Offseason Changes: Hanshin Tigers

» 29 January 2011 » In npb »

Coming: Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Akihito Fujii, Ryota Arai, Robert Zarate, Marcos Vechionacci

Going: Casey Fossum, Akihiro Yano, Satoru Kanemura, Daiyu Kanemura, Keisuke Mizuta

Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Jason Standridge, Randy Messenger

Summary: Hanshin’s offseason starts with the successful retention of the team’s foreign core — Murton, Brazell, Standridge. Messenger also received a contract for 2011, despite his disappointing results last season. The fact that Hanshin’s foreign roster isn’t overcrowded may mean that incumbent Kai Wen Jeng gets a few innings at the ichi-gun level, or that the Tigers will seek reinforcements if Standridge or Messenger stumble. Beyond that, Hanshin’s only significant acquisitions were scooping up Kobayashi after he failed to land an MLB contract, acquiring catcher depth in Fujii, and trading for Takahiro Arai’s brother Ryota. Reports of a Jeff Williams comeback have unfortunately not yet come to fruition.

With the return of Murton and Brazell, Hanshin will again field a strong offense, though it is a good bet they will see some regression. The Tigers lineup was spectacular in2010, with five regulars who batted .300 or higher (and Brazell right behind at .297) powering the team to a league-top 740 runs. Hanshin’s lineup will be good in 2011, but Keiichi Hirano is not going to hit .350 again, and Kenji Johjima is on the shelf recovering from knee surgery until sometime after the season starts. And as good as Murton and Brazell are, it would be unrealistic to expect them to match their superb 2010 results. That said though, Hanshin still has an offense rivaled only by Yomiuri in the Central League.

Hanshin’s rotation has a lot more question marks than its lineup. Yasutomo Kubo has been a godsend, last year becoming the first Hanshin pitcher to throw 200 innings since Kei Igawa back in 2006. Standridge was something of a godsend in 2010 as well, finished second on the team with 126.1 innings. Then 42 year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi contributed his brand of six-inning appearances, but only 19 times. The laws of the universe dictate that he’ll have to stop someday, but who knows when that will be? Beyond those three guys, Hanshin’s rotation is filled with a bunch of question marks. Minoru Iwata, Atsushi Nohmi, and Yuya Ando have all had success in the past but are coming off injuries. Touted 2009 draftee Kazuhito Futagami didn’t throw a pitch last year; Takumi Akiyama threw many with considerable success, but he’s still only 20. Naoto Tsuru finished last season well and could be poised for a breakout. Hanshin’s bullpen also remains a strength, anchored by ace closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

Overall I see Hanshin as a team with a lot of talent, but one that is kind of on the edge. Despite their thin rotation, the Tigers finished one game out of first last season. If their stable pitchers hold steady and a couple of the question marks pan out, they could be dominant. If they falter and the injury guys don’t come back, Hanshin’s bullpen will be overworked and we’ll see a lot of high scoring games.

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  1. Patrick
    29/01/2011 at 9:15 am Permalink

    Thought the Fujii contract was a little panicky and over the top.

  2. Patrick
    29/01/2011 at 5:58 pm Permalink

    “If they falter and the injury guys don’t come back”, then we’ll probably get to see Fujikawa slaving around for 70 innings or so with his save numbers barely over 25 or something….. Again.

  3. Patrick
    29/01/2011 at 7:04 pm Permalink

    Relevant: Kyuji has his own trainer this year:

  4. Patrick
    Patrick Wilson
    30/01/2011 at 6:31 am Permalink

    Wonder what Enokida’s upside is… Maybe he can be as good as a healty Iwata… The Tigers pitching staff was pretty ordinary last season… Could he help the rotation in 2011?

    NPB reminds me of NBA or NFL for the draft, the most talented and polished guys get a chance and are needed fast…

    In MLB you take a high school pitcher in the first round and you may see him in 3-4-5 years…

    Of course some japanese are drafted at 25-26…

  5. Patrick
    30/01/2011 at 11:43 am Permalink

    I watched some video of Enokida and he reminded me of Hisanori Takahashi. He could help in 2011, but I would be a little surprised if he spent the whole year in the Tigers’ rotation.

  6. Patrick
    30/01/2011 at 4:00 pm Permalink

    Is this really a preview from Patrick? This whole thing–choice of words, the tone–is so funny, LOL.

    I guess since we need to light up since it’s the Hanshin. It’s always fun to catch a piece of that Kansai spirit.

    I actually thought Uezono might have a comeback, boy, he was good back in his rookie year:

    What’s your thought on this kid?

  7. Patrick
    30/01/2011 at 5:42 pm Permalink

    Okay, I’ll take that as a complement. I finished writing my Orix preview/review the other day, so we’ll see if it matches up when I publish it in a couple days. Anyway I think I had my sense of humor on display a couple years ago:

    Uezono… don’t have an immediate reaction to him. The fastball he showed in the video you linked to is very straight, with pretty average NPB velocity.

  8. Patrick
    01/02/2011 at 7:35 pm Permalink

    Uezono has been mistreated by the management and gone into a prolonged sulk. He needs to get out of it and take the chances he gets. Nohmi and Iwata are going to be the keys – if those two stay fit Tigers are in with a very good chance despite the lack of management ability. The catcher will also be vital and like Kyle I don’t see Fujii fulfilling the role.