizing) ideas? As a hacker, I can’t think of anything more stupid than having to pay a toll on something *I* create to someone who has provided no service whatsoever to my efforts.

    The IP bubble that the U.S. is starting to build up right now (with “investors” betting on the outcome of lawsuits) isn’t going to last long, nor create anything of value to anybody but the lawyers. I definitely don’t want Japan to go in that direction.

  6. Patrick
    09/05/2010 at 3:33 pm Permalink

    I don’t think Sawamura-kun has any interest in going abroad. I’ve been watching him for a few years (though it started mostly as “hey, who’s that tall cute kid? Whoa, his name is Sawamura and he throws like that? It’ll be hilarious in a few years when he’s a pro!”). He’s been on the all-Japan college team for a while — was part of the U-26NPB game last fall, things like that. The thing is that for whatever reason, despite having double aces in Sawamura and Yamasaki, Chuo’s team can’t seem to actually score points, so they still haven’t won a title or even placed higher than 4th since the fall of 2004 when they won the league (I think Kazuya Murata was still on the team then). And Tohto League plays on weekdays instead of weekends, so they always traditionally get less attendance and less ink than Tokyo Big 6. Maybe the reporters have finally gotten bored of writing about Saitoh after all thse years, too. (They should write about Kagami instead! He is just as awesome but less famous.)

    I’ll make a bet right now that a year from now you’ll be seeing similar things (“The next Kikuchi/Tazawa?”) about Tomoyuki Sugano, anyway… 🙂