Tag Archive > npb

The Season So Far: Central League

» 19 June 2008 » In npb » 3 Comments

I started this blog mid-season, so we’ll need to get caught up on the season. The current Central League standings are:

Team W L GB
Hanshin Tigers 42 21
Chunichi Dragons 34 28 7.5
Yomiuri Giants 33 32 10
Hiroshima Carp 29 31 11.5
Yakult Swallows 28 33 13
Yokohama BayStars 17 45 24.5

Japanesebaseball.com always has this information up to date, in English, on it’s homepage.

Hanshin Tigers
With a 7.5 game lead over Chunichi, Hanshin is racing toward it’s third Central League title in the last six years. A shutdown bullpen led by Kyuji Fujikawa, Jeff Williams, and Tomoyuki Kubota means that Hanshin’s starters only have to keep their team in the game for for 5-6 innings to have a shot to win. Starter Minoru Iwata has been a revelation with a 5-3 record and 2.13 ERA. The Tigers’ offense leads the league in runs with 268 despite a league-low 33 home runs. If the Tigers can continue to manufacture runs and hit in the clutch, there’s no reason to think they can’t win the Central crown this year.

There’s detailed Tigers blog on Japanesebaseball.com that I recommend checking out.

Chunichi Dragons
The defending champion Dragons have remained competitive with in the Central League, despite the loss of star outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to the Cubs. Chunichi would certainly be a better team with him in the lineup, but then again they managed to win Japan Series last year, even though Fukudome missed significant time with an injury.

This year’s Dragons so far have the best ERA in the Central League at 3.02. Their strength is the rotation, which is anchored by Kenshin Kawakami, Kazuki Yoshimi, and Takashi Ogasawara. In the bullpen, closer Hitoki Iwase continues to impress with 21 saves and a 2.25 ERA. The lineup has some thump with a Central League-leadin 64 total homeruns, with Tyrone Woods and Norihiro Nakamura among the league leaders. Fukudome’s replacement in the lineup Kazuhiro Wada is having a strong season at the plate with a .323 avg and 8 home runs.

Yomiuri Giants
The Giants got off to a slow start but after 66 games are finally over .500. The Giants typically feature a power in they’re lineup, and this year is no exception. Former Yakult Swallow Alex Ramirez leads the way with 19 homeruns and 56 RBI’s, but last year’s MVP Michihiro Ogasawara is struggling with .255 avg, and star outfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi has missed time with injuries. If those two guys get going, expect the Giants to heat up. The Giants’ pitching hasn’t been stellar so far, but that could change if MLB-bound Koji Uehara returns from his injuries in top form.

Hiroshima Carp
Marty Brown’s team has managed to hover around .500 despite the loss of ace Hiroki Kuroda to the Dodgers, and top batter Takahiro Arai to the Hanshin Tigers. Former MLB’er Colby Lewis has taken the Central League by storm in his first season, so far going 10-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 110 K’s and leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and innings. The lineup is pretty weak, though there are a few bright spots in Shigenobu Shima and Alex Ochoa. If Hiroshima can manage to stay in contention for a top three finish that’ll be a huge boost going into their new stadium (link in Japanese), which opens next season.

Yakult Swallows
Yakult is in rebuilding mode with the recent losses of Akinori Iwamura (mlb), Kazuhisa Ishii (Seibu), Shingo Takatsu (Korea), Atsuya Furuta(retirement), and Alex Ramirez (Yomiuri). With the team developing younger players, it’s unrealistic to expect them to compete for a top three finish. Future MLB’er Norichika Aoki is having another good season with a .327 avg, and veteran shortstop Shinya Miyamoto collected his 1500th career hit earlier in the season. Masanori Ishikawa is having a breakout year on the mound, going 7-4 with a 2.08 ERA in 99 2/3 innings.

Yokohama BayStars
Yokohama is again the doormat of the Central League. The BayStars’ pitching staff is easily the worst in the league, with the only bright spots being starter Daisuke Miura, who is already talking about moving to Hanshin as a free agent; and relieve Hayato Terahara, who was inexplicibly moved to the bullpen after a strong performance as a starter last season. The lineup is weak as well, though outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa sports a .372 avg, and sluggers Yuuki Yoshimura and Shuichi Murata are among the league leaders with 15 and 16 homeruns respectively.

There’s more analysis available in this post at jhockey.wordpress.com.

Continue reading...

Tags: ,

On Japanese Stars Moving to MLB

» 17 June 2008 » In nichibei » Comments Off on On Japanese Stars Moving to MLB

Wayyyyyyyy more people read my article on Kyuji Fujikawa than I ever imagined would (thanks mlbtraderumors.com!), but I have to admit that I felt a little conflicted in writing it. I’m fan of Japanese baseball and a big fan of Kyuji’s team, the Hanshin Tigers. As such I’m not crazy about the idea of him leaving, and I’m certainly no fan of the perception that Japanese baseball is dying because some of it’s stars have moved to MLB.

A lot has been written about the perceived fall of the Japanese leagues since star players began migrating to MLB — here’s a recent piece from Bloomberg.com. This piece is the typical stuff about how the exodus of established Japanese stars is drawing attention away from NPB and hurting the game in Japan. This particular article makes some good points and is generally worth reading, but I don’t quite agree with the conclusion it draws.

Overall, I think the trend of top Japanese players moving to MLB is a positive one. Japanese players proving that they can compete at the MLB level validates the quality of NPB. There’s almost an expectation amont the fans that the top guys will try their hand at NPB at some point. Daisuke Matsuzaka, for example, forgoing a chance to play in America would have been a big letdown for the fans.

This Bloomberg.com report that I link to above cites a big drop in interest in the Yomiuri Giants following the departure of Hideki Matsui. What the writer leaves out is that this was actually good for competitive parity. Yomiuri rivals the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons have both been winning and popular with fans over the last five years or so. I can’t quantify that with profit, attendance or TV numbers, but it feels like things balance out.

Baseball is still a tremendously popular sport in Japan. The MLB stars obviously get tons of media coverage,  NPB games are pretty well attended, and the Koshien National High School Tournament is a hugely popular event. NPB management still has issues with how it markets itself and it operates as a business, but I fully expect it to live on and thrive. Japan has a great league with great rivalries, drama, and competition. If the loss of some star players forces NPB to act on implementing reforms, then it will be even more positive for the fans.

Speaking as a fan, I think it’s inevitable that Kyuji Fujikawa will take a shot at playing in MLB. I’ll be sad to see him leave Hanshin, but I’d rather see him go for it than shy away, and I’d rather see him pitch in America than join another team in Japan.

Continue reading...

Tags: ,