Tag Archive > Nagisa Arakaki

Grains of Salt

» 03 December 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 11 Comments

So unsurprisingly, I’m getting questions this offseason about how guys like Tsuyoshi Wada, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Wei Yin Chen project as MLB prospects. Truth be told, trying project established guys from NPB to MLB always makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel like I’m that great at it, so I decided to go back and look at my public track record, to give you the chance to decide if I’m worth listening to.

Here’s what I found:

  • Koji Uehara — I was bullish on him when he moved across the Pacific; injury history had me questioning whether he could start; he was one of my favorite guys to watch in Japan and I’m glad he’s done well.
  • Kenshin Kawakami – My synopsis was “mid-rotation guy you can win with“. In retrospect that was a little aggressive; he was more like a competent #4 guy before the Braves decided to bury him.
  • Hitoki Iwase – I thought his stuff would translate to MLB, particularly after watching Scott Downs pitch; he obviously never moved to MLB.
  • Junichi Tazawa — I really liked his stuff, but also expected him to hit a wall somewhere. He reached the majors before hitting a wall, which really impressed me.
  • Ken Takahashi – I predicted “a little bit of an uphill battle” for Tak1, but also thought he could be a useful pitcher. He basically was for his year in the Mets organization, though his career ended immediately after returning to Hiroshima.
  • Ken Kadokura – Remember when he signed with the Cubs? I felt like he had something left in the tank, but he wound up getting dropped by the Cubs at the end of spring training and went on to have a few good years in Korea.
  • Hisanori Takahashi – I liked Tak2 a lot better as a reliever than a starter; that one turned out to be true.
  • Ryota Igarashi — I don’t think I made an explicit prediction for Igarashi, but I thought he would do okay. He didn’t seem to trust his stuff in his first year, and though he did better in year two, he went from “effectively wild” in NPB to just “wild” with the Mets.
  • Chang-Yong Lim – Like Igarashi I don’t know that I really made an explicit prediction for him, though I really liked his stuff. I still do. Lim is still with Yakult and not a free agent, and I doubt we’ll ever see him in MLB.
  • Colby Lewis – I found reasons to be optimistic about Lewis in his return to the Rangers, but he certainly has exceeded my expectations.
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka – Over at Fangraphs, I called Nishioka a “Chone Figgins/Ryan Theriot type”. What I meant by that was that he could be an infielder who would get on base but have minimal power, and play decent defense. I didn’t see him flaming out in year one the way he did.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma — Also at Fangraphs, I put Iwakuma’s upside at mid-rotation, noting he has to keep his forkball and he will probably regress some in innings pitched. I still mostly think this is the case, assuming he’s healthy. We’ll find out next year.
  • Yoshinori Tateyama – I never published much of anything about Tateyama, though I have an unfinished draft still sitting on Fangraphs, where I intended to make the case that he could be an MLB ROOGY/righty specialist. There was little original thought there, as he was dominant against righties in 2010 for Nippon Ham. In 2011 he exhibited a similar split for the Rangers, with a 2.04 against righties, versus 7.71 against lefties.

I kind of set out to prove that I’m not that great at these predictions, so I was surprised that the results here actually weren’t too bad. I seemed to do all right with Uehara, Tak1 and Tak2, while I probably underestimated Lewis and over-predicted Nishioka. The Nishioka flop makes me worry that I don’t know how to project position players. I think overall though, it’s pretty clear that I tend to see the glass as half-full with these guys as prospects. I also noticed here was that I seem to look at specific skills and how they might translate, rather than trying to project specific stats. Maybe I’m more of a scout than a numbers guy at heart.

That said, there are plenty of things I’ve been wrong about, I just haven’t always had a platform like this to assert my wrongness. If NPB Tracker had been around, however, I would have told you that…

  • …of the two Matsuis, Kazuo was the far better MLB prospect. I was a huge fan of Kazuo’s; I saw him as a five-tool player.
  • Kei Igawa’s changeup was going to be a good MLB pitch.
  • Nagisa Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher.
  • So Taguchi wouldn’t have anything to offer to and MLB club.

…and so on.

So you might see me make a few statements on how I think the 2012 NPB imports may perform after they cross the Pacific. I’ll let you decide the appropriate measure of salt to take them with.

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Game Notes: Nippon Series Games 3, 4, 5

» 19 November 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

So the day job kept me busy this week and I didn’t completely dissect these games or even take great notes, but I do have a few observations to share on the Nagoya leg of this year’s Nippon Series journey.

Game 3 – Softbank wins, 4-2:

  • Moving Tadashi Settsu into the rotation was probably the smartest move Softbank made this season. He is, simply put, a good pitcher. He throws strikes and always seems to make the right pitch.
  • Chunichi starter Maximo Nelson, on the other hand…. has a good arm but lacks Settsu’s polish. in Game three he seemed a little rough and let himself get into a lot of hitter’s counts.
  • Hitoki Tamura, who I ruthlessly criticized for his lackluster at bats in games one and two, went 3-4 with a home run. So did catcher Toru Hosokawa.
  • One of the fans in Softbank’s ouen-dan section kind of looked like Nagisa Arakaki.
  • Softbank manager Koji Akiyama took it easy on the bunting in game three and was rewarded with 12 hits from his lineup, nine at the expense of Nelson.
  • After taking losses in games one and two, Softbank closer Takahiro Mahara was benched in favor of Brian Falkenborg. Falkenborg spared Akiyama’s blood pressure by recording a save.

Game 4 – Softbank wins, 2-1:

  • I’ll have to admit that while I watched this game, I didn’t play particularly close attention to it. Michael Westbay has a much better recap.
  • Softbank got all the scoring they needed in the first. After allowing Softbank to string together a couple of singles and score a run, Chunichi starter Yudai Kawai induced a double play ball, but shortstop Masahiro Araki held on to his throw for too long and it skipped wide of first baseman Tony Blanco. This allowed Softbank’s second run to score and that was all they would need.
  • The hero for Softbank was corkscrewing lefty reliever Masahiko Morifuku, who bailed starter DJ Houlton out of a no-out, bases loaded jam in the 6th. Morifuku is a lot of fun to watch.
  • Falky recorded a six-out save in this one.

Game 5 – Softbank wins, 5-0:

  • Wei Yin Chen showed better velocity in Game 5 than he did in the series opener, but overall wasn’t nearly as good. He wasn’t particularly sharp with his breaking stuff and didn’t even throw it much, and worked up in the zone with his fastball. Overall he was a lot more hittable. He got singled to death in the 7th and 8th innings, but he was throwing pitches that Softbank’s hitters could make contact with.
  • Possibly the head-scratching-est move of the Series was made by Ochicai in the 8th. With the bases loaded and none out, Ochiai pulled Chen in favor of reliever Junichi Kawahara. Removing Chen was the right move, why bring in retread Kawahara instead of bullpen ace Takuya Asao? Chunichi was down 2-0 at that point, but still. Kawahara was on the mound for Softbank’s next three runs, all charged to Chen.
  • Motonobu Tanishige finished the game 0-4 and has still gotten hit safely in the Nippon Series.
  • Masaaki Koike left the game in the top of the fourth, after making a great, wall-crashing catch on a long fly ball off the bat of Nobuhiro Matsuda.
  • Softbank starter Hiroki Yamada comes close to violating NPB’s ban on two-stage deliveries with his double clutch windup. I don’t think I had previously seen him pitch this year. He wasn’t totally consistent with the double-clutch, but he did manage to keep Chunichi’s lineup quiet through six innings of work.
  • The one bullet Yamada dodged was in 6th, when he surrendered a double to Araki and Kazuhiro Ibata pulled a hard line drive just foul down the third base line before bouncing out to Kawasaki at shortstop.
  • Alex Cabrera looked awful yet again as a pinch hitter in the 7th.
  • Settsu pitched an inning of relief in the 8th, after having started game three, and with a  5-0 lead Akiyama let Mahara mop up the 9th.

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NPB Bullet Points: Scales, Melian, Arakaki, Sugano

» 28 June 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

Updates on some NPB Tracker favorites and a name that long-time Baseball America readers will find familiar.
  • Bobby Scales is on his way to Japan to play for Nippon Ham. I had Scales on my list last offseason, and again a couple weeks ago, so it’s safe to say he’s an NPB Tracker favorite. According to Nikkan Sports, Ham intends to use him to fill the gap left by the currently injured Kensuke Tanaka.
  • Another NPB Tracker favorite, Nagisa Arakaki, is rehabbing a ni-gun with an eye toward his first ichi-gun appearance in over two years. Arakaki is scrapping his once-feared slider.
  • The other day I happened across a news item saying that former Yankees prospect Jackson Melian is active in Japan with the independent Kobe Suns, who are managed by former Major Leaguer Mac Suzuki. He’s only hitting .175 though.
  • Here’s a pic of the scouting contingent at Tokai University pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano’s last game. The group included scouting representation from at least one MLB team. Sugano is high on Yomiuri’s radar for this season’s draft.
  • Yet another NPB Tracker favorite, Junichi Tazawa, failed to last a full inning in his first appearance off the DL. Tazawa gave up six runs in 2/3 of an inning.
  • Shame on me for not finding the English-language Hanshin Tigers Page and including it in this year’s blogosphere post.

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The Remaking of the Hawks’ Rotation

» 10 June 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

Having just completed a four game season sweep of the Yomiuri Giants, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are playing unbelievably well right now. As of this date, they sit atop the Pacific League with a 32-11-3 (.744) record. They have basically buried their PL rivals (save for the Nippon Ham Fighters, who are 3 games behind in the standings) and it’s only early June.

How have they done it? With their excellent starting pitching, for the most part.

Good starting pitching has been the hallmark of the Hawks’ success over the past decade or so. But recent years haven’t been kind to former starters like Nagisa Arakaki and Kazumi Saitoh, and the Hawks have been forced to move on. Coming into 2011, they found themselves left with only Tsuyoshi Wada and Toshiya Sugiuchi as reliable names in the rotation.

Having given 19 and 20 starts last season to Kenji Otonari and Shinsuke Ogura respectively, the Hawks went in another direction this year. They moved 2009 Rookie of the Year Tadashi Settsu into the rotation full time, and it has worked splendidly. Even counting the 8 run drubbing he took over 4 1/3 innings in his first start on April 16th, he has performed to the tune of a 5-2 record with a 3.09 ERA.

D.J. Houlton has returned to his 2009 form after a rough campaign in 2010. The 5.70 ERA seems to be nothing but a memory as he is among the league leaders in ERA (1.84) and leads his team in wins (7), innings pitched (63 2/3), and shutouts (2).

20-year old Hiroki Yamada has shored up the back of the rotation nicely. He has already surpassed his innings pitched total from last year and has cut his walks in half, his runs allowed by 60% and dropped his ERA over 2.5 runs, all while maintaining his strikeout rate.

Even Sho Iwasaki has come out of nowhere to provide spot starts, so far going 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA in four starts.

All of this has added up to a stellar 2.12 team ERA. Though not to mitigate the importance of the contributions that players like Seiichi Uchikawa, Nobuhiro Matsuda, and others have made on the offensive side of the game this season, it’s been all about the pitching.

Yes, the new ball has been a factor in shaping these numbers. But the retooling of Softbank’s rotation has been nothing short of astounding. Just check their record.

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Offseason Changes: Softbank Hawks

» 23 February 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

Coming: Seiichi Uchikawa, Alex Cabrera, Toru Hosokawa, Anthony Lerew, Soichi Fujita, Juan Deleon

Going: Kazumi Saito, Roberto Petagine, Arihito Muramatsu, JD Durbin, Beom-Ho Lee, Makoto Sato, Micheal Olmstead

Staying: Hitoshi Tamura, Brian Falkenborg, DJ Houlton, Jose Ortiz

Summary: Two years removed from a sixth-place finish, in 2010 the Softbank Hawks rode Seibu’s late-September swoon to the Pacific League crown. For an encore, they’ve added more star power than any other NPB team this offseason.

The big additions are of the offensive variety: contact-hitting outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa, slugging first baseman Alex Cabrera, and glove-first catcher Toru Hosokawa. 2010 Pacific League MPV candidate Hitoshi Tamura was also retained on a one-year deal. Uchi and Cabu should improve a lineup, that despite having some talented hitters, was only the 4th most productive in the PL last seasoan. Cabu should fill at-bats that were mostly taken up by the departed Roberto Petagine and a rapidly-aging Nobuhiko Matsunaka, while Uchi’s presence will cause guys like Satoru Morimoto and Hiroshi Shibahara will find themselves on the bench more often. Durability is a bit of a question mark, as both Cabrera and Uchikawa have injury histories, and Cabrera, Matsunaka, and Hiroki Kokubo are all on the wrong side of 35. If any of them falters, though, the steady bat of Jose Ortiz is still on the roster.

On the mound, Softbank’s pitching staff was the second best at preventing runs in 2010. The Hawks’ pitching success was led by it’s bullpen. Softbank threw a league-high 16 shutouts last year, but the team’s starters only managed six complete games — seven fewer than the next lowest total, by Seibu. To that end, the re-signing of middle-relief ace Brian Falkenborg was critical. Softbank has two ace-caliber lefties at the top of its rotation in Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tsuyoshi Wada, but after that the quality drops a bit. Kenj Ohtonari has a good arm and looked like a third lefty ace back in 2008, but hasn’t been as productive over the last two seasons. Yet another lefty, 30 year-old Shinsuke Ogura, battled through 102 innings last year, but did so with a 5.29 ERA. DJ Houlton is back, but he followed up an extremely hit-lucky 2009 with a rough 2010. We’ll see which way things go in 2011. If new addition Anthony Lerew can pitch with as much flair as he grows facial hair, the Hawks will have something. Former ace Kazumi Saito has finally succumbed to injuries and retired, while the the once-excellent Nagisa Arakaki is still battling his way back. And this would be a great year for Sho Iwasaki or Shota Ohba to take a step forward, given that longtime ace Wada is headed for free agency after the season. There are a lot of question marks among the rotation candidates, but the glass is definitely half-full, thanks to the Hawk’s front-rotation stability and excellent bullpen.

Overall, this team has talent up and down its roster, and despite the competitiveness of the Pacific League, it’s hard to see them finishing outside the top three this season.

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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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11 Players I’m Looking Forward to Following this Year

» 16 February 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

I didn’t set out to order these guys in any specific way, but looking at the list, there are basically three groups of players: young breakout candidates, veterans coming back from injury problems, and a couple of veteran ni-gun imports.

Sho Nakata (IF/OF, Nippon Ham): Nakata hit 30 home runs in 322 ni-gun at-bats last year, but every time I’ve seen him at the ichi-gun level he’s looked overmatched. Supposedly he’s a butcher at first base, but this spring Ham is giving him a look in left field. If he can stick with the big team he should get enough at-bats to get comfortable.

Romash Tasuku Dass (P, Nippon Ham): I’ll admit that only real reason Dass has caught my eye is that he’s half Indian. I didn’t really follow him at all last year, but apparently he only saw 15 innings of work at ni-gun.

Kohei Hasebe (P, Rakuten): Hasebe was heavily hyped as an amateur but has so far had two lackluster seasons as a pro. Rakuten has a deep rotation, and we’ll see if he can flourish under Marty Brown.

Yoshinori Sato (P, Yakult): Yoshinori has a great arm, but is basically a two-pitch pitcher with command problems. If his command improves I think he’d be as good or better than Wirfin Obispo, who has a similar arsenal.

Shota Ohba (P, SoftBank): Ohba has shown that he can get NPB hitters out, but has yet to put together a complete season. The talent is there.

Yasuhiro Ichiba (P, Yakult): Ichiba was another highly regarded amateur who has failed to make an impact as a pro. I thought a change of scenery would help Ichiba last year, but it didn’t. This year, he’s experimenting with a new, three-quarters delivery.

Makoto Imaoka (IF, Lotte): From 2002-05, Imaoka was one of the most competent, productive hitters in Japan. From 2006-09, he got progressively more horrific until Hanshin finally released him. The Marines are giving him a chance to contribute this year, and hopefully he’ll play like he has something to prove.

Yoshinobu Takahashi (OF/IF, Yomiuri): Takahashi is a guy that Hanshin fans love to hate, but I’ve always thought he was a very good player, perhaps even a little underrated. In my eyes, he should have been the Central League MVP in 2007, instead of Michihiro Ogasawara. He’s been battered an ineffective over the last two years, and even if he’s healthy this year he’ll have to compete for playing time.

Nagisa Arakaki (P, SoftBank): Seven years ago, I thought Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher. And he was pretty good for a while, before catching Steve Blass Disease and dealing with shoulder injuries (two problems which are probably not mutually exclusive). Arakaki has been indefinitely relegated to ni-gun, which suggests he has a long way back.

Aarom Baldiris (IF, Orix) & Juan Muniz (IF, Lotte): Baldiris and Muniz have a few things in common — they are both veteran minor leaguers, both started in Japan on ikusei contracts, and both led their respective farm leagues in batting last year. Baldiris is younger and has gotten time at the top level, where he hasn’t hit enough to stick despite strong defense. We’ll see if either break through this year.

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A Global World Series

» 30 January 2010 » In nichibei » 11 Comments

File this one under shameless self-promotion — I contributed a couple of thoughts to Jon Paul Morosi’s recent article on the idea of a MLB vs NPB World Series. One of the questions Jon asked me was if any of the recent NPB champs would have had a chance against their counterpart World Series winner. I went with the 2003 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, who had four MLB-caliber starters in Kazumi Saito, Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi and Nagisa Arakaki, as well as future MLB’ers Kenji Johjima and Tadahito Iguchi.

I think that MLB would have the upper hand on NPB nearly every year, but looking at the last ten years, I think there are a couple of matchups where the NPB team would hold there own.

2009 — Yankees vs Yomiuri: I have a hard time seeing this year’s Giants team putting up much of a fight against the Yankees, but it would have been a great event. Dicky Gonzales had a great year, but I can’t see him shutting down the Yankees the way Cliff Lee did.

2008 — Phillies vs Seibu: I’d score this one a little closer. Seibu featured a couple of strong pitchers in Hideaki Wakui and Takayuki Kishi, a good infield defense, and a well-balanced lineup. Cole Hamels strikes me as a guy that NPB players would be able to hit, but he was really on his game in the 2008 post-season.

2007 — Red Sox vs Chunichi: The Dragons had almost everything you want to see in a short series: a strong defense, a good bullpen, some on-base skills, and three-run homer power. What they didn’t have was a lot of standout starting pitching beyond Kenshin Kawakami, though Kenta Asakura has always been good when healthy, and Daisuke Yamai-Hitoki Iwase combined with for a perfect game to close the Japan Series. Of course, Boston pummeled Colorado in the ’07 World Series, and would have had an edge over Chunichi.

2006 — Cardinals vs Nippon Ham: Yu Darvish was on the winning 2006 Fighters, but hadn’t yet broken out as Japan’s best pitcher. Tomoya Yagi Nippon Ham’s staff ace, and the Fighters got it done with strong, balanced offense. I actually had tickets to the World Series in 2006, had it been in Oakland, but alas the A’s got stomped in the ALCS by the shockingly good Tigers. I fully expected the Tigers to stomp the Cardinals too, but the Cardinals just played better. So I think the Fighters would have had a chance against the Cards.

2005 — White Sox vs Lotte: I grew up a White Sox fan, and followed Hanshin in Japan, so I’ll have to try extra hard to be objective with this one. 2005 was a case of both champions getting hot at the right time. The White Sox steamrolled everyone in their path in the 2005 postseason, and Marines destroyed Hanshin in the Japan Series. Baseball Prospectus simulated a hypothetical series between the two teams, and the White Sox won, 4-1, but the Marines were competitive.

2004 — Red Sox vs Seibu: This would have been interesting — Daisuke Matsuzaka vs his future team. The Lions also had a still-effective Fumiya Nishiguchi and a once-promising Chang Chih-Chia. They would have had to go up against a Red Sox team that came back from 3-0 against the Yankees, and then swept the Cardinals. So destiny would have worked against the Lions in this one.

2003 — Marlins vs Daiei: As I said earlier, I think this would have been a good series. Daiei’s biggest weakness was their bullpen, but they could have gone with a three-man rotation and stuck a starter (maybe Arakaki) in the bullpen. The more I think about this matchup, the more I think Daiei really would have had the edge in this one.

2002 — Angels vs Yomiuri: I think this would have been another good series. The 2002 Giants featured Hideki Matsui and Koji Uehara, who were both really in their primes (2002 was Matsui’s near-Triple Crown season); as well as Masumi Kuwata, Kimiyasu Kudoh, and Hideki Okajima. I think they would have given the Angels a good series.

2001 — Diamondbacks vs Yakult: The 2001 World Series is one of my all-time favorites (along with 1991 and 2005), so I’m a little biased here. Yakult had a balanced lineup with a good defense, and four future MLB’ers: Kazuhisa Ishii, Shingo Takatsu, Akinori Iwamura, and Ryota Igarashi. So maybe they could have taken a game or two, but it’s hard to pick against Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in a short series.

2000 — Yankees vs Yomiuri: The 2000 Japan Series was the first I was actually present in Japan for, so again I have fond memories of this one too (my three favorite players in Japan, for a time, where Okajima, Akira Etoh and Darrell May). Anyway, this Giants team would have gone up against the last World Series winner from the Yank’s late-90’s dynasty.

Alright, you’ve sat through 700+ words from me, if you’re still here, what are your thoughts?

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Hanshin’s Shopping List

» 16 October 2009 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 9 Comments

The news about Hanshin’s list of offseason acquisition targets is flying fast and furious. It kind of reminds me of this old Onion article. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

Via NPB Free Agency…

  • Shugo Fujii (Nippon Ham) — this probably makes the most sense of any of these acquisitions. Fujii wouldn’t make the Tigers a championship club on his own though
  • Hiroyuki Kobayashi (Lotte) — another rather low risk, medium reward type

Via Trade…

  • GG Sato (Seibu) — coming off a career year
  • Shunsuke Watanabe (Lotte) — can’t see Lotte moving him, but would be interesting to see how he adjusts to the Central League
  • Nagisa Arakaki (SoftBank) — one of my favorite pitchers, but has been hurt for the last two years

From Korea…

  • Brad Thomas (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — former Nippon Ham Fighter
  • Rick Guttoromson (Korea, Kia Tigers) — Sports Hochi reported on him and Thomas
  • Kim Tae-Gyun (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — Matt tipped me off to this info on Kim
  • Lee Bum-Ho (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — Matt also pointed out that if the already last-place Hanwha loses all these guys, they might as well field a him of himself, me and Shinsano

Possible MLB Returnees…

  • Hideki Matsui (NY Yankees) has been speculated over since the summer, seems like Matsui will get chances to stay in MLB
  • Masahide Kobayashi (ex Cleveland Indians) — makes sense, I wonder if they went after him during the season
  • Kenji Johjima (Seattle Mariners) — reports in the Japanese media say that he has an escape clause in his contract allowing him to return to Japan. Cot’s knows nothing about this. Hanshin is said to be prepared to offer 500m yen annually (about $5m), so for this to work Joh would have to take a pay cut, and the Mariners would have to not convince him to stay
  • Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Rays) — saw some speculation about this a week or two ago, Iwamura didn’t say much other than that he would go where he was evaluated the most highly

There are also reports that Hanshin is going to be looking to the US market as usual, but I haven’t seen any legitimate names published yet. Hanshin sent team president Nobuo Minami to the States this season in an effort to learn how to evaluate US-based players. In the process, he had his picture taken with Bobby Cox, and met with the GMs of the Braves, Yankees, Mets, as well as front office personnel from the Red Sox.

What do NPB fans think? Would any of these moves make Hanshin the team to beat next year?

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Prediction: Pacific League

» 29 March 2009 » In npb » 3 Comments

It’s much harder to predict the standings for the Pacific League as the teams are so evenly matched. But I’ll give it a shot.

1. Seibu Lions: I think we’ll see a little regression from Okawari Nakamura and Kazuyuki Hoashi, but a better performance from Hideaki Wakui. Overall it looks like the Lions have enough to repeat.
Key Players: Wakui, Hoashi, whoever gets the most at-bats at 1st base

2. Nippon Ham Fighters: Nippon Ham was actually outscored by their opponents last year. I’m putting them here because I believe that they have the pitching and defense to win close games, and that Sho Nakata will turn up at some point during the season and provide a little offense.The new additions to the bullpen have the task of replacing Michael Nakamura as well.
Key Players: Nakata, Ryan Wing, Masanori Hayashi

3. Chiba Lotte Marines: I didn’t think I’d have the Marines making the playoffs, but I’m putting them in third because they have a solid front four in their rotation, and no real holes in their lineup. Hopefully Bobby V can find a way to keep Tadahito Iguchi and Shunichi Nemoto both in the lineup, as Nemoto broke out last year with a .296/.369/.430 line.
Key Players: Bobby V, Yoshihisa Naruse, Yuuki Karakawa

4. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: The Eagles have two WBC heroes at the top of their rotation (Hisashi Iwakuma, Masahiro Tanaka), a couple of solid mid-rotation guys (Darrell Rasner, Hideaki Asai), and some power in the middle of their lineup (Norihiro Nakamura, Fernando Seguignol, Takeshi Yamasaki). But on the other hand they have some holes in their lineup and bullpen.
Key Players: the bullpen

5. Orix Buffaloes: Manager Daijiro Ohishi took over in May of last year and lead the Buffaloes to a seemingly improbable playoff run. Looking back, the Buffaloes pitched better than I realized, with a 3.93 team era and four starters with sub-4:00 eras and at least 10 wins. If the pitching staff can repeat that performance, and the aging lineup of foreign sluggers holds up, they’ll be competitive. If not, look for a B-class finish.
Key Players: Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Cabrera, Jose Fernandez, Greg LaRocca

6. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks: It’s hard to pick the Hawks to finish this low with the amazing rotation depth they have — Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Nagisa Arakaki, Shota Ohba, Kenji Ohtonari, Kameron Loe, Kazumi Saito (if he can come back from his injuries) and rookie Shingo Tatsumi. But on the flipside, their lineup just isn’t what it used to be. The Hawks hit just 99 home runs last year and haven’t added any significant bats. They’re hoping for a return to form from aging sluggers Hiroki Kokubo and Hitoshi Tamura, who have been shells of their former selves in recent years.
Key Players: Kokubo, Tamura

It was tough to pick any of these teams to finish last, because the league is so balanced and all the teams have strengths. It seems likely that Seibu will finish in the top 3 and SoftBank will finish in the bottom 3, but everything else is up for grabs. What are your thoughts?

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