Tag Archive > Minoru Iwata

Changes for 2012: Hanshin Tigers

» 04 February 2012 » In npb » 3 Comments

Coming: Hayata Itoh (1st round draft pick), Shingo Matsuzaki, manager Yutaka Wada

Going: Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, Kodai Sakurai, Ikuro Katsuragi, Keiji Uezono, manager Akinobu Mayumi

Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Randy Messenger, Jason Standridge, Takashi Toritani, Kyuji Fujikawa

Hanshin’s biggest change this season is in the dugout, where Yutaka Wada replaces Akinobu Mayumi, who failed to lead the Tigers to a Central League crown or a Japan Series appearance in three years at the helm. Wada is a Hanshin lifer, having spent his entire 16 year playing career with the team, followed by another 10 years in various coaching roles in the Tigers organizatoin. Wada also occupies a special place in Hanshin lore, as the last active player from Hanshin’s legendary 1985 championship team at the time of his retirement in 2001.

Wada inherits a roster that is largely unchanged from 2011, a team finished fourth in the Central League despite outscoring its opponents by 39 runs. In a small league though, run differentials are deceiving, and a big chunk of those 39 runs came from blowing out Yokohama a few times. Rookie outfielder Hayata Itoh figures to get a serious look during spring training, as center field is a hole, and left fielder Tomoaki Kanemoto is on his last legs after a venerable career. Retaining Matt Murton was a big win for Hanshin, as they can count on his steady bat in right.

Hanshin made no significant changes to its pitching staff this offseason. Hiroyuki Kobayashi is working on a move to the rotation after a so-so season in middle relief; I wonder if lefty Daiki Enokida could make a few starts as well. Depth is always a plus, and while Hanshin had four starters pitch 150+ innings with 3.00 or lower ERAs, lefties Minoru Iwata and Atsushi Nohmi both struggled with injuries prior to 2011. On the farm, Taiwanese prospects Ikketsu Sho and Kai-Wen Cheng both put up good numbers at ni-gun last year, and righty Takumi Akiyama has shown promise as well.

Hanshin is beginning to age at some positions, but overall still has a talented veteran roster. That coupled with regression from of last year’s top three should see the Tigers back in playoff position this year.

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Game Report: Ogasawara Reaches 2,000 Hits

» 05 May 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Summary: Hanshin defeated Yomiuri 2-1, but Michihiro Ogasawara reached his milestone.

This game had quite a few juicy storylines coming in. The Giants’ rookie Hirokazu Sawamura made his Tokyo Dome debut, and “Guts” Ogasawara was one hit away from 2,000 for his career. 45,313 people were on hand at Tokyo Dome to perhaps witness history.

Sawamura, selected out of Chuo University last autumn, seemed to get off to a rocky start. The first two batters he faced made solid contact. Matt Murton lined a ball to third base for an out, and Keiichi Hirano ripped a single into right field.

According to the broadcast I was watching, in the first inning Sawamura basically threw fastballs and what was described a forkball. If their graphic was right, he didn’t throw another one until several innings later. Nevertheless, he hit 150 kmph at least twice that I saw but was wild, especially to third hitter Takashi Toritani. He did manage to reign in his control and strike out Takahiro Arai and Craig Brazell to escape the jam.

If the crowd was hoping to see hit number 2,000 from Ogasawara in the first inning, they were disappointed. He popped up on the infield for the third out.

Sawamura had an easy second frame and it looked like Yomiuri might open the scoring in their half of the inning. Alex Ramirez had the Giants’ first hit of the day, followed by a seeing eye single up the middle from Hisayoshi Chono. But two outs and an intentional pass later Iwata was left facing his counterpart whom he easily struck out.

In the third inning, Hirano collected his second hit of what would become a very good game for him. Nothing came of it for Hanshin, just as nothing came of Ogasawara’s second chance at history in the bottom half. He K’ed on a check swing called strike three.

Yomiuri broke the stalemate on the scoreboard in the 4th when Ramirez absolutely destroyed a pitch from Iwata into the left field stands. The ball was a no-doubter, landing close to the top of the bleachers filled with Tigers fans and very near the aisle that surrounds the seats. It was a solo shot and Rami’s 6th of the season.

Of note, Hanshin again chose to semi-intentionally walk (after 3 balls) the eighth hitter Ken Kato to face Sawamura.

The 5th inning was Sawamura’s hardest working frame of the day. Shunsuke Fujikawa led off with a double, but Iwata was unable to move him over with a failed bunt attempt. When Murton was retired it looked as if Sawamura would escape unscathed, but the pesky Hirano drove in Shunsuke with his 3rd hit of the day. The game was tied at 1-1, with the Tigers threatening for more.

Perhaps he was rattled, after a botched pickoff attempt allowed Shunsuke to move up to second base. Toritani and Arai walked, but Sawamura regained his composure and retired Brazell to end the inning.

The thing that most impressed me about Sawamura in that spot was his fearless approach that he took with the large American, choosing to go right after him. That speaks well for Sawamura’s future.

Ogasawara was stuck on 1,999 hits as he hit into a double play for try number three. Lefties have really baffled him all series long.

In the top of the 6th, Sawamura made a glaring mistake to Kenji Johjima, hanging a breaking pitch right over the plate. Johjima taught the youngster a lesson by promptly slamming it into the seats in left to give Hanshin a 2-1 lead. It was Johjima’s 2nd homer of the year.

Of little consolation, Sawamura retired Hirano for the first time of the day later that inning. Hirano finished with a 4 for 5 day at the plate.

When Toritani singled in the Hanshin 7th, it signaled the end of Sawamura’s day. Sawamura’s final line was 6.1 IP, 111 pitches, 8 H, 5 K, 4 BB, 2 ER. It’s hard to call it a good outing considering the hit and walks number, including a few glaring mistakes (the pickoff throw and Johjima’s HR), but I’d call it a solid game. Especially for someone with such little NPB experience under his belt.

Only a close play at the plate (and perhaps and ill-advised coaching decision at third base) prevented the score from becoming 3-1. Brazell knocked a double into right field off of new pitcher Yasunari Takagi, but Arai missed home plate on a tumbling slide and was tagged out.

At Lucky 7 time, it was still 2-1 Tigers.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 8th, when the moment most of the crowd had been waiting for finally happened. With one out and right-hander Hiroyuki Kobabyashi in the game, Guts smashed a 1-2 pitch past the reliever’s head and into center for hit number 2,000. Flowers, of course, were presented and the game continued on with little delay.

A Chono walk later in the inning provided the Giants with a two out threat, but Rusty Ryal was retired on strikes to end the frame.

There little delay in securing the win for the visitors on this day, as Kyuji Fujikawa slammed the door on the Giants in the 9th with two quick outs, a hit batsman, and a Sakamoto fly out to right caught by a sliding Murton.

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Japan-Korea Bullet Points

» 18 March 2009 » In international baseball » Comments Off

It took a while to find a way to actually watch the game here in the States, but I finally did.

About the game…

  • Jung Bong shut Japan down again, indicating that his round one performance was no fluke.
  • Yu Darvish was better than the final line makes him look. He was done in in the first (from what I saw of the highlights) by a couple of a couple of booted infield grounders and a weak throw from Norichika Aoki.
  • After the first inning, Korea didn’t do much of anything until the eighth, when they let Japan’s pitchers beat themselves with walks.
  • Japan got runners on base and generally made contact, but they didn’t get any extra-base hits and didn’t really play the small-ball game. I think that’s what cost them the win more than anything.
  • Akinori Iwamura looked like he had no chance against Chang Yang Lim in the last at-bat of the game.
  • I wasn’t crazy about Korea planting their flag on the mound at the end. They didn’t win the tournament.

Hindsight is 20/20…

  • Tatsunori Hara had the infield positioned for a play at the plate when Korea had the bases loaded in the first. If they had been a double-play depth they would have gotten at least one out on Jin-young Lee’s grounder went for a two-run single.
  • I would rather start Munenori Kawasaki than Yasuyuki Kataoka if Hiroyuki Nakajima can’t play, especially since Kataoka is out of position at shortstop.
  • What was the point of putting Yoshiyuki Ishihara in for Kenji Johjima, just to pinch hit for him with Shinnosuke Abe after an inning? Johjima got ejected — shame on me for watching with the sound off.
  • Minoru Iwata didn’t look sharp — and leaving him in to face the righty looked really bad when Masahiro Tanaka came in and blew the next guy away.

On the live chat…

  • The chat thing was a spur-of-the-moment idea, so I didn’t give much notice. If I try this again, I’ll give more notice and hopefully I’ll get to chat with a few of the regulars.
  • The chat was pretty well-trafficed, mostly because it wound up near the top of the Google rankings for several variations on “wbc japan korea live”. A lot of people found this site for the first time because of that, and I hope some of them will stick around.
  • It took some time to find a good video feed, but I think at least a couple people were able to follow along.
  • Some of the comments I got on the chat tested my patience — though the people causing the problems clearly weren’t frequent visitors to this site. I hope everyone will be cool next time we do this.
  • I think it was insane for ESPN to show the NIT tournament instead of this.

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WBC Roster Set

» 22 February 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, npb » 5 Comments

Japan manager Tatsunori Hara has settled on a WBC roster. Here it is:

Pitchers
Yu Darvish
Takahiro Mahara
Masahiro Tanaka
Hideaki Wakui
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Minoru Iwata
Hisashi Iwakuma
Kyuji Fujikawa
Tetsuya Utsumi
Satoshi Komatsu
Shunsuke Watanabe
Tetsuya Yamaguchi
Toshiya Sugiuchi

Catchers
Kenji Johjima
Shinnosuke Abe
Yoshiyuki Ishihara

Infielders
Hiroyuki Nakajima
Yasuyuki Kataoka
Akinori Iwamura
Michiro Ogasawara
Shuichi Murata
Munenori Kawasaki

Outfielders
Kosuke Fukudome
Norichika Aoki
Seiichi Uchikawa
Yoshiyuki Kamei
Atsunori Inaba
Ichiro

(SI has the AP article as well)

Notable departures are Nobuhiko Matsunaka (achilles problem), Kenta Kurihara (affected by elbow surgery last year), Toru Hosokawa (right shoulder pain), Tsuyoshi Wada, and Takayuki Kishi. Health reasons were not cited for Wada and Kishi.

Overall, the roster looks pretty good to me, though it’s somewhat short on power.The inclusion of Yoshiyuki Kamei makes no obvious sense to me, but I could see him as a defensive replacement/pinch runner. The only other questionable pick I see is Shunsuke Watanabe. He’s been hit or miss in NPB, and as I recall he wasn’t that great in the 2006 WBC.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 1

» 30 November 2008 » In nichibei » 8 Comments

To me, the trend of NPB stars moving to MLB has meant more jobs for Japanese players and more opportunities for exchange. For others, it’s signified a decline in Japanese baseball. But let’s take a look at how each player’s move to MLB has affected the teams involved. 

Player movement is a part of the business of baseball, and while there’s a general trend of Japanese players wanting to test their skills in MLB, each situation is a little bit different. We’ve seen players ranging from role players like Hideki Okajima and So Taguchi to Hall of Fame-caliber stars like Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka make the move over. We’ve MLB departures go unnoticed, and have a huge impact on a team’s fanbase. So let’s examine each case and see what the impact has been overall.

2008

Hiroki Kuroda (SP, Carp -> Dodgers): Despite losing both Kuroda and star 1st baseman Takahiro Arai (Hanshin) to free agency, Hiroshima still managed to improve from 5th place (60-82-2) in 2007 to 4th (69-70-5) in 2008. Of course, if the Carp had been able to hang on to either one of those guys, they probably would have beat out Chunichi for the last playoff spot. Still, Colby Lewis did an outstanding job taking over for Kuroda as the ace, and the team looks primed to make a step forward in it’s new stadium.

Impact: Medium. Losing Kuroda probably kept the Carp out of the playoffs in ’08, but the team still improved on it’s record. Hiroshima is a small market and losing free agents domestically been a reality for the Carp for years.

Kosuke Fukudome (RF, Dragons -> Cubs): Chunichi won the Japan Series in 2007 despite Fukudome missing significant time due to injuries. The Dragons signed veteran slugger Kazuhiro Wada to take Fukudome’s place in the lineup, surrendering reliever Shinya Okamoto the Lions as compensation. Wada had a solid year (.302/.345/.475) but Chunichi fell from 2nd to 3rd place, and lost out to the Giants in the playoffs.

Impact: High. Wada is an above-average hitter but lacks Fukudome’s defensive skills, and cost the Dragons some bullpen depth. Chunichi looks set for a step back next season with Kenshin Kawakami and Norihiro Nakamura out the door as well. The team continues to draw well though.

Masa Kobayashi (RP, Marines -> Indians)
Yasuhiko Yabuta (RP, Marines -> Royals): Soichi Fujita (Yomiuri) departed as well, breaking up Lotte’s “YFK” relief combination. The Marines dropped from 2nd place in 2007 (76-61-7) to 4th (73-70-1) in 2008. Bullpen performance may have played a role in the increase in losses (six fewer ties compared to 2007), but Bobby Valentine still had four relievers who posted an era of 3.05 or lower. 

Impact: Low. Bullpens fluctuate, and on paper Lotte managed to replace the performance they got out of Yabuta and Kobayashi. 

Kazuo Fukumori (RP, Eagles -> Rangers): Rakuten seemed ready to compete for a playoff spot for most of 2008, but wound up finishing one game out of last despite outscoring their opponents by 20 runs. A return to form from Fukumori would have helped, but this was a guy that posted a 4.75 ERA in 2007.

Impact: Minimal. Fukumori was expendable coming off a bad season. 

2007

Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, Lions -> Red Sox): Obviously a huge loss for the Lions, as they went from 2nd (80-54-2) to 5th (66-76-2). Jason Johnson was signed to replace Matsuzaka in the rotation, but was more interested in hanging out in Roppongi and never panned out. Hideaki Wakui, on the other hand, established himself as an ace, and the team rebounded in 2008 to win the Japan Series. Seibu used the $51M they received for Matsuzaka to make some stadium improvements, but otherwise hasn’t changed the way they run the team.

Impact: Medium. Everyone knew Matsuzaka was going to MLB, and Seibu got the maximum return by hanging on to Matsuzaka for as long as they could. Despite popularity problems, Seibu has always found ways to win. 

Hideki Okajima (RP, Fighters -> Red Sox): Nippon Ham lost some bullpen depth when Okajima left, but still managed to make it to their 2nd consecutive Japan Series in 2007. The Fighters acquired Okajima for a couple of very spare parts so they basically got a free year out of him. 

Impact: Low. Losing Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (retirement) has had a bigger affect on Nippon Ham’s competitiveness. I wold suggest that Trey Hillman’s departure to MLB had a bigger impact on the Fighters than Okajima’s.

Kei Igawa (SP, Tigers -> Yankees): Igawa went 14-9 in 2006 as Hanshin finished 2nd to Chunichi with an 84-58-4 record. Without him in 2007, Hanshin dropped to 74-66-4 and a 3rd place finish. In addition to the loss of Igawa, Hanshin’s other starters took a step back in 2007, with Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi leading the team in innings pitched with just 129 1/3. Igawa’s departure also coincided with the Tigers’ offense regressing, as Tomoaki Kanemoto, Andy Sheets, Akihiro Yano and Osamu Hamanaka all performing significantly worse than the previous season.

The rotation improved 2008, with Minoru Iwata stepping into a more prominent role. The offense improved as well, and Hanshin led the Central League comfortably for most of the year before choking down the stretch to finish 2nd. 

Impact: Medium. Igawa was the only significant personel change, and the team finished 10 wins worse in 2007 than in 2006. Hanshin recovered in 2008 though, and the loss of Igawa never affected the team at the gate. Igawa was inconsistent for his last three seasons in Japan, but the Tigers still haven’t found an innings eater to take his place. Looking back though, Hanshin definitely sold high on Igawa and got a nice infusion of cash back for him without sacrificing on long-term competitiveness.

Akinori Iwamura  (3B, Swallows -> Rays): Yakult replaced Iwamura on the field with Aaron Guiel, and saw it’s record go from 70-73-3 in ’06 to 60-84-0 in ’07. It wasn’t Guiel that cost the team 10 wins, as he posted an .874 OPS compared to Iwamura’s .933 mark in ’06. Guiel dsappeared in ’08 as the Swallows rebounded slightly to 66-74-4. 

Impact: High. Short-term, the impact of losing Iwamura probably wasn’t that great. By the time Iwamura was sold to the Rays, most of the Swallows stars from the team’s mid-90’s glory years were gone or fading, and the team was heading into a period of decline anyway. Yakult has a star to build around in Norichika Aoki, but losing Iwamura has certainly slowed their return to competitiveness. 

Masumi Kuwata (SP, Giants -> Pirates): The Giants had banished Kuwata to the farm team for all of 2006 and didn’t notice he was gone. Kuwata, meanwhile, had a great “nothing to lose” attitude during his time with the Pirates.

Impact: None, except making the Giants look bad for unceremoniously dropping another veteran.

Agree? Disagree? Any information I haven’t presented here? 

I’ll look at players that moved from 2000-2006 in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

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