Tag Archive > Akihiro Yano

Offseason Changes: Hanshin Tigers

» 29 January 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Coming: Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Akihito Fujii, Ryota Arai, Robert Zarate, Marcos Vechionacci

Going: Casey Fossum, Akihiro Yano, Satoru Kanemura, Daiyu Kanemura, Keisuke Mizuta

Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Jason Standridge, Randy Messenger

Summary: Hanshin’s offseason starts with the successful retention of the team’s foreign core — Murton, Brazell, Standridge. Messenger also received a contract for 2011, despite his disappointing results last season. The fact that Hanshin’s foreign roster isn’t overcrowded may mean that incumbent Kai Wen Jeng gets a few innings at the ichi-gun level, or that the Tigers will seek reinforcements if Standridge or Messenger stumble. Beyond that, Hanshin’s only significant acquisitions were scooping up Kobayashi after he failed to land an MLB contract, acquiring catcher depth in Fujii, and trading for Takahiro Arai’s brother Ryota. Reports of a Jeff Williams comeback have unfortunately not yet come to fruition.

With the return of Murton and Brazell, Hanshin will again field a strong offense, though it is a good bet they will see some regression. The Tigers lineup was spectacular in2010, with five regulars who batted .300 or higher (and Brazell right behind at .297) powering the team to a league-top 740 runs. Hanshin’s lineup will be good in 2011, but Keiichi Hirano is not going to hit .350 again, and Kenji Johjima is on the shelf recovering from knee surgery until sometime after the season starts. And as good as Murton and Brazell are, it would be unrealistic to expect them to match their superb 2010 results. That said though, Hanshin still has an offense rivaled only by Yomiuri in the Central League.

Hanshin’s rotation has a lot more question marks than its lineup. Yasutomo Kubo has been a godsend, last year becoming the first Hanshin pitcher to throw 200 innings since Kei Igawa back in 2006. Standridge was something of a godsend in 2010 as well, finished second on the team with 126.1 innings. Then 42 year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi contributed his brand of six-inning appearances, but only 19 times. The laws of the universe dictate that he’ll have to stop someday, but who knows when that will be? Beyond those three guys, Hanshin’s rotation is filled with a bunch of question marks. Minoru Iwata, Atsushi Nohmi, and Yuya Ando have all had success in the past but are coming off injuries. Touted 2009 draftee Kazuhito Futagami didn’t throw a pitch last year; Takumi Akiyama threw many with considerable success, but he’s still only 20. Naoto Tsuru finished last season well and could be poised for a breakout. Hanshin’s bullpen also remains a strength, anchored by ace closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

Overall I see Hanshin as a team with a lot of talent, but one that is kind of on the edge. Despite their thin rotation, the Tigers finished one game out of first last season. If their stable pitchers hold steady and a couple of the question marks pan out, they could be dominant. If they falter and the injury guys don’t come back, Hanshin’s bullpen will be overworked and we’ll see a lot of high scoring games.

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NPB Bullet Points: News & Retirements

» 02 September 2010 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

(insert witty introduction here)

Around NPB

  • Chihiro Kaneko has gotten himself in to the mix for the Pacific League’s wins title, with a career-best personal 10-game winning streak. Kaneko is now 14-7 on the season. He also has six shutouts.
  • The Giants have slumped to sub-.500 records in each of the last two months, and it’s showing on Tatsunori Hara’s face.
  • Craig Brazell cranked out his 40th bomb of the season the other day, becoming the first Hanshin foreigner to since Randy Bass back in ’86.
  • Orix righty Kazuki Kondo pitched a 144-pitch complete game loss on the 1st… and then got sent down. I didn’t see the game, but it must have been a save-the-bullpen kind of effort, as Kondo had allowed seven runs by the third inning.
  • Nippon Ham lefty Masaru Takeda has a personal seven-game winning streak going, and leads the Fighters with 12 wins.
  • Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka is out a minimum of three weeks with a torn pectoral muscle, and with Rakuten languishing in last place, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again this year.
  • At least one MLB club was seen watching lefty Daiki Uekida’s September 2 outing for Tokyo Gas of the Industrial Leagues. I haven’t seen Uekida but at first glance he looks like a Hisanori Takahashi type.
  • Today’s Japanese word: moudasho (mo-da-sho, 猛打賞), which means three hits in one game. An example: Lotte shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka has 22 moudasho games this season, a club record. Ichiro, of course, holds the NPB record with 26. With 21 team games left in the season, Nishioka has a shot at Ichiro’s record if he gets hot.

Player Personnel

  • Yakult is looking into re-acquiring Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh is set to move on from Aki after this season, and I believe Yakult still controls his NPB rights.
  • Longtime Hanshin catcher Akihiro Yano is calling it a career at the end of the season. Something of a late-bloomer, Yano made seven All-Star appearances in his 20-year career and was the runner-up for the 2003 MVP.
  • Orix ni-gun infielder Masahiro Nagata has already retired, according to a team announcement from August 31. Nagata was once a pretty decent prospect, but never made an impact at the top level.
  • Cuban pitcher Pedro Lazo is also retiring. I was planning on listing him as a dark horse to move to Japan next season, as Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan did at the end of their careers.

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Central League Predictions: How’d I Do?

» 17 October 2009 » In npb » Comments Off

Okay, so now that the regular season is in the books, let’s take a look and see how my Central League and Pacific League predictions played out. We’ll take a look at the Central first and do the Pacific in the next post.

(listed in order of actual results, my predictions are in parentheses)

1. Yomiuri Giants (2) — I picked the Giants to finish second. In 2008 Hanshin led for most of the year, before choking down the stretch, and I thought they’d make it this year. I was dead wrong about that, and the Giants wound up dominating from wire to wire. I thought someone from the secondary group of pitchers would have to step up, but the guys who did weren’t among my three breakout candidates (Kentaro Nishimura, Shun Tohno, and Takahiko Nomaguchi) — they were Yakult castoff Dicky Gonzales and Dominican prospect Wirfin Obispo.

2. Chunichi Dragons (5) — I was way off here. Chunichi put up a mediocre year in 2008, and lost three key contributors (Kenshin Kawakami, Nori Nakamura, Tyrone Woods) and I thought we’d see them slip further this year. Turns out I didn’t respect the Dragons’ depth highly enough. I did, however, correctly identify two of the key players for the Dragons this season, choosing Tony Blanco and Kazuki Yoshimi along with rookie Kei Nomoto. Nomoto was a bit of a disappointment, but Blanco and Yoshimi were outstanding.

3. Yakult Swallows (4) — Yakult took a step forward in 2009, sneaking in to the playoffs despite finishing one game under .500. Norichika Aoki overcame a horrific first half to finish at .303, and Aaron Guiel bounced back from a sub-par 2008 to hit 27 home runs. Two of my key players — Jaime D’Antona (.276, 21 hr) and Yoshinori (121 IP, 3.50 ERA)– were solid, while the other Tatsunori Masubuchi (one game, 12.60 era) was not. Yakult did get outscored by their opponents by 48 runs this year.

4. Hanshin Tigers (1) — My key players, Takahiro Arai and Kevin Mench, failed to meet expectations, and so did the Tigers. Mench’s time in Japan was particularly disastrous, flaming out after only 15 games. Hanshin’s trio of veterans Tomoaki Kanemoto, Akihiro Yano and Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi started to show some signs of aging as well.

5. Hiroshima Carp (3) –The step forward I envisioned after a solid 2008 season didn’t materialize for the Carp, despite the good vibes from the beautiful new Mazda Stadium. The rotation was solid 1-3 and the Carp added American sluggers Scott McClain and Andy Phillips mid-season, but it wasn’t enough to win consistently. My key player, Kenta Maeda, was better than his 8-14 record would indicate.

6. Yokohama BayStars (6) — The one prediction I nailed, except that I thought they’d be a little more competitive this year. Wrong. Yokohama was again a doormat, suffering to the tune of a .354 winning percentage, getting outscored by 188 runs and losing it’s manager in the process. My key man, Hayato Terahara, was limited to 83 innings of work.

Synopsis: I guess I was close enough on everything except Chunichi and Hanshin.I thought the league would be a little more competitive, but the way things played out Yomiuri and Chunichi were way ahead of everyone else.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 1

» 30 November 2008 » In nichibei » 8 Comments

To me, the trend of NPB stars moving to MLB has meant more jobs for Japanese players and more opportunities for exchange. For others, it’s signified a decline in Japanese baseball. But let’s take a look at how each player’s move to MLB has affected the teams involved. 

Player movement is a part of the business of baseball, and while there’s a general trend of Japanese players wanting to test their skills in MLB, each situation is a little bit different. We’ve seen players ranging from role players like Hideki Okajima and So Taguchi to Hall of Fame-caliber stars like Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka make the move over. We’ve MLB departures go unnoticed, and have a huge impact on a team’s fanbase. So let’s examine each case and see what the impact has been overall.

2008

Hiroki Kuroda (SP, Carp -> Dodgers): Despite losing both Kuroda and star 1st baseman Takahiro Arai (Hanshin) to free agency, Hiroshima still managed to improve from 5th place (60-82-2) in 2007 to 4th (69-70-5) in 2008. Of course, if the Carp had been able to hang on to either one of those guys, they probably would have beat out Chunichi for the last playoff spot. Still, Colby Lewis did an outstanding job taking over for Kuroda as the ace, and the team looks primed to make a step forward in it’s new stadium.

Impact: Medium. Losing Kuroda probably kept the Carp out of the playoffs in ’08, but the team still improved on it’s record. Hiroshima is a small market and losing free agents domestically been a reality for the Carp for years.

Kosuke Fukudome (RF, Dragons -> Cubs): Chunichi won the Japan Series in 2007 despite Fukudome missing significant time due to injuries. The Dragons signed veteran slugger Kazuhiro Wada to take Fukudome’s place in the lineup, surrendering reliever Shinya Okamoto the Lions as compensation. Wada had a solid year (.302/.345/.475) but Chunichi fell from 2nd to 3rd place, and lost out to the Giants in the playoffs.

Impact: High. Wada is an above-average hitter but lacks Fukudome’s defensive skills, and cost the Dragons some bullpen depth. Chunichi looks set for a step back next season with Kenshin Kawakami and Norihiro Nakamura out the door as well. The team continues to draw well though.

Masa Kobayashi (RP, Marines -> Indians)
Yasuhiko Yabuta (RP, Marines -> Royals): Soichi Fujita (Yomiuri) departed as well, breaking up Lotte’s “YFK” relief combination. The Marines dropped from 2nd place in 2007 (76-61-7) to 4th (73-70-1) in 2008. Bullpen performance may have played a role in the increase in losses (six fewer ties compared to 2007), but Bobby Valentine still had four relievers who posted an era of 3.05 or lower. 

Impact: Low. Bullpens fluctuate, and on paper Lotte managed to replace the performance they got out of Yabuta and Kobayashi. 

Kazuo Fukumori (RP, Eagles -> Rangers): Rakuten seemed ready to compete for a playoff spot for most of 2008, but wound up finishing one game out of last despite outscoring their opponents by 20 runs. A return to form from Fukumori would have helped, but this was a guy that posted a 4.75 ERA in 2007.

Impact: Minimal. Fukumori was expendable coming off a bad season. 

2007

Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, Lions -> Red Sox): Obviously a huge loss for the Lions, as they went from 2nd (80-54-2) to 5th (66-76-2). Jason Johnson was signed to replace Matsuzaka in the rotation, but was more interested in hanging out in Roppongi and never panned out. Hideaki Wakui, on the other hand, established himself as an ace, and the team rebounded in 2008 to win the Japan Series. Seibu used the $51M they received for Matsuzaka to make some stadium improvements, but otherwise hasn’t changed the way they run the team.

Impact: Medium. Everyone knew Matsuzaka was going to MLB, and Seibu got the maximum return by hanging on to Matsuzaka for as long as they could. Despite popularity problems, Seibu has always found ways to win. 

Hideki Okajima (RP, Fighters -> Red Sox): Nippon Ham lost some bullpen depth when Okajima left, but still managed to make it to their 2nd consecutive Japan Series in 2007. The Fighters acquired Okajima for a couple of very spare parts so they basically got a free year out of him. 

Impact: Low. Losing Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (retirement) has had a bigger affect on Nippon Ham’s competitiveness. I wold suggest that Trey Hillman’s departure to MLB had a bigger impact on the Fighters than Okajima’s.

Kei Igawa (SP, Tigers -> Yankees): Igawa went 14-9 in 2006 as Hanshin finished 2nd to Chunichi with an 84-58-4 record. Without him in 2007, Hanshin dropped to 74-66-4 and a 3rd place finish. In addition to the loss of Igawa, Hanshin’s other starters took a step back in 2007, with Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi leading the team in innings pitched with just 129 1/3. Igawa’s departure also coincided with the Tigers’ offense regressing, as Tomoaki Kanemoto, Andy Sheets, Akihiro Yano and Osamu Hamanaka all performing significantly worse than the previous season.

The rotation improved 2008, with Minoru Iwata stepping into a more prominent role. The offense improved as well, and Hanshin led the Central League comfortably for most of the year before choking down the stretch to finish 2nd. 

Impact: Medium. Igawa was the only significant personel change, and the team finished 10 wins worse in 2007 than in 2006. Hanshin recovered in 2008 though, and the loss of Igawa never affected the team at the gate. Igawa was inconsistent for his last three seasons in Japan, but the Tigers still haven’t found an innings eater to take his place. Looking back though, Hanshin definitely sold high on Igawa and got a nice infusion of cash back for him without sacrificing on long-term competitiveness.

Akinori Iwamura  (3B, Swallows -> Rays): Yakult replaced Iwamura on the field with Aaron Guiel, and saw it’s record go from 70-73-3 in ’06 to 60-84-0 in ’07. It wasn’t Guiel that cost the team 10 wins, as he posted an .874 OPS compared to Iwamura’s .933 mark in ’06. Guiel dsappeared in ’08 as the Swallows rebounded slightly to 66-74-4. 

Impact: High. Short-term, the impact of losing Iwamura probably wasn’t that great. By the time Iwamura was sold to the Rays, most of the Swallows stars from the team’s mid-90’s glory years were gone or fading, and the team was heading into a period of decline anyway. Yakult has a star to build around in Norichika Aoki, but losing Iwamura has certainly slowed their return to competitiveness. 

Masumi Kuwata (SP, Giants -> Pirates): The Giants had banished Kuwata to the farm team for all of 2006 and didn’t notice he was gone. Kuwata, meanwhile, had a great “nothing to lose” attitude during his time with the Pirates.

Impact: None, except making the Giants look bad for unceremoniously dropping another veteran.

Agree? Disagree? Any information I haven’t presented here? 

I’ll look at players that moved from 2000-2006 in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/09/14)

» 14 September 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

After a short break from writing, I’m back with a few highlights from my weekend reading. I’ve been enjoying Sanspo’s Baseball Photo Ranking lately.

The next big piece of content I have on tap for NPB Tracker is (surprise) an essay on the Junichi Tazawa situation. Look out for that in the next day or two.

Japanese Articles:

English Articles:

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