Offseason Changes: Chunichi Dragons

» 02 February 2011 » In npb »

Coming: Felix Carrasco, Joel Guzman, Takahiro Saeki, Tatsuo Kinoshita, Keisuke Mizuta

Going: Edward Valdez, Dionys Cesar, Ryota Arai

Staying: Wei-Yin Chen, Maximo Nelson, Kazuhiro Wada

Summary: When something works, stick with it. Though they did capture the Central League flag last season, Chunichi had the weakest offense in the league save for the BayStars. Let’s also remember that their margin over the other league contenders was a single game in the standings. But other than making a few cosmetic changes, the Dragons seem content to continue relying on quality pitching, a solid defense, and their mid-lineup hitters to put them on top again.

First, the pitching. The Dragons pitching staff had by far the lowest ERA in the CL last year, recording a 3.29 for the season. They allowed only 521 runs, nearly 100 better than their closest competitors. Japan’s best closer, Hitoki Iwase, will anchor the Nagoya side’s bullpen for a 13th season. Barring injury, numbers similar to last year’s 42 saves and 2.25 ERA are as close to a sure thing that the Dragons have. Working forward, Takuya Asao will again be an important cog in the bullpen, and expect Masafumi Hirai, Akinobu Shimizu, and Akifumi Takahashi to be leaned on for innings and appearances.

With 210 wins and Kimiyasu Kudoh idle, Masa Yamamoto takes the reigns as NPB’s active wins leader. He added 5 more in 2010, and will likely add a similar amount in 2011. But it was Wei-Ying Chen who led the staff in innings pitched, wins, and ERA last season. Expect him to be at the forefront of a very good corps again this season. Of note, the Dragons will need to find a replacement for starter Kazuki Yoshimi early on, as the righty had off-season elbow surgery and won’t be ready by Opening Day.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Dragons brought in Felix Carrasco and Joel Guzman from the American minor leagues to add offensive depth. Dionys Cesar didn’t get the job done and was let go. Make no mistake, though, it’s still Tony Blanco, Masahiko Morino, and Kazuhiro Wada who make up the core of a team that doesn’t get around the bases too quickly. Masahiro Araki is the only real stolen base threat on the squad. It remains to be seen if that core can perform to their 2010 level, and particularly if age will begin to catch up with Wada. He’ll turn 39 in June.

Manager and newly-minted Hall of Famer Hiromitsu Ochiai has reminded his team that they can be the first Dragons teams to ever win back-to-back pennants. With stiff competition from the Giants and Tigers, it should be another season long dogfight. Even if they don’t repeat as league champs, expect the Dragons to remain in the A Class for 2011 at a minimum.

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  1. Ken
    02/02/2011 at 11:53 pm Permalink

    The Dragons excellent defense (Carp and Fighters also ranked high in UZR) probably played a part of their superb ERA and winning despite scoring very few runs. Then again, the team’s getting pretty long in the tooth.

  2. Ken
    03/02/2011 at 12:08 am Permalink

    The oldest MVP player is Hiromitsu Kadota in 1988 at the age of 40.

    Tanishige played in over 2500 games as a catcher, second only to Katsuya Nomura (2921 games) (cf. Pudge 2288). Tanishige caught two No-Nos and one perfect game.

    They, including Wada, are all freaks of nature.

  3. Ken
    03/02/2011 at 9:27 am Permalink

    I forgot to include Masa in my last comment. Here is the 1988 roster of Vero Beach Dodgers.

    Just in case for those who don’t know the story, Chunichi had a business partnership with the Dodgers at the time. Chunichi decided to send five players to the minor league teams of the Dodgers in order to keep that relationship. They were, of course, not considered contributing players that year. Masa, in fact, was on the verge of being released, since he threw 130 km/h fastballs with an ugly pitching form. And he still does after 210 wins.

  4. Ken
    04/02/2011 at 12:49 am Permalink

    Baseball Lab is turning out some good stuff. I didn’t realize Chunichi graded that well in the field last year, particularly in the outfield.

    In another note, Masa played with future NPB’ers Brian Traxler and Dave Hansen on that ’88 Vero Beach team.

  5. Ken
    08/02/2011 at 10:51 pm Permalink

    Yohei Oshima and Maximo Nelson are two players that I think will be bigger contributors in 2011 than they were a year ago.
    Hopefully that will counteract the potential decline of some of some of the older guys.

  6. Ken
    14/02/2011 at 11:28 pm Permalink


    Thanks. I was like, first, “The Japs got UZR now???” Then I started wondering who’ll do all the tedious work (video scouting), and who’s paying for those working ants.

    And the website moved the page: