Orix’s Rotation

» 24 December 2010 » In npb »

The Orix Buffaloes have added a few arms this offseason, and have a number of interesting options for their 2011 rotation. Let’s take a look at how things could fit together.

Strong Incumbents

The Orix rotation discussion begins with an established ace and two solid arms.

Chihiro Kaneko — Orix has a legitimate ace in Kaneko. He’s been good in each of the three years he’s spent as a starter, but he reached new heights in 2010 with 17 wins, 204.1 innings, six shutouts and 190 strikeouts.

Hiroshi Kisanuki — Orix bought low on Kisanuki, and were rewarded with a solid 174.1 innings of 3.98 ball. Kisanuki’s been around for a while, so it is a little surprising that 2010 was just the fourth time he’s thrown over 100 innings, and the first since 2007. This may explain why he was strong in the first half but struggled down the stretch. If he can stay healthy again in 2011, he’ll continue to be a solid innings eater.

Kazuki Kondo — I like Kondo, he reminds me of Junichi Tazawa. His 5-10, 4.35 performance in 2010 belies the fact that he took a big step forward with a career-high 133 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Like Kisanuki, he wore out down the stretch, and was basically done after a 144-pitch outing in early September. Kondo has established a ceiling of 140-150 innings in a season, but he’s a good mid-rotation arm.

Health Question Marks

Then we have a group of talented pitchers with poor track records for health.

Hayato Terahara — Terahara is another personal favorite of mine, and I think Orix absolutely fleeced Yokohama in getting him for Shogo Yamamoto and Go Kida. Terahara had a big breakout year as a starter in 2007, then a solid year as Yokohama’s closer in 2008, but has missed significant time with injuries over the last two seasons. If Orix can coax a healthy season out of him, they’ll have something. It’s a good risk to take.

Satoshi Komatsu — It seems like a long time ago that Komatsu went 15-3, won the Rookie of the Year award, and was chosen for Japan’s WBC team. It’s been a rough, injury-laden couple of years since then. Komatsu did make 13 starts last year, but now seems destined for the bullpen.

Masayuki Hasegawa — Getting Hasegawa for the unused Yuichiro Mukae was an inspired move, but he’s no ace. Realistically, Hasegawa’s contribution will be that he can take the ball every so often and keep his team in the game for five or six innings.

New Imports

Next year, Orix should have a foreigner taking regular rotation turns for the first time since Tom Davey in 2007.

Chan Ho Park — Park is obviously the big name here, having collected 124 wins over a 17-season MLB career. Park signed with Orix to start, so we can assume he’ll open the season in the Buffaloes rotation. There are some question marks though; he’s 37 and hasn’t worked anything close to a full season as a starter since 2006 in San Diego. On the other hand, getting more rest between starts and reduced travel might suit him well.

Alfredo Figaro — And at the other end of the spectrum, there’s Figaro. Figaro has only 31.2 MLB innings under his belt, and is still only 26 years old. Back in 2009, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs put his upside as a back-rotation MLB starter, which makes him an interesting NPB prospect. He’ll bring plus velocity and a good slider to the table.

My Rotation

Assuming health, I’d stack the rotation going into the spring something like this:

  1. Kaneko
  2. Kisanuki
  3. Park
  4. Terahara
  5. Kondo
  6. Figaro

Kaneko’s the ace and Kisanuki earned his #2 spot with his 2010 performance. Park’s MLB track record will probably give him the edge for the next spot, though I like Terahara better if he’s healthy. Kondo is next, and I put Figaro in the last spot because I have decided what I expect from him yet.

The catch is that every pitcher I listed here is a righty. With Yamamoto dispatched in the Terahara trade, Orix doesn’t have an obvious rotation lefty. Shinya Nakayama got a few starts in 2010, but has never been able to stick at the ichi-gun level. Another option might be sophomore Shuichi Furukawa, but he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in his first professional season.

Overall, Orix has assembled a deep group of starters. It’ll take a few things going right, but Orix could have one of the best rotations in Japan next season.

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  1. Patrick
    25/12/2010 at 12:30 am Permalink

    I watched a couple of starts by Nakayama last year. He looked much improved. There’s another lefty who looks interesting.

  2. Patrick
    27/12/2010 at 3:05 pm Permalink

    Nice summary of the team, Patrick. I finally finished reading this article early morning as my boss is temp. away for business travel. LOL

    Kondo, 近藤一樹, is interesting. His not Tazawa, I guess. Jun the man, who almost scared the hell out of NPB and forced them to discuss a “Tazawa Rule,” had a wilder delivery, from what I recall of his short stint with the Sox a year ago.

    I found this super-slow-mo vid of Kondo:


    Watch where his throwing arm is when his leading foot first planted. Arm not quick enuf to follow, a good sign of injury risk?

  3. Patrick
    27/12/2010 at 3:24 pm Permalink

    I guess my Tazawa comparison comes from his time in the Industrial Leagues with ENEOS. Back then he threw from the stretch all the time. Here’s a rather low quality video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqnOu7zcx3I

  4. Patrick
    28/12/2010 at 8:35 am Permalink

    Yeah, you’re right, Tazawa does have a similar delivery from this vid. I actually timed and stopped to look for parts of his pitching motion. Tazawa back then appears to have a timing issue bigger than Kondo’s (compared to the slow-mo in my link). So yeah, far from refined, Jun might still be a gamble for the Red Sox back in 2008; perhaps all the hazzle was for marketing purposes?

  5. Patrick
    28/12/2010 at 8:41 am Permalink

    No, Tazawa really was a good prospect, and would have been the prize of the ’08 NPB draft had he stayed. He had three good pitches — a low 90’s fastball that tailed in to righty hitters, a nice splitter, and a good curve. He had good “pitchabiilty” too — just look at how he carved up 2A in his first professional season, even after the mechanical changes he made with the Red Sox.

  6. Patrick
    29/12/2010 at 6:24 am Permalink

    Well… I guess a 7.7 K-rate and 2.2 walk-rate is not that bad, among other stats… But that only reminds me of Randy Wells (Cubs), who had similar numbers in double A. Wells is projected a number 4 down the rotation.

    Jun could be good, but as great as… say, Daniel Hudson, if we check his stats with the White Sox minor career, which is a step better. This is not to say Jun had reached his ceiling, but I did catch his delivery issue. The fact that Jun got season-ending surgery on his throwing arm could be a result of that.

    You know, I just recalled Mark Prior was regarded as the best pitching prospect that year, when scouts said he had great delivery and such, and he was great for a moment. However, he had delivery issues, and he was in the DL for a very long time ever since those rave, and the rest is history, like Steve Bartman.


  7. Patrick
    29/12/2010 at 9:02 am Permalink

    You’re right, Wells was similar to Tazawa in 2A. I was just impressed that Tazawa adapted that well in his first year. He obviously brought in enough talent and skill to compete at the 2A level, so it will be interesting to see how he matures and adapts to tougher competition.