Tag Archive > Toshiya Sugiuchi

Bari Bari Major Leaguers

» 04 December 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

Today’s Japanese word of the day is bari bari. In a baseball context, bari bari is frequently used to describe a big star, like this: “bari bari Major Leaguer came to our restaurant today!” In English we might translate that by saying “a real Major Leaguer,” but that doesn’t feel quite right. The very useful Jisho.org has a definition that doesn’t quite capture this context; maybe some of the more skilled linguists in the audience can help me find  a better English equivalent.

The Softbank Hawks imported a bari bari Major Leaguer this offseason, signing Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair to a two-year deal. LaHair was coveted NPB teams last winter, but the Cubs gave him a chance to be their starting first baseman, and he responded with a great first half and an All-Star appearance. Unfortunately, he cooled off in the second half and lost his job to prospect Anthony Rizzo, and wound up moving to Japan anyway. But as an All-Star, he commanded a higher salary than he otherwise would have, and crosses the Pacific with the feel of an established Major Leaguer.

LaHair’s move inspired me to write about some of the other players that have moved to NPB after strong performances in MLB. Japan has a long history with MLB veterans, so I didn’t attempt to include all of them (this is the longest thing I’ve written in quite some time as it is). For whatever reason most of the guys I’ve chosen to include were busts. I didn’t set out to make it that way, I guess those just seemed like the more interesting stories.

This isn’t an attempt to compare LaHair with any of these players. Most of these guys were well passed their prime years by the time they went to Japan. LaHair is only 30 years old and fits the mold of being a consistent 3A performer with some upside left to explore.

So with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look back at some of the bari bari Major Leaguers from the years gone by.

2012 Brad PennyLooking to replenish a rotation depleted by the departures of starters Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and DJ Houlton, Softbank signed Penny to lucrative (by NPB standards) one-year deal. Penny started one game, then put himself in the injured list and eventually requested his release, which was granted.

2011 Chan Ho ParkPark was well passed his prime years as a starter, but in the midst of somewhat of a late-career revival as a reliever when Orix signed him for 2011. Park was a starter in Japan, and looked a bit better than his 4.15 ERA implies, but got hurt after 42 innings and was never heard from again. He moved on to the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO for 2012, where he retired after posting a poor season.

2005 Tony Batista: In late 2004, the troubled Daiei supermarket group sold the Hawks baseball team to Softbank as part of a large reorganization. On their way out the door, Daiei’s management weakened the team by sending 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri in a musho (uncompensated) trade, and releasing 2B Tadahito Iguchi so that he could pursue a career in MLB. Softbank made a splash in replacing them, signing Big Leaguers Batista and Jolbert Cabrera to replace them. Despite his on-base flaws, Batista was an established 30 home run hitter in MLB, and signed for a massive $14m over two years. Batista spent 2005 as the Hawks’ number three hitter, and his .263/.294/.463 line in 2005 was about in line with his MLB career norms. Apparently this wasn’t enough for Softbank, as they released him prior to the second year of his contract.

2003 Kevin MillarMillar was coming off two very good offensive seasons for the Marlins when his contract was sold to the Chunichi Dragons for $1.2m, with whom he provisionally agreed to play for at about $3m a year. But when the Marlins put Millar on waivers, a procedural move so he could sign his contract with Chunichi, the Red Sox violated protocol and put in a claim on him. After the Red Sox claim, Millar had a change of heart and refused to complete his contract with the Dragons. Chunichi put up some opposition at first, but eventually relented and let him go to Boston, where he continued to hit well and became a clubhouse fixture. In his place, Chunichi signed Alex Ochoa, who spent four years in Nagoya and contributed to two Central League winners.

2000 Tony FernandezUnlike many of the players on this list, Fernandez’s move to Japan was unmarred by contract or performance problems. Fernandez had put up strong seasons for Toronto in 1998 and 1999, didn’t miss a beat with Seibu in 2000, posting a .905 OPS. After his season with the Lions he returned to MLB for 2001, closing out his excellent career with a curtain call in Toronto. Coincidentally, 2000 was my first year in Japan, and my reaction to seeing him on TV was “oh cool! Tony Fernandez is here!” I was less excited to see Tony Tarasco playing right field for Hanshin.

1997 Mike GreenwellIn what has become the standard bearer incident for gaijin busts in NPB, Greenwell signed a big ($3m or so) contract with Hanshin, broke his leg seven games into the season, and immediately retired, claiming he got a “message from God to quit baseball” (野球を辞めろという神のお告げ). That’s the way it’s told in the Japanese media anyway. The counterpoint that I’ll offer is that he likely would have missed significant time anyway with his injury, and the “message from God” statement was probably not a great translation of what he actually said. I don’t have the original English quote, but I’m going to assume it was something less literal, like a metaphoric “sign from God”. Mike, if you’re reading this and can clear that up, I would love to know what actually happened. Incidentally, Greenwell’s $3m salary still stands as the most Hanshin has ever paid a foreign player.

1995 Shane Mack (Yomiuri), Kevin Mitchell (Daiei), Julio Franco (Lotte), Glenn Davis (Hanshin), Darrin Jackson (Seibu), Pete Incaviglia (Lotte): In the wake of the 1994-95 MLB player’s strike, a number of big league free agents signed with teams in Japan. The notable moves for me as a teenager were Franco and Jackson, two players who helped my hometown White Sox to an excellent record in 1994. Aside from those two, the under-appreciated Mack was very good for Yomiuri, Mitchell couldn’t adjust to Japan and bolted, and the other guys were mostly pretty good. Amazingly, Franco, despite being 37 in 1995, played another 12 seasons between NPB, KBO, MLB and Mexico.

1992 Jack Eliott: Okay, just kidding. For the real story, see the next paragraph.

1987 Bob HornerIn a season immortalized in text by Robert Whiting, Horner turned to Japan when he couldn’t find an MLB team to meet his contractual demands. Japan Inc. was at the peak of it’s bubble-driven economic powers, and the Yakult Swallows signed Horner for a year at about $2.6m, on par with what the top Major Leaguers were earning at the time. Horner got off to a hot start, hitting six home runs in his first four games, and despite being injury-limited to 93 games, slashed .327/.423/.683. Still, Horner was never comfortable in Japan and turned down a 3-year/$15m deal from Yakult, which would have made him the highest-paid baseball player in the world. Instead he replaced Jack Clark with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he lasted a year before retiring.

1984 Warren CromartieIn the late 70’s and early 80’s, Cromartie played a very capable outfield in Montreal alongside future Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tim Raines (2013?). He left as a free agent for Yomiuri, where he played seven seasons and became one of the representative NPB players of the 1980’s. Cro slugged 30 or more home runs in each of his first three NPB seasons, and twice batted over .360. He remains revered by Kyojin fans, and still occasionally turns up in Japan for TV commentary and other media appearances.

1974 Frank HowardHoward signed with the Taiheyo Club Lions (currently the Saitama Seibu Lions) to close out his venerable career. Unfortunately, he injured his back in his first at-bat in Japan and never played again.

1973 Joe PepitoneYakult, then known as the Atoms, signed Pepitone to much fanfare in 1973. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Pepitone would up playing only 14 games in Japan. Pepitone now turns up in Shukan Baseball’s annual foreign player issue, mainly as a source of ridicule for his hairpieces and habit of claiming to be injured, only to be spotted at nightclubs.

1962 Don Newcombe, Larry Doby: 1962 saw the first players with significant MLB careers move to NPB, with Doby and Newcombe both joining the Chunichi Dragons. Neither should need an introduction to baseball fans: Doby broke the color line in the American League and is a Hall of Famer; Newkcombe was among the first generation of black Major Leaguers, an ace pitcher and on a path to the Hall himself before alcoholism lead to a premature decline. Doby had retired from MLB in 1959, and hit .225/.302./.396; Newcombe played left field and hit .262/.316/.473. Neither player made a big impact on the field with the Dragons, but they started the trend of MLB veterans extending their careers in Japan, which still continues to limited extent today.

1953 Leo KielyThe first Major Leaguer to play in NPB, Kiely was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who was drafted into the military and stationed in Yokosuka. The Mainichi Orions (currently the Chiba Lotte Marines) needed pitching help and, in August 1953, signed him to a “part-time” contract that allowed him to appear in games around his military schedule. Kiely went 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 45 innings over six games on the mound, and 10-19 at the plate. In September, Kiely’s assignment to Yokosuka ended, and he returned to the US. Kiely resumed his career with the Red Sox the following year, and NPB’s commissioner enacted a rule prohibiting teams from signing US servicemen as part-time players.

The late Cappy Harada said NPB of the early 50’s was around the level of an American Class C minor league (modern day 1A). The league has come a long way over the last 60 years.

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A Midsummer Night’s Blog Post

» 18 August 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

While my baseball consumption has not returned to it’s previous levels, my itch to write has returned, so tonight I’m taking a hiatus from my hiatus to share a few thoughts on the season so far.

  • After years of anticipation, Yu Darvish, has made his Major League debut. The results have been mixed — lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. The walks are a surprise to me; the mid-season struggles are not. I must admit that fate has conspired against me, and I haven’t seen a single Darvish start all the way through this year.
  • Nippon Ham has carried on without Darvish, currently leading the Pacific League by a game over Seibu. 24 year-old lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa took advantage of the hole left by Darvish, and is enjoyed a breakout season. While he lacks Darvish’s eye-popping dominance, a 10-4 record with a 1.91 ERA isn’t too shabby.
  • I never thought I’d see Ichiro traded, but last month it happened. It felt more like Ichiro was on the path to retirement this season, but his bat has woken up a bit with the Yankees. Perhaps playing for a winning time will revive his career.
  • The Japanese Players Association is threatening to sit out next year’s World Baseball Classic if WBC Inc doesn’t give them a bigger share of the revenue. So far neither side is willing to budge. I hope they can work out some sort of agreement because a Japanese boycott would be bad for both sides.
  • I didn’t get to finish my predictions this spring, but every year I think that Chunichi is going to stumble and that Seibu is going to be good. And, every year I’m wrong, at least about the Chunichi side of the prediction. This year was no exception. I thought Chunichi was set for a big step backwards, but they’re comfortably in second place in the Central, and had been in the hunt for first until Yomiuri started to pull away. Seibu got off to a rough start and appeared to be headed for a disappointing season, but has righted the ship and is now in the hunt for a league title.
  • I was going to write something about Brad Penny here but I don’t think I’ll bother.
  • Softbank veteran Hiroki Kokubo announced his retirement last week. Otsukare-sama.
  • Yomiuri veteran and personal favorite Yoshinobu Takahashi slugged his 300th career home run last week. Jason Coskrey has more.
  • The two young players I’ve enjoyed watching the most this year? Hiroshima’s Yusuke Nomura and Yokohama DeNA’s Sho Aranami.
  • While it doesn’t stack up to MLB’s three perfect games this season, NPB has seen a pair of no-hitters this year: Toshiya Sugiuchi’s against Rakuten on May 30, and Kenta Maeda’s against DeNA on April 6. Although, I did not witness either of these games, I did catch a pair of near no-hitters. Another personal favorite, Daisuke Miura, took a no-no into the 9th against Hanshin on May 12, but pinch-hitter Shinjiro Hiyama put up a veteran at-bat, working a full count before finally hitting a long single. Hanshin eventually scored and Miura lost his shutout, but won the game. The other was another Sugiuchi gem, thrown on May 4 against Hanshin. The only solid contact I recall Sugiuchi surrendering happened to be the only hit Hanshin managed, a sharp single, hit mid-game by Takashi Toritani. The game lacked the drama of a late-innings no-hit bid, but was a dominant performance nonetheless.

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Changes for 2012: Yomiuri Giants

» 06 February 2012 » In npb » 5 Comments

Coming: Toshiya Sugiuchi, DJ Houlton, Shuichi Murata, John Bowker, Scott Mathieson, Yoshito Ishii, Takayuki Takaguchi

Going: Shugo Fujii, Alex Ramirez, Seth Greisinger, Rusty Ryal, Chih-Lung Huang, Micheal Nakamura, Saburo Ohmura, Jonathan Albaladejo, Carlos Torres, Josh Fields, Brian Bannister, Shinji Takahashi, Toshimasa Konta, Kazunori Tsuruoka

Staying: Ryota Wakiya

As usual, Yomiuri did lots of reshuffling this year, including a couple of significant moves.

Let’s start with the pitching. The Kyojin-gun took advantage of Softbank botching negotiations with ace Toshiya Sugiuchi, and scooped him up with a four-year deal. Sugiuchi was always my favorite Softbank lefty, and he’ll be a great addition to Yomiuri’s rotation. Yomiuri also raided Softbank for another starter, American DJ Houlton. Houlton’s four year’s in Japan have gone like this: mediocre, quite good, bad, great. Which of course, suggests that he’s due for a down year, if you believe such things. Houlton’s numbers may regress from his 19 wins and 2.29 ERA, but at his best he’s good for 170 innings of work, which is a valuable commodity.

At the plate, Yomiuri’s main moves essentially boil down for swapping Shuichi Murata and John Bowker in for Rusty Ryal/Josh Fields and Alex Ramirez. Initially this felt like a wash to me, but Murata is younger than Ramirez and plays a difficult position to fill, and maybe playing for a winning team will revive his motivation. Bowker simply needs to not be a total bust to eclipse the results of Ryal and Fields. Outfield depth is a bit of a concern with an unproven Bowker and a usually unhealthy Yoshinobu Takahashi, so a return form for recent non-performers Yoshiyuki Kamei and Tetsuya Matsumoto would be well-timed. Or maybe Kosuke Fukudome would be a fit.

So another offseason of the Giants doing what the Giants do — spending money. But it appears to be money well spent, addressing needs rather than just stacking up sluggers because they can. Expect them to compete for the Central League title this year.

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Softbank Signs Brad Penny

» 05 February 2012 » In npb » 3 Comments

The Softbank Hawks have officially announced the acquisition of righty Brad Penny, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun (edit: confirmed on the team’s website). Penny’s deal is for one year and $3m plus performance bonuses. Sanspo adds that Penny will travel to Japan on February 8th, and join Softbank’s camp on the 9th.

Softbank’s rotation was gutted this offseason with the loss of Toshiya Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Wada and DJ Houlton, so Penny’s presence fills a big void. I expect that the #2 spot in Softbank’s rotation is his to lose.

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A Fitting Tribute

» 03 January 2012 » In npb » 3 Comments

The other day, Sports Hochi reported that, in the event that he signs with the Rangers, the Nippon Ham Fighters will “semi-retire” Yu Darvish’s number 11. The number won’t be officially retired, but will remain unused until the team develops another “absolute, Darvish-caliber ace”.

So it’ll be something like a Nippon Ham adaptation of number 18, Japanese baseball’s recognized “ace number”. Incidentally, Darvish wore 18 for Japan’s 2008 Olympic Team, because Kenshin Kawakami had 11. I could have my historical facts not-quite-right here, but I believe the ace number tradition was popularized by 18-wearer Tsuneo Horiuchi, Yomiuri’s 60’s and 70’s-era ace. After Horiuchi retired, number 18 was eventually passed down to Masumi Kuwata who went on to have a lengthy career. Every NPB except Yakult currently has number 18 assigned to a pitcher. In the Major Leagues, Hiroki Kuroda, Daisuke Matsuzaka and now Tsuyoshi Wada wear number 18.

I’m on board with this one, I think treating 11 as a new ace number is a great idea. Darvish’s tenure in NPB has been short, but legendary, and he’s certainly left his mark on Japanese baseball.

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Top Ten From 2011

» 01 January 2012 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

I really wanted a list of 11 things, but I could only think of ten things I wanted to include, so here we go… the top ten events from 2011.

10. Hideki Irabu commits suicide

Obviously a very sad event and something I wish didn’t have to be on this list.

9. The Central League MVP award goes to… a setup man

Chunichi’s Takuya Asao, to be specific.

8. Mass departure of veterans to MLB

Yu Darvish, Hisasahi Iwakuma, Tsuyoshi Wada, Wei-Yin Chen, Norichika Aoki, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Munenori Kawasaki are MLB-bound, though only Wada has signed so far. In with the new

7. That whole thing with Yomiuri and former GM Hidetoshi Kiyotake

Shortly after the season, there was a bust-up between (now former) Yomiuri GM Kiyotake and chairman Tsuneo Watanabe, over Watanabe’s meddling in coaching personnel decisions. I didn’t write about this one at all, so I’ll rely on the Japan Times’ run down of it. The row eventually led to Kiyotake’s dismissal, which is a shame because he did a pretty good job with the Giants, setting up an effective development program and poaching mostly the right guys from other NPB teams.

6. Softbank wins its first Japan Series since buying the Hawks from Daiei, immediately suffers pitching exodus

Softbank’s years of consistent competitiveness were finally rewarded with its first Nippon-Ichi since 2003, when the team was still the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. Then three-fourths of its core rotation hit the road, with Tsuyoshi Wada joining the Orioles and Toshiya Sugiuchi and DJ Houlton departing for Yomiuri.

5. Chunichi dismisses the manager that oversaw the most successful period in team history, Hiromitsu Ochiai

Apparently five Nippon Series appearances in eight years wasn’t good enough. Worst baseball decision in franchise history?

4. The new, standardized NPB ball renders wood cylinders known as baseball bats largely useless

I don’t think I did a post dedicated to the new ball, but it was a big enough story for the NY Times to cover. Six starting pitchers finished with sub-2.00 ERAs, plus Hirokazu Sawamura and Shohei Tateyama right behind at 2.03 and 2.04 respectively.

3. DeNA buys Yokohama, immediately injects some life into the franchise

I haven’t written about DeNA yet, but there is more buzz and excitement around the BayStars now than there has been since the Bobby Rose days. Hopefully it translates into competitive baseball at Yokohama Stadium.

2. Yu Darvish finally moves to MLB via the posting system

He has yet to sign, so it’s not a done deal, but Darvish is certainly the most widely-anticipated Japanese import in MLB history.

1. The Great Tohoku Earthquake

Hopefully this goes without saying, but like the Irabu item, I wish this one wasn’t on the list. While the earthquake was probably the single most devastating event in 2011, it was still only one of many significant events in a turbulent year. I hope 2012 will bring global recovery and a greater level of peace.

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NPB Bullet Points: Okajima, Pinto, Aoki, Whitesell

» 27 December 2011 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 14 Comments

A couple of hot stove notes for the evening…

  • Sanspo reports that Milwaukee started negotiations with Norichika Aoki in in the backup player range, around $1-1.5m. Additionally, since the Brewers lack a scouting presence in Japan, they intend to work Aoki out at their Arizona facility before making a decision on him.
  • Sports Hochi reports that Hideki Okajima is in the final stages of negotiations with the Yankees on a minor league deal with a non-roster camp invite. Hochi cites a source familiar with situation as saying the two sides could “reach an agreement as soon as around the New Year.”
  • Sponichi reports that Softbank is working on acquiring lefty Reynel Pinto. Pinto would be a rotation candidate for the Hawks, who have said goodbye to starters Toshiya Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Wada and DJ Houlton this offseason.
  • Also via Sponichi, The Chiba Lotte Marines have announced that they have signed Josh Whitesell. Whitesell spent the last two seasons with Yakult.

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Game Notes: Nippon Series Games 6 & 7

» 21 November 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 2 Comments

And so, my 12th season as an NPB fan has come to a close. Here’s how it happened:

Game 6 – Chunichi wins, 2-1:

  • Both starters, Kazuki Yoshimi and Tsuyoshi Wada, look tired. It’s been a long haul for them: like everyone else, they started camp in early February and experienced the delayed start to the season; but both also logged over 180 innings over the course of the year, plus three postseason starts each.
  • The guest commentator for game six? Yu Darvish. He didn’t really say anything interesting, at least not that I noticed.
  • Softbank started a better offensive lineup, with Hiroki Kokubo playing first base and Nobuhiko Matsunaka DHing. In the first two games at Yahoo Dome, Kokubo DHed while Shuhei Fukuda played first, with Matsunaka on the bench.
  • There was a great Softbank Hawks commercial with the Hawks players hitting line drives to each other.
  • Toru Hosokawa’s flyout in the third inning seemed like it would have been a home run with the old ball.
  • Chunichi got all of their offense out of the way in the first inning, courtesy of a two-run Kazuhiro Wada triple. After that, they never mounted much of a threat.
  • Softbank’s bats were equally lifeless, more so than in any game since their listless effort against Wei-Yin Chen in game one.
  • Four of the seven games resulted in a final score of 2-1.
  • I must admit… my notes are a little lacking from this one… so I must again turn to Michael Westbay’s write-up. Plus, he has a YouTube video of that commercial I mentioned.
Game 7 — read until the end:
  • Chunichi started Daisuke Yamai, the righty who pitched eight perfect innings in the decisive game five of the 2007 Nippon Series, only let closer Hitoki Iwase finish it off. Yamai only managed a third of a perfect inning this time, giving up a single to Yuichi Honda with one out in the first.
  • Softbank entrusted game seven to ace Toshiya Sugiuchi. Coincidentally, in September Sugiuchi took a no-hitter through six innings against Orix, but volunteered to leave the mound.
  • Like the game six starters, neither Yamai nor Sugiuchi scared anyone with their fastballs.
  • Critical point number one: bottom of the third. Softbank loaded the bases with Hitoshi Tamara singling, Yuya Hasegawa doubling on what was very nearly a great catch by Chunichi center fielder Yohei Oshima, and Katsuki Yamazaki walking on four straight bunt attempts. Hiromitsu Ochiai immediately went to his bullpen to play the matchup, bringing in lefty Masato Kobayashi to face Munenori Kawasaki and Honda, the Maximo Nelson to face righties Uchikawa and Kokubo. Kobayashi walked in a run, but got Honda, and Nelson induced a couple of lazy flyouts, so the strategy worked out pretty well. Hasegawa could have scored on Uchi’s flyout, but Softbank played it safe. Score: 1-0 Softbank.
  • Critical point number two: bottom of the fourth. Matsunaka drew a walk and Akiyama immediately took the bat out of one of his best hitter’s hands by having Matsuda bunt. After a Tamura line out, Chunichi pitched around Hasegawa for Yamazaki, and he made ‘em pay with a sharp single to right, scoring Matsunaka. Then Kawasaki ended the rally with a very good at bat that resulted in a line out to left field. Score: 2-0 Softbank.
  • Ryosuke Hirata had an atrocious stolen base attempt in the fourth, after reaching base on a chopper in Sugiuchi’s direction that took a bad bounce.
  • Critical point number three: top of the seventh. With one out, Tony Blanco bounced a grounder back up the middle for a single. Kazuhiro Wada struck out without much resistance, but Hirata drew a walk to give the Dragons a runner in scoring position for the first time in the game. Then Sugiuchi struck out Atsushi Fujii to end the threat. It would be Chunichi’s last of the year. Score: 2-0 Softbank.
  • Like the rest of the series, Chunichi’s lineup went down without a fight. They scattered four singles (one of which was a swinging bunt) and a couple walks. And the seventh was the only inning when two runners on at the same time, which was the only time they got as far as 2nd base. In general they had bad at bats and didn’t force Softbank’s defense to make tough plays.
  • One of Chunichi’s coaches seemed to be using an iPad or something similar during the game.
  • Cabrera again struck out in a pinch hitting appearance, off Takuya Asao. His only good swing was on a first pitch fastball. He fouled it off, and he knew he missed his pitch.
  • Critical point number four: bottom of the seventh. Cabrera struck out, Kawasaki walked, Honda bunted him over (great play by Asao), and Uchikawa singled him in. I think this was the only time in the series that Akiyama got his desired result with a bunt. Score: 3-0 Softbank.
  • Softbank did threaten again with two outs in the eighth, but nothing came of it.
  • Brian Falkenborg took a line drive off his wrist in the top of the ninth, but was okay. In his place, a relay of Masahiko Morifuku and Tadashi Settsu closed out the win.
  • Softbank owner Masayoshi Son handed what looked like money to the guy standing next to him. Akiyama shed tears, and was tossed seven times in a ceremonial douage.
  • And so it was that the Hawks took game seven 3-0, and thus the Nippon Series, their first Nippon-ichi in eight years and first under Softbank’s ownership.

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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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Game Notes: PL Climax Series Final Stage Game 3

» 11 November 2011 » In npb » 5 Comments

Yes, this happened a week ago, but it was too good not to write about.

Game three of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage doesn’t usually drink beer, but when it does, it prefers Dos Equis. The deciding game of the Pacific League’s Climax Series had nearly everything, including a somewhat strange, anti-climactic ending.

First the good stuff: both starting pitchers were phenomenal. Seibu had the good version of Hideaki Wakui, who held the tough Softbank lineup hitless until the sixth inning. It’s easy to tell when Wakui has his good stuff: he tends to hit 145 kmph or so with his fastball while keeping the ball down, and have sharp command of his slider. He had both of those things against the Hawks. Maybe it was the level of competition or the fact that this was an elimination game, but he looked like a different pitcher than the one who took the mound against Nippon Ham a week earlier.

Softbank starter Toshiya Sugiuchi never really threatened for a no-hitter, but he matched Wakui’s zeroes through regulation. Sugiuchi has stopped trying to throw hard — his top fastball of the night was arough 138 kmph — but his command was masterful and every one of his pitches had movement. He looked a lot like he did the last time I saw him, about a month ago when he no-hit a hapless Orix lineup through six innings. Anyway, Sugiuchi scattered a few soft singles early in the game but cruised through the later innings, retiring 17 batters in a row from the fourth to the ninth inning.

Then the tears came. With one out inn the top of the 10th, Sugi surrendered back-to-back doubles to Okawari Nakamura and Jose Fernandez, resulting in the first run of the game for either side. With that, Softbank manager Koji Akiyama decided to turn to his excellent bullpen to preserve a shot at the win, and Sugiuchi broke down as he departed the game. This wasn’t really out of character, as Sugi’s known to shed a tear or two, but it was just the beginning of an emotional roller coaster.

After Softbank relievers Takehito Kanazawa and Masahiko Morifuku did what they’ve been doing all season (get guys out), Seibu sent Wakui out for the bottom of the 10th. Even this was a bit unusual. Shogo Saito, who had pinch run for DH Fernandez, stayed in the game to player center, while Wakui entered the lineup in the ninth spot, in place fo center fielder Masato Kumashiro. So Seibu played the rest of the game without a DH, a bit of strategy that makes sense given NPB stops games at 12 innings.

Anyway, it looked like Wakui was going to close things out for the Lions, after getting a pop-out, single and ground out on his first three batters of the 10th. Then Yuya Hasegawa doubled home pinch runner Shuhei Fukuda, tying the game at 1-1, and Wakui had his own tearful exit.

With the game tied going in to the 11th, I will point you back to the all-too-prescient Passerby’s comment from my predictions post:

Because there were many of them this year, this needs to be mentioned. In the Climax Series, a game can go up to the 12th inning. A tie goes to the team that has a better record in the regular season. (I’m actually waiting for an “unnecessary” bottom of the 12th, which I am not sure they will play.)

Both sides failed to score in the 11th, though Softbank threatened. With a man on second, Seibu walked top batter Seiichi Uchikawa, and brought in submarining closer Kazuhisa Makita to face brawny slugger Alex Cabrera. Cabrera was no match for Makita’s array of soft stuff, and the game proceeded to the 12th, still tied 1-1.

Softbank sent out closer Takahiro Mahara “close” the game, and he did his job, surrendering a leadoff single but nothing further. And so it was that for the first time (I assume), a postseason series was clinched before the final game was completed.

The Softbank Hawks were set to charge the field when Mahara completed the top of the 12th, but the mood-killing home plate umpire put the brakes on things, and made the Hawks bat for their half of the 12th. It didn’t matter, as the already-defeated Lions came out with a forgivably lethargic effort. Makita immediately surrendered a couple of hits, and the game officially ended in a 2-1 walkoff win for the Hawks.

Then, finally, the beer kake could begin. Alas, it was probably not Dos Equis.

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