Archive > April 2011

Game Notes: Baseball Returns to Sendai

» 28 April 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Summary: I decided to finish up my lingering notes from a game I watched a couple days ago. Rakuten beat Orix 3-1

Last Friday, pro yakyu returned to the Tohoku region, with the Rakuten Golden Eagles playing their first home game of the season in Sendai. The timing was actually not bad, as the game coincided with the opening of the Golden Week holidays. I guess that probably wasn’t unintentional. Anyway, a pretty good crowd was on hand for the game, and they were treated to a brisk, well-pitched match, and a Rakuten win.

The final score was 3-1, but the game could have gone either way. Rakuten starter Masahiro Tanaka went the distance, and was sharp the whole way through. He didn’t get into any remotely threatening situations until his third trip through the Buffaloes lineup. He didn’t have to look back to see a runner on second base until the 7th inning, and it took a Kazuo Matsui throwing error in the 8th for Orix to get a run in.

As good as Tanaka was, I thought Chan Ho Park was a little better. Park was a groundball machine against the Eagles. I didn’t see him elevate a single pitch in the innings I watched, and only a couple balls hit in the air reached the outfield. The only blemish, for me, was that he didn’t generate many swinging strikes.

Rakuten has a fairly punchless lineup so it’ll be interesting to see how Park fares against some of Japan’s better offenses, after the league has had a look at him.

Here are some other miscellaneous observations from my notes the game:

  • Mike Hessman made his first appearance since April 12, pinch hitting for catcher Fumihito Suzuki in the 7th. He waved at a couple sliders before making contact with a fastball, popping it to short center.
  • This was the first time in a couple weeks that I saw Akinori Iwamura, who’s struggled this year with a sub-.200 batting average. The one noticeable adjustment that he had made was that he’s moved closer to the plate. Earlier in the year, he was way off it.
  • T-Okada is an interesting hitter to watch. It’s hard to see from the normal TV angle, but he’s a front-leg hitter. He’s got a way of compressing his strength on his back leg as the pitch is being delivered, then springing forward with this swing and unloading all that energy. It worked pretty well in the 4th, when there was no one on base and he wasn’t trying to do too much, but in the 7th, when he was trying to hit a home run, he struck out.
  • It looked like most of the seats in the stadium were occupied, but there was one section on the first base side that was weirdly completely empty. I wonder if that section is closed due to post-quake safety issues.
  • One notable attendee was US ambassador to Japan John Roos.

 

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Slow Starts at the Plate

» 28 April 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Nobody wants to start a new season off on the wrong foot, but it happens every year. Even though most teams have only played around twelve or so games, below are some batters who haven’t gotten out of the gate quickly in 2011. Pitchers (especially starters) haven’t had that many appearances yet; we’ll track them in a separate column later on.

(Note: stats current as of April 27 games)

Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri Giants): His early slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) reads .128/.209/.154, and Guts has struck out 11 times with only five hits in 30 at-bats. He has tallied only a single extra base hit this season (a double), scored only 2 runs, and has 1 RBI on his ledger. Is age (37) catching up to the normally consistent hitter?

Kazuhiro Wada (Chunichi Dragons): Last year’s CL MVP is at .143/.326/.171 so far.  His 5-for-35 is poor, but his 10 walks are keeping his OBP respectable. He has only struck out 3 times, so he still has good pitch recognition. Like Ogasawara, he’s getting up there in years (38), so age may again be a factor. If you want to see someone move slowly in the outfield, he’s your guy. At the plate, however, I’d expect him to break out soon.

Rusty Ryal (Yomiuri Giants): Currently at .161/.188/.194. The newcomer has whiffed 13 times, gone hitless with men in scoring position, and earned a single walk. We’ll soon see if he’s just slow in adjusting to a new league, or is somewhat of a strikeout machine as his past numbers suggest (eight walks and 67 Ks in 222 plate appearances in 2010 at the MLB level).

Joel Guzman (Chunichi Dragons): Not to pick on the Dragons or the Giants, but here’s another new face who is off to a brutal start. .167/.186/.262 is Guzman’s early line. He leads the Central League in strikeouts (19), but is the only one of the players mentioned so far who has hit a home run (1). He’s only 26 years old, so could it be that he’s just not much of a hitter. The Dragons are the 5th franchise (US and Japan) Guzman has played for since 2006.

Yasuyuki Kataoka (Seibu Lions): Kataoka’s team is off to as slow of a start (4-8) as he is. His .146 average (.146/.226/.188) is the lowest in the Pacific League for any regular player. After last year’s .295 batting average with 59 stolen bases, I expected he would duplicate or come close to matching those results. So far, he’s off the pace. Kataoka is hitting .091 with runners in scoring position and has only swiped two bases. Not getting on base very often will have that effect.

Seung-Yeop Lee (ORIX Buffaloes): The once-feared slugger is at .163/.229/.302 over 48 plate appearances, so far. He hit .163 last season in 108 at bats with Yomiuri. Once a productive hitter known for some prodigious blasts, talk of a jump to the major leagues has all but evaporated. His 21 strikeouts are tops in NPB, and his career appears to be in serious decline. ORIX batters haven’t performed well in general to this point in the season, but Lee has been especially poor.

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Game Notes: Karakawa Dominates Orix

» 27 April 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Last night I caught most of Lotte’s 12-1 drubbing of Orix. Here are my notes.

  • The story of the day was Yuki Karakawa. As his 8 IP, 12 K, 3 H, 1 ER line suggests, Karakawa was masterful. He had command of everything he threw, and great movement on all his breaking stuff, particularly his changeup. I wouldn’t call Karakawa’s fastball an “out pitch”, but he was able to get a couple swinging strikeouts with by setting batters up with his breaking pitches.
  • It was windy in Chiba. The scoreboard consistently showed wind speeds of 12-13m, though I must plead ignorance to exactly what metric they use. Fly balls carried to right field, and high pop ups were nearly unplayable. Orix was collectively charged with three errors on dropped foul pop-ups, and Seung-Yeop Lee missed a fourth. It was pretty harsh to call those drops “errors” as they were all extremely tough plays.
  • Orix starter Hayato Terahara wasn’t quite as bad as his 6.0 IP, 8 ER line would have you believe. All of the damage was done in two innings, the 2nd and the 7th, but he did scatter mistake pitches throughout the game.
  • Terahara’s four run 2nd inning was really the turning point of the game. All of the damage came with two outs, and Lotte’s hitters handled Terahara’s mostly better stuff. Shoitsu Ohmatsu singled on a 147 kmph fastball, Tomoya Satozaki took a walk, Takumi Kohbe singled off a mistake fastball over the plate, Toshiaki Imae hit an opposite field triple off a good forkball over the lower outside corner after being down 0-2, Yoshifumi Okada slapped a fastball the other way for a line drive single. Lotte’s lineup was simply better in that inning.
  • Orix came right back with a threat in the top of the 3rd, but Karakawa K’ed mid-lineup guys Mitsutaka Gotoh and T-Okada with runners on first and third. It turned out not to matter, but Gotoh in particular waved at a bad pitch for a third strike, in a situation where any almost any kind of fair contact would have resulted in a run.
  • Saburo hit an opposite field home run in the 3rd, on a fastball over the outside corner of the plate. The homer was aided by the wind, but Saburo clearly managed to drive a pitch I always thought he struggled with.
  • Lee looked horrible at the plate against Karakawa, and a glance at his stats is revealing: .163 BA, 21 K’s in 43 ABs. I wonder how long it’ll be before we see Mike Hessman.
  • Terahara picked Takashi Ogino off first base in the 5th inning. This is not the first time I’ve seen Ogino picked off this year, I think it was Hisashi Iwakuma that got him before. It seems that every pitcher expects Ogino to run every time he reaches first with second base open, so he’ll have to refine his approach.
  • Ogino does, however, have a pretty good arm at shortstop. I haven’t seen it really tested but he makes good throws on routine plays.
  • The Lotte cheer girls looked pretty cold.
  • Masahide Kobayashi relieved a tired Terahara in the 7th. It looked Terahara strained his hamstring or something before he left, but he should have been removed two batters earlier anyway. Kobayashi looked absolutely horrible; it was almost painful watching him. No command, no velocity, no movement. It really looks like he’s done.

At this point, it was 10-1 in favor of Lotte, so I turned the game off.

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NPB Bullet Points: Darvish K’s 1000, Iwakuma Throws 147, Kanemoto Still Runs

» 26 April 2011 » In npb » 6 Comments

News and notes from around NPB. Japanese links only tonight.
  • Yu Darvish recorded his 1000th career strikeout on the 26th, picking up the win over Softbank. Darvish reached the milestone in 1058.2 innings pitched, the seventh fastest pace in NPB history.
  • Darvish didn’t have the top game of the night though, as Hisashi Iwakuma struck out 13 Seibu Lions, going the distance for a 147 pitch shutout.
  • Veteran Hanshin slugger Tomoaki Kanemoto became the oldest player to steal a base in NPB history, when he swiped second in the eight in against Hiroshima on the 27. “Aniki” is 43 years and 23 days old.
  • Yokohama is bringing back lefty Stephen Randolph. Randolph worked out for the BayStars following the placement of Brent Leach on the restricted list.\
  • Daily Sports reports that Brian Bannister has informed the Yomiuri Giants that he has no plans to pitch in the US or Japan this season.
  • Television ratings for Yuki Saito’s pro debut on the 17th peaked at 29.4% of Hokkaido homes, the highest ever for a regular season Nippon Ham Fighters game.
  • Now on sale at the Lotteria in Chiba’s QVC Marine Field: Saburo Burgers.

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Guzman’s NPB Career So Far

» 22 April 2011 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off

I’ve mentioned once or twice that Joel Guzman hasn’t looked good at the plate so far this season. On Thursday he went 2-3 against Yakult to bring his average up a little bit, but he he still has a rough line so far: 37 plate appearances, 6 hits, 1 home run, 17 strikeouts, 0 walks. Obviously if this continues, his Chunichi Dragons career won’t last long.

I dug in a little and charted the result he’s gotten on each of the pitches he’s faced so far this season.

result count
ball 60
flyball hit 3
flyout 7
foul 30
groundball hit 1
groundout 6
hbp 1
home run 1
linedrive single 1
strike looking 24
strike swinging 30

Yikes. About one pitch out of three has resulted in a called strike or a whiff for Guzman. My perception was that Guzman had been waving at a lot of breaking pitches, so I narrowed my query to just look at strikes.

pitch result count
curve strike looking 2
cut fastball strike looking 1
fastball strike looking 12
shuuto strike looking 1
slider strike looking 8
changeup strike swinging 1
cut fastball strike swinging 3
fastball strike swinging 10
forkball strike swinging 2
shuuto strike swinging 1
sinker strike swinging 1
slider strike swinging 12

I don’t mind the strikes looking so much; those are explainable by taking first pitch fastballs, and adjusting to a new strike zone. The number of fastballs he’s swung through surprises me though.

So is there any hope for Guzman? Maybe, but he needs to quickly make some adjustments, notably laying off breaking pitches, waiting for fastballs, and identifying mistake pitches.

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Friday MLB Updates

» 22 April 2011 » In mlb » 4 Comments

An brief update on some Major Leaguers as we head into the weekend.

  • Kenshin Kawakami, who had been assigned to AA to begin the season, will be placed on the DL with right shoulder pain. This comes on the heels of his first 2011 win with the Mississippi Braves.
  • Following the evaluation of x-ray results on Tuesday, the Twins’ Tsuyoshi Nishioka plans to be back on the field “by mid-May, at the earliest.” Nishioka is currently undergoing rehabilitation following an injury suffered in a game versus the Yankees on April 7th.
  • Ryota Igarashi said that the New York Mets  “have no leader” after a frustrating loss against the Astros on Monday.

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Watching Baseball, April 18

» 19 April 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Last night, thanks to some justin.tv channel surfing I was able to catch bits and pieces of three NPB games, and I’m catching up on Yu Darvish’s start against Orix as I write this. Here are a few things I noticed.

Seibu vs Lotte

  • Crowds were sparse at all the games I watched. Yokohama appeared to draw the best audience for their game against Hiroshima.
  • Takashi Ogino is a threat to steal every time he reaches first with second base open. I’d like to see him dig in and go after third as well.
  • Hideaki Wakui’s fastball velocity was in the 142 kmph range, which is a little bit sub-optimal for him. Lotte seemed to get better looks at him after the first time through the lineup.
  • Yoshihisa Naruse, on the other hand, was pretty much vintage in shutting out the Lions. He only K’d six, but he made few mistake pitches and induced a large quantity of pop up outs.
  • The defensive play of the game was rookie Shogo Akiyama’s jumping catch at the wall, on Saburo’s long fly ball to right field. I had always perceived Saburo as being vulnerable to hard pitches away, but the pitch he hit was a fastball over the outside corner, and he drove it the other way. Maybe Saburo has refined his approach, or maybe Wakui’s velocity wasn’t enough to make that pitch effective.
  • Akiyama’s bat is still way behind his glove. He struck out in his only two at-bats, the first time on three pitches.
  • Tadahito Iguchi has really filled out. He and Tae Kyun Kim have got to be the portliest right side of any infield in Japan.
  • Seibu infielder Hideto Asamura again looked extremely confident at the plate. He wound up going 1-3 with a double.

Chunichi vs Yakult

  • Yahoo had identified Kazuki Yoshimi as Chunichi’s starter, but it was actually Kenichi Nakata that took the hill.
  • Joel Guzman looked absolutely terrible against Masanori Ishikawa, and finished 0-4 with three strikeouts. NPB pitchers, take note —  Guzman should not see anything other than breaking balls out of the zone until he proves he can lay off them.
  • Kazuhiro Hatakeyama has stepped in to Yakult’s lineup with Josh Whitesell temporarily sidelined. He’s responded by going 5-8 with three home runs in the two games he started.
  • Despite his offspeed woes, Wladimir Balentien made contact with a couple of breaking pitches yesterday. Yes, they were groundouts, but there may be hope for him.
  • As noted by Jason Coskrey, it got darker at Jingu Stadium as the game progressed. Jason tweeted that NPB would consider using stadium lights for safety purposes during the night game ban.

 

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My Favorite Offseason Trades

» 17 April 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Forward: I’ve had this one in “draft” status since November. If I actually finish it, it’ll be a new record for the post I took the longest amount of time to complete.

When I started drafting this post, it was about one trade: Yomiuri sending Wirfin Obispo to Nippon Ham for Hideki Sunaga and Toshimasa Konta. Then another trade worth writing about took place, but we’ll get to that later. First Obispo.

Graded on pure upside, the Obispo deal is a nice win for Nippon Ham. Obispo had a rough 2010, struggling with reduced velocity, but he’s still not really a finished product and worth taking a chance on. Assuming he’s not injured, he still has a good arm, and he showed in 2009 that he can contribute at the ichi-gun level. Yomiuri’s return offers much more limited upside. Sunaga a rather unpolished lefty reliever, who hasn’t been able to stick at ichi-gun, while Konta is a fifth outfielder/pinch runner type.

I didn’t quite get what Yomiuri saw in this trade until spring training, when I saw both Sunaga and Konta play in exhibition games. Sunaga seemed rough but may have some potential as a lefty specialist. Konta’s skills as a defensive replacement and pinch runner will come in handy for a team featuring aging outfielders Yoshinobu Takahashi and Alex Ramirez. Additionally, the Giants are stacked with foreign pitchers it was going to be difficult to find roster time for Obi-chan. So I like this deal for both sides, but the early returns favor the Giants. Obispo gave up five runs in one inning in his Nippon Ham debut, while Konta has already appeared in five games for the Giants.

So that was my favorite trade of the offseason, until Orix heisted Hayato Terahara (and Kazuya Takamiya) from Yokohama for Shogo Yamamoto and Go Kida. Unlike the Obispo-Sunaga/Konta deal, I still haven’t seen the logic in the Yokohama side on this one. I recall reading that the official word was that the BayStars weren’t happy with their lefty rotation options. That’s reasonable enough, but Yamamoto seems like a poor return for Terahara. Maybe Terahara plus another player could have pried Kenji Ohtonari away from Softbank, for example. In fairness to Yokohama though, we don’t have the luxury of knowing who was available on the trade market and what the asking prices were. And there is always some injury risk to Terahara, but if he’s healthy, he offers significantly more value than Yamamoto, regardless of which arm he throws with.

Through the first week of the season, Orix has the better of the Terahara-Yamamoto deal. Yamamoto has already made two starts for Yokohama, but has given up eight earned runs in 11 innings pitcher. Meanwhile, Terahara threw a shutout against Softbank on the second day of the season.

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Post-Quake Roster Changes

» 14 April 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 5 Comments

A couple of roster changes have taken place in the wake of last month’s earthquake. Here they are.

  • Brian Bannister left Japan in the wake of the earthquake, but hasn’t returned and has subsequently been placed on the restricted list by Yomiuri. Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times has the details. Bannister had been competing with a number of foreign pitchers for a roster spot, and I don’t expect him to be replaced immediately, if at all.
  • Rakuten has granted Juan Morillo his release, which he reportedly requested due to shock of the earthquake. Rakuten picked up Romulo Sanchez from the Yankees a couple weeks ago, so I guess they saw this coming.
  • I posted last weekend that Yokohama lefty Brent Leach has so far elected not to return to Japan, and has been placed on the restricted list. To take his place, the BayStars are going to bring Stephen Randolph in for a workout in the next couple days.

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2011 Breakout Candidates

» 13 April 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Tonight we take a look at eight guys who could take a step forward this season.

Sho Nakata (1B/LF/DH, Nippon Ham Fighters) — Nakata was on my list last year, and had an interesting season: a slow start followed by an injury, then a hot stretch immediately after the injury, and finally a slump to end the season. The important thing is that he showed he can handle ichi-gun pitching, which was a new development. If he can put together a full year he’ll likely be Ham’s best or second best home run hitter.

Shota Ohba (P, Softbank Hawks) — Like Nakata, Ohba was on my list last year, and also like Nakata he’s had stretches of success. Last year he only threw 9.1 innings at the ichi-gun level; if he were to make 20 starts this year it would be a boon to Softbank’s lefty-dominated rotation.

Naomichi Donoue (IF, Chunichi Dragons) — The Arakibata Combi can’t continue forever, and when the Hirokazu Ibata half was down with an injury last year, Doue was there to fill in. He’s been touted as a prospect for some time now, we’ll see if this is the year he breaks through.

Keijiro Matsumoto (OF, Yokohama BayStars) — Developing young talent should be a high priority for a Yokohama team that can’t realistically expect to compete this year. But ‘Hama has started the season with an outfield of Termel Sledge, Hichori Morimoto, and Yuki Yoshimura, and to get playing him he’ll have to take it from one of those guys. Matsumoto hit for average at ni-gun last year, but without many walks or home runs.

Wirfin Obispo (P, Nippon Ham Fighters) — Obispo has always had a good arm, and showed a lot of promise in 2009 with Yomiuri. In Hokkaido he’ll be a part of a deep pitching staff, but won’t have to compete for a roster spot with more established foreign veterans, so he should get a few more innings at the top level.

Takashi Ogino (SS, Chiba Lotte Marines) — Ogino’s not strictly a breakout candidate, given that he performed extremely well prior to his injury last year. But he’s new to shortstop and if he stays healthy, he should be a lot of fun to watch.

Yusei Kikuchi (P, Saitama Seibu Lions) — After a disappointing rookie season, Kikuchi had a strong spring and made Seibu’s opening day roster, in a middle relief role. I only saw him pitch one inning this spring, and while his velocity topped out around 142 kmph, his mechanics were smooth and he kept the ball down in the zone. There’s no doubt about his talent.

Hideto Asamura (IF, Saitama Seibu Lions) — I’m cheating on this one a little bit, as Asamura has started Seibu’s first two games at first base. I first saw Asamura this spring, in an exhibition game against Yomiuri, where the announcers were describing him as a potential successor to Hiroyuki Nakajima. I was impressed at how much confidence he showed at the plate against Brian Bannister. That swagger has apparently carried over to the regular season as he’s 5-9 so far.

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