Archive > May 2011

A Good Season For The BayStars

» 31 May 2011 » In npb » 11 Comments

The Yokohama BayStars have an impressive track record of futility. They’ve finished in the Central League’s basement seven of the last nine years, twice finishing more than 40 games out of first place. The February issue of Yakyu Kozo featured a detailed analysis of Yokohama’s 2010 futility. Among other things, the ‘Stars were the worst or second to worst in the Central League in scoring first in games, winning percentage after scoring first, wining percentage after failing to score first, advancing runners, scoring with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, and inducing swinging strikes on pitches outside the strike zone.

After an offseason that saw the BayStars wave goodbye to their best pure hitter, their best arm, and a productive middle infield bat, I figured another last place finish was the safest bet in Japan this year. So far Yokohama has matched this expectation, in 6th place with a 14-22-3 record. But it’s more competitive last place, with the bright spots being that so far Hama’s offense leads the Central League with 28 home runs and 133 runs scored. Their pitching is still way behind the rest of the league though, and that’s probably not a situation that will improve much during the season.

So the focus in Yokohama has to be on finding and developing the players who are going to be on the next good BayStars team. Some of them may be on the roster already, and here’s what I would consider a good season for the BayStars.

  • Development from Takayuki Makka, Kota Suda, Atori, Kisho Kagami and any other young pitcher that happens to be around.

Pitching has been the core of Yokohama’s problem for so long that pitching has the be the top priority, particularly developing the best prospects from the last two or three drafts. I don’t really see a potential ace among this group, but if three of these guys become useful pitchers, that’ll be a pretty big win.

  • Kentaro Takasaki‘s first eight starts not being a fluke.

I saw Takasaki pitch in relief a season or two ago and was not impressed. I saw him start a game against Chunichi early this season and was extremely impressed. Nothing he threw was overwhelming, but he seemed to throw the right pitch each time while I was watching. Through eight starts, Takasaki has a 2.60 ERA in 52 innings, with 36 K, 15 BB, 3 HR. The ERA is going to go up, but if he has another 120 quality innings in him it’ll be the best season a Yokohama starter has had in a while.

  • Getting some kind of sustainable contribution from at least one of their young foreign pitchers: Clayton Hamilton, Brandon Mann, Luis Gonzalez, Kuan-Yu Chen, and I-Cheng Wang.

The foreign pitcher section of Yokohama’s roster is mostly populated with development project types. I would be lying if I claimed to know much about any of these guys, aside from the observation that they mostly completely lack MLB experience and mostly lack upper minors experience. Finding useful innings from one of these guys over the next few seasons will be a plus. Hamilton’s heart seems to be in the right place, I’d love to see him to well.

  • Development from Keijiro Matsumoto or Sho Aranami.

Center field has been a hole for Yokohama since… when? Tatsuhiko Kinjo’s most recent good season? Hitoshi Tamura? Tatsuya Shimozono was actually respectable with the bat last year, but hasn’t played at all this season. I don’t really think Hichori Morimoto is a starter any more, though he is a useful player. Matsumoto and Aranami have both up up ugly lines at ni-gun this season; one of those guys turning things around and becoming a viable outfield option would be a major depth boost.

  • A good draft.

Most of the guys I’ve written about fall in to a supporting cast category. Yokohama needs more stars, particularly a frontline starting pitcher. There are a couple of big arms in this year’s draft, and they’ll need to score one of them.

I’d love to see a more competitive NPB, one that doesn’t have any doormats. With Orix showing signs of life these last few years, we’re only a healthy BayStars away from such a scenario.

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2011 Uniform Roundup, Volume 1

» 24 May 2011 » In mlb, npb » 10 Comments

It’s time again for my semi-annual NPB uniform roundup. This year, I’ve decided to break things up into two posts, so look out for another one later in the season, after more alternative unis are introduced.

  • Orix has been wearing these throwback Hankyu Braves uniforms off and on. The most retro-looking guy is probably Mike Hessman.
  • I hope to one day see Orix revive the old Kintetsu Buffaloes uniform and logo. I figure if they can advertise one Osaka-area railway (Hankyu) they can do the same for another (Kintetsu).
  • Rakuten has only been around for seven seasons, so they don’t exactly have throwback uniforms… but that isn’t stopping them from running out these 1980’s Houston Astros knock-offs.
  • I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to Nippon Ham’s gold road uniforms. One thing that’s kind of cool about the new Fighters uniform is the tag on the inside of the collar, which has four stars representing the Japan Series title and three Pacific League titles that Nippon Ham has won in recent years.
  • Hanshin has a spotty record when it comes to alternative uniforms, but this they’re going with these classic Osaka Tigers threads.
  • This one isn’t an NPB uniform, but former Yomiuri and Yokohama closer Marc Kroon suited up in this Homestead Grays throwback for a 3A game a few weeks ago.
  • Here’s last year’s uniform post. And 2009’s. Results may vary with the links on those pages.

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Balentien’s Hot Start, Part 2

» 23 May 2011 » In npb » 1 Comment

Michael Westbay left a comment on my Wladimir Balentien post with Balentien’s line against each pitcher he’s faced this season. With Westbay-san’s permission, I’ve republished his content here.

Team Throws AB H 2B 3B HR TB BB HBP K SH SF AVG OBP SLG
vs Kawai, Yudai CHU L 2 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 2.000
vs Asao, Takuya CHU R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Hirai, Masafumi CHU R 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Iwata, Shinji CHU R 3 3 1 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.333
vs Nakata, Kenichi CHU R 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Suzuki, Yoshihiro CHU R 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333
vs Yamauchi, Souma CHU R 2 2 0 0 1 5 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.500
vs Yoshimi, Kazuki CHU R 5 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 .200 .333 .200
vs Utsumi, Tetsuya YOM L 3 2 0 0 1 5 2 0 0 0 0 .667 .800 1.667
vs Albaladejo, Jonathan YOM R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Kubo, Yuya YOM R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Nishimura, Kentaro YOM R 1 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 4.000
vs Ochi, Daisuke YOM R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Romero, Levi YOM R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Sawamura, Hirokazu YOM R 2 1 0 0 1 4 1 0 1 0 1 .500 .500 2.000
vs Tohno, Shun YOM R 6 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 4 0 0 .167 .167 .333
vs Fukuhara, Shinobu HAN R 1 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 4.000
vs Kobayashi, Hiroyuki HAN R 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .000 1.000 .000
vs Kubo, Yasutomo HAN R 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .000 .333 .000
vs Messenger, Randy HAN R 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .000 .333 .000
vs Standridge, Jason HAN R 2 1 0 0 1 4 1 0 0 0 0 .500 .667 2.000
vs Iwami, Yuki HIR L 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .000 1.000 .000
vs Fukui, Yuya HIR R 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 .000 .667 .000
vs Imamura, Takeru HIR R 4 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 .250 .400 .250
vs Maeda, Kenta HIR R 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 .000 .333 .000
vs Nakata, Ren HIR R 3 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .667
vs Sarfate, Dennis HIR R 2 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .500 2.000
vs Schultz, Mike HIR R 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000
vs Toyoda, Kiyoshi HIR R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Ueno, Hirofumi HIR R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Umetsu, Tomohiro HIR R 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 .000 .333 .000
vs Makka, Takayuki YOK L 2 2 0 0 1 5 1 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.500
vs Yamamoto, Shogo YOK L 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333
vs Ejiri, Shintaro YOK R 2 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 2.000
vs Hamilton, Clayton YOK R 2 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 1.000
vs Miura, Daisuke YOK R 2 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000
vs Ohnuma, Koji YOK R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Ohta, Atori YOK R 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500
vs Sanada, Hiroki YOK R 2 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 1.000
vs Suda, Kota YOK R 3 2 0 0 2 8 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 2.667
vs Takasaki, Kentaro YOK R 3 2 0 0 1 5 1 0 0 0 0 .667 .750 1.667
vs Takeda, Masaru NIP L 3 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667
vs Darvish, Yu NIP R 3 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .667
vs Takeda, Hisashi NIP R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Tanimoto, Keisuke NIP R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Shiomi, Takahiro RAK L 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 .000 .333 .000
vs Aoyama, Koji RAK R 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
vs Tanaka, Masahiro RAK R 4 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 .250 .250 .250
vs Right - - 83 28 6 0 10 64 12 1 18 0 1 .337 .423 .771
vs Left - - 15 8 0 0 3 17 5 0 2 0 0 .533 .650 1.133
vs All Above - - 98 36 6 0 13 81 17 1 20 0 1 .367 .462 .827

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Balentien’s Hot Start

» 21 May 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 5 Comments

The best NPB newcomer this season has been, without a doubt. Yakult’s Wladimir Balentien. Through 117 plate appearances, he’s got a slash line of .367/.462/.827 and leads Japan with 13 home runs. It’s not unusual for foreign players to start strong in Japan, but Balentien’s status as a former top prospect, his relatively young age (27 in July) and his massive power numbers make him an interesting case to study.

First I grabbed the opponent and pitch data for the 13 home runs he’s hit so far:

game Pitcher Pitch Type Velocity (kmph)
20110416 Takayuki Makka curve 0
20110421 Yudai Kawai fastball 131
20110423 Dennis Sarfate slider 133
20110427 Kentaro Nishimura shuuto 145
20110427 Tetsuya Utsumi fastball 142
20110428 Hirokazu Sawamura curve 122
20110501 Jason Standridge fastball 0
20110501 Shinobu Fukuhara fastball 138
20110503 Souma Yamauchi fastball 135
20110513 Shintaro Ejiri fastball 145
20110513 Kota Suda slider 129
20110513 Kota Suda curve 105
20110514 Kentaro Takasaki slider 130

Nothing too surprising here — a lot of unimpressive fastballs, and some sliders and curves which I’ll assume were of the hanging variety. Home runs off Yokohama pitchers account for a big chunk of his power production. What I don’t see in this list is a lot of Japan’s top caliber pitchers, with the possible exception of Sawamura. The power is real, but it’s reasonable to expect it to even out as Balentien faces more of Japan’s top competition.

Balentien entered 2011 with a bit of a reputation for struggling against breaking pitches. That hasn’t really been the case so far:

Pitch Result count
changeup strike looking 1
curve strike looking 6
fastball strike looking 39
forkball strike looking 2
shuuto strike looking 2
slider strike looking 10
changeup strike swinging 3
curve strike swinging 1
cut fastball strike swinging 1
fastball strike swinging 19
forkball strike swinging 7
shuuto strike swinging 4
sinker strike swinging 1
slider strike swinging 29

To put this into context, Balentien has seen 471 pitches so far. It does appear that he does have a little bit of issue with sliders. I dug a little further into the data and found that he seems to struggle with Shun Tohno, one of the better slider guys in the Central League.

Lastly, the guys at Tsubamegun made this observation:

Balentien has monster numbers, but he needs to watch [Josh] Whitesell work a count, take notes, and stop getting sucked into first-pitches in the strike zone. The results are bad more often than not.

The Tsubamegun guys have seen far more of Balentien than I ever have, so I’d thought I’d check their assertion against the data. Here’s what Balentien has done on the first pitch of each of his 117 plate appearances, aggregated by result:

result count
ball 51
flyout 6
foul 11
groundout 1
home run 6
linedrive single 3
strike looking 22
strike swinging 17

73 takes; 44 swings, 27 resulting in contact. The six home runs jump out — if you took away his other seven homers and he just had these six, he would still be tied for second in the Central League in bombs. The three line drive hits aren’t too shabby either, so we have a total of nine hits and seven outs.

Balentien is averaging a solid four pitches per plate appearance, so he’s not being unduly aggressive. To the extent that Balentien can identify hittable breaking pitches and weak first-pitch fastballs, I say keep on hacking.

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NPB to Review the Posting System

» 18 May 2011 » In nichibei » 8 Comments

Japan’s professional baseball executive committee held a meeting in Tokyo on May 16th. Among other things, the Rakuten organization’s proposal to another look at the notorious posting system was accepted.

The posting system is actually not among my favorite discussion topics. Much of the time when I’m asked about it, there seems to be a subtext of “don’t you think the system needs to change because the (insert AL East big-budget team here) wasted a bunch of money on it?” The last time I wrote about it was last year, after the Hisashi Iwakuma situation resolved itself, over at the at my other blogging home. Without rehashing that article, the gist of my position is that a lot of things have to go right for a posting to be considered a success for all sides.

Anyway, according to Kyodo News via Sanspo,  Rakuten’s specific suggestion was to award negotiating rights to the top three bidding MLB teams. This proposal strikes me as interesting for three reasons: 1) on the surface it seems rather player-friendly 2) Rakuten suggesting this makes me think that they wanted to get some kind of compensation for losing Iwakuma 3) it’s exactly what Don Nomura suggested when the Iwakuma negotiations hit troubled waters.

Looking back at the Iwakuma situation, we’ll never know how things would have worked out if this rule had been in place, but I think it would have increased the odds of Iwakuma being in an MLB uniform this season. Minnesota finished a distant second to Oakland’s $19m with a $7.7m bid, but who knows if they would have had better results at the negotiating table? At the very least, they would have had an obvious advantage over Oakland in being able to commit more of their total budget towards the contract offer.

More reflectively, the whole process could have played out differently had this rule been in place. Maybe the A’s wouldn’t have bid quite as much for Iwakuma if they would have had a chance to sign him without being the high bidder. Maybe they would have made a different contract offer if they were going to have to compete with other teams. Iwakuma and Nomura would have certainly negotiated differently, knowing there were alternatives.

Having thought through the Iwakuma situations, the changes I’d make to the idea would be to grant some kind of priority negotiating window to the top bidder, and to keep the names of the second and third highest bidders sealed until the end of that window. That would offer an incentive to being the highest bidder, and put a reasonable limit the player’s negotiating leverage (or rather, a bit of a dis-incentive on being the third bidder).

But that would further complicate an already clunky system, and result in a long, drawn-out process. And after writing all this, I’ve reached a point where I’m wondering why the posting system is necessary. Why not set up some kind of a transfer period each offseason, and let NPB teams and MLB teams negotiate their own transfer agreements?

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NPB Bullet Points: Four Milestones Reached

» 14 May 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

In the last week or so, we’ve seen a near-handful of individual milestones reached… at least. Actually, it feels like I’m leaving something out. Anyway, here are the four I picked up on.

  • Yomiuri veteran Michihiro Ogasawara notched his 2000th career hit last week. Our own Ken Dick summarized the game in which he reached the milestone.
  • Yakult lefty Masanori Ishikawa recorded his 100th career win in style with 8.2 innings of shutout ball over Yokohama.Ishikawa commented, “it’s not a number that is won by an individual’s strength. My family supported me at times when I struggled.”
  • Softbank captain Hiroki Kokubo reached 400 career home runs on the 12th. I leave the reporting in the capable hands of John Gibson.
  • Two days later, Kokubo’s teammate, veteran suketto Alex Cabrera cranked out his 350th NPB home run. Cabu reached the mark in 1169 games, the fastest pace ever. Here’s my translation of Cabrera’s remarks, along with the original Japanese.

“This is the result of 11 years of hard work, so I’m feeling happy. I’m very happy. When I came to Japan, the first home run I hit was with the Lions. And today our opponent was the Lions. It feels like coming full circle*. I want to hit a lot more home runs for everyone.

(Commenting on the length of time it took to hit the last home run, pointing to him self and speaking Japanese) ‘I suck!’ This morning I chicken pot pie(?)* that I made myself, so I guess it was thanks to that.”

「11年間、一生懸命やってきた結果なので、うれしく思っています。とても幸せです。日本に来た時にライオンズで第1号を打ちました。そして今日の相手も ライオンズでした。不思議な巡り合わせを感じます。これからもたくさんのホームランをみなさんのために打ちたいと思います。
(残り1本から時間がかかったことについて、自身を指差し日本語で)『ヘタクソ!』。今朝、チキンを包んだパイを自分で作って食べたんだけど、そのおかげかな(笑)」

* The bilingual members of my audience might have noticed that I took a few liberties with my translation, which I have denoted with asterisks. If anyone is inclined to answer, how would you translate 不思議な巡り合わせ or チキンを包んだパイ? And while we’re at it, how about conveying the humor indicated by(笑)? I always struggle with that one.

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My Team Japan

» 08 May 2011 » In npb » 27 Comments

Last week, I got a pretty good question Twitter — who would my Japanese national team be today?

It’s a good question, and a nice change of pace from the Darvish questions I frequently get, so I decided to write up a post about it. Coincidentally back when I was teaching English at the now-defuct NOVA, I used to do a lesson like this with my baseball fan students, and it was always a fun one.

I’m picking my team as if they would have to compete at the highest level, so as cool as I think the World Port Tournament is, I’m following the WBC roster rules. In summary, I get a maximum of 28 players, with a minimum of two catchers and 13 pitchers.

Outfield

No reason to deviate from the 2009 WBC starting outfield of Ichiro, Kosuke Fukudome, and Norichika Aoki. For my fourth outfielder I’ll go with the gap power, strike zone judgement, and defensive prowess of Nippon Ham CF Yoshio Itoi.

Infield

There’s one easy call for me in the infield: Hiroyuki Nakajima at shortstop. At second base, I’ll start Tsuyoshi Nishioka, without regard to his current injury.

The corners are a little trickier. At third base, I like Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura’s bat and Eiichi Koyano’s glove, with Takahiro Arai striking a balance between the two. Choices are a bit limited on other side of the diamond, and Sho Nakata might be the best choice by the end of the year, but for now I prefer the contact bat of Seiichi Uchikawa.

This group of four gives me some flexibility. I can play the stronger defensive group with Koyano at third, Arai at first, and Okawari-kun DH’ing, or I can for the better offensive lineup and have Arai at third, Okawari-kun at first, and one of my other candidates batting DH. The presence of Uchikawa gives me the option of playing the hot hand as well.

On the bench, I’ll stash Yasuyuki Kataoka and Munenori Kawasaki, both of whom can pinch run, steal bases, get bunts down and play good defense all over the infield.

Designated Hitters

Nakamura would DH for my team when he’s not playing in the field. Hideki Matsui never participates in these things, but dammit,this is my dream team, so he’s in.

Catchers

Catcher is an easy call. Kenji Johjima starts, Shinnosuke Abe backs up.

Starting Pitchers

The first three starters are easy choices: Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda. The next three are pretty easy too: Masahiro Tanaka, Hideaki Wakui, Kenta Maeda. Hang on, no lefties in there, so I’ll call on Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Masaru Takeda.

That’s nine starters, so some of these guys are are going to relieve. In particular, I like Tanaka as a power arm out of the bullpen, and Takeda as a lefty specialist.

Relief Pitchers

I’m rounding out my 13-man pitching staff with four full-time relievers for my squad: Kyuji Fujikawa, Takuya Asao, Hitoki Iwase and Tetsuya Yamaguchi.

Those last two are kind of risky picks, given Iwase’s struggles in the 2008 Olympics, and the fact that Yamaguchi got lit up for 10 home runs last year. But Iwase is a good pitcher, and I like Yamaguchi’s ability to get lefthanded batters out.

Notable absences

The last name I deleted off my list of candidates was Chihiro Kaneko (ignoring the fact that he’s been out injured all season). It was either him or Koyano, and I went with Koyano for his third base defense and gap bat. Kaneko’s righty starter skillset is already well-represented.

I would love to have another power bat on this team, but the only other guy I really thought about was Shuichi Murata. A few years ago, his inclusion would have been a no-brainer, but I prioritized defense, and his down numbers last season concern me. Nobuhiko Matsunaka would have been a great inclusion, but he is a shadow of his former self.

I gave some consideration to Koji Uehara and Takashi Saito, but they are too injury-prone to displace either Fujikawa or Asao, and too righthanded to bump Iwase or Yamaguchi.

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Game Report: Ogasawara Reaches 2,000 Hits

» 05 May 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Summary: Hanshin defeated Yomiuri 2-1, but Michihiro Ogasawara reached his milestone.

This game had quite a few juicy storylines coming in. The Giants’ rookie Hirokazu Sawamura made his Tokyo Dome debut, and “Guts” Ogasawara was one hit away from 2,000 for his career. 45,313 people were on hand at Tokyo Dome to perhaps witness history.

Sawamura, selected out of Chuo University last autumn, seemed to get off to a rocky start. The first two batters he faced made solid contact. Matt Murton lined a ball to third base for an out, and Keiichi Hirano ripped a single into right field.

According to the broadcast I was watching, in the first inning Sawamura basically threw fastballs and what was described a forkball. If their graphic was right, he didn’t throw another one until several innings later. Nevertheless, he hit 150 kmph at least twice that I saw but was wild, especially to third hitter Takashi Toritani. He did manage to reign in his control and strike out Takahiro Arai and Craig Brazell to escape the jam.

If the crowd was hoping to see hit number 2,000 from Ogasawara in the first inning, they were disappointed. He popped up on the infield for the third out.

Sawamura had an easy second frame and it looked like Yomiuri might open the scoring in their half of the inning. Alex Ramirez had the Giants’ first hit of the day, followed by a seeing eye single up the middle from Hisayoshi Chono. But two outs and an intentional pass later Iwata was left facing his counterpart whom he easily struck out.

In the third inning, Hirano collected his second hit of what would become a very good game for him. Nothing came of it for Hanshin, just as nothing came of Ogasawara’s second chance at history in the bottom half. He K’ed on a check swing called strike three.

Yomiuri broke the stalemate on the scoreboard in the 4th when Ramirez absolutely destroyed a pitch from Iwata into the left field stands. The ball was a no-doubter, landing close to the top of the bleachers filled with Tigers fans and very near the aisle that surrounds the seats. It was a solo shot and Rami’s 6th of the season.

Of note, Hanshin again chose to semi-intentionally walk (after 3 balls) the eighth hitter Ken Kato to face Sawamura.

The 5th inning was Sawamura’s hardest working frame of the day. Shunsuke Fujikawa led off with a double, but Iwata was unable to move him over with a failed bunt attempt. When Murton was retired it looked as if Sawamura would escape unscathed, but the pesky Hirano drove in Shunsuke with his 3rd hit of the day. The game was tied at 1-1, with the Tigers threatening for more.

Perhaps he was rattled, after a botched pickoff attempt allowed Shunsuke to move up to second base. Toritani and Arai walked, but Sawamura regained his composure and retired Brazell to end the inning.

The thing that most impressed me about Sawamura in that spot was his fearless approach that he took with the large American, choosing to go right after him. That speaks well for Sawamura’s future.

Ogasawara was stuck on 1,999 hits as he hit into a double play for try number three. Lefties have really baffled him all series long.

In the top of the 6th, Sawamura made a glaring mistake to Kenji Johjima, hanging a breaking pitch right over the plate. Johjima taught the youngster a lesson by promptly slamming it into the seats in left to give Hanshin a 2-1 lead. It was Johjima’s 2nd homer of the year.

Of little consolation, Sawamura retired Hirano for the first time of the day later that inning. Hirano finished with a 4 for 5 day at the plate.

When Toritani singled in the Hanshin 7th, it signaled the end of Sawamura’s day. Sawamura’s final line was 6.1 IP, 111 pitches, 8 H, 5 K, 4 BB, 2 ER. It’s hard to call it a good outing considering the hit and walks number, including a few glaring mistakes (the pickoff throw and Johjima’s HR), but I’d call it a solid game. Especially for someone with such little NPB experience under his belt.

Only a close play at the plate (and perhaps and ill-advised coaching decision at third base) prevented the score from becoming 3-1. Brazell knocked a double into right field off of new pitcher Yasunari Takagi, but Arai missed home plate on a tumbling slide and was tagged out.

At Lucky 7 time, it was still 2-1 Tigers.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 8th, when the moment most of the crowd had been waiting for finally happened. With one out and right-hander Hiroyuki Kobabyashi in the game, Guts smashed a 1-2 pitch past the reliever’s head and into center for hit number 2,000. Flowers, of course, were presented and the game continued on with little delay.

A Chono walk later in the inning provided the Giants with a two out threat, but Rusty Ryal was retired on strikes to end the frame.

There little delay in securing the win for the visitors on this day, as Kyuji Fujikawa slammed the door on the Giants in the 9th with two quick outs, a hit batsman, and a Sakamoto fly out to right caught by a sliding Murton.

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NPB Bullet Points: Fukui Wins, Hessman Hits, Balentien Hits Way More

» 04 May 2011 » In npb » 1 Comment

Notes to pass along from the last few days of NPB action.

  • Hiroshima pitcher Yuya Fukui posted an emotional win over Yokohama on May 3rd. It was the heralded rookie’s first win since April 20, when his older brother Ryuichi died in a car accident. Ryuichi advised Yuya against signing with Yomiuri when they drafted him in the fourth round out of high school.
  • Takafumi Nakamura, who played last year in the Indians organization, is back in Japan with Shinano of the independent BC League. The lanky righty is hoping to advance to NPB.
  • According to Nikkan Sports, Yomiuri has passed on moving lefty Adam Bright from the ikusei roster to the regular 70-man roster (shihaika).
  • New Orix import Mike Hessman collected his first NPB hit off none other than Yu Darvish, noting that he “had seen him at the Beijing Olympics” and “was glad to get a hit off such a good pitcher.”
  • Hanshin sluggers Takashi Toritani, Takahiro Arai and Craig Brazell hit back-to-back-to-back home runs on May 4th, recalling the fabled 1985 san renpatsu (three consecutive blasts) starring Randy Bass, Masayuki Kakefu, and Akinobu Okada. I couldn’t find video of this week’s renpatsu, so here’s the 1985 version.
  • Wladimir Balentien is off to a hot start in Japan: .387/.487/.885 slash line, nine home runs 61 at bats, and 13 walks against 12 strikeouts.

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Game Notes: Darvish vs Orix

» 03 May 2011 » In npb » 10 Comments

Summary: Nippon Ham wins 6-3 in 10 innings.

Yesterday, the old saying held true: it ain’t over ’til it’s over. I went to bed after the eighth inning of the Nippon Ham-Orix game. Having watched Yu Darvish and Hiroshi Kisanuki battle to 3-1 Fighters lead, I figured it was a safe bet that Orix wouldn’t make a comeback, considering that they had only managed two hits over the first eight innings.

I would have lost that bet. With two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Mike Hessman came up as a pinch hitter and singled on the first pitch he saw, scoring Makoto Moriyama from second and advancing Shingo Nonaka from first to third. Aarom Baldiris followed up with another single, tying the game at 3-3.

After catcher Fumihito Suzuki ended the Orix rally with a flyout, relief ace Mamoru Kishida opened the 10th with two quick strikeouts, before walking Eiichi Koyano. Atsunori Inaba reached on a Baldiris error, then Kazuya Murata singled, setting up a bases loaded situation for Sho Nakata, who cleared ‘em with a triple. 6-3, Nippon Ham.

Orix went down in order in bottom of the 10th, and that’s how it ended.

That was what I missed. What I saw was a pretty good pitching matchup between Kisanuki and Darvish. Kisanuki had the Fighters’ number the first two trips through the lineup, limiting them to three hits and no runs. All the damage came in the seventh, when he clearly looked fatigued, but was was to some extent let down by a couple of unfortunate plays in the field.

The first was came against Inaba, who opened the inning with a bouncer down the first base line. Seung-Yeop Lee casually jogged over to it, veering into foul territory, snagged the ball, and stepped on first. Foul ball.  It seemed harmless enough, but he looked like it would have been an easy out had he kept his feet in fair territory. A few pitches later, Inaba scored Ham’s first run with a solo home run.

The second came after Yoshihisa Hirano came in to relieve Kisanuki. With two outs and a runner on second, Hirano induced a soft fly to right-center from Kensuke Tanaka. It looked like an easy out off the bat, but Orix’s outfield had Tanaka played so shallow it went for a run-scoring double that gave Nippon Ham a 3-1 lead.

Darvish was his usual self, which is to say he was quite a bit different from his last appearance, against Softbank a week ago. Darvish used his “slow” delivery this week, the one where he pauses at the top of his kick. Contrast that to last week, when he pitched with somewhat of an abbreviated delivery and was a bit quicker to the plate.

Darvish also went with a slightly different arsenal against Orix. Most of his breaking stuff was of the downward-breaking variety, curveballs, forkballs, changeups and softer, downward-breaking sliders, as opposed to the primarily fastball/horizontal slider repertoire he attacked Softbank with last week. A bit surprising was that Darvish just wasn’t getting strikes called on fastballs off the outside corner. There were a couple of borderline calls that would have resulted in strikeouts had they gone his way.

After the first three innings, I seriously thought Darvish had a chance to no-hit the Buffaloes’ listless offense. As it turned out, he held them to two hits through the first eight innings, allowing only two hard-hit balls, one of them a long foul by T-Okada. Orix did of course have that rally in the ninth, which seems to be the trend with them — no offense the first two times through the order, then a late threat. Perhaps their advance scouting and game preparation has yet to come together.

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