Archive > February 2011

NPB Bullet Points: Nippon Ham No-No, Kaneko Hurting

» 27 February 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 8 Comments

With spring camps in full swing, it’s time to get caught back up with

  • Five Nippon Ham pitchers, led by none other than Yu Darvish, combined for a no-hitter in a practice game against Korea’s Samsung Lions on the 25th. Darvish hit 154 kmph on the gun, and threw a curve at 94 kmph. I guess he came to camp in shape.
  • I’m late on this one, but Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko has been injured since essentially the beginning camp. The Nikkan Sports report I’ve linked to indicates that righty complained of elbow on February 6th, and had surgery on the 9th. He’s rehabbing at Orix’s ni-gun camp. Given that Kaneko logged a career-high number of innings last season this is a bad sign.
  • Masahiro Tanaka and Yuki Saito have crossed paths, but have yet to face each other.
  • In more bad news for Orix, Mike Hessman took a Masahide Kobayashi fastball to the head on the in an intrasquad game 17th. Here’s hoping Mike is all right.
  • According to Sanspo, Lotte has narrowed there list of candidates for their compensation player from Hanshin to two pitchers. A resolution is expected on March 1.
  • Carlos Torres looked pretty good in his appearance against Yakult on the 27th. Here’s a link to the game on Justin.tv.
  • I’ve found a bunch of good stuff lately on Twitter: Yakyu Kozo Editor’s photo site, Softbank’s ustream.tv channel, and this Tweet from Data Stadium: “actually the ball probably won’t carry.”

And for something completely different: this collection of Japanese art and graphic design from the 1920’s and 30’s. I like this poster advertising the cancelled 1940 Tokyo Olympics.

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Offseason Changes: Softbank Hawks

» 23 February 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

Coming: Seiichi Uchikawa, Alex Cabrera, Toru Hosokawa, Anthony Lerew, Soichi Fujita, Juan Deleon

Going: Kazumi Saito, Roberto Petagine, Arihito Muramatsu, JD Durbin, Beom-Ho Lee, Makoto Sato, Micheal Olmstead

Staying: Hitoshi Tamura, Brian Falkenborg, DJ Houlton, Jose Ortiz

Summary: Two years removed from a sixth-place finish, in 2010 the Softbank Hawks rode Seibu’s late-September swoon to the Pacific League crown. For an encore, they’ve added more star power than any other NPB team this offseason.

The big additions are of the offensive variety: contact-hitting outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa, slugging first baseman Alex Cabrera, and glove-first catcher Toru Hosokawa. 2010 Pacific League MPV candidate Hitoshi Tamura was also retained on a one-year deal. Uchi and Cabu should improve a lineup, that despite having some talented hitters, was only the 4th most productive in the PL last seasoan. Cabu should fill at-bats that were mostly taken up by the departed Roberto Petagine and a rapidly-aging Nobuhiko Matsunaka, while Uchi’s presence will cause guys like Satoru Morimoto and Hiroshi Shibahara will find themselves on the bench more often. Durability is a bit of a question mark, as both Cabrera and Uchikawa have injury histories, and Cabrera, Matsunaka, and Hiroki Kokubo are all on the wrong side of 35. If any of them falters, though, the steady bat of Jose Ortiz is still on the roster.

On the mound, Softbank’s pitching staff was the second best at preventing runs in 2010. The Hawks’ pitching success was led by it’s bullpen. Softbank threw a league-high 16 shutouts last year, but the team’s starters only managed six complete games — seven fewer than the next lowest total, by Seibu. To that end, the re-signing of middle-relief ace Brian Falkenborg was critical. Softbank has two ace-caliber lefties at the top of its rotation in Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tsuyoshi Wada, but after that the quality drops a bit. Kenj Ohtonari has a good arm and looked like a third lefty ace back in 2008, but hasn’t been as productive over the last two seasons. Yet another lefty, 30 year-old Shinsuke Ogura, battled through 102 innings last year, but did so with a 5.29 ERA. DJ Houlton is back, but he followed up an extremely hit-lucky 2009 with a rough 2010. We’ll see which way things go in 2011. If new addition Anthony Lerew can pitch with as much flair as he grows facial hair, the Hawks will have something. Former ace Kazumi Saito has finally succumbed to injuries and retired, while the the once-excellent Nagisa Arakaki is still battling his way back. And this would be a great year for Sho Iwasaki or Shota Ohba to take a step forward, given that longtime ace Wada is headed for free agency after the season. There are a lot of question marks among the rotation candidates, but the glass is definitely half-full, thanks to the Hawk’s front-rotation stability and excellent bullpen.

Overall, this team has talent up and down its roster, and despite the competitiveness of the Pacific League, it’s hard to see them finishing outside the top three this season.

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Offseason Changes: Saitama Seibu Lions

» 21 February 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Coming: Yataro Sakamoto

Going: Toru Hosokawa, Koji Ohnuma, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Kenta Matsuzaka, Yoshihiro Doi, Shinji Taninaka

Staying: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Jose Fernandez, Dee Brown, Brian Sikorski, Alex Graman

Summary: This series is titled “Offseason Chages”, but the Lions haven’t given me much to write about. Seibu let defensively-minded catcher Toru Hosokawa take his .191 batting average south to Fukuoka, and will let Ginjiro Sumitani and Tatsuyuki Uemoto carry the load. They also swapped righty relievers with Yokohama, picking up Yataro Sakamoto. Beyond that, the Lions replaced some bit players with 2010 draftees.

The real keys Seibu’s offseason are in the players who will be returning. Denying Hiroyuki Nakajima’s repeated posting requests is addition by not subtracting. The rest is mostly addition by health. Slugger Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura was never really healthy last year, but still popped 25 home runs. #2 starter Takayuki Kishi missed all of July and August last year. The low-profile but highly-productive bat of mid-season signing Jose Fernandez will be available from opening day. 2011 Sophomore Yusei Kikuchi lost a year of development, making only two ni-gun appearances . And even Alex Graman, who was lights-out as a reliever but has been shelved for two years, is back. Obviously some of those guys are going to contribute more than others, but healthy seasons from Kishi and Okawari-kun alone would add a couple wins to the bottom line.

The underlying fact is that this is a talented group that didn’t need much tweaking to remain competitive in 2011. The Lions took a magic number of four into the last week of the 2010 season, and won more games than anyone else in the Pacific League; if they had managed just one more tie, they would have taken first place. Just three games separated the first and fourth teams in the PL last year, and I expect things to be similarly tight this season.

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Offseason Changes: Chiba Lotte Marines

» 20 February 2011 » In npb » 4 Comments

Coming: Bob McCrory, Kazunori Yamamoto, Takayuki Takaguchi, a player to be named from Hanshin

Going: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Bryan Corey, Juan Muniz, Akira Otsuka, Koichi Hori, Yuta Shimoshikiryo

Staying: Bill Murphy, Hayden Penn, Tae-Kyun Kim

Summary: You gotta have wa. After a decidedly wa-challenged Bobby Valentine farewell campaign in 2009, first-year manager Norifumi Nishimura made that single word his team’s slogan last year. He was a rewarded with a lineup that scored 88 runs more than they did in 2009, leading to a 13 win upward swing in the standings, a playoff berth and a Cinderella Nippon Series win. One good turn deserves another, so Nishimura has brought back the wa slogan for 2011.

The two big changes for Lotte this year were both subtractions: the Twins-bound Tsuyoshi Nishioka; and Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who is headed to Hanshin after failing to attract a suitable MLB offer. Nishioka leaves the bigger gap to fill, and I’ve already written a bit about the candidates Lotte has to take his place. Kobayashi was outstanding in his first year as Lotte’s closer, but his shoes will be easier to fill. Kobayashi’s departure leaves an opening for a guy like Tatsuya Uchi to step up to, and Bob McCrory was signed as well. Lotte is also still owed free agency compensation from Hanshin, which will either take the form of a player, or cash the Marines can use to sign another import.

Losing Nishioka hurts, but should his absence should be offset from a healthy season from Takashi Ogino. Aside from that the lineup is populated with steady performers. The only obvious regression candidate is the hot-and-cold Toshiaki Imae, who seems to be just as capable of hitting .250 as he is .320, and completely lacks the stabilizing presence of walks in his arsenal. On the plus side, Tae-Kyun Kim could improve in his second trip through the Pacific League, and maybe we’ll see Shoitsu Aomatsu find a little more power.

On the defensive side of the ball, Yuki Karakawa is reportedly healthy which will be a big boost for the rotation. Hayden Penn’s peripherals actually weren’t that different from Bryan Corey’s, but he won a Nippon Series game and should be a solid rotation presence. If those two guys are healthy and effective, the rotation should be deeper, though still not as good as Nippon Ham or Rakuten.

So what are the odds of a Lotte repeat? The Pacific League is incredibly balanced this year, so they have a shot but not a guarantee.

And on a final, semi-related note, our old friend Ryo Shinkawa will be working as Nishioka’s translator in Minnesota this season. Congratulations, Ryo and best of luck to both you and Nishioka!

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Minor Notes: Tsujimoto, Shoda, Softbank

» 14 February 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

Alright, let me pass along a few notes on some minor leaguers while I’m getting over the writer’s block/analysis paralysis that’s keeping me from wrapping up the last three offseason reviews.

  • Former Hanshin Tiger and Nippon Ham Fighter Itsuki Shoda has officially signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox. The lefty has spent the last two seasons in Taiwan.
  • It’s a good time to be a former Hanshin Tiger, as Kento Tsujimoto has caught on with the Mets on a minor league deal. Tsujimoto made history a few years ago, when at age 15, he became the youngest player ever drafted in NPB history. According to Nikkan Sports he hit 94 on the gun in the indy leagues last year.
  • Softbank is working out four young players for possible ikusei contracts: outfielder Josh Short (2010 team: Lake County of the independent Northern League), infielder Landon Camp (San Angelo of the United League), outfielder Josh Roberts (Brisbane of the Australian Winter League), and outfielder Edgardo Baez (2A Harrisburg).
  • And as a bonus, the Orix Twitter feed is actually pretty good. Here’s a pic of a training schedule for their ni-gun pitchers.

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2011 Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Guide

» 08 February 2011 » In NPB Tracker » Comments Off

I’m back with my second plug in as many days. This year, my friends at Rotowire again invited me to contribute to their highly recognized annual Fantasy Baseball Guide. I happily accepted, and wrote an article about two Japanese players that are moving to MLB this year (Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Yoshinori Tateyama) and one we thought would (Hiroyuki Kobayashi).

The guide is available online now and making its way to newsstands across the country, so if you happen to see i, give it a look.

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Welcome Ken!

» 08 February 2011 » In NPB Tracker » 4 Comments

Some of our more eagle-eyed readers may have already noticed this, but writer Ken Dick joined NPB Tracker last November. Ken has already published 10 articles to the site and I’m happy to have him on board.

Kenneth Dick, contributing writer

A baseball fan since 1981, Ken discovered the Japanese game when live broadcasts became widely available over the Internet circa 2005. He founded and maintained one of the earliest fan sites dedicated to the New York Mets on the web back in 1995. In 2007 he was selected by his local National Hockey League team, the New York Islanders, to participate in a groundbreaking program as a full access blogger. Ken made his first trip/baseball stadium tour of Japan in April 2010, and hopes to return in the near future to witness a Summer Koshien tournament. He is also an aviation enthusiast and history buff. He resides in Huntington, New York.

Welcome Ken!

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Phoenix Calling

» 07 February 2011 » In NPB Tracker » 1 Comment

And now for a special announcement. This year, I’ll be taking part in a couple of events at MLB Spring Training in Arizona hosted by my friends at Fangraphs. If you happen to be in the Phoenix area on March 11-12, I hope to see you there.

For the rest of this plug, I will borrow heavily steal directly from the great Dave Cameron’s event announcement at Fangraphs:

FanGraphs Live At Goodyear Ballpark – Friday, March 11th, 10:30 a.m.

Get your nose out of that spreadsheet and watch a game… with a bunch of other people who also like spreadsheets.

On Friday, March 11th, the FanGraphs staff will descend on beautiful Goodyear Ballpark to watch a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Seattle Mariners. Prior to the game, we will be hosting a Q&A with several notable members of the Cleveland Indians baseball operations staff, and then our team of writers will be hanging out in a group area for the rest of the day to watch the game. Included in your admission to this event:

* Pre-Game Q&A with members of the Cleveland Indians front office

* Early admission to the park before the gates open to the public.

* Unlimited ballpark food and non-alcoholic beverages

* Approximately 4 1/2 hours of time hanging out with more than 15 members of the FanGraphs and RotoGraphs staff.

* A highly competitive baseball game between two titans of the American League. Or, at least, nine innings of baseball.

FanGraphs Live In Phoenix – Saturday, March 12th, 6:30 p.m.

Don’t want to watch a baseball game and eat unlimited amounts of food, but still want to hang out with the FanGraphs crowd? We can do that too. On Saturday, March 12th, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm, we will be hosting panel discussions with members of the FanGraphs and RotoGraphs staff, as well as several notable executives from various Major League front offices. They’ll talk about how statistical analysis plays a role in their decision making with their respective clubs, we’ll talk about how awesome heat maps are, and the RotoGraphs guys will talk ADP and other fantasy related topics.

The room we’ve rented for the event is slightly larger than a starter home, so space is somewhat limited. This will likely be a more intimate affair, as much as a collection of baseball statgeeks getting together on a Saturday evening can be considered intimate. Admission to this event will include:

* A chair

* A chance to ask questions of some pretty interesting people

* The right to awkwardly hang around after the event ends and see if the group ends up going to any drinking establishments nearby.

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Offseason Changes: Nippon Ham Fighters

» 06 February 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Coming: Wirfin Obispo, Yuki Saito, Micah Hoffpauir, Kenta Matsusaka, Tomohisa Nemoto

Going: Hichori Morimoto, Hideki Sunaga, Toshimasa Konta, Yoshinori Tateyama, Takayuki Takaguchi, Kazunori Yamamoto, Buddy Carlyle, Tomochika Tsuboi

Staying: Yu Darvish, Kazuhito Tadano, Kensuke Tanaka

Summary: Did anyone else hear that Yuki Saito is on his way to Hokkaido? Yes? Believe it or not, there was news concerning other members of the Nippon Ham Fighters this winter. While the Fighters welcomed two new foreign players this offseason, said goodbye to one, and saw a fan favorite slip away, the most anxiety surrounded the fate of their ace.

Despite some ominous sounding tweets from Yu Darvish saying that his “situation had changed,” it hadn’t from a baseball standpoint. The Fighters’ ace and most important player is staying in Sapporo for at least one more season. He reeled in a JPY 500m contract, NPB’s top salary, as we welcomed in 2011. Carrying the load behind him will be Bobby Keppel and Masaru Takeda, who make up the top of a stingy staff that was arguably the best in Japan in 2010.

The back of the rotation faces some uncertainty, though, as Hirotoshi Masui comes into spring camp proclaiming that he wants to be the #4 starter. Throw newcomer Wirfin Obispo and incumbent Tomoya Yagi into the mix along with perhaps Saito and some other worthy candidates, and you have a full-on battle. We’ll have to see how it shakes out.

One name who won’t be in the mix this year is Buddy Carlyle. The man who was once traded for Marc Kroon in America finds himself back in the States… along with Kroon, as fate would have it. Joining them on the other side of the ocean will be Yoshinori Tateyama, who skipped town as a free agent to join the Texas Rangers.

Lovable goofball Hichori Morimoto took his talents south to Yokohama. It’ll be strange for a while seeing him donning a blue and white uniform. Coming into the lineup to hopefully supply more pop will be self described “doubles hitter” Micah Hoffpauir. The left-handed veteran of the Chicago Cubs system will presumably play first base; he’ll try to match or surpass the 22 home runs he hit at AAA last year.

In my assessment, despite having a power starved lineup, their pitching should get them into the playoffs. They nearly made it wast year, being edged out by 1/2 game in a frantic scramble. They need Hoffpauir’s bat to be what they hope it is, and could really use a big contribution from Sho Nakata, in what could be a make-or-break year for him. Players like Atsunori Inaba, Makoto Kaneko and Tomohiro Nioka aren’t getting any younger, and 2011 may be their last chance (and Darvish’s) to bring Hokkaido another title. While I don’t see them finishing atop the Pacific League, I think a playoff spot is theirs to lose.

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Offseason Changes: Orix Buffaloes

» 05 February 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

Coming: Hayato Terahara, Chan Ho Park, Seung Yeop Lee, Mike Hessman, Alfredo Figaro, Evan MacLane, Kazuya Takamiya, Shinjiro Koyama, Tomochika Tsuboi, Kentaro Kuwabara, Shingo Nonaka, Masahide Kobayashi, Toshio Saito

Going: Alex Cabrera, Shogo Yamamoto, Go Kida, Jon Leicester, Greg LaRocca, Fernando Seguignol, Freddie Bynum, Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara, Naoyuki Ohmura, Osamu Hamanaka, Masahiro Nagata, Ikki, Mitsuhiro Mitsuhara

Staying: Aarom Baldiris, Mitsutaka Gotoh, Francisco Caraballo, So Taguchi, Freddy Ballestas

Summary: Last season, Orix posted a surprisingly competitive fifth-place, 69-71-4 season. I’ve written plenty about my admiration for Orix’s personnel moves, and nothing has happened this offseason to change my mind. Well, the new uniforms are underwhelming, but I’ll let that slide.

On the mound, Orix has added four rotation candidates, while subtracting Yamamoto, who was ineffective in 2010. Each of the four new starters has blemishes: age (Park), health (Terahara), unproven-ness (Figaro, MacLane). But they all have upside as well, particularly Terahara, and if any one of them does well, Orix will have a very solid front rotation.

At the plate, Orix’s most notable transaction is the loss of slugger Cabrera, who wanted a two-year deal and found one in Fukuoka. Despite his age (39), Cabrera remains an elite NPB slugger when he is in the lineup — he posted a Pacific League-best .997 OPS last year, but missed 32 games. The hope is obviously for some combination of at-bats from Lee and Hessman to make up for Cabrera’s contribution, but I have my doubts. Lee hasn’t had a good year since 2007 and is a shadow of his former self, and Hessman has great power but is also known for piling up strikeouts. I’ve been bullish on Hessman though, and I’m standing by that.

Another key point to make is that last year the Buffaloes got breakthrough performances from Gotoh, T-Okada, Aarom Baldiris and to a lesser extent, Makoto Moriyama. Orix will need them to post strong follow up seasons in order to remain competitive.

Overall I think Orix has done enough to take a step forward in 2011. The rub is that even if they do, the Pacific League is so balanced that they still might not make the playoffs.

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