Tag Archive > Kensuke Tanaka

2013 Free Agents

» 29 October 2012 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » Comments Off

All right, here we go. 2013 free agents.

This year, 85 players (18 domestic, 67 international) qualify for free agency. In practice, only a small minority will file and change teams. I will highlight the interesting ones; here’s the full list in Japanese (Google Translate may work all right for that).

International Free Agents

Players who have accumulated nine years of service time are eligible to move overseas.

  • Kyuji Fujikawa, relief pitcher, Hanshin Tigers

This year’s FA class is undoubtedly headed by Hanshin closer Fujikawa, NPB’s most dominant reliever over the last several years. Kyuji has been on the nichibei scene for years; he was actually the first player I profiled way back in 2008 and has since made a perennial habit of asking Hanshin to post him and being turned down. Now as a free agent he’ll finally get his shot. Kyuji isn’t the same guy as he was in 2006, but he still get’s plenty of swinging strikes with the usual vertical movement on his fastball and splitters in the dirt (more data here). His K rate in 2012 was 10.95 per 9, which is great but actually down a bit from his usual 12-14 range. He’ll certainly command an MLB contract, but it seems likely that he’ll begin his MLB career in a middle relief role.

  • Hiroyuki Nakajima, shortstop/infield, Saitama Seibu Lions

If Nakajima’s name sounds familiar, that’s probably because he was posted last offseason, and his negotiating rights were won by the Yankees. Nakaji and the Bombers failed to agree to a contract, so he hopped in his Ferrari and headed back to the Lions for another year, putting up a healthy .311/.382/.451 slash line. His batting average might have led the Pacific League had Lotte not gutlessly pitched around him on the last day of the season, but instead ended up a single point behind Katsuya Kakunaka. His OBP ranked second in the Pacific League, and his slugging pct was fourth, and well ahead of the next middle infielder. In the field he seems to make the play he gets to, but has lost some range, and the consensus is that he’s probably not a full-time MLB shortstop.

Anyway, now Nakajima is back on the market as a free agent. I was a big fan of the idea of Nakaji in New York, acclimatizing himself to MLB while getting 300 or so at-bats spelling Derek Jeter at SS and Alex Rodriguez at 3B, but obviously that didn’t come to fruition. There were other MLB teams interested in Nakajima last time around, so I think there is little doubt he’ll find an MLB deal this year, but it will remain to be seen what kind of role he winds up in.

  • Takashi Toritani, shortstop/infield, Hanshin Tigers

There are a number of things to like about Toritani: he’s played every game since 2005, he led NPB in walks by a wide margin in 2012, defensively he inspires a bit more confidence at shortstop than Nakajima. On the flip side, his power evaporated with the introduction of the new ball in 2011, we have yet to see an NPB shortstop move to MLB and stick, and the most observers seem to agree that he’d be better off remaining in Japan. If his defense and plate discipline hold up, his skill set sounds Oakland A’s-ish, but that’s hardly a given and Hanshin will make a big play to keep him. His best financial offer will certainly come from Japan and I think he’ll probably stay put.

  • Kensuke Tanaka, 2b/infield, Nippon Ham Fighters

Tanaka has been on the free agency market before, but he signed a multi-year contract with Nippon Ham that included an opt-out that allows him to pursue an MLB deal. He is expected to exercise that right. The book on Tanaka is that of a small-ball player: he’s a rangy second baseman who hits for average and draws walks, gets bunts down and steals bases, but offers minimal power. As such, of the infielders listed here he most obviously profiles as a utility guy, though his glove is probably the best of the three. Reporting out of Japan indicates that he seems willing to take a minor league contract, and if that’s the case someone will give him a chance to win a job. Incidentally, he may have kind of a roundabout advantage in that having been a teammate of Yu Darvish for several years, MLB scouts should already be pretty familiar with him.

  • Hideki Okajima, relief pitcher, Softbank Hawks

You guys remember Okajima. After the Yankees terminated his contract last year (that’s two nearly-Yankees Jima’s this list), Okie signed with Softbank and had a strong year, not allowing an earned run until August. He’s angling for an MLB return this offseason.

Posting Candiates

There are no significant posting candidates this offseason.

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Game Notes: Darvish vs Chen

» 11 June 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 1 Comment

Summary: These notes are about a game that took place on Tuesday, June 7. Nippon Ham edged Chunichi 1-0 in a great pitcher’s duel.

What a pitching matchup. Yu Darvish was his usual self, striking out 10 with no walks and three hits in another shutout, running his personal scoreless streak to 44 innings. But Wei-Yin Chen managed to keep up with him and pitched a game that would have earned him a “w” under normal circumstances.

Darvish did everything well — he kept everything down, or unhittably high in the zone; got ahead of nearly ever batter; got into only two three-ball counts; surrendered virtually zero hard contact. Catcher Keiji Koyama managed two of Chunichi’s three hits, a single off an early-count fastball, and another off a slider that got a little too much of the plate. The only other Dragons batter to look remotely competent was Kazuhiro Wada, who hit the hardest ball off Darvish, a sharp line drive that Fighters second baseman Kensuke Tanaka made a great jumping play on. Wada also hit an opposite field single to lead off the seventh inning, which after a sacrifice bunt by Takahiro Saeki turned into the only Dragons threat of the evening. But Darvish subverted that minor threat by dominating Ryosuke Hirata, who could only vaguely defend the strike zone, and Masahiko Morino, who struck out on three pitches.

You couldn’t say that Chen matched Darvish pitch for pitch, but he put up a dominant performance in his own way. Chen scattered four hits in an eight-inning compete game, needing only 88 pitches to work through Nippon Ham’s lineup three and a half times. The difference in the game came in the top of the seventh, when Chen surrendered an uncharacteristic walk to Atsunori Inaba, then hung a slider to Sho Nakata on an 0-2 count. Nakata smacked a double off the left field wall, with the ball bouncing far enough from Wada to allow Inaba to score from first. Chen wasn’t rattled though, and with Nakata still on second, mowed down Tomohiro Nioka, Dai Kan Yoh, and Micah Hoffpauir.

Though the results differed by the slimmest of margins, the two pitchers took differing approaches on the mound. Darvish’s arsenal is such that he can feature a couple of different looks. In this game, he featured at the power end of his range, relying on his four-seam, cutter and tailing two-seam/one-seam/shuuto. When Chunichi’s hitters started fouling the hard stuff off, Darvish would go to his slider or curve for a different look.

Chen, by comparison, kept things a lot simpler. He fed Nippon Ham a strict diet of fastballs and sliders, showing great location and keeping nearly everything on the edges of the strike zone. To make an unfair comparison, he lacked Darvish’s velocity and movement, but he worked quickly, threw strikes, and knew what he wanted to do with each hitter. It definitely felt like he was pitching to contact, but it worked as he mostly limited the Fighters to infield pop ups and lazy fly balls.

I don’t really have anything more to say about this game, so I’ll close with this remarkable fact. Darvish’s opening day: seven innings pitched, seven runs, seven earned. Darvish since then: 69 innings pitched, six runs, five earned.

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Offseason Changes: Nippon Ham Fighters

» 06 February 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Coming: Wirfin Obispo, Yuki Saito, Micah Hoffpauir, Kenta Matsusaka, Tomohisa Nemoto

Going: Hichori Morimoto, Hideki Sunaga, Toshimasa Konta, Yoshinori Tateyama, Takayuki Takaguchi, Kazunori Yamamoto, Buddy Carlyle, Tomochika Tsuboi

Staying: Yu Darvish, Kazuhito Tadano, Kensuke Tanaka

Summary: Did anyone else hear that Yuki Saito is on his way to Hokkaido? Yes? Believe it or not, there was news concerning other members of the Nippon Ham Fighters this winter. While the Fighters welcomed two new foreign players this offseason, said goodbye to one, and saw a fan favorite slip away, the most anxiety surrounded the fate of their ace.

Despite some ominous sounding tweets from Yu Darvish saying that his “situation had changed,” it hadn’t from a baseball standpoint. The Fighters’ ace and most important player is staying in Sapporo for at least one more season. He reeled in a JPY 500m contract, NPB’s top salary, as we welcomed in 2011. Carrying the load behind him will be Bobby Keppel and Masaru Takeda, who make up the top of a stingy staff that was arguably the best in Japan in 2010.

The back of the rotation faces some uncertainty, though, as Hirotoshi Masui comes into spring camp proclaiming that he wants to be the #4 starter. Throw newcomer Wirfin Obispo and incumbent Tomoya Yagi into the mix along with perhaps Saito and some other worthy candidates, and you have a full-on battle. We’ll have to see how it shakes out.

One name who won’t be in the mix this year is Buddy Carlyle. The man who was once traded for Marc Kroon in America finds himself back in the States… along with Kroon, as fate would have it. Joining them on the other side of the ocean will be Yoshinori Tateyama, who skipped town as a free agent to join the Texas Rangers.

Lovable goofball Hichori Morimoto took his talents south to Yokohama. It’ll be strange for a while seeing him donning a blue and white uniform. Coming into the lineup to hopefully supply more pop will be self described “doubles hitter” Micah Hoffpauir. The left-handed veteran of the Chicago Cubs system will presumably play first base; he’ll try to match or surpass the 22 home runs he hit at AAA last year.

In my assessment, despite having a power starved lineup, their pitching should get them into the playoffs. They nearly made it wast year, being edged out by 1/2 game in a frantic scramble. They need Hoffpauir’s bat to be what they hope it is, and could really use a big contribution from Sho Nakata, in what could be a make-or-break year for him. Players like Atsunori Inaba, Makoto Kaneko and Tomohiro Nioka aren’t getting any younger, and 2011 may be their last chance (and Darvish’s) to bring Hokkaido another title. While I don’t see them finishing atop the Pacific League, I think a playoff spot is theirs to lose.

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I Disagree About a Few Things

» 19 November 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

The other day, NPB held its awards ceremony and announced the winners of this year’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Best Nine awards. Gen over at Yakyu Baka has transcribed all the winners (MVP/RoY, Best Nines), which saves me the trouble of doing it here. I don’t plug Gen often enough, so here’s another link — go and look at his site.

I published my picks about a month ago, and amazingly, the NPB voters mostly agreed with me. But there were a few differences.

Pacific League MVP — my pick: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Lotte SS), winner: Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank SP)

Wow. I don’t think I can disagree with this more strongly. NPB MVP voters have an annoying habit of favoring players from the league winner. That, combined with Wada’s one win more than Softbank teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi, was enough to propel him to the award. Nishioka had a historic year in which he drove Lotte’s league-leading offense with 206 hits and 121 runs (17% of Lotte’s total). Penalizing him because his team finished 2.5 games out of first is both archaic and illogical. Then again, maybe the voters were punishing him because he is a bit of a prima donna, or because he’s bolting for MLB.

Pacific Leage RoY — my pick: Keisuke Kattoh (Softbank RP), winner Ryo Sakakibara (Nippon Ham RP)

I didn’t realize Sakakibara was eligible; I guess that’s why I’m not an official voter. Kattoh finished second, no complaints.

Pacific League Best Nine P — my pick Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham), winner Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank)

Not much to say here — Darvish was superior to Wada in every category except wins. I would have put Sugiuchi and Chihiro Kaneko ahead of Wada as well, so he would have been my fourth choice for this award.

Pacific League Best Nine 2B — my pick Tadahito Iguchi (Lotte), winner Kensuke Tanaka (Nippon Ham)

I was actually kind of on the fence about this one. In the end I took Iguchi’s glove, power and walks over Tanaka’s batting average. The voters didn’t agree though, and Iguchi finished in third. In second was Softbank’s Yuichi Honda who hit .296 and led the PL with 59 steals.  Yasuyuki Kataoka would have been my third choice, but he finished a distant fourth despite better overall numbers than Honda.

Pacific League Best Nine OF — my picks Teppei (Rakuten), Yoshio Itoi (Nippon Ham), winners Takumi Kuriyama (Seibu), T-Okada (Orix)

I picked T-Okada as the DH on my Best Nine, so I can live with him winning as an outfielder. I just don’t see how Kuriyama beats either Teppei or Itoi though, particularly Itoi, who was superior in slugging, on-base percentage, and base stealing.

Pacific League Best Nine DH — my pick Okada, winner Kazuya Fukuura (Lotte)

Fukuura put up a respectable .295/.354/.475 line, but didn’t get enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title.

Remarkably, the voters and I only disagreed on one Central League award:

Central League Best Nine SS — my pick Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri), winner Takashi Toritani (Hanshin)

I succumbed to the shiny allure of Sakamoto’s 31 home runs on this one. Toritani had a better batting average and on-base percentage, and made fewer errors.

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NPB Bullet Points: The Season Thus Far

» 11 April 2010 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 10 Comments

News and notes on the season so far

…In Japanese:

  • Juan Morillo has been demoted to ni-gun. Unfortunately, his lack of command has translated to NPB. His velocity has been as advertised though.
  • On the flipside, Matt Murton is off to a hot start in Japan, having reached base safely in all 13 games so far this season. His slash line is a robust .407/.484/.556.
  • Takayuki Kishi took a no-hitter into the 7th against Orix on the 6th, and finished with a one-hit shutout. Bonus points to those of you who can recall Japan’s last no-hitter.
  • Tsuyoshi Wada set a new career best with 15 strikeouts against Lotte on April 8.
  • The Hanshin Tigers picked up lefty Yusuke Kawasaki for cash from the Chiba Lotte Marines. The last trade that Hanshin made with Lotte worked out pretty well for the Tigers, netting them Yasuyuki Kubo.
  • The Japanese baseball media has an uncanny ability find and point out obscure streaks. Examples? Last week, Nippon Ham’s Kensuke Tanaka’s streak at-bats without hitting into a double play ended at 862. On the 11th, Hiroshima’s Tomonori Maeda went yard for the first time in 686 days.
  • In a rather forward-thinking move, Nippon Ham is limiting Yu Darvish’s pitch counts to 120 per start. Darvish surpassed 140 pitches in two of his first three starts, and Ham is concerned about keeping him healthy for the whole season.
  • Belated congratulations to Shingo Takatsu, who has now saved games in Japan, the US, Korea and Taiwan. I hope he plays Winter League ball somewhere this year.

…and in English:

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Awards Announced

» 18 November 2009 » In npb » 1 Comment

The 2009 season is in the books, and the MVPs go to Yu Darvish in the Pacific League, with Alex Ramirez receiving the honor for the Central League. Darvish earns the award for the second time in his career and Ramirez obtains the award for the second straight season.

The Rookie of the Year award is received by Tokyo Yomiuri Giants outfielder Testuya Matsumoto, the first time in 51 years that two players from the same team received the RoY in consecutive years (Giants reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi took the prize last year). The Pacific League award goes to reliever Tadashi Settsu of the Softbank Hawks.

The Best Nine Awards have also been announced and the winners are as follows:

Central Pacific
P Dicky Gonzalez Yu Darvish
CA Shinnosuke Abe Hidenori Tanoue
1B Tony Blanco Shinji Takahashi
2B Akihiro Higashide Kensuke Tanaka
3B Michihiro Ogasawara Takeya Nakamura
SS Hayato Sakamoto Hiroyuki Nakajima
OF Seiichi Uchikawa Teppei
OF Norichika Aoki Yoshio Itoi
OF Alex Ramirez Atsunori Inaba
DH Takeshi Yamazaki

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Golden Glove Winners

» 12 November 2009 » In npb » 1 Comment

The 2009 Golden Glove Winners have been announced, and Nippon Ham dominated the Pacific League with seven players receiving the award. Tetsuya Matsumoto of the Giants became the first former ikusei player to win a Golden Glove.

Central League Pacific League
P Dicky Gonzalez (Giants) Hideaki Wakui (Lions)
CA Motonobu Tanishige (Dragons) Shinya Tsuruoka (Fighters)
1B Kenta Kurihara (Carps) Shinji Takahashi (Fighters)
2B Masahiro Araki (Dragons) Kensuke Tanaka (Fighters)
3B Shinya Miyamoto (Swallows) Eiichi Koyano (Fighters)
SS Hirokazu Ibata (Dragons) Makoto Kaneko (Fighters)
OF Norichika Aoki (Swallows) Yoshio Itoi (Fighters)
OF Tetsuya Matsumoto (Giants) Tomotaka Sakaguchi (Buffaloes)
OF Yoshiyuki Kamei (Giants) Atsunori Inaba (Fighters)

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