Tag Archive > Masahiro Tanaka

Changing of the Guard

» 22 December 2011 » In npb » 18 Comments

This is a big year for NPB imports into MLB, with as many as seven front-line players poised to be wearing MLB uniforms in 2012. While all of the these players will be missed, their departures do collectively open spots for younger talent to fill. Here’s a look at who we might see stepping up in the next year and beyond.

  • Hisashi Iwakuma (Rakuten) – Masahiro Tanaka took over as Rakuten’s ace in 2011, and the presence of Satoshi Nagai and Takahiro Shiomi softens the blow of losing Iwakuma. For me, the question of who inherits the title of Japan’s best groundball pitcher remains open.
  • Wei-Yin Chen (Chunichi) – I’m not sure I see an immediate successor on Chunichi’s roster, though they do have young lefties Toshiya Okada and Yudai Ohno. And although he might be a year or two away, I’m looking to Yusei Kikuchi to emerge as Japan’s next top hard-throwing lefty starter.
  • Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu) – Hideto Asamura played his way on to the Lions’ opening day roster in 2011, and was a tough out all season. He should move to shortstop in 2012, though he’ll have to fend off competition from Esteban German.
  • Munenori Kawasaki (Softbank) – Softbank has young infielders Kenta Imamiya and Tu-Hsuan Lee waiting in the wings. It’s probably unrealistic to expect either to have the same kind of impact that Kawasaki did though. And it seems like the Kawasaki will be back at some point.
  • Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank) – Tadashi Settsu established himself as Softbank’s ace in waiting with a strong 2011. The losses of Wada and Toshiya Sugiuchi mean that there will be more pressure on guys like Kenji Ohtonari, Sho Iwasaki, Shota Ohba and Shingo Tatsumi to pitch quality innings at the ichi-gun level. We’ll see who steps up in 2012.
  • Norichika Aoki (Yakult) – So far, Lastings Milledge is set to replace Aoki on Yakult’s roster. Softbank’s Seiichi Uchikawa would currently get my vote as Japan’s top contact hitter, though he lacks Aoki’s plate discipline. I’m not sure I see any Aoki-type prospects on the horizon… I’ve read some good things about Orix’s Shunta, but he needs some time to put it together.
  • Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham) – In terms of public stature and marketability, Yuki Saito is certainly Darvish’s heir as the face of the Fighters. Saito is no replacement for Darvish on the mound, and I don’t think Nippon Ham will really have a true successor for him for a long time. Rakuten’s Tanaka seems poised to begin his tenure as Japan’s ace.

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The NPB Tracker Post Season Awards

» 01 December 2011 » In npb » 1 Comment

Better run this before ALL the awards are announced… several weeks ago, Randy, Ken and I made our selections for the top performers of 2011. And here they are, with minimal analysis.

Sawamura Award: Masahiro Tanaka (Patrick, Ken), Yu Darvish (Randy)

Ken and I liked Tanaka’s crazy 1.27 ERA, while Randy favored Darvish’s higher innings pitched and strikeout totals. Can’t really go wrong either way.

Apologies to: Kazuki Yoshimi, Tetsuya Utsumi

Pacific League MVP: Tanaka (Patrick, Ken), Darvish (Randy)

The new NPB ball made this a pitcher’s year, and there was general consensus that the performance of Darvish and Tanaka put them ahead of everyone else.

The real winner, Seiichi Uchikawa, finished third on Randy’s ballot and fifth on mine. He would have been my winner if he had missed less time.

Apologies to: Takeya Nakamura, Yoshio Itoi, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Uchikawa

Central League MVP: Hisayoshi Chono (unanimous)

The overall lack of offense around the league meant that Chono’s performance stood out enough to win our votes. The lack of a Tanaka or Darvish type starting pitcher in the CL played a role here as well. Yoshimi and Utsumi were extremely good this year, but not scarily dominant.

The real winner, Takuya Asao, finished fourth on my ballot. You can argue that he put up that Tanaka-level performance in the CL this year, and I guess the voters did, but personally I valued a starting position player over a relief pitcher.

Apologies to: Asao, Yoshimi, Utsumi, Kenta Kurihara, Hirokazu Sawamura

Pacific League Rookie of the Year: Kazuhisa Makita (Patrick, Ken), Shota Ishimine (Randy)

While there were a lot of strong rookies in the PL this year, Makita pitched over 100 innings for Seibu out of the rotation and out of the bullpen, solidifying each when his team needed it. Ishimine stuck in the Lotte outfield throughout the season, got on base at a respectable clip, and swiped 32 bases.

The real voters agreed with Ken and I.

Apologies to: Takahiro Shiomi, Yuki Saito

Central League Rookie of the Year: Sawamura (unanimous)

Probably the most obvious award in quite some time, thanks to Sawamura’s 2.03 ERA over 200 innings pitched. The real voters thought so.

Apologies to: Daiki Enokida

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More Data

» 27 August 2011 » In npb, NPB Tracker » 3 Comments

Real-life responsibilities have largely kept me away from writing and baseball in general over the last month, but I did find a few hours to add a feature to the data site: pitching lines! Each pitcher’s profile page now includes a complete pitching line for each game he’s appeared in. The caveat is that the data only goes as far back as 2009, which is when I started collecting it.

Here are a couple examples: Ryan Vogelsong, Hayato Terahara and Masahiro Tanaka. Oh, right, and Yu Darvish.

As always, if you see anything that looks wrong, please let me know.

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NPB Bullet Points: WBC Participation, All-Star Notes, Hiroshima Pitchers

» 25 July 2011 » In international baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » Comments Off

I don’t usually pay too much attention to All-Star games, but there were a few interesting items that came up over the weekend.

  • Japan’s participation in the next World Baseball Classic is up in the air, over (you guessed it) revenue sharing issues. There’s more to this story than I want to cover in a bullet point, so I’ll come back to this one in a later post.
  • Yu Darvish’s last win before the All-Star break came at the expense of fellow ace Masahiro Tanaka and the Rakuten Eagles. 44,826 spectators were in attendance, among them scouts from the Rays, Yankees, Angels, Mets, Pirates, Indians, and Diamondbacks.
  • Yakult ace Shohei Tateyama supposedly threw a total of seven gyroballs in the second All-Star game this year, though I have yet to find video of this.
  • Softbank prospect Hiroyuki Kawahara hit 155 kmph (96.3 mph) on the gun in the fourth inning of the Fresh All-Star game, tying Hirotoshi Ishii’s record for fastest pitch thrown by a Japanese lefty.
  • Alex Ramirez used a green glove in the first All-Star game.
  • Looks like All-Stars Bryan Bullington and Dennis Sarfate will both be back in Hiroshima next season. The Carp hold options on both pitchers, and they’re making it an easy choice.
And to close things out, here’s Jason Coskrey’s article on Yomiuri international scout Nate Minchey.

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Amazing K:BB Ratios

» 25 June 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

The new, home run-supressing NPB ball has brought a Japan-wide “year of the pitcher”. Five NPB’s 12 teams have team ERAs under 3.00, led by Nippon Ham’s amazing 2.02 mark. But the thing that’s jumped out at me is number of guys with unbelievable K:BB ratios. Check these out:

  • (pitcher – K:BB, IP)
  • Yu Darvish – 106:10, 92 IP
  • Masahiro Tanaka – 96:7, 91.1 IP
  • Yoshihisa Naruse – 81:6, 83 IP
  • Masaru Takeda – 45:3, 74 IP
  • Yoshihisa Hirano – 42:2, 32.1 IP
  • Dennis Sarfate – 40:4, 26.2 IP
  • Takuya Asao – 29:2, 29 IP

Those are just the guys with ratios of 10:1 or better. There are number of others with ratios in the 4:1 or 5:1 range.

So what’s going on here? These guys were all very good already, but they didn’t all take this type of step forward at once. My guess is that the new ball has enabled pitchers to attack the strike zone more aggressively, with less fear of surrendering a home run. That’s just an untested theory at this point though.

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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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Game Notes: Baseball Returns to Sendai

» 28 April 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Summary: I decided to finish up my lingering notes from a game I watched a couple days ago. Rakuten beat Orix 3-1

Last Friday, pro yakyu returned to the Tohoku region, with the Rakuten Golden Eagles playing their first home game of the season in Sendai. The timing was actually not bad, as the game coincided with the opening of the Golden Week holidays. I guess that probably wasn’t unintentional. Anyway, a pretty good crowd was on hand for the game, and they were treated to a brisk, well-pitched match, and a Rakuten win.

The final score was 3-1, but the game could have gone either way. Rakuten starter Masahiro Tanaka went the distance, and was sharp the whole way through. He didn’t get into any remotely threatening situations until his third trip through the Buffaloes lineup. He didn’t have to look back to see a runner on second base until the 7th inning, and it took a Kazuo Matsui throwing error in the 8th for Orix to get a run in.

As good as Tanaka was, I thought Chan Ho Park was a little better. Park was a groundball machine against the Eagles. I didn’t see him elevate a single pitch in the innings I watched, and only a couple balls hit in the air reached the outfield. The only blemish, for me, was that he didn’t generate many swinging strikes.

Rakuten has a fairly punchless lineup so it’ll be interesting to see how Park fares against some of Japan’s better offenses, after the league has had a look at him.

Here are some other miscellaneous observations from my notes the game:

  • Mike Hessman made his first appearance since April 12, pinch hitting for catcher Fumihito Suzuki in the 7th. He waved at a couple sliders before making contact with a fastball, popping it to short center.
  • This was the first time in a couple weeks that I saw Akinori Iwamura, who’s struggled this year with a sub-.200 batting average. The one noticeable adjustment that he had made was that he’s moved closer to the plate. Earlier in the year, he was way off it.
  • T-Okada is an interesting hitter to watch. It’s hard to see from the normal TV angle, but he’s a front-leg hitter. He’s got a way of compressing his strength on his back leg as the pitch is being delivered, then springing forward with this swing and unloading all that energy. It worked pretty well in the 4th, when there was no one on base and he wasn’t trying to do too much, but in the 7th, when he was trying to hit a home run, he struck out.
  • It looked like most of the seats in the stadium were occupied, but there was one section on the first base side that was weirdly completely empty. I wonder if that section is closed due to post-quake safety issues.
  • One notable attendee was US ambassador to Japan John Roos.

 

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NPB Bullet Points: Nippon Ham No-No, Kaneko Hurting

» 27 February 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 8 Comments

With spring camps in full swing, it’s time to get caught back up with

  • Five Nippon Ham pitchers, led by none other than Yu Darvish, combined for a no-hitter in a practice game against Korea’s Samsung Lions on the 25th. Darvish hit 154 kmph on the gun, and threw a curve at 94 kmph. I guess he came to camp in shape.
  • I’m late on this one, but Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko has been injured since essentially the beginning camp. The Nikkan Sports report I’ve linked to indicates that righty complained of elbow on February 6th, and had surgery on the 9th. He’s rehabbing at Orix’s ni-gun camp. Given that Kaneko logged a career-high number of innings last season this is a bad sign.
  • Masahiro Tanaka and Yuki Saito have crossed paths, but have yet to face each other.
  • In more bad news for Orix, Mike Hessman took a Masahide Kobayashi fastball to the head on the in an intrasquad game 17th. Here’s hoping Mike is all right.
  • According to Sanspo, Lotte has narrowed there list of candidates for their compensation player from Hanshin to two pitchers. A resolution is expected on March 1.
  • Carlos Torres looked pretty good in his appearance against Yakult on the 27th. Here’s a link to the game on Justin.tv.
  • I’ve found a bunch of good stuff lately on Twitter: Yakyu Kozo Editor’s photo site, Softbank’s ustream.tv channel, and this Tweet from Data Stadium: “actually the ball probably won’t carry.”

And for something completely different: this collection of Japanese art and graphic design from the 1920’s and 30’s. I like this poster advertising the cancelled 1940 Tokyo Olympics.

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NPB Bullet Points: News & Retirements

» 02 September 2010 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

(insert witty introduction here)

Around NPB

  • Chihiro Kaneko has gotten himself in to the mix for the Pacific League’s wins title, with a career-best personal 10-game winning streak. Kaneko is now 14-7 on the season. He also has six shutouts.
  • The Giants have slumped to sub-.500 records in each of the last two months, and it’s showing on Tatsunori Hara’s face.
  • Craig Brazell cranked out his 40th bomb of the season the other day, becoming the first Hanshin foreigner to since Randy Bass back in ’86.
  • Orix righty Kazuki Kondo pitched a 144-pitch complete game loss on the 1st… and then got sent down. I didn’t see the game, but it must have been a save-the-bullpen kind of effort, as Kondo had allowed seven runs by the third inning.
  • Nippon Ham lefty Masaru Takeda has a personal seven-game winning streak going, and leads the Fighters with 12 wins.
  • Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka is out a minimum of three weeks with a torn pectoral muscle, and with Rakuten languishing in last place, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again this year.
  • At least one MLB club was seen watching lefty Daiki Uekida’s September 2 outing for Tokyo Gas of the Industrial Leagues. I haven’t seen Uekida but at first glance he looks like a Hisanori Takahashi type.
  • Today’s Japanese word: moudasho (mo-da-sho, 猛打賞), which means three hits in one game. An example: Lotte shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka has 22 moudasho games this season, a club record. Ichiro, of course, holds the NPB record with 26. With 21 team games left in the season, Nishioka has a shot at Ichiro’s record if he gets hot.

Player Personnel

  • Yakult is looking into re-acquiring Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh is set to move on from Aki after this season, and I believe Yakult still controls his NPB rights.
  • Longtime Hanshin catcher Akihiro Yano is calling it a career at the end of the season. Something of a late-bloomer, Yano made seven All-Star appearances in his 20-year career and was the runner-up for the 2003 MVP.
  • Orix ni-gun infielder Masahiro Nagata has already retired, according to a team announcement from August 31. Nagata was once a pretty decent prospect, but never made an impact at the top level.
  • Cuban pitcher Pedro Lazo is also retiring. I was planning on listing him as a dark horse to move to Japan next season, as Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan did at the end of their careers.

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Opening Weekend Notes

» 30 March 2010 » In npb » 2 Comments

Alright, so NPB is officially in season… here are some observations from the games this weekend:

  • Yu Darvish looked better this weekend against the Marines than he did last weekend, at least in the parts of the game I was able to see. He definitely had his good slider. Darvish also came up with a new pitch called the “one-seam”, but I have no idea if he used it in the Marines game.
  • Shunsuke Watanabe’s pitching seems to have gotten slower, unbelievably.
  • The game I spent the most time with was Sunday’s matchup of Rakuten vs Seibu. Seibu’s Kazuyuki Hoashi doesn’t have great velocity, but was sharp with all his pitches, and commanded the strike zone well. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he got to face Todd Linden three times. Masahiro Tanaka went home with the win, though he was a little less impressive than usual. It was freezing cold (it started snowing at one point) and the ball wasn’t carrying, so a couple of long fly balls he gave up turned into outs and not home runs. Dee Brown has looked terrible every time I’ve seen him this year.
  • Hanshin’s two import bats are off to hot starts. Through Tuesday’s action, Matt Murton is hitting .500 (8/16) and Kenji Johjima is at .389 with 5 rbi.
  • Orix is a surprising 6-1 so far this season.
  • Hayato Doue made his ichi-gun debut last weekend (thanks to Yakyu Baka; I wouldn’t have noticed this otherwise). You might remember Doue as the catcher the Red Sox signed but couldn’t get a visa for. After his Red Sox flirtation, he played another year in Indy ball, got drafted as an ikusei player, spent a year in the minors, and finally earned a promotion to the NPB show.

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