Tag Archive > Hiroki Kuroda

Hanshin Reps to Visit the States

» 09 August 2010 » In mlb, nichibei » 6 Comments

Alright, here we go. Multiple reports have Hanshin sending their international guy, Toshihiko Yamanaka, over to the US to gather information on Japanese major leaguers and new imports for next season. Sanspo and Nikkan Sports are speculating on a couple names that Hanshin could be after. I didn’t bother to write about this earlier in the season when rumors about Hanshin being interested in Hideki Matsui again cropped up, but this time I’ll bite.

Pointing to last year’s signing of Kenji Johjima, Sanspo speculates that Kosuke Fukudome and Kenshin Kawakami could be acquisition candidates. While both players have fallen out of favor with their current employers, both are under contract for next season and I would expect them to find MLB takers. It’s worth noting that Hanshin was reportedly interested in Kawakami when he was a free agent following the 2008 season, and supposedly willing to offer him 600m yen ($6m give or take) per season. They may have been talking tall as I don’t think such an offer ever materialized. In any event, as my FanGraphs bud Dave Cameron points out, Kawakami hasn’t been as bad as his superficial numbers indicate and deserves a shot at regular MLB work. Fukudome would be a great fit for Hanshin, with 42 year-old star leftfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto a shadow of his former self, but I just don’t see it happening.

Meanwhile, Nikkan Sports offers somewhat more reasonable speculative names: Hiroki Kuroda and Koji Uehara. Both have contracts expiring after this year, and I would guess they have clauses requiring their teams to release them if they can’t work out deals, which would get them out of their arbitration years and into free agency. I don’t see either as a realistic target for Hanshin though; I think the Dodgers will hang on to Kuroda, and Uehara talked openly about wanting to play in MLB to give up this quickly.

Two guys that weren’t mentioned are Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura, who are both in 3A and candidates to head back to the Far East. Neither fits with the current Hanshin speculation, but either one could help Yakult, for example, who badly wanted Kaz after he was released by Houston.

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2010 Pacific League Opener

» 20 March 2010 » In npb » 4 Comments

It took some time to find a working video feed, and the live chat idea didn’t really work out, but we had baseball yesterday.

Amazingly, my data collecting and parsing programs still work with this year’s sites. I need to do some usability work to make the 2010 data easier to find, but it’s all there. Here are the charts for this year’s opening day starters:

Kaneko had the best outing with his four-hit shutout, but the game I spent the most time watching was Nippon Ham vs SoftBank. Some thoughts on the game:

  • Darvish scrapped that pause at the top of his delivery, and was overall quicker to the plate than last year.
  • Darvish also seemed like he was trying to strike everyone out, and went the distance throwing 147 pitches. He struck out 13.
  • Sugiuchi was not sharp with his command, especially up in the zone.
  • Every year I wonder if Hiroki Kokubo has anything left, but he looked great yesterday. He had a great at-bat against Darvish in the 5th, resulting in an rbi double, and saved a run in the field with a diving play down the 1st base line.
  • Sho Nakata‘s plate discipline was put to the test in the 6th when he came up with runners on 2nd and 3rd. I thought Sugiuchi had a pretty big advantage in that situation, and Nakata did chase a couple of pitches out of the zone, but Nakata worked the count full and then hit a single off a hanging breaking ball.

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New Pitches

» 04 March 2010 » In mlb, npb » Comments Off on New Pitches

It’s spring training, and that means pitchers are refining their arsenals. Here are some of the guys that are working on new pitches this spring:

We’ll have to wait and see what from this list survives to see game action.

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Colby Lewis to Make MLB Return

» 14 December 2009 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 9 Comments

Nikkan Sports and others are reporting that Hiroshima Carp ace Colby Lewis has turned down the team’s offer and will return to MLB for 2010. Lewis cited family health problems as his decision to leave the Carp.

Lewis leaves big shoes for Hiroshima to fill. He stepped in to the ace role that Hiroki Kuroda vacated, and in some ways outperformed the current Dodger. In 54 NPB games, Lewis went 26-17 with a 2.83 era, and led the Central League in strikeouts in each of the last two seasons. More impressive was his command of the strike zone, which was not his strength at the MLB level. In Japan, Lewis only walked 46 over 354.1 innings pitched. Somewhat weirdly however, he did hit 14 batters in 2009.

Lewis looks like an interesting back-rotation MLB starter to me, and could be very effective if his command makes the trip back. Please see our data site to get a feel for his arsenal.

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NPB Bullet Points

» 21 August 2009 » In Koshien, npb » 4 Comments

Japanese

  • Yokohama dai-veteran Kimiyasu Kudoh was assessed with the first ever ball called due to the 15-second rule. He got hit with the call while shaking off signs in the 7th inning of Yokohama’s 10-3 loss to the Giants on the 18th.
  • Kudoh’s fellow geezer Hideki Irabu has made his first appearance for Kochi, throwing one inning in a practice game against Shikoku Bank. Gen relays a report that Yokohama might kick the tires on Irabu this offseason.
  • The Hiroshima Carp are holding a tryout on September 19 at Mazda Stadium. To qualify you must be between ages 17 and 24 and be at least 175cm (5’8) tall.
  • Hiroki Kuroda is playing catch again after his horrific accident. He joked, “I’m glad I didn’t forget how to throw”, though he is still experiencing headaches.

English

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Prediction: Central League

» 27 March 2009 » In npb » 4 Comments

1. Hanshin Tigers: This could be the year for Hanshin. Colonel Sanders has been exhumed from his resting place at the bottom of the Dotombori River, which should be enough to put the team over the top. Hanshin led the Central League for most of the season last year, despite a serious lack of home run power. If Takahiro Arai and Kevin Mench can combine for 45 home runs or so they should be tough to beat.
Key Players: Arai, Mench

2. Yomiuri Giants: Yomiuri slipped past Hanshin for the Central League crown at the end of the season in 2008, then took the Japan Series down to the wire before losing to Seibu. Look for a bounce-back year from Sun-Yeop Lee. The departure of Koji Uehara creates an opportunity for someone like Kentaro Nishimura, Shun Tohno, or Takahiko Nomaguchi to step up.
Key Players: Nishimura, Tohno, Nomaguchi

3. Hiroshima Carp: The Carp took a big step forward last season despite the loss of ace Hiroki Kuroda to the Dodgers. The lineup is respectable 1-5 and they have three good starters in Colby Lewis, Kan Ohtake, and Kenta Maeda. Look for a breakout year from Maeda.
Key Player: K Maeda

4. Yakult Swallows: Yakult has a number of good arms in its bullpen, some young starters that could develop, and Japan’s top hitter in Norichika Aoki. The big concern with the Swallows is a lack of team power, so their ability to compete for a playoff spot will depend on whether or not some of the non-Aoki batters can hit for average.
Key Players: Jaime D’Antona, Yoshinori, Tatsunori Masubuchi

5. Chunichi Dragons: The Dragons finished third last year despite being outscored by 21 by opponents on the season. This year they’ve subtracted Kenshin Kawakami, Norihiro Nakamura, and Tyrone Woods and have replaced them with untested players. I expect a fall in the standings.
Key Players: Tony Blanco, Kei Nomoto, Kazuki Yoshimi

6. Yokohama BayStars: Yokohama had by far the worst pitching in the Central last season, and despite moving Hayato Terahara back into the rotation, retaining Daisuke Miura, and adding Ryan Glynn, I don’t think they have enough depth to get out of the cellar. I think they’ll be more competitive than last year though.
Key Players: Terahara

Any thoughts? Pacific League is coming up next.

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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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A Quick Look at Ken Takahashi

» 24 December 2008 » In mlb prospects » 9 Comments

Of this season’s credible Japanese import candidates, I’ve written by far the least about Hiroshima Carp lefty Ken Takahashi. The main reason for that is I’ve seen a lot more of Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami, but I can still share a few observations on Takahashi.

Career thus far
Takahashi made his debut for the Carp in 1995 after being drafted in the 4th round out of Toyota of the Industrial Leagues. He spent the first few seasons of his career primarily as a reliever before moving into more of a starting role in 2001. His career stats aren’t particularly impressive, but note that he’s been a little more effective in the years he’s been able to start consistently. Note also that Takahashi that while Takahashi put up a better era in 2008, he regressed slightly in walks, strikeouts, and ba against. The big thing I noticed about Takahashi last year was that he was among the Central League era leaders until about June, and then faded down the stretch. I don’t have any data on this, but I don’t think it was high pitch counts that wore him out. Marty Brown limits his pitchers pitch counts, and Takahashi only threw about 100 pitches in his single complete game last year.

Mechanics & Stuff
Takahashi has a fairly straightforward delivery with a high kick; here’s a slow-motion YouTube video of it from October 2008. That video might not be quite enough for Driveline Mechanics to really dig into, though. Here’s a longer highlight reel from a 173 pitch, 10-hit shutout he threw back in 2002. Note that back then he used a two stage windup, where he would bring his leading leg up, then down but not quite back to the ground, then back up, then finally down again to complete his delivery. You can see a really good example of this around 2:18, where Takahashi strikes out Hideki Matsui*. The two stage windup was banned a couple of years ago, so Takahashi no longer uses it.

Takahashi throws a fastball, slider, sinker and curve, but I have also have a photo that clearly shows him throwing a circle change. Based on his walk numbers over the years I’d say his control isn’t phenomenal, but he is capable of keeping the ball down.

* He also gets Matsui at 1:17 of the same video.

What’s Next
Takahashi is looking for an MLB job this offseason, and apparently drawing some interest. The Carp have never qualified for the playoffs in his 14-year Hiroshima career, and seeing former teammate Hiroki Kuroda spray the champagne in celebration of the Dodgers’ division title was a motivating factor for him. According to an interview with Shukan Baseball from earlier in the year, seeing pitchers like Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi
and Masa Yamamoto continue to have success into their 40’s has given Takahashi the courage to attempt the leap to MLB.

Given that Takahashi will be 40 next April and will have adjust to a full-time relief role in the America, I think he’s in for a little bit of an uphill battle. Still, he had a nice string of successful starts at the beginning of last season, is left handed and seems to have a couple of decent breaking pitches, so if he’s in the right role and environment I could see him being a useful pitcher. 

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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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