Archive > June 2011

News Item: Saburo Traded to Yomiuri

» 29 June 2011 » In npb » Comments Off on News Item: Saburo Traded to Yomiuri

It has become clear within the last hour that the Chiba Lotte Marines have traded outfielder Saburo Omura to the Yomiuri Giants in exchange for outfielder Takahito Kudo and cash.

It’s quite a surprising move, considering how popular Saburo is among Lotte fans and how much of a fixture he has been in their outfield and lineup. The 35 year-old was in the midst of his 17th season with Lotte, batting .271 with 2 home runs and 9 runs driven in. He had appeared in 19 games this season.

Kudo had not made an appearance at the ichi-gun level in 2011 for Yomiuri. Prior to his two seasons with the Giants, he spent parts of three seasons with Nippon Ham. Kudo is a career .262 hitter still looking for his first home run in NPB.

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Year Three Is In The Books

» 28 June 2011 » In NPB Tracker » 1 Comment

It’s hard to believe, but NPB Tracker has been online for over three years now. June 15 was the official date, but I was busy last week.

Ever year has it’s highlights, and this year was no different. I’m probably forgetting a few things but these are the ones that jump out:

  • Coming darn close to actually seeing a game with Deanna and Westbaystars-san. We got as far as the box office at Tokyo Dome, but the BayStars-Giants game was sold out, so instead we had dinner at Hichiori Morimoto’s parents’ restaurant, Yakiniku Erika.
  • The awesome surprise of walking into Borders one day and seeing my article on the cover of Rotowire’s annual Fantasy Guide. Getting to finally meet Peter Schoenke after having worked with Rotowire for the last couple years was fun as well.
  • Getting together with all the guys from FanGraphs in Arizona during spring again.
  • Adding Ken and Adam to the NPB Tracker family.

I’d also like to say thanks to all the readers and commenters for making this thing fun.

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NPB Bullet Points: Scales, Melian, Arakaki, Sugano

» 28 June 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

Updates on some NPB Tracker favorites and a name that long-time Baseball America readers will find familiar.
  • Bobby Scales is on his way to Japan to play for Nippon Ham. I had Scales on my list last offseason, and again a couple weeks ago, so it’s safe to say he’s an NPB Tracker favorite. According to Nikkan Sports, Ham intends to use him to fill the gap left by the currently injured Kensuke Tanaka.
  • Another NPB Tracker favorite, Nagisa Arakaki, is rehabbing a ni-gun with an eye toward his first ichi-gun appearance in over two years. Arakaki is scrapping his once-feared slider.
  • The other day I happened across a news item saying that former Yankees prospect Jackson Melian is active in Japan with the independent Kobe Suns, who are managed by former Major Leaguer Mac Suzuki. He’s only hitting .175 though.
  • Here’s a pic of the scouting contingent at Tokai University pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano’s last game. The group included scouting representation from at least one MLB team. Sugano is high on Yomiuri’s radar for this season’s draft.
  • Yet another NPB Tracker favorite, Junichi Tazawa, failed to last a full inning in his first appearance off the DL. Tazawa gave up six runs in 2/3 of an inning.
  • Shame on me for not finding the English-language Hanshin Tigers Page and including it in this year’s blogosphere post.

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Amazing K:BB Ratios

» 25 June 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

The new, home run-supressing NPB ball has brought a Japan-wide “year of the pitcher”. Five NPB’s 12 teams have team ERAs under 3.00, led by Nippon Ham’s amazing 2.02 mark. But the thing that’s jumped out at me is number of guys with unbelievable K:BB ratios. Check these out:

  • (pitcher – K:BB, IP)
  • Yu Darvish – 106:10, 92 IP
  • Masahiro Tanaka – 96:7, 91.1 IP
  • Yoshihisa Naruse – 81:6, 83 IP
  • Masaru Takeda – 45:3, 74 IP
  • Yoshihisa Hirano – 42:2, 32.1 IP
  • Dennis Sarfate – 40:4, 26.2 IP
  • Takuya Asao – 29:2, 29 IP

Those are just the guys with ratios of 10:1 or better. There are number of others with ratios in the 4:1 or 5:1 range.

So what’s going on here? These guys were all very good already, but they didn’t all take this type of step forward at once. My guess is that the new ball has enabled pitchers to attack the strike zone more aggressively, with less fear of surrendering a home run. That’s just an untested theory at this point though.

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Matsui Not Done Yet

» 24 June 2011 » In mlb, nichibei » Comments Off on Matsui Not Done Yet

Coming into a June 14th series with the Kansas City Royals, it looked like the end might be near for Hideki Matsui. At 37, Matsui is essentially a one-trick pony, but his season line entering the Kansas City series was a lame .216/.268/.332, with just four home runs. The man he replaced in Oakland, Jack Cust, was even out performing him in Seattle (though his .684 OPS is equally unimpressive). Since then Matsui has shown signs of life — .261/.471/.522 in 8 games, and even seeing some time in the field during interleague play.

  • On his homer against KC on 6/16: “It was an easy fastball on the inside of the plate. I hit it just about perfectly. Would’ve liked to have hit it a bit further.”
  • On the feeling around the A’s clubhouse: “We’re feeling better — the team as a whole, I think, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do from here on.”
  • On being installed in the 3rd spot int he order: “Of course I need to be responsible and properly prepare myself. I just want to put out some results and lead this team to victory.”

Matsui is also pursuing his 500th professional home run. He needs only one more to reach the mark, and jokingly told reporters that it “will probably take another month.”

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Yomiuri Going After Josh Fields

» 23 June 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t need to add much to the headline. Yomiuri is trying to get Josh Fields out of the Rockies organization. The news comes from Sports Hochi, which is part of the Yomiuri media group, and says the Giants are “pouring all their effort into agreeing to a contract quickly.” The Giants are reportedly looking at Fields as a third base alternative to Rusty Ryal, who has really struggled this year. None of Yomiuri’s homegrown options seem to have the chops for the hot corner.

Fields was once The White Sox’ heir apparent to Joe Crede, and has a 23 home run season on his resume, back in 2007. He hasn’t done much at the Major League level since then, those it seems he has quite a bit of MLB roster time as he hasn’t played more than 75 games at 3A since 2006. This is his first year in the hitter-friendly PCL, and he’s tearing it up to the tune of .365/.429/.674. I actually took a long look at Fields when the news came out that Hiroshima was looking for help, but that I thought with his line he might get a look with the Rockies.

This seems like a deal that has a good chance at getting done. I think Yomiuri picked a good guy to go after, though in retrospect, simply keeping Edgar Gonzalez wouldn’t have been a bad move.

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NPB Bullet Points: Posting System, Ikusei Promotions, Darvish’s Scouts

» 21 June 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 10 Comments

With NPB off until Friday, it’s a good time to refresh the Bullet Points series.

  • NPB has decided not to pursue changes to the Posting System, according to a June 13 Sanspo report. Difficulty in changing the system on the MLB side and the possibility of collecting large posting fees were cited as the reasons behind the support for the current system.
  • Yakult has added Brazilian Rafael Fernandez to its 70-man shihaikai roster, an upgrade from the ikusei roster. Fernandez was selected in the ikusei draft back in 2008, and has a 1.97 ERA in eight games at ni-gun this season.
  • Hanshin did the same with Venezuelan lefty Robert Zarate. Zarate was signed out of the independent Baseball Challenge League last offseason.
  • Norihiro Nakamura is back, this time with the Yokohama BayStars. Nori hit the first home run of his return on the 18th against Softbank.
  • The Chiba Lotte Marines have come to an agreement to acquire infielder Jose Castillo, who was with Yokohama last year. Castillo had been tearing up the Mexican League, and I figure he’ll play LF or DH in Chiba.
  • The Braves and Twins had scouts at Yu Darvish’s June 15 start, where he was shockingly defeated by Hanshin. Atlanta’s always chatty Hiroyuki Ohya had this to say: “It felt like he was pressing with this fastball. He has less break on his slider than he did two years ago. He can do better than this.”
  • Yakult is set to sell a cocktail “produced” by slugger Wladimir Balentien. The drink will be based on Curacao, a liqueur from Coco’s homeland in the Netherlands Antilles.
  • Agent Don Nomura has a new client, pitcher Keisuke Imamura, currently of the Kobe 9 Cruise of the Kansai Independent League. According to the Kobe News, Imamura stands at 190 cm (6’3), reaches 148 kmph (92mph) with his fastball, and has a 14.54 K/9IP ratio this season. The Astros, Giants, and Yankees are said to have shown interest.


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Game Notes: Kikuchi’s Debut

» 14 June 2011 » In npb » 6 Comments

On Sunday, Seibu prospect Yusei Kikuchi made his ichi-gun debut, an afternoon start against the Hanshin Tigers. The results weren’t impressive: 2.1 IP, 53 pitches, 14 batters faced, 6 hits, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk, 4 runs, 4 earned. That line looks a little worse if we note that two of Kikuchi’s seven outs were sacrifice bunts by Keiichi Hirano.

Stuff-wise, Kikuchi’s day was a mixed bag. He didn’t have the fastball velocity that he showed in his high school days, and while he had great movement on his slider, his command of it was spotty. He fell behind in the count to most of the batters he faced, and lacked the swing-and-miss stuff to get even. But on the positive side, he worked exclusively down in the zone, and induced a number of extraordinarily weak, squiber-ish ground balls. All of the six hits he surrendered were singles, and only one was a decisive line drive.

Kikuchi was clearly better against the weak part of Hanshin’s order, so maybe he needs a little more time at ni-gun to work things out. The basics are there, and if Kikuchi can add a few more kmph to his fastball, a little more polish on his slider, and a changeup or a curveball to round things out, I think he’ll be a quality professional pitcher.

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    Calling on Reinforcements

    » 12 June 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 13 Comments

    It’s that time of year again, when struggling NPB teams look to improve their competitive fortunes through the addition of players from overseas.
    • Rakuten has imported first baseman Luis Alfonso Garcia from the Mexican League. The big righty has already appeared in three games for the Eagles, and is 3 for 10 with a double, and has participated in his first hero interview. Rakuten has a bit of a pattern of in-season imports having some initial success, then flaming out in year two, so we’ll see how Garcia does. I love his stance, though.
    • Orix has picked up 23 year-old righty Wilson Matos on an ikusei contract. Matos had been with the Cardinals 1A affiliate, but it looks like all of his game experience came in the low minors with the Boston and Florida organizations.
    • Nikkan Sports is reporting that Hiroshima is looking to add a bat, specifically a righthanded outfielder with gap power. They reportedly have a list of five or six names, but Nikkan Sports didn’t give us anyone specific. Hmmmm…. my guesses would be Jeremy Hermida, Jeff Larish, Bobby Scales. I guess I have a bit of a bias for guys I’ve seen in the Major Leagues, specifically those who have come through the Bay Area.
    • Nikkan Sports also reports that Lotte is also in the market for an outfielder, and were specifically going after John Bowker, but hadn’t been able to close out a deal as of the 11th. Bowker is a good pick, another guy with player plenty of 3A experience, but little MLB success. Loyal commenter Chris Jackson gave us a heads up on Lotte’s scouting activities a couple weeks ago.


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    Game Notes: Darvish vs Chen

    » 11 June 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 1 Comment

    Summary: These notes are about a game that took place on Tuesday, June 7. Nippon Ham edged Chunichi 1-0 in a great pitcher’s duel.

    What a pitching matchup. Yu Darvish was his usual self, striking out 10 with no walks and three hits in another shutout, running his personal scoreless streak to 44 innings. But Wei-Yin Chen managed to keep up with him and pitched a game that would have earned him a “w” under normal circumstances.

    Darvish did everything well — he kept everything down, or unhittably high in the zone; got ahead of nearly ever batter; got into only two three-ball counts; surrendered virtually zero hard contact. Catcher Keiji Koyama managed two of Chunichi’s three hits, a single off an early-count fastball, and another off a slider that got a little too much of the plate. The only other Dragons batter to look remotely competent was Kazuhiro Wada, who hit the hardest ball off Darvish, a sharp line drive that Fighters second baseman Kensuke Tanaka made a great jumping play on. Wada also hit an opposite field single to lead off the seventh inning, which after a sacrifice bunt by Takahiro Saeki turned into the only Dragons threat of the evening. But Darvish subverted that minor threat by dominating Ryosuke Hirata, who could only vaguely defend the strike zone, and Masahiko Morino, who struck out on three pitches.

    You couldn’t say that Chen matched Darvish pitch for pitch, but he put up a dominant performance in his own way. Chen scattered four hits in an eight-inning compete game, needing only 88 pitches to work through Nippon Ham’s lineup three and a half times. The difference in the game came in the top of the seventh, when Chen surrendered an uncharacteristic walk to Atsunori Inaba, then hung a slider to Sho Nakata on an 0-2 count. Nakata smacked a double off the left field wall, with the ball bouncing far enough from Wada to allow Inaba to score from first. Chen wasn’t rattled though, and with Nakata still on second, mowed down Tomohiro Nioka, Dai Kan Yoh, and Micah Hoffpauir.

    Though the results differed by the slimmest of margins, the two pitchers took differing approaches on the mound. Darvish’s arsenal is such that he can feature a couple of different looks. In this game, he featured at the power end of his range, relying on his four-seam, cutter and tailing two-seam/one-seam/shuuto. When Chunichi’s hitters started fouling the hard stuff off, Darvish would go to his slider or curve for a different look.

    Chen, by comparison, kept things a lot simpler. He fed Nippon Ham a strict diet of fastballs and sliders, showing great location and keeping nearly everything on the edges of the strike zone. To make an unfair comparison, he lacked Darvish’s velocity and movement, but he worked quickly, threw strikes, and knew what he wanted to do with each hitter. It definitely felt like he was pitching to contact, but it worked as he mostly limited the Fighters to infield pop ups and lazy fly balls.

    I don’t really have anything more to say about this game, so I’ll close with this remarkable fact. Darvish’s opening day: seven innings pitched, seven runs, seven earned. Darvish since then: 69 innings pitched, six runs, five earned.

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