Archive > January 2014

Really Good Stuff

» 27 January 2014 » In npb, something else » 5 Comments

Japanese TV never fails to entertain. During my most recent trip to Japan, I saw things like a girl dressed in a French maid’s outfit, water skiing down a river to deliver an omelette to a guy on a boat; and a guy ride a horse through a false wall in an office building in on some unsuspecting business men in a meeting.

But the thing I’d like to share with you is this short clip from the New Year’s Eve Kyokugen program, from a segment where former Seibu and Yomiuri slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara was attempting to hit a final home run to honor his aging mother. Kiyohara was to face off against four all-time great NPB pitchers, getting three at-bats against each one.

Kiyohara’s first opponent was former Lotte ace, Choji Murata. When I saw Murata, I thought to myself “ahh, I hope he doesn’t just go up there and throw batting practice.”

I wasn’t disappointed. Murata is 64 years old, but still hits 135 kmph (83 mph) on the gun. He attacked Kiyohara with a series of fastballs, and the only solid contact Kiyohara managed was a foul ball. Then, with Kiyohara down 1-2 on his last at-bat, Murata dropped this splitter on him:


(helpfully gif’ed by one of the netizens on

Sick. Murata is 64 years old. Oh, I already said that. Well, he’s also a Tommy John survivor; in 1983 he became the first notably Japanese pitcher to undergo the procedure. And Murata must be in great shape to repeat those mechanics at age 64.

It was a little disappointing that Kiyohara couldn’t handle Murata’s best stuff, but that just showed it was a competition; he was going to have to earn that home run. We changed to the typical New Year’s Eve boxing matches after Murata, but I found out later that Kiyohara got his home run off lefty Hideyuki Awano. Happily ever after.

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Masahiro Tanaka’s 2013 Pitch Counts

» 22 January 2014 » In mlb, nichibei » 3 Comments

I keep getting asked for this, so here it is, taken from Isao Chiba’s article in the December 16 2013 issue of Shukan Baseball.

Note: regular season only.

Date Opponent IP Runs Allowed Pitches
April 2 Orix 7 1 89
April 9 Nippon Ham 7 1 109
April 16 Softbank 7 3 122
April 23 Orix 8 3 133
May 1 Nippon Ham 8 1 129
May 8 Nippon Ham 7 2 95
May 14 DeNA 8 3 128
May 22 Yomiuri 9 1 113
May 28 Hanshin 6 2 99
June 3 Chunichi 9 1 113
June 9 Yomiuri 7 0 96
June 16 Hanshin 9 0 127
June 25 Seibu 7 0 93
July 2 Lotte 8 0 116
July 9 Nippon Ham 9 0 116
July 16 Orix 9 1 105
July 23 Lotte 9 2 90
August 2 Nippon Ham 9 1 136
August 9 Softbank 7 0 92
August 16 Seibu 8 1 106
August 23 Lotte 7 0 116
August 30 Softbank 7 3 102
September 6 Nippon Ham 9 2 128
September 13 Orix 9 2 125
September 21 Nippon Ham 8 1 104
September 26* Seibu 1 0 19
October 1 Nippon Ham 6 2 97
October 8 Orix 7 2 83
Totals 212 35 2981

*Relief appearance in Rakuten’s Pacific League clincher.

Tanaka averaged 106.4 pitches per game in 2013, or, more importantly, 109.7 pitches per start.

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From the Mailbag

» 21 January 2014 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

Update, February 8th: Reader Kevin W emailed me with an answer to this question… and here it is:

The film was made by Andrew Jenks (has gone on to bigger projects including multiple seasons of an MTV show), I spoke with him a few months back and asked if it would be released. His response: “@AndrewJenks: not for awhile man. We had clearance rights issue but one day…”

Loyal reader PG writes:

I was emailing you in regards to the subject of this email. Do you recall the documentary “The Zen of Bobby V”? I remember it airing on ESPN some ten years ago [ed. it was actually 2008] and really liked it, it was one of my first introductions to japanese baseball. Ever since I have always looked to find it on DVD or  the internet but have never been successful in tracking down anything more than a couple 2 min clips. Would you happen to have any more information about it? I really enjoy the site NPB tracker, really like the content, thanks again!

I have no idea how to get ahold of this video. If anyone knows, please leave a comment or email me (

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Rakuten’s Championship Roster

» 21 January 2014 » In npb » 3 Comments

In 2004, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles didn’t exist. The Kintetsu Buffaloes did, and after years in the red, the Kintetsu corporation decided to divest itself of it’s baseball operation. When no buyer could be found, Kintetsu’s management opted to merge with the neighboring Orix Blue Wave franchise, resulting in the contraction of the Kintetsu organization. Both the Osaka-based Kintetsu and the Kobe-based Orix were minnows in terms of fan base compared to the region’s beloved Hanshin Tigers, so some market contraction actually made sense.

But no one liked the idea of league contraction. The Orix-Kintetsu merger would leave an 11-team NPB, and there were talks of contracting another team and doing away with the two-league format. Fans held protests, founder Takafumi Horie stepped in with an offer to buy the Buffaloes, and late in the season the players union held the first, and so far, only, strike in its history, refusing to play weekend games. It worked, and the owners agreed to allow an expansion franchise. By this time, Rakuten founder Hiroshi Mikitani had gotten involved, and a hearing was held to decide whether Livedoor or Rakuten would be awarded the new franchise. The hearing panel chose Rakuten, citing its more stable business and ownership of the Vissel Kobe J-League soccer team. The Orix-Kintetsu merger proceeded as planned, with the resulting team to be known as the Orix Buffaloes.

And so the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were born, to begin play in 2005, based in Sendai in Japan’s Tohoku region (northern Honshu). The team would play in Miyagi Stadium, the 1970’s home of the Lotte Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines).

Eight years later, in 2013, the Eagles won their first NPB championship. So how’d they get there?

Rakuten started out with a roster of zero, and there was to be a surplus of players from the Orix-Kintetsu merger, so NPB held a dispersal draft of sorts. All of the players from the previous Orix and Kintetsu teams were placed into a pool, then the new Orix team was allowed to select 25 players all at once, in the first “round”. Then Rakuten could choose 20 players from the remainder of the pool. The Orix could choose another 20, and so on until all the players were assigned to a new team.

While the initial draft process was stacked in favor of Orix, it did yield two players who played in game 7 of the 2013 Japan Series for Rakuten: outfielders Toshiya Nakashima (from Orix) and Akihisa Makita (from Kintetsu). More notably, Kintetsu ace Hisashi Iwakuma refused to play for the merged team, and demanded a trade to Rakuten. The Eagles started off as kind of a literal embodiment of the common sports radio topic “if you had one player to start a franchise with, who would it be?”

From there, Rakuten set about building their team the traditional way, mostly building through the draft. There are enough words in this already, so let’s fast forward to 2013 and look at where the Eagles’ primary contributors came from (2013 acquisitions bolded):

Position Player Acquired
C Motohiro Shima 2006 draft, 3rd round
1B Ginji 2005 draft (high school), 3rd round
2B Kazuya Fujita 2012 mid-season trade from Baystars (Kensuke Uchimura)
3B Casey McGehee* 2012-2013 offseason MLB free agent
SS Kazuo Matsui 2010-2011 offseason MLB free agent
IF Tatsuro Iwasaki 2012-2013 offseason trade with Dragons (cash)
OF/C Takero Okajima 2011 draft, 4th round
OF/DH Andruw Jones 2012-2013 offseason MLB free agent
OF Ryo Hijirsawa 2007 draft, 4th round
OF Shintaro Masuda 2005 draft (high school), 3rd round
OF Teppei** 2005-2006 offseason trade with Dragons (cash)
SP Masahiro Tanaka*** 2006 draft (high school), 1st round
SP Takahiro Norimoto 2012 draft, 2nd round
SP Manabu Mima 2010 draft, 2nd round
SP Brandon Duckworth 2012 midseason acquisition from Red Sox
SP Kenji Tomura 2009 draft, 1st round
SP Wataru Karashima 2008 draft, 6th round
SP Satoshi Nagai 2006 draft, 1st round
RP Koji Aoyama 2005 draft, 3rd round
RP Darrell Rasner 2008-2009 offseason acquisition from Yankees (cash)
RP Takashi Saito 2012-2013 offseason MLB free agent
RP Kohei Hasebe 2007 draft, 1st round
RP Kenny Ray 2013 midseason acquisition from Mexican League
RP Norihito Kaneto 2012-2013 offseason trade from Yomiuri (cash)
RP Hiroshi Katayama 2005 draft (high school), 1st round
* Signed with the Marlins for 2014
** Traded to Orix for 2014
*** Has been posted to MLB for 2014 but not yet signed with a new team

The first thing that jumps out is the obvious divide between position players and pitchers Rakuten’s drafts. Rakuten has never used a first round pick on a position player, and has never developed a home-grown offensive star. 65 of the Eagles’ 97 home runs were provided by MLB free agent signees McGehee, Jones, and Matsui. The home-grown players are on-base types, at best.

Rakuten’s pitching staff was primarily acquired through the draft as well, mostly with earlier round picks. The Eagles mostly hit singles and doubles with their picks, but connected for a home run with Norimoto, and launched an epic grand slam with Tanaka. Beyond those two picks, the pitchers in this list are a bunch of singles and doubles. Hasebe finally broke out a bit in 2013, but still only provided 34.1 innings of relief work, and that’s the first sign he’s shown of coming anywhere close to his 1st round billing.

So does Rakuten have another championship-caliber roster in 2014? Maybe. Signing Kevin Youklis to replace the departing McGehee was a gutsy move, but Youk’ll have to be healthy to fill Casey’s shoes. And key offensive cogs Jones and Matsui are another year older.

The bigger departure, obviously, is Tanaka. Filling his shoes is obviously going to be impossible, but the Eagles might be able to claw back some of his competitive value with improved depth. Rakuten’s three and four starters were pretty mediocre (Mima, 4.12 ERA in 98.1 IP; Duckworth, 4.31 in 87.2). Maybe Travis Blackley shows up and pitches 150 innings of 3.50 ball. Maybe Satoshi Nagai bounces back toward his 2010 form (182.2 IP, 3.74). Perhaps lefty Takahiro Shiomi, who missed all of 2013, recovers and provides 100 IP. Or maybe wakawashi like Yoshinao Kamata and Yudai Mori chip in some value.

Or, even if none of that happens in 2014, at least the Eagles get to play the season as defending NPB champions. In their 55 years of existence, the Kintetsu Buffaloes never did.

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The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball

» 17 January 2014 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

“This isn’t because I wanted to play in the Majors at all costs. It’s just that I feel I can’t play for that manager (Keishi Suzuki), that’s all”



Hideo Nomo, speaking about his decision to pursue an MLB career (source)

Nomo’s retirement and Suzuki’s insanity pre-dates my following of Japanese baseball, but I have read a little bit about Nomo and Suzuki. Suzuki’s treatment of Nomo was particularly grueling, including 191-pitch and 180-pitch starts, and comments like “to cure your pain, throw more.”

Nomo is rightfully credited as the player that opened the door for Japanese and Asian players in Major League Baseball. But he might not have done it Keishi Suzuki had been, you know, sane.

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Japanese Words I Would Like to Use in English

» 13 January 2014 » In something else » 6 Comments

A blog post in draft form…

Thanks predominantly to the Internet and maybe helped along by the spread of Otaku culture, a few Japanese words are finding their way into the English vernacular. While I first noticed some of these words online years ago, a few are making their way into the real world. The latest seems to be umami (savory). I’m seeing that word used on food websites, and a few blocks away from my home in the Bay Area, you’ll find an Umami Burger. I’ve also seen toys on children’s television being described as kawaii (cute), without much explanation necessary. The Toyota Way introduced the business community to terms like kaizen (continuous improvement) and muda (waste). And the term cosplay (costume play) seems to be sneaking out of Otaku-land and into the mainstream.

I live in America, but I speak and read Japanese every day, and over time I’ve developed a reliance on a couple of Japanese words that I can’t quite translate into English. So if the fantastic flexibility of the English language can handle a few more imports, I’d like to suggest the following:

Genki: I don’t have any data on this, but I think genki might be the most heavily used adjective in the Japanese language. It translates literally to “energetic”, but it’s used with a little more flexibility, to describe any level of energy. Among it’s uses, it can be a generic greeting — “genki desuka” (“How are you?” “Are you genki?”); a positive response — “genki desu” (“I’m good”/”I’m genki”); a negative one — “genki janai” (“I’m not good”, “I’m sick”).

In English I find myself wanting to say, “wow, that kid is genki.” Or maybe, “I’m feeling genki today. Let’s go for a run.” Sure, there are English words that work just fine in either situation, but I don’t think they are quite as fun.

Sukkiri: The most literal translation for sukkiri is probably “refreshed”. After stepping out of a bath or shower, a Japanese person might say, “ahh, sukkiri”. But you can also use it in other ways. I knew a guy who had a shaggy head of hair that he would get cut once or twice a year. Every time he cut his hair, it would be trim and straight, and the only think I could think to say was “sukkiri”. You can feel sukkiri after cleaning something up.

Hakkiri: I guess the closest translation for hakkiri would be direct, straight or clear, but for me it conveys those concepts a little more succinctly. The Japanese might say “kanojo wa suki kirai hakkiri suru ne”, which translates to “she’s very clear about what she likes and dislikes”. Maybe it’s just me, but to say something like, “she’s hakkiri about what she likes and dislikes,” sounds more definite, as if the woman in this sentence has taken a butcher’s knife and sliced a thin, precise line between what she likes and doesn’t like. Hakkiri.

Sasuga: You that person or thing that always comes through for you? Maybe you just read another great article on NPB Tracker. In Japanese, you might say “sasuga, NPB Tracker.” Sasuga. We can always count on you. Actually, you probably wouldn’t need to say that much lately.

More literally sasuga translates to something like “certain”, but English has that. I don’t know if English has another word that really captures the other usage.

Yappari: Yappari means something like “as it turns out” or “after all”. Depending on the context, it can be somewhat negative, like “just as I suspected”. “Yappari, my car needs its brakes repaired.” Or it can be something of an affirmation. “The mechanic said the brakes need to be replaced.” “Yappari.” Or even a re-affirmation: “I tried the new cafe, but yappari the old one is still the best.”

I don’t really think I’m doing the range of these words justice; it’s probably not possible to in a few brief paragraphs. If anyone happen to have other/better examples to add to the list, please feel free to do so.

To be continued, if I can think of a more profound conclusion for this.

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