Tag Archive > Seiichi Uchikawa

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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Game Notes: Nippon Series Games 1 & 2

» 14 November 2011 » In npb » 9 Comments

Lots of text today, so no intro here, just a few observations I’ve made about the Nippon Series so far. The ordering might be a little out of whack but so be it.

Game 1 — Chunichi wins 2-1 in ten innings:

  • Tsuyoshi Wada took a no-hitter into 7th, when he surrendered a home run to Kazuhiro Wada. Wada nibbled a bit and Chunichi had better at-bats the third time through the lineup, but he had his command and only gave up one hard hit ball aside from Kazuhiro’s home run.
  • Wei Yin Chen looked different than every other time I’ve seen him, including the two games I watched this year. The Chen that I’m used to throws a fastball in the 145-150 kmph range, a slider, a two-seam/shuuto with some late horizontal movement, and a forkball with inconsistent command, and works up and down the inside and outside parts of the zone. The Chen I saw on Saturday gave up a lot of fastball velocity, maxing out at 145 kmph but frequently working below 140 kmph, but with better command than usual. Yahoo’s data called Chen’s primary breaking pitch a slider, but it moved more like a changeup and worked extremely well.
  • Wada’s line: 8 IP, 29 BF, 119 pitches, 2 hits, 1 HR, 8 K, 2 BB, 1 R, 1 ER.
  • Chen’s line: 8 IP, 29 BF, 124 pitches, 4 hits, 0 HR, 11 K, 2 BB, 1 R, 1 ER.
  • Softbank’s lineup was disappointing. I thought they would start to recognize Chen’s good breaking stuff and wait for his average fastballs as the game progressed, but they actually got worse after their first time through the lineup. Hitoshi Tamura and Munenori Kawasaki were particularly bad in the later innings.
  • Yahoo Dome’s artificial turf looked like a pretty bad playing surface. Kawasaki took an error on a hard line drive that seemed to take an odd bounce, and then made a nice play on a softer hit up the middle that took an unpredictable bounce.
  • Chunichi won this game with home runs: the aforementioned Wada’s no-hitter breaker-upper, and Masaaki Koike’s winning shot in the 10th off an errant Takahiro Mahara forkball. Koike’s home run immediately followed some stats on the television broadcast about the lack of homers in NPB this season.
  • Mini-rant: Kawasaki led off the bottom of the first with a single, and what’s manager Koji Akiyama do? Immediately bunt him over, with a good on-base guy. I get that these are tight games, but why take the bat of your guy’s hands in the first?
Game 2 — Chunichi again wins 2-1 in ten innings:

  • Started by two of my favorite pitchers to watch: Toshiya Sugiuchi and Kazuki Yoshimi.
  • Sugiuchi didn’t quite have his best swing-and-miss stuff, like the last couple of times I’ve seen him. He had his pop-out stuff.
  • Sugiuchi’s one big mistake pitch was a positively fat 136 kmph fastball up in the zone in the 7th inning, which Ryosuke Hirata smacked off the left field fence for a double. Another meter or so and that ball would have been gone and the Dragons wouldn’t have needed Mahara to choke again.
  • Yoshimi wasn’t really at his best, but he generated a ton of groundballs and quieted each of Softbank’s threats until leaving with the bases loaded in the 7th. Takuya Asao mostly bailed him out, allowing only one run on a Kawasaki single, but the damage might have been worse if Softbank’s third base coach had sent Tamura instead of holding him at third. It looked like he had a chance to score.
  • Softbank again played a conservative game — lots of sacrifice bunting, holding Tamura.
  • Chunichi Motonobu Tanishige still has a good arm at age 40.
  • Hiromitsu Ochiai had the umpires check the tape on Seiichi Uchikawa’s bat in the third inning. Uchi changed bats, then lined to center on Yoshimi’s first pitch.
  • Softbank’s lineup isn’t executing. In game two they had runners in on base in each of the first five innings, including runners in scoring position in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, and failed to score each time.
  • Mahara wasn’t that bad in game 2. He lost, but his only really poor at-bat was when he walked Kazuhiro Ibata without really challenging him.
  • Highlights from 1999 Daiei-Chunichi Nippon Series — Akiyama was awesome as a player. Rodney Pedraza showed up in the highlights too.
  • For some reason I kept expecting to see Norihiro Nakamura emerge from Chunichi’s bench during game 2.
  • Another mini-rant: After Hiroki Kokubo lead off the 2nd with a double, Akiyama had Yuya Hasegawa, another good contact hitter, bunt him to third. Kokubo was stranded there after another listless strikeout by Tamura and ground out from Shuhei Fukuda. Akiyama bunted Kokubo over after his leadoff single in the 4th as well, with equivalent futility. Ironically the bunt attempt I agreed with was with Tamura in the 7th, but he couldn’t get it down and wound up singling with two strikes.
Overall, I’d say that Ochiai is out-managing Akiyama so far. The Dragons are clearly making better adjustments at the plate throughout the game, and though Akiyama can’t really be faulted for Mahara choking, Ochiai has created better matchups with his bullpen.

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Playoff Picks

» 28 October 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

While the MLB postseason is ready to come to what will certainly be a dramatic end, the NPB playoffs are just about to begin. The Climax Series opens for both leagues on Saturday, October 29 (JST), with the third place and second place finishers squaring off in the opening round. As a refresher, here is the format of the NPB postseason:

  • Climax Series, First Stage: best of three series between the second place and third place finishers.
  • Climax Series, Second Stage: best of seven series between the league champion (first place finisher) and the First Stage winner. The league champion is automatically credited with a one-win advantage.
  • Japan Series: best of seven series between the Central League Climax Series winner and Pacific League Climax Series winner.
And on to my picks…

Pacific League First Stage: Seibu vs Nippon Ham

I’m going to credit Nippon Ham with with an immediate win because of the presence of Yu Darvish, and then a second one because of their superior pitching and defense. Pick: Nippon Ham, 2-0. Key player: Yu Darvish.

Central League First Stage: Yomiuri vs Yakult

Though the Swallows and Giants finished a game apart in the standings, they went in opposite directions this season. Yakult got off to a hot start and faded down the stretch, while Yomiuri had to claw their way into contention after a sub-par start. Yakult won the season series 12-8-4, but Yomiuri has stronger pitching and most offensive threats overall. Pick Yomiuri, 2-1. Key player: Hisayoshi Chono.

Pacific League Second Stage: Nippon Ham vs Softbank

Softbank has every edge here: a deeper rotation, a better lineup, a 16-7-1 regular season record against Nippon Ham, more rest, and a one-game advantage for finishing first. Softbank has also been on their game recently against Nippon Ham, with an 8-1-1 record against the Fighters in September and October. Pick: Softbank 4-1. Key player: Seiichi Uchikawa.

Central League Second Stage: Yomiuri vs Chunichi

This is a close call. Yomiuri has a narrow regular season 12-10-2 edge over Chunichi, and both teams prevented runs this season at about the same pace. Chunichi lineup is weak, the worst in the CL this year, but they have been bullpen options than Yomiuri. So a series of close games probably favors Chunichi, and of course they have the rest and automatic wins advantages, plus the Ochiai destiny. My gut is saying Chunichi, but my brain is saying Yomiuri. Pick Chunichi 4-3. Key player: Takuya Asao.

Japan Series: Chunichi vs Softbank

Maybe it’s bland to predict a Japan Series between the two league champions, but that’s what I see. It’s probably equally bland to pick the more statistically dominant team to win as well… but it’s hard to pick against Softbank. They allowed 59 fewer runs than anyone else in Japan, with a 2.30 team ERA. Offensively they finished second overall to Seibu’s Okawari-kun-fueled lineup, but their 550 runs was 66 better than third place Yakult. Chunichi has enough pitching to keep the games close, but ultimately suffers with a big disadvantage at the plate.

Pick: Softbank 4-2. Key player: Tsuyoshi Wada (with wins in games two and six).

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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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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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2011 Season Predictions: Central League

» 11 April 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Like the Pacific League, picking a winner in the Central League is tough. But for me it’s tough for the opposite reason — it’s easier to think of reasons why each of these teams won’t win. So like my PL post, I’ve ranked the teams in order of likelihood of finishing first, and listed them in reverse order.

6. Yokohama BayStars (offseason summary)

Lots of holes in lineup; loss of Seiichi Uchikawa and Hayato Terahara; thin rotation; bargain-bin foreign players; no depth

5. Hiroshima Carp (offseason summary)

Questionable rotation depth behind Kenta Maeda; great outfield defense; bullpen question marks; little established power even with the addition of Chad Tracy; but lineup could surprise us

4. Chunichi Dragons (offseason summary)

Kazuki Yoshimi injured; dominant bullpen; efficient defense; Wei-Yin Chen’s farewell season; aging lineup though with some emerging players

3. Yakult Swallows (offseason summary)

Norichika Aoki; four good starters, assuming Yoshinori’s 2010 season wasn’t a fluke; mid-lineup question marks; good bullpen; played well after firing Shigeru Takada last year

2. Hanshin Tigers (offseason summary)

Strong lineup top to bottom, despite a few regression candidates (Keiichi Hirano, Matt Murton); lots of untested/rehabbing guys in the mix for rotation spots; great closer

1. Yomiuri Giants (offseason summary)

High-powered lineup; plenty of rotation depth but no  ace; some good bullpen arms but no established post-Kroon closer; nice x-factor in Hirokazu Sawamura

Other thoughts: Yokohama finishing last is the one sure thing for me. A good season for them would be more about getting meaningful development from guys like Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Keijiro Matsumoto than finishing one place higher in the standings. Hiroshima’s rotation should be better 2-5 this year, but still not on par with the teams I have ahead of them. Every year I predict a tumble for Chunichi, and every year I’m wrong. We’ll see if anything changes this year. I’ve changed my mind about Yakult a bit this offseason. They’re still under the radar but they have some talent. Hanshin and Yomiuri have a lot in common, but I like the Giants’ rotation depth better.

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2011 Season Predictions: Pacific League

» 10 April 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

The Pacific League is balanced. In fact, this is probably the first time I can say that I think that every team in the league has a chance to finish first. That makes it difficult to pick winners this year, so I’m going to try something different. I’ve got the teams ranked not by where I think they’ll finish, but by how likely I think they are to finish first.

6. Orix Buffaloes (offseason summary)

High-risk, high-reward rotation; new suketto question marks; counting on lots of guys who had their first success in 2010; thin bullpen; Chihiro Kaneko injured

5. Chiba Lotte Marines (offseason summary)

Absence of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Kobayashi; lineup is due for some regression; not quite sold on starters not named Naruse or Karakawa

4. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (offseason summary)

Strong front rotation; better lineup with the additions of Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura; lots of righty bullpen options; new manager

3. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (offseason summary)

Yu Darvish; steady rotation; great defense; a few break-out candidates; good 2nd half in 2010; Darvish

2. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (offseason summary)

Additions of Alex Cabrera and Seiichi Uchikawa; strong lineup 1-9; good 1-2 starters; lights-out bullpen; backed into 2010 title; emerging starters; lots of injury-prone players

1. Saitama Seibu Lions (offseason summary)

Productive lineup; talented core; interesting young pitchers — Yusei Kikuchi, Tatsuya Oishi, Kazuhisa Makita; stalwart ace in Hideaki Wakui

It was tough putting Orix last, since I’m such a big fan of their approach, but everything needs to go right for them to win. Similarly it’s hard having Lotte fifth after a Nippon Series win, but I think their lineup is likely to fall back to earth in 2011. Rakuten in fourth is a bit of a leap of faith for me; last year Chunichi won with four good hitters and a good group of pitchers. Rakuten has the starters (but not the bullpen) and with their additions they might have the offense they need to contend. As for the other three… well, it came down to a toss up between Softbank and Seibu for first. I think I just have a preference for Seibu’s lineup, and more confidence in their ability to remain healthy.

The point is, any one of these teams can win in 2011. It should be a great season.

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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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Offseason Changes: Yokohama BayStars

» 22 January 2011 » In npb » 16 Comments

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing team-by-team summaries of this offseason’s NPB transactions. There aren’t enough hours in the day to make this a comprehensive list of all movement, so we’ll focus on the highest-impact changes. Our series starts at the bottom of the Central League, which again means the Yokohama BayStars.

Coming: Hichori Morimoto, Shogo Yamamoto, Go Kida, Naoto Watanabe, Brandon Mann, Clayton Hamilton, Brent Leach, Ikki Shimamura, Koji Ohnuma, Kuan Yu Chen

Going: Seiichi Uchikawa, Hayato Terahara, Kazuya Takamiya, Chris Bootcheck, Stephen Randolph, Jose Castillo, Atsushi Kizuka,Yataro Sakamoto, Toshihiro Noguchi, Takahiro Saeki, Shingo Nonaka, Kentaro Kuwabara

Staying: Shuichi Murata, Brett Harper, Termel Sledge, Tatsuhiko Kinjoh, Tomo Ohka

Summary: A lot of turnover for the BayStars again this year, headlined by the losses of Uchikawa and Terahara. Uchi will be missed, as he was Hama’s most consistent on-base threat, and while Morimoto is a useful player, he doesn’t match up at the plate. And trading Terahara for Yamamoto… I just can’t understand that one. Even if they were dead set on acquiring a lefty, they could have simply signed Eric Stults or kept Randolph. But ‘Stars took a different approach to their import roster this year, signing less experienced minor leaguers Mann, Hamilton and Leach rather than getting more 4A guys. Signing a number of guys and seeing if one of them works out is actually a decent strategy for a team that can’t realistically expect to content in 2011. Or perhaps ownership is keeping the payroll down in anticipation of a team sale.

Yokohama finished last in run production and run prevention last year, and didn’t acquire any veteran talent that will immediately improve the team on either side of the ball. So is there any hope by the Bay in 2011? If there is, it has to come from the team’s young talent. The BayStars’ 2010 draft focused on college and Industrial League players who can help soon, and top picks Kota Suda, Kisho Kagami, and Sho Aranami should all be in the mix for ichi-gun time as rookies. Yokohama doesn’t have great organizational pitching depth, but any steps forward taken by Takayuki Makka, Hitoshi Fujie, Atori Ohta and Yoh Sugihara will be meaningful. Overall, though, this looks like a team that is headed for another last place finish.

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A Look Ahead at This Year’s FA Class

» 12 August 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

Only the most eagle-eyed readers will notice this, but I just updated the navigation bar, retiring last year’s free agents page, and replacing it with (surprise) an updated page for this season.

This year I’m going to start with a small list of players, and build it up over time. Here’s what I have so far:

International Free Agents

Hiro Kobayashi (RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines, Data): Kobayashi had a lengthy career as an underrated starter before moving to the bullpen in 2010, where he has been very effective. Kobayashi doesn’t have a power arm, but attacks the strike zone.

Chang Yong Lim (RHP, Yakult Swallows, Data): Certainly the top arm available in the international pool, the 34 year-old reliever had flirtations with MLB prior to moving to Japan. It would be interesting to see how his unusual combination of a low arm angle and velocity play at the MLB level.

Brian Falkenborg (LHP, SoftBank Hawks, Data): Falkenborg has dramatically improved his control in Japan (61:7 K:BB in 2010 as of August 12; 61:9 in 2009), and shown good velocity. SoftBank will want to bring him back, but he’ll be a candidate for MLB teams need righty bullpen depth.

Synopsis: the year of the righthanded reliever.

Domestic Free Agents

Seiichi Uchikawa (IF/OF, Yokohama BayStars): The best bat on the domestic market, Uchikawa downplayed his free agency when he qualified, saying he’d need time to think about it. If he decides he wants to play elsewhere in Japan, he’ll have the usual suitors (Hanshin, Yomiuri).

Tsuyoshi Wada (LHP, SoftBank Hawks, Data): Wada has qualified for free agency, but has already commented that “there’s absolutely no reason to exercise”. We’ll see what happens when he qualifies to move to MLB.

Munenori Kawasaki (IF, SoftBank Hawks): Kawasaki is eligible for NPB free agency after the season, but according to Sponichi, wants to hold out for a chance at MLB after next season.

Hisasahi Iwakuma (RHP, Rakuten Golden Eagles, Data): Iwakuma has qualified for domestic free agency, but is already under contract for 2011. He’s one to watch next year.

Synopsis: wait ’til next year.

Posting Candidates

Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, Chunichi Dragons, Data): Chen is an interesting case – he’s registered as a foreign player, but doesn’t have contract language allowing him to become a free agent if he chooses, as the MLB veterans that play in Japan typically do. As such, he subject to the posting system as his only means to move to MLB prior to hitting free agency. He was outspoken about wanting to be posted after last season, and hired Alan Nero to represent him, so I expect him to ask again this offseason. He’s 25, lefthanded, and has an electric arm, so I would expect him to command a healthy transfer fee.

Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP, Hanshin Tigers, Data): Japan’s best strikeout reliever has talked for years about being posted; Hanshin has insisted that Kei Igawa was an exception and that Fujikawa won’t be posted. I profiled Fujikawa way back in June 2008.

Yu Darvish (RHP, Nippon Ham, Data): The rumblings that Darvish wants to be posted have picked up this year, but then again every year there are rumors of an imminent posting and it hasn’t happened yet. I’d say there’s maybe a 1% chance that Darvish gets posted this year. He’s still about four years away from full, international free agency.

Synopsis: I think we see Chen posted, at the most.

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