Tag Archive > Kenta Maeda

Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

» 24 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

In recent weeks, I’ve written about some of the better MLB prospects who are currently active in Japan, and looked back at some of skills that have translated well from NPB to MLB. Now we’ll see how Japan’s Next Top Pitcher, Kenta Maeda, stacks up against his most recent predecessors.

Maeda let the cat out of the bag during his 2014 contract negotiations that he wants to play in MLB in the future, leading to widespread speculation that he’ll be posted following this season. Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that he enjoys another Maeda-esque season in 2014 and is indeed posted after the season. What will he bring to the MLB negotiating table? Here’s my breakdown of his strengths and weaknesses:

Maeda’s strengths:

  • A fastball that won’t be a liability at the MLB level.
  • An ability to locate at least two breaking pitches, a slider and a changeup.
  • He gets his curve into the strike zone as well.
  • An ability to suppress hits. Maeda has allowed just 7.51 per 9IP over his 1116.1 inning career. In 2013, he allowed just 6.61 hits per 9IP.
  • Health and durability. Maeda has never had a serious injury, and has topped 175 IP in each of the last five seasons.
  • Consistency. Maeda’s WHIPs over the last four years: 0.98, 1.02, 0.99, 0.99.

Maeda’s weaknesses:

  • Overall his stuff is just not as whiff-inducing as Yu Darvish’s or Masahiro Tanaka’s.
  • He has lacked the eye-popping K:BB ratios of guys like Tanaka, Koji Uehara or Colby Lewis, though he is no slouch at about 5:1.
  • I’ve noticed he can nibble a bit.
  • On my list, Maeda’s build and stuff resemble’s Kenshin Kawakami’s more than anyone else.

I started off being pretty lukewarm on Maeda, but I’ve warmed up quite a bit. He doesn’t measure up to Darvish or Tanaka, but that’s setting the bar pretty impossibly high. Kawakami might be the best comparable among NPB starters who have made it to MLB in the last five years, but Maeda is younger, healthier and more consistent than Kawakami was. And let’s also remember that Kawakami was something like an average National League starter in his first MLB season. My guess is that Maeda can hack it in MLB, though he’s probably a mid-rotation guy.

Of course, the 2014 season hasn’t yet begun, and anything can happen. But I don’t really expect Maeda to deviate much from the consistent performance he’s shown over the last five years.

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Who’s Next?

» 15 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 15 Comments

Within minutes of Masahiro Tanaka signing with the Yankees, I started getting questions on Twitter about the next star out of Japan.

The short answer is that there’s no one of Tanaka’s caliber that we’ll see in MLB in the next few years.The longer answer is that there are a number of interesting pitchers currently active in Japan who could eventually wind up in North America. Here are the ones I’m watching most closely.

Kenta Maeda RHP starter, Hiroshima Carp: Maeda is Tanaka’s heir apparent as Japan’s best pitcher, but he grades well below Ma-Kun as an MLB prospect, both on pure stuff and statistical dominance. On this list, he compares most closely to Kenshin Kawakami, but with the advantages of youth and health. A reasonable expectation is that he’ll be a viable mid/back rotation starter for someone. Maeda is expected to be posted following the 2014 season, so we should see him in MLB in 2015.

Chihiro Kaneko RHP starter, Orix Buffaloes: Kaneko is pretty good, but for whatever reason, frequently overlooked in discussions about Japan’s best pitchers. He’s a bit less consistent than Maeda, but has more breaking stuff and generates a few more whiffs. Kaneko is eligible for domestic, NPB-only free agency after the 2014 season, and there are already rumors that Yomiuri is going to go after him. If he wants to play in MLB it likely wouldn’t be until 2016 at the soonest.

Seung-Hwan Oh RHP closer, Hanshin Tigers: 2014 will be Oh’s first year in NPB, having spent his career to this point in Korea. He was expected to move to MLB this past offseason, but wound up signing a two-year deal with Hanshin instead. The thought is that he could move on to MLB at the conclusion of his contract, so that would be 2016. I haven’t seen Oh yet so I haven’t formed an opinion of him as a prospect.

Hideaki Wakui, RHP starter, Chiba Lotte Marines: A few years ago, Wakui would have ranked among Japan’s better MLB prospects, but now he’s a bit of a question mark. He hit his peak in 2009, winning the Sawamura Award, but overuse, a contentious relationship with his team, girl trouble, and possible conditioning problems has resulted in several steps backward. I’ve been hearing for years that Wakui wants to move to MLB; he signed a two-year contract with Lotte this offseason where he could rebuild value.

Takuya Asao, RHP reliever, Chunichi Dragons: Asao was so dominant in 2011 that won the 2011 Central League MVP Award, despite pitching in middle relief. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same since, suffering from shoulder discomfort and pitching 30 and 30.2 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt his stuff — mid-90s fastball, hard splitter, funky palmball — is good enough for MLB. He’s a few years away from free agency so we’ll see what happens.

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP starter, Seibu Lions: Kikuchi made waves in 2009 for considering forgoing NPB to sign with an MLB club. He ultimately remained in Japan, and was drafted by Seibu. In 2013, Kikuchi was in the midst of making good on the potential that made him such a hot commodity as a high school prospect when he was stricken with shoulder inflammation and lost for the season. It obviously remains to be seen how he’ll fare when he returns, but so far he’s at least show that he can turn his ability in to results. Kikuchi is at least six years away from free agency.

Shohei Ohtani RHP starter/OF, Nippon Ham Fighters: Here’s where it gets interesting. Like Kikuchi, Ohtani also showed an interest in jumping right to MLB out of high school. Unlike Kikuchi, he seemed intent on actually doing it, but Nippon Ham drafted him anyway and eventually convinced him to sign. Despite flashing 100mph heat in high school, Ohtani opened the 2013 season as Nippon Ham’s starting right fielder. A few months later, he made his ichi-gun debut on the mound, and pitched 61.2 innings, becoming the first nitouryu (double-bladed) player since Yozo Nagabuchi in 1968. Ohtani’s offseason training centered on pitching, but he’ll reportedly continue to play both positions this season. Nippon Ham has been publicly supportive of sending Ohtani to MLB after a few years of seasoning, but of course that was before this posting system nonsense took place.

Shintaro Fujinami RHP starter, Hanshin Tigers: Ohtani’s 2013 rookie brethren Fujinami might not be as flashy, but he’s a lot more polished. Fujinami opened the 2013 as Hanshin’s third starter, and essentially stuck in the rotation for the duration of the season, an impressive feat for an 18 year-old. At this point, Fujinami probably has the best potential of any pitcher on this list. He already shows polish and pitchability, and he’s extremely lanky 6’7. As he fills out and adds strength, it’s reasonable to expect that he could develop a bit more fastball velocity, and handle more innings pitched. At age 19 he’s a long way away from free agency and MLB, but if 2013 is any indication fans on both sides of the Pacific have a lot to look forward to.

Tomohiro Anraku RHP starter Saibi High School: Anraku’s still a high school student, but he’s an interesting prospect. Clearly the top player in last year’s spring Koshien Sembatsu tournament, he was famously pitched into the ground by his manager. The bodily wear he sustained from the effort led to worse performances later in the year, and his stock as an NPB draft prospect has dropped. We don’t know what 2014 holds, but it’s conceivable that he could follow in Kikuchi and Ohtani’s footsteps as a player who tests the MLB waters out of high school.

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A Midsummer Night’s Blog Post

» 18 August 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

While my baseball consumption has not returned to it’s previous levels, my itch to write has returned, so tonight I’m taking a hiatus from my hiatus to share a few thoughts on the season so far.

  • After years of anticipation, Yu Darvish, has made his Major League debut. The results have been mixed — lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. The walks are a surprise to me; the mid-season struggles are not. I must admit that fate has conspired against me, and I haven’t seen a single Darvish start all the way through this year.
  • Nippon Ham has carried on without Darvish, currently leading the Pacific League by a game over Seibu. 24 year-old lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa took advantage of the hole left by Darvish, and is enjoyed a breakout season. While he lacks Darvish’s eye-popping dominance, a 10-4 record with a 1.91 ERA isn’t too shabby.
  • I never thought I’d see Ichiro traded, but last month it happened. It felt more like Ichiro was on the path to retirement this season, but his bat has woken up a bit with the Yankees. Perhaps playing for a winning time will revive his career.
  • The Japanese Players Association is threatening to sit out next year’s World Baseball Classic if WBC Inc doesn’t give them a bigger share of the revenue. So far neither side is willing to budge. I hope they can work out some sort of agreement because a Japanese boycott would be bad for both sides.
  • I didn’t get to finish my predictions this spring, but every year I think that Chunichi is going to stumble and that Seibu is going to be good. And, every year I’m wrong, at least about the Chunichi side of the prediction. This year was no exception. I thought Chunichi was set for a big step backwards, but they’re comfortably in second place in the Central, and had been in the hunt for first until Yomiuri started to pull away. Seibu got off to a rough start and appeared to be headed for a disappointing season, but has righted the ship and is now in the hunt for a league title.
  • I was going to write something about Brad Penny here but I don’t think I’ll bother.
  • Softbank veteran Hiroki Kokubo announced his retirement last week. Otsukare-sama.
  • Yomiuri veteran and personal favorite Yoshinobu Takahashi slugged his 300th career home run last week. Jason Coskrey has more.
  • The two young players I’ve enjoyed watching the most this year? Hiroshima’s Yusuke Nomura and Yokohama DeNA’s Sho Aranami.
  • While it doesn’t stack up to MLB’s three perfect games this season, NPB has seen a pair of no-hitters this year: Toshiya Sugiuchi’s against Rakuten on May 30, and Kenta Maeda’s against DeNA on April 6. Although, I did not witness either of these games, I did catch a pair of near no-hitters. Another personal favorite, Daisuke Miura, took a no-no into the 9th against Hanshin on May 12, but pinch-hitter Shinjiro Hiyama put up a veteran at-bat, working a full count before finally hitting a long single. Hanshin eventually scored and Miura lost his shutout, but won the game. The other was another Sugiuchi gem, thrown on May 4 against Hanshin. The only solid contact I recall Sugiuchi surrendering happened to be the only hit Hanshin managed, a sharp single, hit mid-game by Takashi Toritani. The game lacked the drama of a late-innings no-hit bid, but was a dominant performance nonetheless.

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Changes for 2012: Hiroshima Carp

» 28 January 2012 » In npb » 4 Comments

Coming: Kam Mickolio, Nick Stavinoha, Yusuke Nomura (1st round draft pick)

Going: Gio Alvarado, Mike Schultz, Dioni Soriano, Kiyoshi Toyoda, Wilfreiser Guerrero, Masaki Hayashi, Chad Tracy

Staying: Bryan Bullington, Brian Barden, Dennis Sarfate, Kenta Kurihara

The key offseason move for Hiroshima was the one that didn’t happen. For the second straight winter, the Carp failed to lure its former ace, Hiroki Kuroda, back from his successful Major League tenure. Had Kuroda returned, Hiroshima would have opened camp with a good shot at having the best rotation in Japan. Even without Kuroda though, Hiroshima’s rotation has some solid pieces to work with. Kenta Maeda and Bryan Bullington are strong at the top, second-year man Yuya Fukui showed proimsed in 2011, and perhaps rookie Yusuke Nomura and sophmore Kyohei Nakamura will join the mix. Veteran Kan Ohtake showed signs of life toward the end of last season, and 24 year-old lefty Yuki Saito should return from the back injuries that sidelined him for all of 2011. Kuroda would have been a great addition to this group, taking the pressure of the younger guys and the injury returnees.

At the plate, Hiroshima suffered a severe power shortage in 2011, hitting a league-low 52 home runs. To that end if Nick Stavinoha can establish himself and slug .450, it will be a huge addition. The retention of Brian Barden is a sound move, as he hit a respectable .280/.368/.371 over half a season last year. Simply getting a full season out of him at third base, which has been a hole since Takahiro Arai departed, will be a plus and if he can find some pop, all the better. We’ll see about the rest of the lineup once the open-sen season opens.

So while their approach is contingent on the younger players maturing and contributing, Hiroshima seems to be headed in the right direction.

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My Team Japan

» 08 May 2011 » In npb » 27 Comments

Last week, I got a pretty good question Twitter — who would my Japanese national team be today?

It’s a good question, and a nice change of pace from the Darvish questions I frequently get, so I decided to write up a post about it. Coincidentally back when I was teaching English at the now-defuct NOVA, I used to do a lesson like this with my baseball fan students, and it was always a fun one.

I’m picking my team as if they would have to compete at the highest level, so as cool as I think the World Port Tournament is, I’m following the WBC roster rules. In summary, I get a maximum of 28 players, with a minimum of two catchers and 13 pitchers.

Outfield

No reason to deviate from the 2009 WBC starting outfield of Ichiro, Kosuke Fukudome, and Norichika Aoki. For my fourth outfielder I’ll go with the gap power, strike zone judgement, and defensive prowess of Nippon Ham CF Yoshio Itoi.

Infield

There’s one easy call for me in the infield: Hiroyuki Nakajima at shortstop. At second base, I’ll start Tsuyoshi Nishioka, without regard to his current injury.

The corners are a little trickier. At third base, I like Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura’s bat and Eiichi Koyano’s glove, with Takahiro Arai striking a balance between the two. Choices are a bit limited on other side of the diamond, and Sho Nakata might be the best choice by the end of the year, but for now I prefer the contact bat of Seiichi Uchikawa.

This group of four gives me some flexibility. I can play the stronger defensive group with Koyano at third, Arai at first, and Okawari-kun DH’ing, or I can for the better offensive lineup and have Arai at third, Okawari-kun at first, and one of my other candidates batting DH. The presence of Uchikawa gives me the option of playing the hot hand as well.

On the bench, I’ll stash Yasuyuki Kataoka and Munenori Kawasaki, both of whom can pinch run, steal bases, get bunts down and play good defense all over the infield.

Designated Hitters

Nakamura would DH for my team when he’s not playing in the field. Hideki Matsui never participates in these things, but dammit,this is my dream team, so he’s in.

Catchers

Catcher is an easy call. Kenji Johjima starts, Shinnosuke Abe backs up.

Starting Pitchers

The first three starters are easy choices: Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda. The next three are pretty easy too: Masahiro Tanaka, Hideaki Wakui, Kenta Maeda. Hang on, no lefties in there, so I’ll call on Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Masaru Takeda.

That’s nine starters, so some of these guys are are going to relieve. In particular, I like Tanaka as a power arm out of the bullpen, and Takeda as a lefty specialist.

Relief Pitchers

I’m rounding out my 13-man pitching staff with four full-time relievers for my squad: Kyuji Fujikawa, Takuya Asao, Hitoki Iwase and Tetsuya Yamaguchi.

Those last two are kind of risky picks, given Iwase’s struggles in the 2008 Olympics, and the fact that Yamaguchi got lit up for 10 home runs last year. But Iwase is a good pitcher, and I like Yamaguchi’s ability to get lefthanded batters out.

Notable absences

The last name I deleted off my list of candidates was Chihiro Kaneko (ignoring the fact that he’s been out injured all season). It was either him or Koyano, and I went with Koyano for his third base defense and gap bat. Kaneko’s righty starter skillset is already well-represented.

I would love to have another power bat on this team, but the only other guy I really thought about was Shuichi Murata. A few years ago, his inclusion would have been a no-brainer, but I prioritized defense, and his down numbers last season concern me. Nobuhiko Matsunaka would have been a great inclusion, but he is a shadow of his former self.

I gave some consideration to Koji Uehara and Takashi Saito, but they are too injury-prone to displace either Fujikawa or Asao, and too righthanded to bump Iwase or Yamaguchi.

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2011 Season Predictions: Central League

» 11 April 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Like the Pacific League, picking a winner in the Central League is tough. But for me it’s tough for the opposite reason — it’s easier to think of reasons why each of these teams won’t win. So like my PL post, I’ve ranked the teams in order of likelihood of finishing first, and listed them in reverse order.

6. Yokohama BayStars (offseason summary)

Lots of holes in lineup; loss of Seiichi Uchikawa and Hayato Terahara; thin rotation; bargain-bin foreign players; no depth

5. Hiroshima Carp (offseason summary)

Questionable rotation depth behind Kenta Maeda; great outfield defense; bullpen question marks; little established power even with the addition of Chad Tracy; but lineup could surprise us

4. Chunichi Dragons (offseason summary)

Kazuki Yoshimi injured; dominant bullpen; efficient defense; Wei-Yin Chen’s farewell season; aging lineup though with some emerging players

3. Yakult Swallows (offseason summary)

Norichika Aoki; four good starters, assuming Yoshinori’s 2010 season wasn’t a fluke; mid-lineup question marks; good bullpen; played well after firing Shigeru Takada last year

2. Hanshin Tigers (offseason summary)

Strong lineup top to bottom, despite a few regression candidates (Keiichi Hirano, Matt Murton); lots of untested/rehabbing guys in the mix for rotation spots; great closer

1. Yomiuri Giants (offseason summary)

High-powered lineup; plenty of rotation depth but no  ace; some good bullpen arms but no established post-Kroon closer; nice x-factor in Hirokazu Sawamura

Other thoughts: Yokohama finishing last is the one sure thing for me. A good season for them would be more about getting meaningful development from guys like Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Keijiro Matsumoto than finishing one place higher in the standings. Hiroshima’s rotation should be better 2-5 this year, but still not on par with the teams I have ahead of them. Every year I predict a tumble for Chunichi, and every year I’m wrong. We’ll see if anything changes this year. I’ve changed my mind about Yakult a bit this offseason. They’re still under the radar but they have some talent. Hanshin and Yomiuri have a lot in common, but I like the Giants’ rotation depth better.

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NPB Bullet Points: Ouen-dan, Wakui, Darvish, Orix Uniforms

» 08 January 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb, npb draft, NPB Tracker » 10 Comments

Before I get caught up on my more analytical pieces, here’s about a week’s worth of news items:

  • The Yomiuri Giants have broken up the Tokyo Yomiuri Kyojin-gun Ouen-dan (Tokyo Yomiuri Giants Cheering Club) over “improper re-sale of game tickets”.
  • Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui is having a hard time reaching an agreement with the Lions on his 2011 salary. It’s reportedly possible that he won’t have a contract signed by the time camp opens, and thus have to pay his way there.
  • Chiba Marine Stadium has been rechristened QVC Marine Field. Yes, that’s QVC, the television shopping network.
  • Sponichi points out that, in addition to being the son of former Chunichi Dragon Mark Ryal, Rusty Ryal was also the guy that hit a line drive off Hiroki Kuroda’s head back in 2009.
  • The Yukan Fuji paper published an article about Bill James projections found at my other haunt, Fangraphs.com. The headline was James’ projection that Koji Uehara would save 31 games with a 2.81 ERA for the Orioles this upcoming season.
  • According to Sankei News, the Chiba Lotte Marines took in 8bn yen in revenue in 2010, the highest figure in team history. While the club finished 2bn yen in the red, they lost 1.3bn yen less than the previous year, and the 8bn yen represents a quadrupling in revenue since 2004. Winning the Nippon Series and posting Tsuyoshi Nishioka helped boost Lotte’s income.
  • Despite being in great shape, former Yokohama and Orix player Katsuaki Furuki got his face bashed in his fighting debut.
  • Yu Darvish’s New Year’s Resolutions are to read two books per month, and watch movies that he doesn’t typically like. His intent is to “refine his sensitivity” (“感性を磨けるかなって理由です(^^)”).
  • Darvish’s Nippon Ham teammate, incoming rookie Yuki Saito, wants to play until he’s 50.
  • Here’s a great pic of Hiroshima ace Kenta Maeda working out with a medicine ball.
  • Lotte managed to sign their 6th-round draft pick, USC right Shuhei Fujiya. Fujiya gets Johnny Kuroki’s number 54.
  • Orix has unveiled their new uniforms. I’m a little disappointed, I thought they would change them more. I think they should have brought back the old Kintetsu Buffaloes logo, at least on an arm patch or something.
  • And finally, one in English: speaking to ESPN, Matt Murton called going to Japan “100 percent the best decision I made.”

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NPB Bullet Points: Year End Blowout

» 26 December 2010 » In npb » 20 Comments

Alright, it has been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but I have been reading. Here’s a list of stories I’ve gathered up over the last month, in roughly chronological order. Most of the source content is Japanese but there are a few English items in there.

  • Back in early December, Osamu Yamamoto of the Chugoku Shimbun shed some light on the Hiroshima Carp’s US scouting practices, and shared some evaluations of players that the Carp signed over the last few years. Among this year’s signings, Dennis Sarfate graded at the top of the team’s five point scale with an A, while Chad Tracy and Bryan Bullington punched in a notch below at the AB level. Hiroshima has also added former Carp player Scott McClain as a second US-based scout.
  • Yakult lefty Masato Nakazawa has gotten married.
  • Speaking of weddings, Yankees lefty farmhand Naoya Okamoto attended one in Kyoto, where he bumped into several former teammates. Judging by the pictures, I’m concerned Okamoto may have joined a gang (笑).
  • A personal favorite of mine, Nagisa Arakaki has signed for 25% pay cut next season. Once upon a time I thought Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher, but he’s been done in by injuries. Hopefully he’s able to come back, but I fear his days as a power pitcher are over.
  • Kengo Kubo of Nikkan Sports fills us in on Yomiuri Giants representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake’s ideas for increasing Japanese participation abroad, including establishing a “Team Japan” to play in overseas winter leagues. This year, six players including Yoshiyuki Kamei played in Australia. Hopefully I’ll find some time to write more about this subject because there are some interesting ideas out there.
  • Sanpo reports that Yusei Kikuchi has signed a management contract with talent agency HoriPro, the first active baseball player to do so.
  • Norichika Aoki’s 2011 goal is to surpass Ichiro’s record of 210 hits within the first 130 games of the season. Incidentally, Ichiro’s 1994 pace translates to 232 hits over the current 144-game schedule.
  • Hiroshima’s Kenta Maeda was quoted in Sanspo as saying he’d like to “try going to the Majors”, in response to a question from pro golfer Mika Miyazato. However, a couple days after he said this, Gen over at Yakyubaka.com found him contradicting himself.
  • Former Yakult Swallow Jaime D’Antona was on the field when Matt Murton broke Ichiro’s hits record, and shared his thoughts on the official Swallows blog. Here’s an excerpt: “It was great also, since it was at Jingu,to see our fans appreciate his achievement and cheer for him with the Tigers fans. That showed a lot of class for our fans and proves we have great baseball fans, not just all or nothing Swallows fans. I think that is important in sports and you don’t see that too often.” I caught this one via the Tokyo Swallows Twitter feed, and recommend following them if you happen to use Twitter.
  • Yoshiaki Kanemura looks back on Hideo Nomo’s historic move to the Dodgers.
  • Like Aoki, Softbank’s Munenori Kawasaki is taking aim at the single-season hits record next year. As part of his offseason training, he’s working on hitting bad pitches. Last year, Kawasaki finished just behind Murton, Aoki and Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a Hawks-record 190 hits.
  • The great Mister-Baseball.com has covered the Australian Baseball League this season, which Kamei and Shuhei Fukuda participated in.
  • Deanna attended some bounenkai (year-end) parties and found this cool glass.
  • Nikkan Sports reports that Rusty Ryal will by paid 100m yen (lazy conversion: $1.2m) and play third base for Yomiuri. Rusty’s dad Mark played for Chunichi.
  • Yomiuri’s Kiyotake commented again on Winter Leagues on the 24th in Sanspo, saying that he had a “request for players from Puerto Rico”, and that he wants to get players “opportunities in competitive games overseas.”

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My Post-Season Awards

» 17 October 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

We’re still in the midst of the playoffs, but the regular season is in the books. There were a number of great individual performances this year, and if NPB asked me, these would be my picks for the post-season awards.

CL MVP: Kazuhiro Wada (OF, Chunichi)

Apologies to Alex Ramirez, Norichika Aoki and Matt Murton. This one was closer than I would have predicted. It’s a battle counted stats versus rate stats, with Ramirez having the league lead in home runs and rbis, and Wada leading in slugging and on-base percentages. At the end of the day, Wada hit with just as much power as Ramirez, made fewer outs and was the key bat on the League-winning team.

PL MVP: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (SS, Chiba Lotte)

Apologies to Hitoshi Tamura, Alex Cabrera. For me this one was a lot easier to pick. Nishioka lead his league in hits, batting average and runs, and plays a premium defensive position. A-Cab had another great year but was missed too many games with injury problems. And this is lame, but Tamura just doesn’t “feel” like an MVP to me, though he had a strong season all around.

CL RoY: Hisayoshi Chono (OF, Yomiuri)

Apologies to no one. I’ll have to eat my words here: I thought Chono was overrated coming in to the season but he was clearly part of Yomiuri’s best lineup. Chono was a great pickup for the Giants as Yoshitomo Tani started to show his age,  Yoshiyuki Kamei is looking like a one-year wonder, and Yoshinobu Takahashi missed half the season.

PL RoY: Keisuke Kattoh (RP, Softbank)

Apologies to Takashi Ogino. I would have gone with Ogino if he had gotten healthy, but Kattoh had a good season with a 2.96 era and 74 strikeouts in 76 innings pitched. Softbank has a knack for developing relievers.

Sawamura Award: Kenta Maeda

Apologies to Yu Darvish, Chihiro Kaneko. If this was the “best pitcher” award, I would go with Darvish, who was phenomenal yet again in 2010. But this is the Sawamura Award, with its seven criteria. Maeda and Darvish each miss on one criteria, Maeda on complete games and Darvish on wins. Maeda has more wins, starts, innings pitched, and a better winning percentage, while Darvish has the edge on strikeouts, complete games and era. So I’ll give it to Maeda on a split decision, even though Darvish had the edge on dominance.

Best Nine:

Position Central League Pacific League
P Kenta Maeda Yu Darvish
C Shinosuke Abe Motohiro Shima
1B Craig Brazell Alex Cabrera
2B Keiichi Hirano Tadahito Iguchi
3B Masahiko Morino Eichi Koyano
SS Hayato Sakamoto Tsuyoshi Nishioka
OF Norichika Aoki Hitoshi Tamura
OF Matt Murton Teppei
OF Kazuhiro Wada Yoshio Itoi
DH - T-Okada

Apologies to: Kenji Johjima (CL C), Alex Ramirez (CL OF), Michihiro Ogasawara (CL 1B/3B), Chihiro Kaneko (PL P), Kensuke Tanaka (PL 2B), Munenori Kawasaki (PL SS), Toshiaki Imae (PL 3B), Hiroyuki Nakajima (PL SS).

Toughest choices:

  • CL catcher: My gut was Johjima all the way, but Abe was better at the plate and made fewer errors behind it.
  • CL OF: it was really, really tough leaving one of Murton, Aoki, Wada and Ramirez off. In the end I went with Ramirez, because Murton set a new hits record, Aoki had the best year of his career, and Wada edges out Ramirez in terms of contribution.
  • PL 3B: Koyano and Imae both had great seasons, Koyano was just that much better in the final stats.
  • PL SS: This was actually an easy choice, which says more about Nishioka’s season than Kawasaki’s and Nakajima’s.
  • PL 2B: Tanaka had an eye-catching batting average, but Iguchi got on base more, hit with more power and made fewer errors.
  • And finally, it was tough leaving Ogasawara off, but Brazell was the more productive 1B, and I don’t think he played enough to count at 3B.

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2010 At The Half

» 27 July 2010 » In npb » 5 Comments

This post is a little late — we’re officially in the second half of the season as the first post-All-Star games were played on Monday. The All-Star game is only a symbolic marker anyway though, as all the NPB teams have played at least 87 games out of the 144-game schedule. Still it’s a good time to take stock of the season that’s been played so far. Here are some thoughts conveniently split up into three categories.

A few general observations:

  • The Central League is again a three-team race between Yomiuri, Hanshin, and Chunichi. This makes the playoff race somewhat uninteresting but the playoffs themselves should be good.
  • The Pacific League is much more balanced, with SoftBank, Seibu, and Lotte nine or more games over .500, Orix even and Nippon Ham one game under. Rakuten is in the cellar at 40-49, but they have the second best pitching results in the league and could get into contention for a playoff spot if they start to hit.
  • We’re seeing a strong performances from a number of starting pitchers.

Follow up from previous posts:

  • The answers to my six storylines so far: no, yes, unfortunately not, maybe, yes/not yet, probably none.
  • Yokohama is again a doormat. I thought they’d be a little more competitive this year.
  • My rookies to watch are either injured (Yusei, Kazuhito Futagami, Takashi Ogino), fat (Ryoji Nakata) or Hisayoshi Chono (Chono).
  • A couple of the imports I put on my watch list, Matt Murton and Kim Tae-Gyun, have taken off in Japan. Gio Alvarado is getting it together as well.
  • The veterans I picked to watch have mostly been duds, which isn’t a surprise as I deliberately listed a bunch of guys with question marks. That said, Yoshinobu Takahashi is having a nice bounce back season, Aarom Baldiris has contributed some a performance to Orix, and Sho Nakata is showing some signs of life.

NPB Tracker mid-season awards:

  • My first half MVPs: Central League – Kazuhiro Wada (Chunichi), Pacific League - Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu)
  • First half Sawamura Award winner: Kenta Maeda (Hiroshima)
  • First half RoYs: Central League – Chono (Yomiuri), Pacific League – Ogino (Lotte) despite missing significant time on the injured list
  • Breakout players: Central League – Shun Tohno (Yomiuri), Pacific League – T-Okada (Orix)

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