Tag Archive > Keiichi Yabu

Offseason Changes: Rakuten Golden Eagles

» 04 February 2011 » In npb » 4 Comments

Coming: Akinori Iwamura, Kazuo Matsui, Shinjya Okamoto, Kelvin Jimenez, Byung-Hyun Kim, manager Senichi Hoshino

Going: Kazuo Fukumori, Norihiro Nakamura, Makoto Kosaka, Ryuji Miyade, Todd Linden, Andy Phillips, Naoto Watanabe, Keiichi Yabu, manager Marty Brown

Staying: Hisashi Iwakuma, Darrell Rasner, Randy Ruiz, Juan Morillo

Summary: Rakuten’s 2011 offseason was headlined by two big events: the unsuccessful posting of ace Hisashi Iwakuma, and the hiring of accomplished manager Senichi Hoshino. Hoshino inherits a team that finished sixth last year, and is facing with losing its ace again.

I shared a few observations about the Iwakuma posting, and why in retrospect it was destined to fail, over at FanGraphs last month, so I won’t rehash that. From an on-the-field perspective, the Eagles are certainly more competitive with him than without him. He and heir apparent Masahiro Tanaka will lead a rotation that goes four deep; five if Kelvin Jimenez’s KBO success translates to Japan. Coincidentally, Rakuten’s two notable bullpen acquisitions came via Korea last year: Shinya Okamoto spent last season with the LG Twins, and the other is Byung-Hyun Kim. Those two along with the returning Juan Morillo give Hoshino a couple more relief options, which will help as Rakuten’s bullpen wasn’t particularly strong in 2010. But overall pitching was not really Rakuten’s problem last season. The Eagles allowed 635 runs and a 3.98 ERA, which was right in line with the all the Pacific League teams that don’t have Yu Darvish.

Rakuten’s problem in 2010 was an anemic offense. Only Nippon Ham hit fewer home runs than Rakuten’s 95, but the Fighters’ contact-hitting lineup still scored 36 more runs than the Eagles. Rakuten finished last or next to last in the Pacific League in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, steals, and intentional walks. This poor performance can mostly be attributed to four players: imports Todd Linden and Andy Phillips didn’t show up last year, and veteran sluggers Norihiro Nakamura and Takeshi Yamasaki experienced declines. Linden, Phillips and Nakamura are all gone this year, replaced in the lineup by a full season of Randy Ruiz and NPB returnees Akinori Iwamura and Kazuo Matsui. That group should outperform the guys who left, though Kazuo is a bit of a question mark for me. Yamasaki is getting old, but his 28 home runs and .749 OPS in 2010 were a respectable contribution. After that, the Eagles have perhaps Japan’s unheralded offensive star, Teppei, who despite his talent only gets a passing mention in this article. So the offense should be better, but even in the best case scenario it’s hard to see it being more than middle of the road in the Pacific League.

The last factor to discuss is the addition of Hoshino as manager. I see a few parallels with the last team he took over, the 2002 Hanshin Tigers. Hoshino is again inheriting a team coming off a last-place finish, succeeding Katsuya Nomura (though Nomura passed the Rakuten baton to Marty Brown for a season), with some some added veteran talent*. Hoshino got his Tigers off to a fast start in 2002, and though the team cooled off and eventually finished fourth, the improvement was real. The Tigers won the Central League handily in 2003 and have basically been competitive ever since. Hoshino will have less to work with in Sendai, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see his tenure with Rakuten take a similar path. He’ll be eager to exorcise any remaining demons from his stint managing Japan’s 2008 Olympic entry, a performance so disappointing it inspired a fan to set up a site protesting his involvement in the 2009 WBC. Rakuten definitely has the talent to compete for wins in 2011, though they probably won’t be in the mix for the Pacific League title. If they can take a step forward this season and build from there, Hoshino has a shot at wrapping up his distinguished managerial career on a high note.

*The 2002 Tigers brought in Atsushi Kataoka and George Arias. Tomoaki Kanemoto and Hideki Irabu joined in 2003.

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Re-Run: The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 27 August 2010 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

I’ve spent most of my writing time this week over at FanGraphs, profiling some of Japan’s better players. In researching that set of articles, I came across this post I wrote in early 2009, before Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami had signed with MLB clubs. Looking back at this, I don’t think I’d change the set of conclusions that I originally drew, but I will add the observation that this trend has hurt the overall depth of the league. Another interesting thing to note is that 11 of the 26 players listed here have returned to NPB, several since this article was written: Johjima, Iguchi, Kobayashi, Yabuta, Taguchi, Yabu and Fukumori.


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, and some still haven’t. 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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Tryouts: Yabu, Ballestas

» 28 July 2010 » In npb » Comments Off

Updates on a couple of recent NPB tryouts…

  • Chiba Lotte has passed on Keiichi Yabu after a two-day audition. Things were looking good for Yabu when he hit 146 km/h (91mph) on the gun in day one, but topped out at only 136 km/h (85 mph) on the second day. This was problematic for Lotte as they were looking at Yabu as a middle reliever who could pitch on consecutive days.
  • Freddy Ballestas’s trial with Orix went better, resulting in an ikusei contract. Ballestas has low minors experience in the Phillies system, and played Indy ball in the States this year. The righty pitcher is the eighth foreign player, and fourth Venezuelan, that Orix currently has under contract.

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Lotte to Audition Yabu

» 21 July 2010 » In npb » Comments Off

Looks like the Chiba Lotte Marines are bringing Keiichi Yabu in for an audition on July 26. Last time we heard from Yabu, he was training in Arizona and hoping to play in a US-based independent league. If Yabu has anything left in the tank, I expect Lotte to sign him.

With Yuki Karakawa and Shingo Ono on the shelf, Lotte’s rotation has been short staffed. Bill Murphy stepping into a starting role has been a boost, none of the other options tried –Ryoji Katsuki, Yuji Yoshimi, Bryan Corey — have stuck. Karakawa should be back soon and Hayden Penn is on his way, but a little extra depth never hurt.

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NPB Bullet Points: Interleague & FA Status

» 13 June 2010 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 5 Comments

News and notes from around NPB, mostly in Japanese this time around.

  • Orix took this year’s Interleague title, and a with it a 50m yen ($500k) award for the team. The emergent T-Okada was credited as the hero of yesterday’s game, but stalwart slugger Alex Cabrera was 3-4 with two rbi’s and is hitting .394 on the season. Orix is now 32-30-1 in what I thought would be a rebulding season.
  • Hichori Morimoto has racked up enough service time for international free agency. When asked about it, he responded in jest “I’m interested, you know, in America”, then added, “I care about how other teams evaluate me, but playing for the Fighters is the best.”
  • Hisashi Iwakuma has also qualified for domestic free agency, but that’s a bit of a non-event given that he’s already under contract with Rakuten for next season. He’s represented by IMG, though, and I think he’ll make the MLB move after 2011, assuming he remains healthy and effective.
  • The Giants called up Taishi Ohta, and he made his first professional start on the 12th, going 0-3. He had another 0-3 outing on the 13th.
  • Yu Darvish’s June 12 start is archived on Justin.tv. Catch it while you can.
  • Akinori Otsuka attended a Padress-Mariners game over the weekend, and still wants to make an MLB comeback. It won’t be this year though. Aki had his third elbow (ひじ) surgery this past January, and has been playing catch for about three weeks. He’s hoping to be throwing at full strength in October. Aki is 38, so a comeback is a tall order given his injury history. Keiichi Yabu returned to MLB ball at a older age, but he was coming back from ineffectiveness, not injuries.
  • Here’s one in English: veteran NPB writer Jim Allen takes a look at Lotte’s hot first half.

And finally, off-topic content this week inspired by the South African-hosted World Cup: Emeka Okafor’s Timbuktu Chronicles and Appfrica, a blog site run by an Ugundan tech incubator. These outstanding blogs highlight areas of African resourcefulness and innovation.

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NPB Bullet Points: Petagine Lands, New Jobs for Scouts

» 28 May 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

It’s been all too long since I’ve done a bullet points round up… but here we go with another edition.

Only Japanese links today…

  • Roberto Petagine has made his NPB return, and looks set to get his first ichi-gun start with SoftBank on May 29, DHing and batting 6th. Petagine’s spot on the roster comes at the expense of Beom-Ho Lee, who was demoted the other day after hitting .218 in 34 games. Incumbent DH Nobuhiko Matsunaka has been even worse than Lee, struggling with a .197/.267/.318 slash line.
  • In other SoftBank news, Munenori Kawasaki has racked up enough service time for domestic NPB free agency. I can’t see him leaving unless it’s to go to MLB though.
  • The Yakult Swallows seemed to really want Kazuo Matsui.
  • Here I go rattling the cage again: the Yankees had two scouts watch Yu Darvish’s last start. This is the second time they’ve seen him this year.
  • Keiichi Yabu wants to play again, and is looking into playing in a US independent league. The idea of a return to the Hanshin Tigers came up, but Yabu seems to prefer the Indy leagues.
  • The Carp promoted Dominican lefty Dioni Soriano to ichi-gun, and he promptly pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his debut. Soriano took the long way to NPB — playing at the Carp’s Dominican Academy, moving to Japan as a renshusei (practice player), spending time in the Shikoku Island League, re-joining Hiroshima as an ikusei player, and finally signing a regular contract this season. If Soriano pans out, he gives the Carp a much-needed bullpen lefty.
  • Scouting news: SoftBank has hired Kent Blasingame as its US-based scout, and former Hanshin scout Tom O’Malley is working with the Wasserman Media Group with the intent of helping NPB players move to MLB. Blasingame’s father, Don, played in Japan and managed the old Nankai Hawks and later the Hanshin Tigers.

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Moves & Notes, December 1, 2009

» 01 December 2009 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off

A couple of player personnel notes to pass along…

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NPB Bullet Points: Saito Backs Kikuchi, Sponichi Now for Kids Too

» 19 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb, mlb prospects, npb » 9 Comments

It’s been one of those weeks, but the world of baseball carries on.

Japanese Articles:

  • Waseda University pitcher Yuuki Saito is showing a little support for Yusei Kikuchi: “Kikuchi? The Majors, right. I think it’s a good idea. He throws fast and has good movement and control of is breaking pitches. He’s younger but I’m pulling for him. He really has his own way.” Saito was widely thought to be the first Japanese player to test jumping directly from amateur ball to the Majors, but Junichi Tazawa beat him to the punch.
  • You might have picked this up on our Twitter feed already, but Keiichi Yabu isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel yet. The 40 year-old hung out Stateside for a while after the Giants cut him from Fresno, but he’s back in Japan now, with plans to return in October to work out for MLB clubs. Yabu has come off the scrap heap once already, so maybe he’ll get another shot.
  • Stephen Randolph picked up his fourth win for the Yokohama BayStars. He’s done pretty well so far and at this pace I think he’ll get an invitation to return next year.
  • Sponichi is becoming the first sports publication in Japan to publish an edition specifically intended for kids. Why am I mentioning this here? Because children’s books are a great way to learn Japanese, even as adults. I wish this would have been around when I was really learning Japanese.
  • Jon Heyman’s mention of Hideki Matsui made it back to the Japanese media.
  • With the independent Kansai League struggling to survive, female knuckleballer Eri Yoshida is going to get a start in an effort to draw out a few fans. Her manager wants to get at least three innings out of her.
  • According to baseball sources, MLB’ers Brett Tomko and David Dellucci could look to Japan after this season.

Lastly, this isn’t NPB related, but my favorite player as kid growing up in Chicago was Harold Baines. In a backwards kind of way, this hilarious Onion article points out how underrated he was.

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Giants Sign Shingo

» 15 June 2009 » In mlb prospects » 4 Comments

One year ago, I started this blog with a post about Shingo Takatsu signing with the Woori Heroes of Korea. Interestingly, year two of NPB Tracker starts (partially) with the news of Shingo’s minor league contract with the Giants.

According to reports published by Sponichi and Nikkan Sports, Shingo hung around in the Giants extended camp in Arizona after his May tryout with the team. After a physical and some other checks, the Giants signed him to a minor league contract. After the visa paperwork clears he’s expected to join AAA Fresno.

Nikkan Sports quotes Shingo as saying: “the number one thing is that I’m relieved. I don’t feel any differently, but at this age it’s difficult to challenge (a comeback) without the cooperation of those around me. I’ve caused a lot of bother so I want to do my very best for those who have supported me”.

The Giants also have Keiichi Yabu in their AAA bullpen.

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Igawa, Others Demoted

» 25 March 2009 » In mlb » 3 Comments

The inevitable happened: Kei Igawa has been reassigned to the Yankees’ minor league camp after a surprisingly good spring numbers-wise. His demotion came after a 4-run, 4-walk outing agains the Rays in which he yielded his first and only run of the spring. Igawa finished up with the one earned run in 15 1/3 spring innings. Nikkan Sports quoted him as saying, “it feels like my time to appeal (for a spot on the team) in camp has ended. They’re going to have me start down there and I want my agent to do my best”. That last statement indicates that Igawa’s agent is looking for a team that is willing to trade for Igawa.

Other recent demotions include Ken Kadokura, Katsuhiro Maekawa, Keiichi Yabu, Ken Takahashi and Junichi Tazawa. Takahashi had pulled a muscle earlier in the spring.

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