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Discussion Thread

» 13 December 2011 » In mlb, npb » 13 Comments

Not much time to write today, but there’s still a lot going on. If you to chat about what I said about Yu Darvish, or Tsuyoshi Wada’s deal with Baltimore, please leave a comment.

And another minor bit of news: the Yokohama DeNA BayStars have granted Hiroki Sanada his release, so that he may pursue an MLB deal. Sanada was posted unsuccessfully last week.

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Ask Away, All Questions Answered

» 01 December 2011 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb, NPB Tracker » 35 Comments

Alright, so time constraints prevent me from writing as much as I used to, but the hot stove season remains the busiest time of year for NPB Tracker.

If you’ve got questions about this offseason, fire away, and I’ll do my best to answer ’em. Mileage may vary.

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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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The Theoretical Grade A+ Prospect

» 08 October 2011 » In mlb, mlb prospects » 3 Comments

I’ve learned a lot about prospects from reading John Sickels over the years. John gives prospects letter grades the same way American schools do, and he’s a pretty tough grader. He’s never given an A+, but recently described what one would theoretically look like.

A Grade A+ pitching prospect would have four plus-plus pitches, exceptional command and control, a great body, perfect mechanics, no injury history, outstanding makeup, and a brilliant performance record. Again, I’ve never seen anyone like that. There is always some flaw somewhere, no matter how minor.

I think I’ve seen someone who comes pretty close to that: Yu Darvish. Yes, it’s probably unfair to throw Darvish in with younger minor league and amateur prospects, but he’s young enough at 25, and still yet to throw a Major League pitch.

Against John’s criteria, the only question marks for me are whether Darvish’s best four pitches grade as plus-plus, or merely plus, and how “perfect” mechanics are defined (Darvish has tinkered with his delivery over the years). Aside from that, everything else is there — the physique, makeup, health record and performance record.

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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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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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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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Matsui Not Done Yet

» 24 June 2011 » In mlb, nichibei » Comments Off on Matsui Not Done Yet

Coming into a June 14th series with the Kansas City Royals, it looked like the end might be near for Hideki Matsui. At 37, Matsui is essentially a one-trick pony, but his season line entering the Kansas City series was a lame .216/.268/.332, with just four home runs. The man he replaced in Oakland, Jack Cust, was even out performing him in Seattle (though his .684 OPS is equally unimpressive). Since then Matsui has shown signs of life — .261/.471/.522 in 8 games, and even seeing some time in the field during interleague play.

  • On his homer against KC on 6/16: “It was an easy fastball on the inside of the plate. I hit it just about perfectly. Would’ve liked to have hit it a bit further.”
  • On the feeling around the A’s clubhouse: “We’re feeling better — the team as a whole, I think, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do from here on.”
  • On being installed in the 3rd spot int he order: “Of course I need to be responsible and properly prepare myself. I just want to put out some results and lead this team to victory.”

Matsui is also pursuing his 500th professional home run. He needs only one more to reach the mark, and jokingly told reporters that it “will probably take another month.”

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2011 Uniform Roundup, Volume 1

» 24 May 2011 » In mlb, npb » 10 Comments

It’s time again for my semi-annual NPB uniform roundup. This year, I’ve decided to break things up into two posts, so look out for another one later in the season, after more alternative unis are introduced.

  • Orix has been wearing these throwback Hankyu Braves uniforms off and on. The most retro-looking guy is probably Mike Hessman.
  • I hope to one day see Orix revive the old Kintetsu Buffaloes uniform and logo. I figure if they can advertise one Osaka-area railway (Hankyu) they can do the same for another (Kintetsu).
  • Rakuten has only been around for seven seasons, so they don’t exactly have throwback uniforms… but that isn’t stopping them from running out these 1980’s Houston Astros knock-offs.
  • I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to Nippon Ham’s gold road uniforms. One thing that’s kind of cool about the new Fighters uniform is the tag on the inside of the collar, which has four stars representing the Japan Series title and three Pacific League titles that Nippon Ham has won in recent years.
  • Hanshin has a spotty record when it comes to alternative uniforms, but this they’re going with these classic Osaka Tigers threads.
  • This one isn’t an NPB uniform, but former Yomiuri and Yokohama closer Marc Kroon suited up in this Homestead Grays throwback for a 3A game a few weeks ago.
  • Here’s last year’s uniform post. And 2009’s. Results may vary with the links on those pages.

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Friday MLB Updates

» 22 April 2011 » In mlb » 4 Comments

An brief update on some Major Leaguers as we head into the weekend.

  • Kenshin Kawakami, who had been assigned to AA to begin the season, will be placed on the DL with right shoulder pain. This comes on the heels of his first 2011 win with the Mississippi Braves.
  • Following the evaluation of x-ray results on Tuesday, the Twins’ Tsuyoshi Nishioka plans to be back on the field “by mid-May, at the earliest.” Nishioka is currently undergoing rehabilitation following an injury suffered in a game versus the Yankees on April 7th.
  • Ryota Igarashi said that the New York Mets  “have no leader” after a frustrating loss against the Astros on Monday.

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