Tag Archive > Okawari Nakamura

NPB At The Half

» 21 July 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

We’re at the All-Star break, and NPB’s 12 teams have played through just about exactly half of their schedules. I’d like to take a few minutes to share some observations on the season so far.

I want to start with something about the Great Tohoku Earthquake, but I can’t think of anything particularly profound to say about it. The season opened about a month after the quake, but what I’ll always remember about the opening of this season was the persistent presence of it: Rakuten opening its season on the road, the day games in the Tokyo area, things like that. But what sticks out the most is the memory a Yokohama BayStars game I was watching early in the season that was delayed for a few minutes because of an aftershock. That just felt… ominous. I guess I probably perceived the earthquake differently because I live in the US, but it was the only extended period over the last three years that I really didn’t feel like writing about baseball. Just thinking back to it now has dampened my enthusiasm for writing the next few paragraphs…

The other obvious observation is the affect the new ball has had on the game. Numerous pitchers are posting career-best numbers, and only a few batters, notably Okawari-kun Nakamura, seem capable of cranking out the homers at their respective established paces. Nippon Ham has an absurd 2.08 ERA, while Softbank has a 2.31 mark. I didn’t see that coming for Softbank at all, considering that they didn’t actually have a rotation last year. The new ball’s diminishing effects have been felt around the league, but guys with mid-range gap power seem most greatly affected: Eiichi Koyano, Teppei, Yasuyuki Kataoka, Takashi Toritani… perhaps most concerning is Norichika Aoki, who is still getting on base but has seen his slugging percentage drop to .363 this season after hovering around .500 for the last several years.

Another item of note is that Yu Darvish actually had a bad game this year, giving up seven earned runs in seven innings pitched on opening day. He hasn’t had one since though, rattling off a lengthy scoreless streak (mostly) during interleague play, and showing perhaps the best stuff of his career. Maybe it’s the new ball, but Darvish seems to be throwing harder this season, routinely over 150 kmph (94 mph) with his four-seamer, with some movement on it. He’s also shown a little more polish on his cutter, so combining that with his shuuto he has three pitches with 145+ kmph (90+ mph) velocity that move in different directions. Throw in a power slider and a slow curve that is basically an automatic strike when he gets it over the plate, and you have a completely dominant pitcher. This is first season I’ve ever really wanted to see him against more talented competition.

The pennant races are proving interesting through the first half. Yakult has impressively clung to first place in the Central League, somewhat to my surprise. I saw them taking a step forward this year, but I thought the title would come down to Yomiuri or Hanshin. It still might. Hanshin has the only positive run differential in the CL, and Yomiuri leads the league in ERA and home runs, though has scored the fewest runs. The surprise of the season so far is that Yokohama, despite sitting in their typical last place, leads the league in runs scored.

The Pacific is again the more interesting of the two leagues, but it’s race is shaping up differently than I had anticipated: it’s a two-horse race between Nippon Ham and Softbank, the league’s two pitching powerhouses. I had Seibu at the top of my projections, but last year’s runners up are in last place, and digging themselves in. I don’t see anyone catching up with Softbank or Nippon Ham at this point, but the race for third place should be interesting, as Chiba Lotte, Orix, and Rakuten are on fairly even ground. Personally, I’ll be pulling for Rakuten. They have the pitching, and besides, who wouldn’t want to see a Cinderella run in Sendai?

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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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