Archive > July 2011

Softbank Agrees With Two Righties

» 29 July 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

Sports Hochi reports that the Softbank Hawks have reached basic agreements with two righthanders: veteran Yhency Brazoban and prospect Edison Barrios.

Brazoban’s addition was apparently triggered by the shoulder-pain induced absence of closer Takahiro Mahara. Softbank player development director Itaru Kobayashi is quoted as saying: “we have great expectations for him as closer. If possible we’d like him to come to Japan this month.” It feels like Brazoban has been around forever but he’s only 30.

Barrios is by far the more interesting signing. At age 22 he has three years of experience in the Pirates’ organization, but never made it out of the Venezuelan Summer League. This year he’s been a teammate of Jackson Melian’s and Mac Suzuki’s with the independent Kobe Suns, where he’s posted a 1.66 ERA in 48.2 innings pitched. Softbank saw enough to give him a shihaika (70-man roster) contract, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops.

 

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RIP Hideki Irabu

» 28 July 2011 » In nichibei » 2 Comments

If you’re on this site, you’ve probably already seen the news elsewhere: today former NPB and MLB pitcher Hideki Irabu was found dead in his home from an apparent suicide. He was 42. Obviously we are saddened by this news.

For me, Irabu’s legacy won’t be as the former owner of the record for the fastest pitch thrown by a Japanese pitcher, or the “Jellyfish of Makuhari”, or the guy who refused to play for the Padres, or the divisive Yankees under-performer. For me Irabu will be a key member of the 2003 Hanshin Tigers, who came within a game of winning the Japan Series in the most enjoyable year of baseball I’ve ever been around.

I wrote about that season for Baseball Digest a few years ago, when Irabu began his short-lived indy league comeback. Normally I don’t like to go back and read things I’ve written in the past, but this one is an exception.

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NPB Bullet Points: Barden Tweets, Otsuka Wants Back In

» 27 July 2011 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

A few notes covering the last couple days of news…

  • New Hiroshima Carp acquisition Brian Barden used Twitter to collect information on NPB prior to heading to Japan. Barden “tweets” under the handle @thegreatbardeni.
  • Akinori Otsuka wants to make a comeback. The 39 year-old righty hasn’t pitched in the Majors in four years, over which time he’s had three Tommy John surgeries. Otsuka is currently coaching and throwing bullpen sessions with Samurai All-Japan of the Western Baseball Association.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma is back after a two-month layoff. He won his return start with seven strong innings over Softbank.
  • Craig Brazell lined up rookie Issei Morita the other day with a shaving cream pie in the face during a post-game interview. Here’s the approach… and the delivery.
  • Number has an article on the trade rumors surrounding Hiroki Kuroda. For the most part it’s nothing you can’t find in the American press, but Kuroda does comment that it “took him three years to get used to the Majors.”
  • Yakult has signed lefty Naoya Okamoto, the former Yokohama BayStar who had been with the Yankees’ 2A affiliate in Trenton.
  • Korean slugger Tae-Kyun Kim is leaving the Chiba Lotte Marines, and will resume his career in Korea.
  • Seibu has said goodbye to reliever Brian Sikorski, who has been on the shelf since having his elbow scoped earlier this season. Look for Seibu to seek out bullpen help.
And in today’s bonus article veteran writer Jim Allen takes a brief look at Japan’s current resistance to the terms being offered by MLB for WBC participation.
Bonus #2 comes courtesy of my FanGraphs bud Navin Vaswani, who broke down the recent New York Times piece on Kei Igawa.

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Architecture for Humanity

» 27 July 2011 » In something else » Comments Off

This is another one of those posts that I’ve been wanting to write for a while.

When the Tohoku Earthquake struck this spring, my family and I wanted to contribute in some small way to the relief and recovery effort. I’m a little too analytical to simply make a donation to the Red Cross and move on, so my wife and I did some research and found a handful of organizations to contribute to. Of the organizations we discovered, the one I find the most interesting is Architecture for Humanity.

In their own words, Architecture for Humanity is a “nonprofit design services firm founded in 1999. We are building a more sustainable future through the power of professional design.” I saw Architecture for Humanity as an organization that could contribute to resolving immediate rebuilding challenges, spur a little economic recovery, and leave long-term resources. They’re also a good match for my value system. Ideologically, I’m a firm believer in the value of building and creating things; practically speaking, they have a demonstrated track record of raising funds and establishing global partnerships, so I felt pretty confident that they could actually realize that value.

It’s been four months, and Architecture for Humanity’s website shows that progress has been made on the projects that have been initiated so far, and a summary of plans for other projects. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of their plans in Japan turn out. It’s definitely a long-term endeavor that will require support over the next several months.

It took a big earthquake hitting close to home to inspire me to action, but hopefully it’s a lasting inspiration. If anyone out there is interested donating, Architecture for Humanity has my enthusiastic endorsement. Even if you can’t donate, I’d still recommend checking ‘em out. I wish I had known about this group after the earthquake in Haiti hit last year.

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Hot Stove Preview, Part Two: 2012 Posting Candidates

» 26 July 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

As promised in part one, here are my guesses at what will happen with the posting market this offseason. Remember, unlike free agency, posting is not a scheduled event. Players must request to be posted, and their teams must consent for the posting process to actually take place. As such

Posting Candidates

Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS, Seibu Lions) — Nakaji made multiple requests to be posted last offseason, all of which were denied by Seibu’s management, citing a desire to compete this season. It hasn’t really worked out, as the Lions are currently in last place in the Pacific League (despite my preseason optimism). Like most of NPB, Nakajima’s numbers have been suppressed by the new ball, but he still sports a .279/.339/.431 line. Sadly that .430 slugging percentage is good for sixth in the Pacific League. I don’t really see Nakaji as an MLB shortstop, but if he can come close his current .770 OPS at the MLB level, he’d be a useful second baseman. (Hiroyuki Nakajima tag archive)

Norichika Aoki (OF, Yakult Swallows) — Posting rumors involving Aoki were once common but have really died down over the last few years. There was some reporting that he was going to ask to be posted last offseason, but nothing came of it. It seems pretty clear that Yakult wants to hang on to him, so my take is that it’s highly unlikely that Aoki will be posted this offseason. If he was, his MLB value would be questionable. In this year’s depressed offensive environment, Aoki has largely held on to his on-base skills, but seen his power decline significantly. After regularly slugging around .500 over the last several years, Aoki has just 12 extra base hits (no home runs) in 292 at bats this season, for a .363 rate. (Norichika Aoki tag archive)

Yu Darvish (SP, Nippon Ham Fighters) — I need to be careful what I write about Darvish, because it tends to get repeated, frequently without much context. Darvish is not a free agent until after the 2014 season. There’s also no concrete evidence that Darvish is going to be posted this offseason, and I have my doubts about the journalistic integrity of those who claim otherwise. It is heavily rumored that this is the year, but that’s been the case since before I started this blog in 2008, and here we are. The only on-the-record quote I’ve seen recently from anyone who’s involved are these, from Nippon Ham GM Masao Yamada, last month in Sponichi: “posting is done at the request of the individual, and he hasn’t said anything to us, so we can’t ask ‘what shall we do’ from our side” and “when the time comes, we’ll take the circumstances of the team and the player’s performance into consideration”.

Having said all that, Darvish has done nothing to discourage the rumors with his performance. After a rough opening day start, Darvish has been flat-out dominant this season. I would go as far as to say this is the best work I’ve ever seen from him. Part of that is because of the new, offensive-choking ball, but Darvish has done his part, leading Japan in wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts. I don’t have any doubt that he could perform well against better competition. (Yu Darvish tag archive)

My best guess is what of the three players profiled above, only Nakajima is posted. We may see a player I haven’t discussed posted as well; last year I didn’t think Hisashi Iwakuma or Tsuyoshi Nishioka would be posted, and they both were.

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NPB Bullet Points: WBC Participation, All-Star Notes, Hiroshima Pitchers

» 25 July 2011 » In international baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » Comments Off

I don’t usually pay too much attention to All-Star games, but there were a few interesting items that came up over the weekend.

  • Japan’s participation in the next World Baseball Classic is up in the air, over (you guessed it) revenue sharing issues. There’s more to this story than I want to cover in a bullet point, so I’ll come back to this one in a later post.
  • Yu Darvish’s last win before the All-Star break came at the expense of fellow ace Masahiro Tanaka and the Rakuten Eagles. 44,826 spectators were in attendance, among them scouts from the Rays, Yankees, Angels, Mets, Pirates, Indians, and Diamondbacks.
  • Yakult ace Shohei Tateyama supposedly threw a total of seven gyroballs in the second All-Star game this year, though I have yet to find video of this.
  • Softbank prospect Hiroyuki Kawahara hit 155 kmph (96.3 mph) on the gun in the fourth inning of the Fresh All-Star game, tying Hirotoshi Ishii’s record for fastest pitch thrown by a Japanese lefty.
  • Alex Ramirez used a green glove in the first All-Star game.
  • Looks like All-Stars Bryan Bullington and Dennis Sarfate will both be back in Hiroshima next season. The Carp hold options on both pitchers, and they’re making it an easy choice.
And to close things out, here’s Jason Coskrey’s article on Yomiuri international scout Nate Minchey.

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A Brief Commercial Announcement

» 24 July 2011 » In Koshien » 2 Comments

Well over a year ago, filmmaker Alex Shear sent me a copy of his film Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball. Shame on me for taking this long to mention it, but I figured with the summer Koshien coming up, now would be a good time.

I’ve watched through the Kokoyaku a couple times now and it’s definitely a unique look at the commitment, tradition and emotion that goes into Koshien, Japan’s largest amateur sporting event. Plus, the film closes with a great rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire’s September. Kokoyaku is available on Hulu, so don’t take my word for it…

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NPB At The Half

» 21 July 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

We’re at the All-Star break, and NPB’s 12 teams have played through just about exactly half of their schedules. I’d like to take a few minutes to share some observations on the season so far.

I want to start with something about the Great Tohoku Earthquake, but I can’t think of anything particularly profound to say about it. The season opened about a month after the quake, but what I’ll always remember about the opening of this season was the persistent presence of it: Rakuten opening its season on the road, the day games in the Tokyo area, things like that. But what sticks out the most is the memory a Yokohama BayStars game I was watching early in the season that was delayed for a few minutes because of an aftershock. That just felt… ominous. I guess I probably perceived the earthquake differently because I live in the US, but it was the only extended period over the last three years that I really didn’t feel like writing about baseball. Just thinking back to it now has dampened my enthusiasm for writing the next few paragraphs…

The other obvious observation is the affect the new ball has had on the game. Numerous pitchers are posting career-best numbers, and only a few batters, notably Okawari-kun Nakamura, seem capable of cranking out the homers at their respective established paces. Nippon Ham has an absurd 2.08 ERA, while Softbank has a 2.31 mark. I didn’t see that coming for Softbank at all, considering that they didn’t actually have a rotation last year. The new ball’s diminishing effects have been felt around the league, but guys with mid-range gap power seem most greatly affected: Eiichi Koyano, Teppei, Yasuyuki Kataoka, Takashi Toritani… perhaps most concerning is Norichika Aoki, who is still getting on base but has seen his slugging percentage drop to .363 this season after hovering around .500 for the last several years.

Another item of note is that Yu Darvish actually had a bad game this year, giving up seven earned runs in seven innings pitched on opening day. He hasn’t had one since though, rattling off a lengthy scoreless streak (mostly) during interleague play, and showing perhaps the best stuff of his career. Maybe it’s the new ball, but Darvish seems to be throwing harder this season, routinely over 150 kmph (94 mph) with his four-seamer, with some movement on it. He’s also shown a little more polish on his cutter, so combining that with his shuuto he has three pitches with 145+ kmph (90+ mph) velocity that move in different directions. Throw in a power slider and a slow curve that is basically an automatic strike when he gets it over the plate, and you have a completely dominant pitcher. This is first season I’ve ever really wanted to see him against more talented competition.

The pennant races are proving interesting through the first half. Yakult has impressively clung to first place in the Central League, somewhat to my surprise. I saw them taking a step forward this year, but I thought the title would come down to Yomiuri or Hanshin. It still might. Hanshin has the only positive run differential in the CL, and Yomiuri leads the league in ERA and home runs, though has scored the fewest runs. The surprise of the season so far is that Yokohama, despite sitting in their typical last place, leads the league in runs scored.

The Pacific is again the more interesting of the two leagues, but it’s race is shaping up differently than I had anticipated: it’s a two-horse race between Nippon Ham and Softbank, the league’s two pitching powerhouses. I had Seibu at the top of my projections, but last year’s runners up are in last place, and digging themselves in. I don’t see anyone catching up with Softbank or Nippon Ham at this point, but the race for third place should be interesting, as Chiba Lotte, Orix, and Rakuten are on fairly even ground. Personally, I’ll be pulling for Rakuten. They have the pitching, and besides, who wouldn’t want to see a Cinderella run in Sendai?

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NPB Bullet Points: Sawa, Nakata, Other Randomness

» 20 July 2011 » In mlb, npb » 2 Comments

Let me start with a belated congratulations to Japan’s inspiring and incredibly classy women’s soccer team on it’s recent World Cup win. Alas, I only saw highlights of the final and a bit of last week’s game against Sweden. Anyway, here are a few things I’ve read over the past day or two:

  • Hanshin is trying to get Women’s World Cup heroine Homare Sawa to throw out the first pitch at a Tigers game.
  • In this week’s Central League roster moves, Chunichi promoted first baseman Ryoji Nakata and Yomiuri swapped Levi Romero in for Jonathan Albaladejo on the active roster.
  • Yakult’s July 19th game was postponed due to rain… here’s why.
  • Hanshin shortstop Takashi Toritani can throw a ball 110 meters (that’s about 380 feet for the metric-impaired), but it doesn’t look like something he’ll want to do all the time.
  • Something a little different: Curtis Granderson laments the lack of African American fans at MLB games. I am with him all the way — part of my frustration with MLB’s recent drive for huge revenues is that ticket prices have gone up, which has made the game less accessible to families, particularly in lower income groups. It irks me that Oakland tends to take some flack from the American media for their inability to get new stadium or sign expensive veterans. Fine, glass half empty. But the A’s play typically competitive ball at reasonable prices, and do attract a more diverse crowd than their neighbors across the Bay.
  • Something completely different: The Economist’s recent article on Japan’s subtly growing software industry caught my eye; coincidentally I recently learned about the Tofu Project, which addresses some of the gaps the Economist brings up.

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A Quick Koshien Qualifying Roundup

» 19 July 2011 » In amateur baseball, Koshien » 4 Comments

It’s one of my favorite times of year. Japan’s high schools baseball teams are once again marching on the road to Summer Koshien. Here are a few items making news:

  • Nara powerhouse Tenri is out of this summer’s qualifying games due to violence within the club. The Japan Student Baseball Association handed down a two month suspension on June 14th, and their absence opens a path for Chiben Gakuen or another school to represent Nara at Koshien. Interestingly, it has been either Tenri or Chiben Gakuen representing the prefecture for 36 of the last 39 summer tournaments, while Koriyama holds the other three. Kansai Chuo is highly ranked this year; might this be their chance to make the dance for the first time ever?
  • Speaking of first-timers, congratulations to Itoman of Okinawa, the first team to punch their ticket to Nishinomiya. Itoman held on in the prefectural final to beat Chubu Shogyo, 2-1. If I’m not mistaken, they will become the geographically southernmost Japanese school to play at Koshien, though there were teams representing Taiwan in the days when the island was under Japanese rule.
  • Spring and Summer 2010 champions Konan saw their great run end in that same Okinawa qualifying bracket. The loss of their fine left handed starter Yosuke Shimabukuro to graduation was more than they could overcome.
  • Narashino, one of the stronger teams from Chiba Prefecture, has a  great marching band. While their baseball is entertaining, something special happens when their boys are batting and they fire up their instruments. You can hear an audio clip of them here. The sonic treat alone is worth tuning into their games for.
  • Yokohama, a traditional power in Kanagawa Prefecture, is looking a bit shaky these days. While they breezed through their first game with a 10-0 score, they struggled to overcome a plucky Yokohama Shogyo squad on Monday (July 18th). Tokaidai Sagami, the Spring champions and 2010 Summer Koshien runners-up to the aforementioned Konan, are looking strong again and would like their shot to win it all. Getting out of the Kanagawa qualifier, with its 186 teams, won’t be easy.
  • Typhoon Ma-on has disrupted the schedules in the southern parts of Japan. As it makes landfall during the week, expect the cancellations to spread. Let’s hope the storm passes quickly, and that everyone in the affected areas stays safe and dry.

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