Tag Archive > Hideki Okajima

Hisanori Takahashi From 30,000 Feet

» 22 November 2009 » In mlb prospects » 1 Comment

Despite the fact that we’ve known for some time that Hisanori Takahashi would a candidate to jump to MLB this offseason, the Yomiuri lefty hasn’t gotten much virtual ink on this site. I’ve actually had a draft profile on him sitting un-started since June, but time has been an issue this year and I’ve prioritized other content.

Instead of an in-depth profile, I’ll give a quick bird’s eye view of Takahashi and his MLB credentials:

  • Turns 35 on April 2, 2010
  • Is coming off a solid 2009 campaign: 10-6, 2.94 ERA, 121/36 K/BB in 144 IP
  • Made 135m yen ($1.3m) in 2009
  • Started pro career in 2000 at age 26, after playing both college and industrial league ball
  • Isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with an 85-90 mph fastball
  • Has an excellent screwball, which he induces grounders and misses bats with; should be a plus pitch at the MLB level as well
  • Also has a two-seam fastball, slider and curve; the two-seamer is a pretty good pitch
  • No shortage of velocity info on him at our data site (note: screwball shows up as a “sinker” on in our data; two-seam as  “shuuto”)
  • Has never been a huge innings eater in Japan: career high is 186.2 IP (2007), has twice thrown 163 (2002, 2005), next highest total is 144 (2009)
  • Was not a lefty killer in 2009: lefties hit .300 against him (48/160), while holding righties to .250 (99/396)
  • Did keep lefties in the park in 2009: only three of his 16 home runs allowed came against lefties
  • Is represented by Peter Greenberg, who got another Takahashi (Ken) a deal with the Blue Jays and later the Mets last year, and recently lost Hideki Okajima. Had he kept Okajima, Greenberg could have really cornered the market on Japanese lefties

Takahashi has said he wants to continue in a starting role after he crosses the Pacific, but putting everything together he seems better suited for the bullpen. That said, assuming his screwball doesn’t get lost in translation, I don’t see why he can’t be an effective reliever in the Okajima mold.

So far the Giants and Rangers have been noted in the Japanese media as interested, though I suspect the Rangers will come up for everyone because of Jim Colborn’s presence. Takahashi himself has said that he would like to wind up on the same team as former Yomiuri teammate Hideki Matsui, but the NL West would likely be the most amenable destination for him.

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Okajima Changes Agents

» 22 October 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, sports business » 3 Comments

Hideki Okajima, who will be a free agent in the upcoming offseason is looking to re-sign (didn’t forget the hyphen this time) with the Boston Red Sox. To that end, he has dismissed agent Peter Greenberg and will be represented by Boston-based Joe Rosen.

Regarding the change, Okajima was quoted as saying “The agent and I were not on the same page regarding contracts. There was no specific communication done and I struggled to understand.” With the Red Sox showing strong interest in re-signing Okajima, he did not want to take any risks and went with a more established Boston-area guy. Okajima stated another positive point about Rosen is that, “he will be able to help me in community involvement as well.”

There seems to be no question that both sides are looking to reconnect and the change in agents shows how Okajima is committed to staying with the Red Sox. With the contribution of Okajima in his three seasons with the Red Sox posting a 2.72 ERA in 198 games, it should be a quick negotiation.

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Tazawa Promoted

» 08 August 2009 » In mlb prospects » 6 Comments

As Ryo posted on Twitter yesterday, the Red Sox have called Junichi Tazawa up to the MLB team. He promptly took the loss in Boston’s 15-inning defeat to the Yankees, giving up a walk-off homer to Alex Rodriguez.

Boston used three Japanese pitchers in the game — Tazawa, Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito; and another, Ramon Ramirez, who has NPB experience.

I’ve written about Tazawa extensively on this site, including this early scouting report-ish post, a deeper analysis of reasonable expectations for him, and an interview with Portland sports writer Kevin Thomas on his progress.

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Global Exchange for the Next Generation

» 28 June 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, npb, sports business » Comments Off on Global Exchange for the Next Generation

Baseball has grown into a global game and the Boston Red Sox and the Chiba Lotte Marines are working to keep it that way for the next generation. The Japan Society of Boston and the Red Sox Foundation teamed up to bring Japanese youth to Boston in the summer of 2008, and will send Greater Boston youth to Japan in 2009.

The Chiba Lotte Marines will take part in the program this summer and is currently looking for host families for the 12 youths from Boston. If you’re interested in hosting a youth, you may download the application from the website.

Last year, Boston played host to 12 youths coming from Kyoto and Chiba (Kyoto is a sister city of Boston). This program had several meanings as Kyoto and Boston was celebrating their 50th anniversary as sister cities. Another meaning to the exchange program came from the commemoration of the official partnership between the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Boston Red Sox. Those are the reasons behind youth from both Kyoto and Chiba participating in this program.

The participants experienced the whole package of American baseball and the city of Boston in their eleven day program (including travel). Japanese native Hideki Okajima (who is also from Kyoto) and Daisuke Matsuzaka took part in the program as an instructors and for a meet and greet opportunity with the youth (pictures can be seen on the Kyoto City website).

Now the Chiba Lotte Marines will look to return the favor and will welcome the youth from Boston to experience the culture of Japan. The youth will also have the opportunity to attend a Chiba Lotte Marines game and will be interesting what else the team has planned for them.

The world has gotten smaller with the game of baseball reaching to many part of the globe. The kids in Japan are watching MLB at a younger age with their stars going overseas and the American kids are being exposed to Japanese stars on a daily basis. However the youth in each country might not be exposed to anything more than that. Youth exchange programs like this should allow the next generation to understand and experience the different cultures starting from baseball.

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Okajima, Kobayashi Added to Provisional WBC Roster

» 20 January 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, nichibei » 2 Comments

Looking to reinforce it’s pitching staff after Takashi Saito and Hiroki Kuroda opted not to participate, Japan has added MLB relievers Hideki Okajima and Masa Kobayashi to it’s provisional WBC roster. Lotte infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and one of my favorites Hayato Terahara were among the other notables added in the most recently announced roster.

And of course, the WBC will afford international fans the opportunity to see Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki live against top level competition. Mainichi has the complete provisional roster published in Japanese, but I haven’t found the latest version in English. I’ll translate Mainichi’s later tonight if an English version hasn’t shown up by then.

NPB players also appear on provisional rosters for Australia, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Panama.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 03 January 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

Time to close out this series with some conclusions. I fear that I may be oversimplifying this a bit, but I’m looking for macro trends with this. These are casual observations, I didn’t do any hard research. 

Check the three previous installments here: 1, 2, 3

1. Most of the teams that lost a star to MLB took some kind of a hit in the standings. With the exception of Hiroshima, the teams losing the top 10 players listed below took years to replace the production they lost. Some of the teams still haven’t replaced the production they lost. It’s also important to remember that none of these departures happened in a vacuum; there were other things that affected the performance of each team, but overall the lose of these players has hurt their former teams competitively.

2. The only team that really took a popularity hit after losing a star to MLB was the Giants after losing Matsui. I bought walk-up tickets to a Giants game in 2005, which would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Of course, while the Giants were down, the Tigers and Dragons were both up and have enjoyed competitive success and popularity since the early part of the decade. SoftBank has been less competitive since losing Johjima, but has not suffered at the gate. The team is actually adding 6000 seats to the Yahoo Dome for next season to help meet demand. 

3. Signing foreign talent to replace departed stars doesn’t seem to work. Teams will often sign foreign players to fill the holes left by departed stars, but when the do so, they’re losing the opportunity to add depth at other positions with those roster spots. I can’t think of an example where a foreign star was a long-term replacement for an MLB bound star. Colby Lewis was great as Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement in 2008, but so was Kevin Hodges a few years ago and he flamed out after a single season.

4. Losing talent to MLB has a trickle-down impact on the smaller market teams. As an example, Hanshin may have been content with their outfield had Shinjo stuck around, but two years after he left they signed Tomoaki Kanemoto away from the Carp to play left field. Kanemoto has gone on to become a legend for the Tigers while the Carp have only recently begun to show signs of life. Hanshin and Yomiuri can spend to fill their holes, while smaller market teams like Hiroshima cannot.

5. On the positive side, stars moving to MLB has opened up (or could potentially open) spots for younger players, in a league where there is no rule 5 draft and blocked prospects and depth guys are seldom traded. We haven’t seen too many cases of prospects jumping in and filling the shoes of the top 10 guys I’ve listed below, but others have stepped in for 11-26.

Overall, I don’t think this trend is killing NPB. Attendance is stable, and Japan Series television ratings were up this year (mostly because the Giants played in it). Many of the players who have made the leap to MLB have actually been pretty successful, which has greatly improved the credibility of NPB overseas. On the downside, the loss of star players has hurt the competitive depth of the affected teams, and led many to question the viability of the league. I seeing the loss of these star players as an “Oakland A’s-ing” of the league — the A’s have gotten by with smart management, an ability to exploit market inefficiencies and a willingness to continually reinvent the team on the field. The A’s style doesn’t translate to the Japanese game completely, but the underlying principles of thrift and creativity are important for a group of teams that generally is not going to compete with MLB financially.

Below is a list of all the players I looked at, ranked in order of how much I think their departure affected their previous team and the league. For me, there are really about three or four classes: Matsui and Johjima, Iwamura through Iguchi, and everyone else. You can possibly put Matsui, Kobayashi and Yabuta in their own class as well, as guys who were quickly replaced but did leave a gap in their absences. 

Rank Player  Team Year Record Before Record After Impact
1 Hideki Matsui Yomiuri 2003 86-52-2 71-66-3 High
2 Kenji Johjima Daiei/SoftBank 2006 89-45-2 75-56-5 High
3 Akinori Iwamura Yakult 2007 70-73-3 60-84-0 High
4 Kosuke Fukudome Chunichi 2008 78-64-2 71-68-5 High
5 Daisuke Matsuzaka Seibu 2007 80-54-2 66-76-2 Medium
6 Ichiro Orix 2001 64-67-4 70-66-4 Medium
7 Hiroki Kuroda Hiroshima 2008 60-82-2 69-70-5 Medium
8 Kei Igawa Hanshin 2007 84-58-4 74-66-4 Medium
9 Kazuhisa Ishii Yakult 2002 78-56-6 72-64-2 Medium
10 Tadahito Iguchi Daiei/Softbank 2005 77-52-4 89-45-2 Medium
11 Kazuo Matsui Seibu 2004 77-61-2 74-58-1 Low
12 Masahide Kobayashi Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
13 Yasuhiko Yabuta Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
14 Takashi Saito Yokohama 2006 69-70-7 58-84-4 Low
15 Hideki Okajima Nippon Ham 2007 82-54-0 79-60-5 Low
16 Akinori Otsuka Chunichi 2004 73-66-1 79-56-3 Low
17 Shingo Takatsu Yakult 2004 71-66-3 72-62-2 Low
18 Tsuyoshi Shinjyo Hanshin 2001 57-78-1 57-80-3 Low
19 Keiichi Yabu Hanshin 2005 66-70-2 87-54-5 Low
20 So Taguchi Orix 2002 70-66-4 50-87-3 Low
21 Satoru Komiyama Yokohama 2002 69-67-4 49-86-5 Low
22 Kazuo Fukumori Rakuten 2008 67-75-2 65-76-3 Low
23 Norihiro Nakamura Kintetsu 2005 61-70-2 62-70-4 Low
24 Shinji Mori* Seibu 2006 67-69-0 80-54-2 Low
25 Yusaku Iriki* Nippon Ham 2006 62-71-3 82-54-0 Low
26 Masumi Kuwata Yomiuri 2007 65-79-2 80-63-1 Low

* I forgot about both these guys when compiling the original lists. Mori was successfully posted and signed with Tampa Bay, but got hurt in his first spring training and was never heard from again. Iriki played in the Mets and Blue Jays organizations, but got busted for PED usage and never reached the Majors. He resurfaced with Yokohama in 2008, but retired after the season.

** I left out Yukinaga Maeda as well.

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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 Links in the MLB Playoffs

» 05 October 2008 » In mlb, nichibei » 1 Comment

Fun fact: a Japanese player has appeared in every World Series since 2002, beginning with Tsuyoshi Shinjo with the San Francisco Giants. This year, I’ve noticed a number of NPB connections on the eight MLB playoff teams.

Chicago Cubs

  • Scapegoat Kosuke Fukudome played 10 years for the Chunichi Dragons.
  • Derek Lee’s father, Leon Lee, and uncle, Leron Lee, both played 10+ years in Japan. Derek has said that he would like to finish his career in Japan.
  • Alfonso Soriano came up through the Hiroshima Carp Domican Academy and played briefly in Japan before joining the Yankees.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Takashi Saito are NPB veterans. 

Philedelphia Phillies

  • Manager Charlie Manual played for the Yakult Swallows and Kintetsu Buffaloes in the late 70’s and early 80’s. 
  • Reserve bat Matt Stairs played for the Chunichi Dragons before sticking with an MLB team.
  • Bench outfielder So Taguchi played for the Orix Blue Wave alongside Ichiro.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Though neither one is on the playoff roster, Gabe Kapler and Joe Dillon both spent part of a season with the Yomiuri Giants.
  • Solomon Torres pitched in Korea before making his MLB comeback.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Man of the hour Akinori Iwamura came over from the Yakult Swallows two years ago.

Chicago White Sox

  • Former Softbank Hawk DJ Carrasco is on the White Sox’ playoff roster.

Boston Red Sox

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima.

LA Angels of Anaheim

  • Anyone know of any?

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/09/11)

» 11 September 2008 » In mlb, npb » 1 Comment

There’s been lots of news about Junichi Tazawa over the last day or two, but I could use a break for him so I’m going to write about other stuff. If you’re looking for info on Tazawa, check out the stuff I’ve posted over the last few days.

On to the bullet points…

English Articles:

Japanese Articles:

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Masa Kobayashi & The Okajima Generation

» 13 July 2008 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei » 5 Comments

I’ve been a fan of Hideki Okajima literally since the moment I arrived in Japan for the first time. It was August, 2000 and I had just landed in Osaka to start a tour of foreign study. The bus that I took into the city had a TV in it, and on the way downtown I alternated between watching the brightly-lit arcades and pachinko parlors out the window, and watching the Giants beat whoever they were playing that night.

Okajima was the guy that made the biggest impression on me. His unusual delivery and big breaking pitches jumped out at me as being MLB-caliber*. He did, of course, cross the Pacific to join the Red Sox last year, where he enjoyed great success.

Okajima’s success triggered an MLB interest in NPB veteran relievers last off-season. Three signed with big league teams: Masahide Kobayashi with the Indians, Yasuhiko Yabuta with the Royals, and Kazuo Fukumori with the Rangers.

Number writer Yasushi Kikuchi calls this the “Post Okajima Generation“. But of the three post-Okajima pitchers, only Kobayashi has had any kind of success.

Kikuchi supplies some comments from Kobayashi that give some insight into why he’s done well so far. Here are my translations:

“People around me will evaluate my performance. Evaluating my performance myself is something that I can do when the season is over and the results are in. During the season there is no yesterday. That’s because this is a world where I have to concentrate my feelings, my body, everything on today’s game. It’s been this way since my time in Japan, everyday I have to prepare for a change.

“Of course, there are a lot of amazing batters, and there are times when I feel like I can’t handle it. But on the other hand, I try to think that I’m on the same field (with them) as an equal. I didn’t just come here because I wanted to; I’m here because people let me in. Because if you feel out of place, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do.

“I think that (former Chiba Lotte Marine teammate) Yabuta is a little more jittery and sensitive than I am. I don’t give anything a thought, I just say “oh well” and stay realistic. You can say that (in MLB), the ball sucks, the mound sucks, but we aren’t the first players to come to the Majors and that information is out there ad nauseum. Even if you go bit by bit there’s nothing you can do about it but to throw. If the road you chose is bad, it’s just bad.”

Interesting comments. Sounds like a guy that leaves it all on the field. I’ve always thought of Kobayashi as a fierce competitor, and these comments are right in line with that. Kobayashi really impressed me back in September 2002, in a game against the Seibu Lions.

Seibu slugger Alex Cabrera was chasing Sadaharu Oh’s single season home run record, and came up against Kobayashi in a game against Lotte. Oh’s record had been challenged by foreign-born players before, and the norm had been not to pitch to them. Kobayashi, on the other hand, went after Cabrera with a series of high fastballs. And he struck him out.

Yabuta and Fukumori continue to toil in the minors for their respective teams. Truth be told, I don’t think those guys were ever as good as Okajima or Kobayashi, but there is hope for them. The SF Giants pulled Keiichi Yabu off the scrap heap this season and he’s been an effective member of their bullpen.

Fittingly, Kobayashi took the save for Cleveland in their win over Tampa Bay today, while Okajima picked up a hold for Boston despite giving up two walks.

*Of course, this is easy for me to say now. The other guys on that Giants team I liked were Darrell May and Akira Etoh. May went on to have a good year for the Royals in 2003, while Etoh quickly declined after 2001. May, as far as I know, is out of baseball, while Etoh is hanging around as a pinch hitter for the Saitama Seibu Lions.

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