Tag Archive > Takahiro Arai

Changes for 2012: Hiroshima Carp

» 28 January 2012 » In npb » 4 Comments

Coming: Kam Mickolio, Nick Stavinoha, Yusuke Nomura (1st round draft pick)

Going: Gio Alvarado, Mike Schultz, Dioni Soriano, Kiyoshi Toyoda, Wilfreiser Guerrero, Masaki Hayashi, Chad Tracy

Staying: Bryan Bullington, Brian Barden, Dennis Sarfate, Kenta Kurihara

The key offseason move for Hiroshima was the one that didn’t happen. For the second straight winter, the Carp failed to lure its former ace, Hiroki Kuroda, back from his successful Major League tenure. Had Kuroda returned, Hiroshima would have opened camp with a good shot at having the best rotation in Japan. Even without Kuroda though, Hiroshima’s rotation has some solid pieces to work with. Kenta Maeda and Bryan Bullington are strong at the top, second-year man Yuya Fukui showed proimsed in 2011, and perhaps rookie Yusuke Nomura and sophmore Kyohei Nakamura will join the mix. Veteran Kan Ohtake showed signs of life toward the end of last season, and 24 year-old lefty Yuki Saito should return from the back injuries that sidelined him for all of 2011. Kuroda would have been a great addition to this group, taking the pressure of the younger guys and the injury returnees.

At the plate, Hiroshima suffered a severe power shortage in 2011, hitting a league-low 52 home runs. To that end if Nick Stavinoha can establish himself and slug .450, it will be a huge addition. The retention of Brian Barden is a sound move, as he hit a respectable .280/.368/.371 over half a season last year. Simply getting a full season out of him at third base, which has been a hole since Takahiro Arai departed, will be a plus and if he can find some pop, all the better. We’ll see about the rest of the lineup once the open-sen season opens.

So while their approach is contingent on the younger players maturing and contributing, Hiroshima seems to be headed in the right direction.

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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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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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NPB Bullet Points: Fukui Wins, Hessman Hits, Balentien Hits Way More

» 04 May 2011 » In npb » 1 Comment

Notes to pass along from the last few days of NPB action.

  • Hiroshima pitcher Yuya Fukui posted an emotional win over Yokohama on May 3rd. It was the heralded rookie’s first win since April 20, when his older brother Ryuichi died in a car accident. Ryuichi advised Yuya against signing with Yomiuri when they drafted him in the fourth round out of high school.
  • Takafumi Nakamura, who played last year in the Indians organization, is back in Japan with Shinano of the independent BC League. The lanky righty is hoping to advance to NPB.
  • According to Nikkan Sports, Yomiuri has passed on moving lefty Adam Bright from the ikusei roster to the regular 70-man roster (shihaika).
  • New Orix import Mike Hessman collected his first NPB hit off none other than Yu Darvish, noting that he “had seen him at the Beijing Olympics” and “was glad to get a hit off such a good pitcher.”
  • Hanshin sluggers Takashi Toritani, Takahiro Arai and Craig Brazell hit back-to-back-to-back home runs on May 4th, recalling the fabled 1985 san renpatsu (three consecutive blasts) starring Randy Bass, Masayuki Kakefu, and Akinobu Okada. I couldn’t find video of this week’s renpatsu, so here’s the 1985 version.
  • Wladimir Balentien is off to a hot start in Japan: .387/.487/.885 slash line, nine home runs 61 at bats, and 13 walks against 12 strikeouts.

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Offseason Changes: Hanshin Tigers

» 29 January 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Coming: Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Akihito Fujii, Ryota Arai, Robert Zarate, Marcos Vechionacci

Going: Casey Fossum, Akihiro Yano, Satoru Kanemura, Daiyu Kanemura, Keisuke Mizuta

Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Jason Standridge, Randy Messenger

Summary: Hanshin’s offseason starts with the successful retention of the team’s foreign core — Murton, Brazell, Standridge. Messenger also received a contract for 2011, despite his disappointing results last season. The fact that Hanshin’s foreign roster isn’t overcrowded may mean that incumbent Kai Wen Jeng gets a few innings at the ichi-gun level, or that the Tigers will seek reinforcements if Standridge or Messenger stumble. Beyond that, Hanshin’s only significant acquisitions were scooping up Kobayashi after he failed to land an MLB contract, acquiring catcher depth in Fujii, and trading for Takahiro Arai’s brother Ryota. Reports of a Jeff Williams comeback have unfortunately not yet come to fruition.

With the return of Murton and Brazell, Hanshin will again field a strong offense, though it is a good bet they will see some regression. The Tigers lineup was spectacular in2010, with five regulars who batted .300 or higher (and Brazell right behind at .297) powering the team to a league-top 740 runs. Hanshin’s lineup will be good in 2011, but Keiichi Hirano is not going to hit .350 again, and Kenji Johjima is on the shelf recovering from knee surgery until sometime after the season starts. And as good as Murton and Brazell are, it would be unrealistic to expect them to match their superb 2010 results. That said though, Hanshin still has an offense rivaled only by Yomiuri in the Central League.

Hanshin’s rotation has a lot more question marks than its lineup. Yasutomo Kubo has been a godsend, last year becoming the first Hanshin pitcher to throw 200 innings since Kei Igawa back in 2006. Standridge was something of a godsend in 2010 as well, finished second on the team with 126.1 innings. Then 42 year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi contributed his brand of six-inning appearances, but only 19 times. The laws of the universe dictate that he’ll have to stop someday, but who knows when that will be? Beyond those three guys, Hanshin’s rotation is filled with a bunch of question marks. Minoru Iwata, Atsushi Nohmi, and Yuya Ando have all had success in the past but are coming off injuries. Touted 2009 draftee Kazuhito Futagami didn’t throw a pitch last year; Takumi Akiyama threw many with considerable success, but he’s still only 20. Naoto Tsuru finished last season well and could be poised for a breakout. Hanshin’s bullpen also remains a strength, anchored by ace closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

Overall I see Hanshin as a team with a lot of talent, but one that is kind of on the edge. Despite their thin rotation, the Tigers finished one game out of first last season. If their stable pitchers hold steady and a couple of the question marks pan out, they could be dominant. If they falter and the injury guys don’t come back, Hanshin’s bullpen will be overworked and we’ll see a lot of high scoring games.

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Central League Predictions: How’d I Do?

» 17 October 2009 » In npb » Comments Off

Okay, so now that the regular season is in the books, let’s take a look and see how my Central League and Pacific League predictions played out. We’ll take a look at the Central first and do the Pacific in the next post.

(listed in order of actual results, my predictions are in parentheses)

1. Yomiuri Giants (2) — I picked the Giants to finish second. In 2008 Hanshin led for most of the year, before choking down the stretch, and I thought they’d make it this year. I was dead wrong about that, and the Giants wound up dominating from wire to wire. I thought someone from the secondary group of pitchers would have to step up, but the guys who did weren’t among my three breakout candidates (Kentaro Nishimura, Shun Tohno, and Takahiko Nomaguchi) — they were Yakult castoff Dicky Gonzales and Dominican prospect Wirfin Obispo.

2. Chunichi Dragons (5) — I was way off here. Chunichi put up a mediocre year in 2008, and lost three key contributors (Kenshin Kawakami, Nori Nakamura, Tyrone Woods) and I thought we’d see them slip further this year. Turns out I didn’t respect the Dragons’ depth highly enough. I did, however, correctly identify two of the key players for the Dragons this season, choosing Tony Blanco and Kazuki Yoshimi along with rookie Kei Nomoto. Nomoto was a bit of a disappointment, but Blanco and Yoshimi were outstanding.

3. Yakult Swallows (4) — Yakult took a step forward in 2009, sneaking in to the playoffs despite finishing one game under .500. Norichika Aoki overcame a horrific first half to finish at .303, and Aaron Guiel bounced back from a sub-par 2008 to hit 27 home runs. Two of my key players — Jaime D’Antona (.276, 21 hr) and Yoshinori (121 IP, 3.50 ERA)– were solid, while the other Tatsunori Masubuchi (one game, 12.60 era) was not. Yakult did get outscored by their opponents by 48 runs this year.

4. Hanshin Tigers (1) — My key players, Takahiro Arai and Kevin Mench, failed to meet expectations, and so did the Tigers. Mench’s time in Japan was particularly disastrous, flaming out after only 15 games. Hanshin’s trio of veterans Tomoaki Kanemoto, Akihiro Yano and Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi started to show some signs of aging as well.

5. Hiroshima Carp (3) –The step forward I envisioned after a solid 2008 season didn’t materialize for the Carp, despite the good vibes from the beautiful new Mazda Stadium. The rotation was solid 1-3 and the Carp added American sluggers Scott McClain and Andy Phillips mid-season, but it wasn’t enough to win consistently. My key player, Kenta Maeda, was better than his 8-14 record would indicate.

6. Yokohama BayStars (6) — The one prediction I nailed, except that I thought they’d be a little more competitive this year. Wrong. Yokohama was again a doormat, suffering to the tune of a .354 winning percentage, getting outscored by 188 runs and losing it’s manager in the process. My key man, Hayato Terahara, was limited to 83 innings of work.

Synopsis: I guess I was close enough on everything except Chunichi and Hanshin.I thought the league would be a little more competitive, but the way things played out Yomiuri and Chunichi were way ahead of everyone else.

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Predictions: How am I doing?

» 16 May 2009 » In npb » 2 Comments

Before the season, I predicted the standings for both the Pacific and Central Leagues. Let’s see how I’m doing through six weeks of the season.

Pacific League (as of May 16)

  1. Nippon Ham Fighters (prediction: 2nd)
  2. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (prediction: 4th)
  3. Seibu Lions (prediction: 1st)
  4. SoftBank Hawks (prediction: 6th)
  5. Chiba Lotte Marines (prediction: 3rd)
  6. Orix Buffaloes (prediction: 5th)

Nippon Ham has hit more than I expected and has a +66 run differential… Rakuten’s pitching has kept them in games, but veterans just aren’t hitting… Seibu leads the league in home runs by a good margin and should be competitive all year… SoftBank leads the league in ERA and could be a dark horse… Chiba Lotte’s starting pitching needs to improve if they’re going to meet my prediction… Orix’s foreign sluggers, aside from Greg LaRocca, have been injured or ineffective, and their pitching has imploded.

Central League (as of May 16)

  1. Yomiuri Giants (prediction: 2nd)
  2. Yakult Swallows (prediction: 4th)
  3. Chunichi Dragons (prediction: 5th)
  4. Hanshin Tigers (prediction: 1st)
  5. Hiroshima Carp (prediction: 3rd)
  6. Yokohama BayStars (prediction: 6th)

Yomiuri has gotten good pitching across the board and leads the leage in runs; they’re currently on pace to win 100 games… Yakult has been a surprise at 20-13, especially given Norichika Aoki’s slow start (.226)… Chunichi slotted Tony Blanco in for Tyrone Woods but has otherwise regressed… Hanshin hasn’t gotten anything out of Kevin Mench or Takahiro Arai, but still has a +18 run differential… Hiroshima leads the Central in ERA (2.98) but simply isn’t hitting… Yokohama again is last in team pitching but is closer to the pack this season.

Of course, we’re only six weeks into the season so anything can happen, but we pretty much know what all the teams have at this point.

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Prediction: Central League

» 27 March 2009 » In npb » 4 Comments

1. Hanshin Tigers: This could be the year for Hanshin. Colonel Sanders has been exhumed from his resting place at the bottom of the Dotombori River, which should be enough to put the team over the top. Hanshin led the Central League for most of the season last year, despite a serious lack of home run power. If Takahiro Arai and Kevin Mench can combine for 45 home runs or so they should be tough to beat.
Key Players: Arai, Mench

2. Yomiuri Giants: Yomiuri slipped past Hanshin for the Central League crown at the end of the season in 2008, then took the Japan Series down to the wire before losing to Seibu. Look for a bounce-back year from Sun-Yeop Lee. The departure of Koji Uehara creates an opportunity for someone like Kentaro Nishimura, Shun Tohno, or Takahiko Nomaguchi to step up.
Key Players: Nishimura, Tohno, Nomaguchi

3. Hiroshima Carp: The Carp took a big step forward last season despite the loss of ace Hiroki Kuroda to the Dodgers. The lineup is respectable 1-5 and they have three good starters in Colby Lewis, Kan Ohtake, and Kenta Maeda. Look for a breakout year from Maeda.
Key Player: K Maeda

4. Yakult Swallows: Yakult has a number of good arms in its bullpen, some young starters that could develop, and Japan’s top hitter in Norichika Aoki. The big concern with the Swallows is a lack of team power, so their ability to compete for a playoff spot will depend on whether or not some of the non-Aoki batters can hit for average.
Key Players: Jaime D’Antona, Yoshinori, Tatsunori Masubuchi

5. Chunichi Dragons: The Dragons finished third last year despite being outscored by 21 by opponents on the season. This year they’ve subtracted Kenshin Kawakami, Norihiro Nakamura, and Tyrone Woods and have replaced them with untested players. I expect a fall in the standings.
Key Players: Tony Blanco, Kei Nomoto, Kazuki Yoshimi

6. Yokohama BayStars: Yokohama had by far the worst pitching in the Central last season, and despite moving Hayato Terahara back into the rotation, retaining Daisuke Miura, and adding Ryan Glynn, I don’t think they have enough depth to get out of the cellar. I think they’ll be more competitive than last year though.
Key Players: Terahara

Any thoughts? Pacific League is coming up next.

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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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