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Scouting Wada

» 14 October 2011 » In mlb, mlb prospects, npb » 2 Comments

On September 28, ESPN reported that Los Angeles Dodgers assistant general manager Logan White was in Japan to scout Softbank’s lefty starter, Tsuyoshi Wada. This makes the Dodgers the latest to have checked in on the impending free agent, a list that reportedly includes the Yankees, Cubs, Rays and Mariners. Wada’s free agent status should only help his market prospects; since he won’t have to go through the posting process, there won’t be the contract fiasco we saw with Daisuke Matsuzaka, or that we expect to see with Yu Darvish. Wada’s track record in NPB, the WBC, and the Olympics affords him a solid negotiating position.

Background & Pitching

Wada was an ace and strikeout machine through his career at the esteemed Waseda University. He signed as a pre-draft pick with the (then Daiei) Hawks, earned a spot in the starting rotation his rookie year, and hasn’t looked back. His strikeout abilities have translated to the professional level, and he’s consistently been a top-end starter throughout his NPB career. Wada depends mostly on his fastball and slider, but will also drop in a change up at times. While most strike out pitchers are flame throwers, Wada tends to work in the mid to high ‘80’s. He can reach back and get to the low ‘90’s when he needs to, but location, movement, and changing speeds are where he makes his money. Wada is also known as a diligent student of the game by tracking scouting reports on all of the teams and players he faces. To his detriment, Wada has built a reputation for the occasional mistake pitch that gets launched into the outfield bleachers. However, his home run totals have dropped every year from 26 in his rookie year of 2003, to 11 in 2010.

Get a look at Wada’s mechanics here.

Wada has strong statistical track record to recommend him. He’s shown to be a durable starter over the last 9 seasons who averages a little under one strike out and one hit per inning. In addition to that, despite his high strike out rate and 32 complete games through 2010, his pitch counts have remained relatively low for a frontline starter in Japan. He has also done a pretty good job staying healthy, only missing time twice in his career to this point. Most recently, his 2009 season was cut short to injury, but in 2010, he bounced back well enough to earn the Pacific League MVP award, and to help lead the Hawks to the best record in NPB in 2011.

On the negative side, there are reasonable concerns with are his velocity, reputation for giving up big hits and ability endurance. Although his home run total has dropped steadily, his ERA has tended to stay above 3.00 and has not dropped with his annual home run total. So although he’s keeping the ball in the yard, the runs are still coming in. With his fastball velocity living the 87-88 range, Wada will not have the margin for error that a pure power pitcher might. If he has trouble locating any of his pitches, he will not be able to blow anyone away with his heater. As a starter, he could find it difficult to get through tougher MLB lineups two or three times. Furthermore, as with any pitcher making the leap from NPB to MLB, the heavier workload will be a question mark. If he’s a starter in The States, can he handle pitching every 5th day instead of only once a week? Also, Wada has hovered around 160 innings per season with his highest total set during his rookie year at 189 innings. Having never approached a 200 inning season, can Wada increase his annual innings total and still remain effective?

The Future

Wada projects to be a solid 4th or 5th starter or (worst case) middle reliever in MLB, should he decide to make the jump. His studious tendencies should put him in position for a good transition, and his successful track record at every level he’s played suggests he’s got a shot at further success. It will ultimately be up to the team that signs him to figure out how to use him correctly. Given the success the Dodgers have had with Japanese pitchers, they just might be the right MLB home for him.

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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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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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