Archive > September 2011

Amateur Scouting

» 23 September 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 8 Comments

The title of this post might be ambiguous. It refers to “amateur scouting” as in me as an amateur scout of baseball players, rather than the practice of scouting amateur baseball players.

Anyway, in the three years since I started this site, I’ve become a much better observer of baseball. I’d put part of this down to getting to know and interact with people in the industry, and rest down to knowing that my observations are going to be read. Obviously I’m nowhere near the level of a professional scout, but hopefully I’ve refined my eye for baseball and developed the right habits.

In this post I’d like to share the things I’ve learned to look for. And here they are:

Pitching

  • fastball velocity, movement
  • number of breaking pitches
  • breaking pitches velocity, movement
  • fastball control/command
  • secondary pitch control/command
  • location, location, location
  • “out pitch”
  • efficiency
  • tempo
  • composure
  • effort, smoothness, deception of delivery
  • delivery from the windup versus the stretch
  • performance with runners on base
  • how often does he make mistakes?
  • is he giving up hard contact?
  • ground balls or fly balls?
  • defense

For me, what the pitcher does is most interesting part of the game, so I pay far more attention to that than anything else.

Hitting

  • contact skill
  • power
  • batting eye
  • patience
  • plate coverage
  • swing mechanics
  • which fields does he hit to?
  • fastball hitter or breaking ball hitter?
  • front leg hitter or back leg hitter?
  • situational hitting

I must admit I’ve only recently begun to seriously think about hitting. The challenge with evaluating hitters is that I feel that I need to see a guy multiple times before I really much about him.

Defense

  • range
  • arm strength, accuracy
  • positioning
  • first step, release
  • turning double plays (infielders only)
  • instincts — throwing to the right base, knowing when to charge and when to lay back, etc
  • first baseman — does he catch everything the other infielders throw his way?

For me, getting a read on how well an outfielder is playing is the hardest thing to do when watching a game on TV or online. It can be hard to tell where an outfielder started from, whether he should have made a play or not, whether he had a chance to throw out a runner or not… plays on the infield are much easier to judge since there’s more opportunity to see the whole play develop.

Defense (catchers)

  • game calling
  • throwing out base stealers
  • fielding pop-ups
  • fielding bunts and throwing to first
  • blocking pitches in the dirt
  • handling throws from the outfield and blocking the plate on scoring plays

I never thought about what a catcher needs to do well, aside from the first two bullet points, until a friend and I were talking about Mike Piazza’a defensive reputation, and I asked “what was it that he didn’t do well?” We couldn’t remember, other than throwing out base stealers.

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A Knuckleheaded Move By Chunichi

» 22 September 2011 » In npb » 5 Comments

When I woke up this morning and did my daily check of the news, I was surprised to see headlines that included the words “Ochiai” and “leaving the team”. My first thought was, “why is Hiromitsu Ochiai stepping down as manager of the Chunichi Dragons?” But he’s not quitting, Chunichi’s management has decided not to renew his contract, electing to replace him with 70 year-old former Dragons manager Morimichi Takagi. When given the news from Chunichi owner Bungo Shirai, Ochiai said, “yes, understood”, and later commented “that’s the kind of world this is.”

This is either pure baseball idiocy or there’s something behind the scenes that isn’t public knowledge. Ochiai’s Dragons have done little other than win since he took over in 2004. In the seven seasons he’s managed, the Dragons have finished first or second every year, except 2008, when they finished third. The Dragons have also made four Nippon Series appearances under Ochiai’s watch (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010), winning the big prize in 2007. This year, despite my predictions, the Dragons are again in second place, within striking distance of first place Yakult as the season winds down.

The Dragons’ success has come in spite of losing star contributors like Kosuke Fukudome, Kenshin Kawakami and Tyrone Woods over the years. Chunichi for the most part hasn’t acquired expensive replacements for their departed stars, instead extracting useful performances from bargain bin foreign players like Tony Blanco and Enyelbert Soto, and developing prospects like Wei-Yin Chen, Kazuki Yoshimi and Masahiko Morino. The one notable free agent signing Chunichi made, Kazuhiro Wada (to replace Fukudome), blossomed into an MVP winner under Ochiai.

So I don’t get it. I think this is the worst NPB managerial change since Yomiuri forced Tatsunori Hara out and replaced with with the reviled Tsuneo Horiuchi following the 2003 season (Hara’s crime: finishing second to Hanshin). The winner could wind up being Nippon Ham, the team Ochiai finished his playing career with, if they can convince him to move north to Hokkaido and replace outgoing manager Masataka Nashida.

Update: Daily Sports says Ochiai is on his way out because of his high salary (JPY 370m) and the fact that Chunichi never turned a profit during his run as manager.

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Third PL Playoff Spot Still Up For Grabs

» 21 September 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

As in motor sports, often the race to watch is not necessarily for 1st or 2nd place. Filling out the field for the 2011 Pacific League Playoffs is turning out to be one of those cases. As of this writing, Softbank has the cruise control set to a first round bye in the playoffs. Nippon Ham still needs to keep their foot on the gas, but should find themselves crossing the finish line soon enough as well. That leaves the 3rd and final spot for one of three teams separated in the standings by only 4.5 games. So, which one of Orix, Seibu and Rakuten can string together enough wins to get there? And once they do, how do they get past Yu Darvish and Nippon Ham?

Orix and Seibu have both had a September to remember to this point, and have gained ground on the Hawks and Fighters. Rakuten, still only 4.5 games behind Orix, are fading fast but not yet far enough back to rule out a stretch run to the finish. Given the way the Hawks and Fighters have dominated most of the league this year, it might be fair to say that whoever faces those two teams the least has the best shot. However, Orix has done very well against the Hawks this year and currently holds the lead for the 3rd and final playoff spot. They have also done well against last place Lotte, and will face both teams several times before the end of the season. Where they might fail would be in the match ups against Seibu, Nippon Ham, and Rakuten. Orix has not done particularly well against these teams; their best record being against Rakuten at 10-10-1. Lose too many of their remaing games with smoking hot Seibu, and the Buffaloes are at home for the playoffs.

So what happens when one of these teams gets to round one of the Climax Series? The only team not named the Softbank Hawks that has seen any success this year against Nippon Ham is the Lotte Marines, and they’re out of the running. However, as the old coach’s adage goes, “It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.” The Lions are 14-4 thus far in September, and the Buffaloes are 12-4-1. Place that next to Nippon Ham’s 5-12-1 record in September and things look a little more interesting. However, after dropping the first two games of the season to Seibu, Nippon Ham has since gone 10-5 against them. Orix may as well have stayed home for their games against the Fighters, as Nippon Ham has beaten them 13 out of 19 chances thus far.  The cards are definitely stacked against anyone going into the first round to face the Fighters. But as they say, it’s a clean slate when you get there, and if you’re hot going in, you might catch a couple breaks. You’ll need them to get by Nippon Ham’s pitching.

Another thing to watch is the final record of the 3rd place team. Currently, of these three teams, only Orix has a record above .500. Having played well in September, we should expect them to finish strong. Seibu is another team that has fared well in September, but they are currently looking at five more losses than wins. If both of these teams cool off enough, one of them could back into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. That’s bad enough, but imagine they catch the Fighters sleeping and the Hawks rusty. Now you’ve got a 3rd place team with a losing record with a shot at a championship. A team that a few years ago might have fired their manager and formally apologized to their fan base by that time could be hoisting a trophy instead.

If we assume that the Pacific League title comes down to Softbank or Nippon Ham, who is going to win it? The Hawks have dominated most of the league this year, Nippon Ham included. They have to like their chances in Sapporo, though. Any team that can put arguably the best pitcher in the world on the hill 2-3 times in a six-games series has a reasonable expectation to win those games. Eek out another win or two, and you’re in The Series.

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Welcome Randy

» 21 September 2011 » In NPB Tracker » Comments Off

I’m pleased to welcome our latest contributor, Randy Fuller, to NPB Tracker. Here’s a little about Randy, in his own words:

A native of San Diego and fan of the Padres since the 1970’s, Randy discovered NPB while living in Japan between 2000 and 2003. He dedicated most of his personal life to watching Giants games on TV every night and reading the sports dailies. Randy also spent much of his time in Japan traveling to several ballparks and learning the strategy and idiosyncrasies that make the Japanese game unique. He has been an enthusiast and proponent for pro yakyu for a decade and counting.

Randy has already published his first post, and needless to say, we’re happy to have him on board.

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NPB Bullet Points: Catching Up

» 17 September 2011 » In kbo, mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. So long, in fact, that the draft post had some links from July in it. Between when I started this and now, some interesting random things have happened. Here are a few of them.

  • The Orix Buffaloes promoted Freddy Ballestas to their shihaika roster back in July.
  • Also in July, Softbank lefty Tsuyoshi Wada took home his 100th career win. He achieved the feat in his 200th career game, the eight fastest pace of all time and the fastest for a lefty, ahead of teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi.
  • In other Wada news, Tsuyoshi reached the service time requirements for free agency on September 16 and is widely expected to make a run at an MLB contract this offseason. Said Wada: “I’m honestly happy [about reaching free agency]. I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet. [The team and] I haven’t had a detailed discussion yet, but I’ve been told I’m needed.” He looked pretty happy about the achievement.
  • Hiroshima is holding a tryout on September 24th, for men aged 17 to 24 and over 175 cm tall. This is aimed at Japanese, NPB draft-eligible players.
  • Sport Hochi speculates that Yokohama could release all eight of their foreign players this offseason. I suspect they’ll hold on to their Taiwanese prospects but move on from the rest.
  • Whomever runs the official Orix Buffaloes Twitter feed wants to attend UEFA Champion League matches.
  • A fan fell on the field during the September 16th Swallows-Carp game in Hiroshima, after climbing the outfield fence trying to retrieve a ball thrown into the stands by Yakult outfielder Norichika Aoki. Aoki commented, “he seemed pretty drunk. I’m glad that he seemed to not get hurt.”
  • Journalist Misako Hida recently did an interesting interview with Kei Igawa for the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal. Among the insights: Igawa wants to sign with an MLB organization that will give him a chance to reach the majors, he doesn’t get recognized much when he goes out, and he realized the Yankees didn’t know him when the GM and manager asked what his best pitch at a meeting during his first year.
  • @mykbo had a Tweet this morning saying that Lotte pitcher Lee Yong-hoon has thrown the first minor league perfect game in the history of the KBO.

English language bonus link:

  • Twins blog Over the Baggy has some interesting analysis of Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s defense in his first year with the Twins. The author makes some excellent observations. Better, I would say, than anything I’ve done in this area.

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Sledge’s Season with Yokohama Ends, Returns to U.S.

» 16 September 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

On Thursday, it was reported that Termell Sledge (34) has left Yokohama to return to the U.S.

Sledge injured his hip against Hanshin on August 20th, and although he made a brief return to the lineup in September, has decided to officially pull himself for the remainder of the season. This marks the end of the two-year deal Sledge signed with Yokohama after spending two seasons with Nippon Ham.

Injuries limited him to just 95 games this season and he managed only a .260/.316/.481 line, dropping his OPS below .800 for the first time in his NPB career. Though Sledge has stated that he would like to return to Yokohama, his 2011 performance and salary (roughly $2 million) makes it unlikely he will rejoin the BayStars next year.

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Something New for the Rumor Mill

» 15 September 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 12 Comments

Something new to add to the Yu Darvish rumor mill… Yesterday, a baseball source told me word is that it’s Nippon Ham that wants to post their ace, wanting to cash in on an obvious payday, while Darvish himself is still undecided on whether this offseason is the right time to make the leap to MLB.

Normal grains of salt apply, but this is a sentiment I haven’t yet seen in media.

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Weighing in on the Darvish Rumors

» 05 September 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 18 Comments

Since well before I started this site in 2008, there have been persistent rumors in both the Japanese and North American media to the effect of “Yu Darvish will move to MLB this offseason FOR SURE.”

My role in this particular rumor mill over the last three years can be summarized with the below image:

To reiterate my position of the last few years, I’ve consistently predicted against Darvish moving to Major League Baseball, citing the following observations:

  1. Darvish had a pattern of adamantly disavowing any interest in playing in the Majors. This runs counter to other NPB stars like Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami, who openly talked about wanting to play in MLB years before they moved across the Pacific.
  2. Darvish will not be an international free agent until after the 2014 season. It doesn’t make sense financially or competitively for Nippon Ham to post Darvish until it’s clear that they have to.

If I do say so myself, I’ve been right about this so far.

But this year I’m changing my tune a bit. For the first time, I can see him getting posted in this immediately upcoming offseason. Here’s why:

  1. Darvish softened his stance on playing in MLB last year. It does seem that the Japanese media has mostly shied away from directly asking him about an MLB move though.
  2. Last year he admitted to having contact with big-name MLB agents. Last month MLBTR confirmed that he is represented by Arn Tellem and Don Nomura.
  3. He’s in the middle of his fifth straight crushingly dominant season, and is obviously unchallenged by NPB competition.
  4. He’s bulked up from 90kg to 100kg. In Imperial that’s 198 lbs to 220 lbs.
  5. He’s consistently working in the upper end of his velocity range, around 150-156kmph (93-97mph) and seems to challenging hitters more. I wonder if he’s putting on a show for the scouts, since he has shown that he is perfectly capable of dominating with lower fastball velocity.
  6. The number of scouts present at his games continues to increase. Logic suggests that at some point this is likely to become a distraction.
  7. He’s got three full years to go prior to free agency. If Nippon Ham or Darvish can’t get the right deal, they can call it off and try again next year.

There are probably others as well, but I’ll stop with those. I don’t think any one of those single things jumps up and screams “he’s getting posted!” but they all add up to hint that it’s possible. So I can see it happening.

Based on the information we have, I’d also say there’s a chance that Darvish won’t be posted this offseason. In the Japanese press, only the sleaziest gossip tabloids seem to really delve into the details of what might be behind a Darvish move; the more mainstream sports papers usually just report on the scouts that watch him. One of the tabloids, Shukan Playboy, actually did a pretty good job piecing together different bits of the story. Their main objective seemed to be gathering evidence in support of speculation that Darvish would wind up with the Yankees, but perhaps inadvertently, they included a point that seldom comes up in the North American media. An unnamed sports writer quoted in the article said “the possibility that Farsa (Darvish’s father), who is seeking the optimal business chance, could decide ‘the the time is not right’ is not zero.” I take anonymous writers quoted in Shukan Playboy with an appropriate measure of salt, but it’s an interesting counterpoint to most of the English language reporting we get on this topic.

So I could see it happening. I could see it not happening. I don’t think I’ll be surprised either way.

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CL Playoff Picture: It’s Crowded At The Top

» 04 September 2011 » In npb » 4 Comments

It’s September 4th, and 5 games separate first place from 5th place in the Central League. Six weeks to go and five teams fighting for only three spots at the table come playoff time. We’re at a time in the season where every game feels like game 7; every win a step closer to the trophy and every loss two steps back. Everyone has about 30 games left and with it this packed at the top, virtually all but one team in the league is in position to grab a spot. Who has the best shot?

With or without Alex Ramirez, Yakult tends to do pretty well while living in Yomiuri’s shadow in Tokyo. They currently find themselves at the top of the standings with some breathing room, but can hardly be considered dominating. They currently lead the league in ties, and when you don’t have to chalk up a loss when you can’t record a win, that pays off in your spot in the standings. Of course the downside to that is with all of those ties, they were a bad hop away from several more losses, and 3rd or 4th place rather than first. It’s hard to imagine that a team that’s basically tied it’s way to first place can win it all. But for now, it seems they are a lock for the playoffs. The thing Yakult fans need to worry about is that there is no co-champion here, and you need wins in the playoffs to avoid going home. Do they have the firepower to get by Hiroshima’s pitching or Yomiuri’s offense in a 5 or 7 game series?  Does their luck go south forcing them to drop some games and miss the playoffs? If that ball happens to bounce the other way for them in the coming weeks, they could find themselves out of this thing. It’s that close. Right now they look like a playoff team. Not necessarily a championship team.

The Kyojin Factor:

It’s true in every sport, in every league, in every nation: he who has a lot of money, wins a lot of games. But money doesn’t equal luck, and you need luck to win championships. It’s not 1968 anymore, so you can’t expect to go to Vegas to lay down $20 on Yomiuri to win it all…..and win $1. It’s at least 50/50 now so if you’re a Giants fan you should win some money from time to time, and if you’re not, you might stumble upon a trophy once in a while.   As with any other year, Yomiuri has enough pitching, defense, and offense to bring home another championship. Even though they are not in first, every team in the league should be circling the dates they have with the Giants. You need to beat this team. Not only to improve your spot in the standings, but also to do what you can to keep them on the outside looking in. There’s plenty of opportunity left for every other team to push the Giants out. Is there anyone that’s man enough?

The Spoiler Factor:

On the other hand, while it’s not surprising that Yokohama is out of the race at this point in the season, the impact they can have on the playoff picture could be huge. Although the Bay Stars have a losing record against every team in the CL this year, they have matched up well against Yomiuri and Hanshin. Their 6-8-2 record against the Tigers should make Hanshin fans nervous in the six games they have left against each other. Hanshin needs better than a .500 record between now and October 16th to escape the bubble. That’s hard enough to do against four hungry teams that are fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Now throw in the fact that they have not done particularly well against the worst team in the league that now has nothing to lose.  Play breakeven ball against the playoff caliber teams, and lose against the Bay Stars, and Hanshin will find themselves out of the picture in a hurry.

Yokohama is only 5-9 against the Giants this year, but earlier in the season they found some success, and even a brief period where they owned a winning record against their big brother from across the bay. But as in life, things tend to even up in baseball, and the Giants have taken their annual position above the Bay Stars in the rankings. Having played well against them previously however, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see Yokohama muster up some moxie and take a few more games from the mighty Kyojin. Add that to some timely wins and losses elsewhere in the league, and the Giants could find themselves in a tough spot.

The Bay Stars should be happy when they don’t have to play Yakult, Hiroshima, or Chunichi any more this season. Although they have found a way to blow out the Dragons a couple times this year, Lady Luck has mostly turned a blind eye to their efforts against these teams. We should expect the Swallows, Carp, and Dragons to continue their success against Yokohama, which will put more pressure on Yomiuri and Hanshin to perform.

As we know, predictions and forecasts in these situations tend to be worth their weight in dirt.  The only thing we know at this point is that the Bay Stars will not make the playoffs. But will they have the strength to knock anyone else out, or will they be a door mat for the rest of the season?  Do they have enough left in the tank to push the two most popular teams in Japan out of the playoffs? I guess that’s why we play. In a way, you could say that the road to the 2011 Central League championship runs through Yokohama.

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Meet Me in San Francisco

» 01 September 2011 » In NPB Tracker » Comments Off

San Francisco Bay Area residents — if you happen to be free on the evening of Tuesday, September 6th, I’ll be taking questions about Yu Darvish with some of my FanGraphs friends at the Gordon Biersch near AT&T Park. And if you aren’t interested in Darvish, Carson Cistulli will be on hand to provide his unique brand of baseball analysis. A good time will be hand by all, hope to see you there.

 

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