Archive > December 2011

Looking at Aoki’s Case

» 30 December 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 9 Comments

After a little discussion about Norichika Aoki on an earlier post, I thought I’d break down the speedy outfielder’s case in a little more detail. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The case for:

  • Was among the best hitters in Japan from 2005-2010, four times hitting .340 or higher (via npb.or.jp/eng)
  • Strong plate discipline mostly survived the new ball
  • Continued to make contact in 2011, career low strikeouts
  • Speed doesn’t slump
  • Rangey in the field, led Japan’s center fielders with a 2.45 range factor in 2011 through July 20 (via Baseball Lab)

The case against:

  • Performance decline in 2011 — from a career-best .358/.435/.509 to a career worst .292/.360/.358 (via Pro Yakyu Data Freak)
  • No power with the new ball; perilous drop from 44 to 18 doubles from 2010 to 2011
  • Weak throwing arm
  • 22.9% of his hits in 2011 were infield singles (according to Pro Yakyu Nuru Data Okiba)
  • In 2011 he hit .382/.452/.520 in 115 plate appearances against Yokohama, padding his stats by bashing Japan’s worst pitching staff (also via Pro Yakyu Nuru Data Okiba)
  • “Aoki’s plate discipline seems to have regressed” — me, August 5, 2011.

I’ve flip-flopped on Aoki as a prospect quite a bit this season, though I haven’t written much. I was extremely bearish early on, and had kind of written him off as a prospect, then I came around a bit to a more glass-half-full view. Now I’m backing off a bit a again. I think the specific numbers that I’ve keyed in on paint a rather negative picture.

I think Aoki has enough transferrable skills to be a useful MLB player, but there some real limitations to his game, most notably his lack of power. I still think my Juan Pierre comparison is not such a bad one, with the caveat that Aoki probably won’t get enough playing time to rack up 200 hits like Pierre was doing in his prime.

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Farewell, Super Slider

» 29 December 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

Last week, over at the mighty fine (Japanese language) Carp Blog, I learned that veteran righty Masaki Hayashi is calling it a career. Hiroshima released (via senryokugai) Hayashi after the season, and decided to retire after failing to draw any interest with his participation at an offseason tryout.

Hayashi spent his 11-season career in Hiroshima’s bullpen, and while he was never dominant or even really consistently effective, he did have one distinguishing trait: a great slider with big, late movement.

(here’s another video)

Hayashi could run his fastball up into the 147-148 kmph range in his earlier years, so he had pretty good stuff. It didn’t quite translate to NPB dominance, but he was fun to watch. According to the Carp Blog, he’ll take a position the Carp’s front office.

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New Logos: Yokohama DeNA, Hanshin

» 28 December 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

It’s that time of year when teams begin unveiling their branding changes for the upcoming season. Today we have updated logos from DeNA and Hanshin to review.

The BayStars in the midst of an image refresh: new DeNA ownership, a manager with some personality in Kiyoshi Nakahata, new logos, and eventually new uniforms. So far, I like what I see. There’s definitely a more positive buzz around the team than there has been in a long time. More to the point of this post, I like the logo. It’s definitely a bit on the modern side; no interlocked letters, gothic script or letters with long, sweeping tails. The logo is a bit Nintendo-ish, which isn’t a surprise given that DeNA is an game software company. I’m looking forward to seeing how it translates to the new uniforms.

Like Yokohama, Hanshin is welcoming a new manager for 2012, Yutaka Wada. With Wada comes a new team slogan, “Go for the Top atsuku nare.” “Atsuku nare” literally means “get hot”, though I would probably translate it a little more loosely as “fire up” or something similar. The accompanying 2012 logo features a serious looking Tolucky, Hanshin’s mascot, following through on a big swing. From the logo we learn two things about Tolucky: he bats righthanded, and he doesn’t wear a batting helmet.

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NPB Bullet Points: Okajima, Pinto, Aoki, Whitesell

» 27 December 2011 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 14 Comments

A couple of hot stove notes for the evening…

  • Sanspo reports that Milwaukee started negotiations with Norichika Aoki in in the backup player range, around $1-1.5m. Additionally, since the Brewers lack a scouting presence in Japan, they intend to work Aoki out at their Arizona facility before making a decision on him.
  • Sports Hochi reports that Hideki Okajima is in the final stages of negotiations with the Yankees on a minor league deal with a non-roster camp invite. Hochi cites a source familiar with situation as saying the two sides could “reach an agreement as soon as around the New Year.”
  • Sponichi reports that Softbank is working on acquiring lefty Reynel Pinto. Pinto would be a rotation candidate for the Hawks, who have said goodbye to starters Toshiya Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Wada and DJ Houlton this offseason.
  • Also via Sponichi, The Chiba Lotte Marines have announced that they have signed Josh Whitesell. Whitesell spent the last two seasons with Yakult.

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Yakult Announces Milledge Signing

» 27 December 2011 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off

The Yakult Swallows have finally announced the acquisition of outfielder Lastings Milledge. Milledge gets a salary of JPY 45m (about $570k at today’s rate) plus performance bonuses, and a club option for a second year. He’ll wear number 85 for the Birds.

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Merry Christmas!

» 25 December 2011 » In NPB Tracker » 7 Comments

25 years (or so) ago, an elementary school-aged me was the happy recipient of an Atari 2600. I was a lucky kid and had a lot of nice toys, but for whatever reason, playing games like Moon Patrol and Jr. Pac-Man still stands out as a particularly fun memory. Ironically Super Baseball wasn’t very good though.

Christmas Eve is about to become Christmas day in my part of the world, and wherever you are and whether your you recognize the holiday or not, I hope you’re doing something that you will look back on as fondly as I do playing those Atari games. Merry Christmas!

And Daisuke Miura, if you’re reading this, happy 38th birthday!

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Changing of the Guard

» 22 December 2011 » In npb » 18 Comments

This is a big year for NPB imports into MLB, with as many as seven front-line players poised to be wearing MLB uniforms in 2012. While all of the these players will be missed, their departures do collectively open spots for younger talent to fill. Here’s a look at who we might see stepping up in the next year and beyond.

  • Hisashi Iwakuma (Rakuten) – Masahiro Tanaka took over as Rakuten’s ace in 2011, and the presence of Satoshi Nagai and Takahiro Shiomi softens the blow of losing Iwakuma. For me, the question of who inherits the title of Japan’s best groundball pitcher remains open.
  • Wei-Yin Chen (Chunichi) – I’m not sure I see an immediate successor on Chunichi’s roster, though they do have young lefties Toshiya Okada and Yudai Ohno. And although he might be a year or two away, I’m looking to Yusei Kikuchi to emerge as Japan’s next top hard-throwing lefty starter.
  • Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu) – Hideto Asamura played his way on to the Lions’ opening day roster in 2011, and was a tough out all season. He should move to shortstop in 2012, though he’ll have to fend off competition from Esteban German.
  • Munenori Kawasaki (Softbank) – Softbank has young infielders Kenta Imamiya and Tu-Hsuan Lee waiting in the wings. It’s probably unrealistic to expect either to have the same kind of impact that Kawasaki did though. And it seems like the Kawasaki will be back at some point.
  • Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank) – Tadashi Settsu established himself as Softbank’s ace in waiting with a strong 2011. The losses of Wada and Toshiya Sugiuchi mean that there will be more pressure on guys like Kenji Ohtonari, Sho Iwasaki, Shota Ohba and Shingo Tatsumi to pitch quality innings at the ichi-gun level. We’ll see who steps up in 2012.
  • Norichika Aoki (Yakult) – So far, Lastings Milledge is set to replace Aoki on Yakult’s roster. Softbank’s Seiichi Uchikawa would currently get my vote as Japan’s top contact hitter, though he lacks Aoki’s plate discipline. I’m not sure I see any Aoki-type prospects on the horizon… I’ve read some good things about Orix’s Shunta, but he needs some time to put it together.
  • Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham) – In terms of public stature and marketability, Yuki Saito is certainly Darvish’s heir as the face of the Fighters. Saito is no replacement for Darvish on the mound, and I don’t think Nippon Ham will really have a true successor for him for a long time. Rakuten’s Tanaka seems poised to begin his tenure as Japan’s ace.

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Darvish Reaction

» 19 December 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 10 Comments

The suspense is finally over, and we know that the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish are the exclusive property of the Texas Rangers, at least for the next 30 days.

I’m too lazy to actually write a paragraph so here are some thoughts in handy bulleted list format.

  • I’m a little surprised that Texas cracked the Daisuke Matsuzaka line with their $51.7m bid, but not surprised that they only surpassed it by a little. I always found the rationale that “Matsuzaka got $51m, Darvish is better, therefore… $60m for Darvish?” to be simple minded.
  • I think Darvish will sign with the Rangers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t.
  • One perhaps underrated adjustment for Darvish to make (assuming he signs): the Rangers are two time zones away from the rest of their division. The entire country of Japan fits in one time zone.
  • I wonder if the Fighters will sign a foreign starter to take Darvish’s roster spot. Seibu forgettably signed Jason Johnson to replace Matsuzaka.
  • Nippon Ham’s risky pick of Tomoyuki Sugano, and subsequent failure to sign, in this year’s draft looms a bit here. Having him around would have cushioned the blow of (probably) losing Darvish a bit.

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Bullet Points: Japan Links

» 17 December 2011 » In something else » 3 Comments

Yes, it’s the middle of posting season and you’re likely here for updates on Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki, but my interests stretch beyond baseball. And sometimes they stretch the content of this site… so here are a few articles on Japan I’ve come across in the last week. All are written in English.

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“No Comment”

» 15 December 2011 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 13 Comments

The current phase of the Yu Darvish posting saga has predictability opened with a round of “no comments”. Here’s what Nippon Ham Fighters representative Toshimasa Shimada said to the Japanese media:

“We don’t have anything we can talk about yet. The outlook for a decision? I think we want to make a decision within the extent of the rules”

When asked about what Nippon Ham would base an acceptance on, Shimada reponded,

“Starting now, we’re considering our options, including that.”

And that was all.

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