Tag Archive > Tsuyoshi Wada

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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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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Scouting Wada

» 14 October 2011 » In mlb, mlb prospects, npb » 2 Comments

On September 28, ESPN reported that Los Angeles Dodgers assistant general manager Logan White was in Japan to scout Softbank’s lefty starter, Tsuyoshi Wada. This makes the Dodgers the latest to have checked in on the impending free agent, a list that reportedly includes the Yankees, Cubs, Rays and Mariners. Wada’s free agent status should only help his market prospects; since he won’t have to go through the posting process, there won’t be the contract fiasco we saw with Daisuke Matsuzaka, or that we expect to see with Yu Darvish. Wada’s track record in NPB, the WBC, and the Olympics affords him a solid negotiating position.

Background & Pitching

Wada was an ace and strikeout machine through his career at the esteemed Waseda University. He signed as a pre-draft pick with the (then Daiei) Hawks, earned a spot in the starting rotation his rookie year, and hasn’t looked back. His strikeout abilities have translated to the professional level, and he’s consistently been a top-end starter throughout his NPB career. Wada depends mostly on his fastball and slider, but will also drop in a change up at times. While most strike out pitchers are flame throwers, Wada tends to work in the mid to high ‘80’s. He can reach back and get to the low ‘90’s when he needs to, but location, movement, and changing speeds are where he makes his money. Wada is also known as a diligent student of the game by tracking scouting reports on all of the teams and players he faces. To his detriment, Wada has built a reputation for the occasional mistake pitch that gets launched into the outfield bleachers. However, his home run totals have dropped every year from 26 in his rookie year of 2003, to 11 in 2010.

Get a look at Wada’s mechanics here.

Wada has strong statistical track record to recommend him. He’s shown to be a durable starter over the last 9 seasons who averages a little under one strike out and one hit per inning. In addition to that, despite his high strike out rate and 32 complete games through 2010, his pitch counts have remained relatively low for a frontline starter in Japan. He has also done a pretty good job staying healthy, only missing time twice in his career to this point. Most recently, his 2009 season was cut short to injury, but in 2010, he bounced back well enough to earn the Pacific League MVP award, and to help lead the Hawks to the best record in NPB in 2011.

On the negative side, there are reasonable concerns with are his velocity, reputation for giving up big hits and ability endurance. Although his home run total has dropped steadily, his ERA has tended to stay above 3.00 and has not dropped with his annual home run total. So although he’s keeping the ball in the yard, the runs are still coming in. With his fastball velocity living the 87-88 range, Wada will not have the margin for error that a pure power pitcher might. If he has trouble locating any of his pitches, he will not be able to blow anyone away with his heater. As a starter, he could find it difficult to get through tougher MLB lineups two or three times. Furthermore, as with any pitcher making the leap from NPB to MLB, the heavier workload will be a question mark. If he’s a starter in The States, can he handle pitching every 5th day instead of only once a week? Also, Wada has hovered around 160 innings per season with his highest total set during his rookie year at 189 innings. Having never approached a 200 inning season, can Wada increase his annual innings total and still remain effective?

The Future

Wada projects to be a solid 4th or 5th starter or (worst case) middle reliever in MLB, should he decide to make the jump. His studious tendencies should put him in position for a good transition, and his successful track record at every level he’s played suggests he’s got a shot at further success. It will ultimately be up to the team that signs him to figure out how to use him correctly. Given the success the Dodgers have had with Japanese pitchers, they just might be the right MLB home for him.

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NPB Bullet Points: Catching Up

» 17 September 2011 » In kbo, mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. So long, in fact, that the draft post had some links from July in it. Between when I started this and now, some interesting random things have happened. Here are a few of them.

  • The Orix Buffaloes promoted Freddy Ballestas to their shihaika roster back in July.
  • Also in July, Softbank lefty Tsuyoshi Wada took home his 100th career win. He achieved the feat in his 200th career game, the eight fastest pace of all time and the fastest for a lefty, ahead of teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi.
  • In other Wada news, Tsuyoshi reached the service time requirements for free agency on September 16 and is widely expected to make a run at an MLB contract this offseason. Said Wada: “I’m honestly happy [about reaching free agency]. I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet. [The team and] I haven’t had a detailed discussion yet, but I’ve been told I’m needed.” He looked pretty happy about the achievement.
  • Hiroshima is holding a tryout on September 24th, for men aged 17 to 24 and over 175 cm tall. This is aimed at Japanese, NPB draft-eligible players.
  • Sport Hochi speculates that Yokohama could release all eight of their foreign players this offseason. I suspect they’ll hold on to their Taiwanese prospects but move on from the rest.
  • Whomever runs the official Orix Buffaloes Twitter feed wants to attend UEFA Champion League matches.
  • A fan fell on the field during the September 16th Swallows-Carp game in Hiroshima, after climbing the outfield fence trying to retrieve a ball thrown into the stands by Yakult outfielder Norichika Aoki. Aoki commented, “he seemed pretty drunk. I’m glad that he seemed to not get hurt.”
  • Journalist Misako Hida recently did an interesting interview with Kei Igawa for the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal. Among the insights: Igawa wants to sign with an MLB organization that will give him a chance to reach the majors, he doesn’t get recognized much when he goes out, and he realized the Yankees didn’t know him when the GM and manager asked what his best pitch at a meeting during his first year.
  • @mykbo had a Tweet this morning saying that Lotte pitcher Lee Yong-hoon has thrown the first minor league perfect game in the history of the KBO.

English language bonus link:

  • Twins blog Over the Baggy has some interesting analysis of Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s defense in his first year with the Twins. The author makes some excellent observations. Better, I would say, than anything I’ve done in this area.

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Hot Stove Preview, Part One: 2012 Free Agent Class

» 17 July 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » Comments Off

It’s time once again for my mid-season look at the crop of NPB players who will be available on the MLB hot stove market this upcoming offseason. I do these in the middle of the season so we have a list of guys to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season.

Part One will cover the top free agents in this year’s class. All these guys are scheduled to have met the service time requirements for international free agency by the end of the season.

Hisashi Iwakuma (SP, Rakuten Golden Eagles) — After last offseason’s well-documented posting misfire, Iwakuma will give it another go this year, this time as a free agent. The bad news is that Iwakuma is currently (July 18) rehabbing a shoulder problem that has kept him sidelined since May. We’ll see how he does when he comes back, but I fully expect him to command an MLB deal. (tag archive)

Wei-Yin Chen (SP, Chunichi Dragons) — Chunichi’s Taiwanese lefty ace negotiated a free agency clause into his agreement last offseason, and intends to move to the Bigs for 2012. I’ve only watched Chen once this year, and it looked like he traded some velocity for pitchability. It’s unusual to have an established lefty with a good arm freely available on the market at age 26, so it’ll be interesting to see where he winds up. Expect more on Chen in a later post. (tag archive)

Matt Murton (Outfielder, Hanshin Tigers) — Spare a thought for Hansin and their fans here for a moment: after years of importing duds like Shane Spencer and Kevin Mench to man rightfield, Hanshin scores a hit with Murton and almost immediately has to worry about losing him to MLB. Hanshin’s brass would love to keep him around, but the assumption is that he’d like to make an MLB comeback. Japan’s single-season hits record holder is again among the Central League’s batting average leaders, but like most of NPB’s batters his power and patience numbers have seen a decline in this offense-starved season. (tag archive)

Munenori Kawasaki (SS/2B, Softbank Hawks) — Profiling Kawasaki has been on my now-basically-defuct to-do list since I started the site back in 2008. I’ve long thought of Mune-rin as an MLB prospect, and though I’ve tempered my expectations for him I still think he could provide value to an MLB club in the right role. Kawasaki trains with Ichiro in the offseason, and the Japanese media would love to him wind up with Seattle. Mariners scout Yasushi Yamamoto had nice things to say about him in June: “I’m grading him higher than (Tsuyoshi) Nishioka and (Hiroyuki) Nakajima in baserunning and defense. If he can hit .250 in the Majors that will be enough (to play regularly).” Softbank will try to keep him. (tag archive)

Tsuyoshi Wada (SP, Softbank Hawks) — Lefty Wada stepped into the Hawks’ rotation straight out of Waseda University back in 2003, and has been pretty consistently effective even since, culminating with an MVP Award last season (over an arguably more-deserving Tsuyoshi Nishioka). Wada isn’t going to blow anyone away with his fastball, but he mixes a slider and a changeup and has solid command. My concern about Wada is whether he’ll be able to handle a full complement of innings in an MLB rotation. Japanese starters have had a tendency to regress on innings pitched after migrating to MLB; Wada has topped 180 innings only three times, the most recent being 2007 (though he’s on pace for about 185 this year). (tag archive)

Coming up in volume 2: posting candidates.

The Japanese site My Favorite Giants maintains a page on free agency status, which was a huge help in pulling this content together.

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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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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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I Disagree About a Few Things

» 19 November 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

The other day, NPB held its awards ceremony and announced the winners of this year’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Best Nine awards. Gen over at Yakyu Baka has transcribed all the winners (MVP/RoY, Best Nines), which saves me the trouble of doing it here. I don’t plug Gen often enough, so here’s another link — go and look at his site.

I published my picks about a month ago, and amazingly, the NPB voters mostly agreed with me. But there were a few differences.

Pacific League MVP — my pick: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Lotte SS), winner: Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank SP)

Wow. I don’t think I can disagree with this more strongly. NPB MVP voters have an annoying habit of favoring players from the league winner. That, combined with Wada’s one win more than Softbank teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi, was enough to propel him to the award. Nishioka had a historic year in which he drove Lotte’s league-leading offense with 206 hits and 121 runs (17% of Lotte’s total). Penalizing him because his team finished 2.5 games out of first is both archaic and illogical. Then again, maybe the voters were punishing him because he is a bit of a prima donna, or because he’s bolting for MLB.

Pacific Leage RoY — my pick: Keisuke Kattoh (Softbank RP), winner Ryo Sakakibara (Nippon Ham RP)

I didn’t realize Sakakibara was eligible; I guess that’s why I’m not an official voter. Kattoh finished second, no complaints.

Pacific League Best Nine P — my pick Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham), winner Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank)

Not much to say here — Darvish was superior to Wada in every category except wins. I would have put Sugiuchi and Chihiro Kaneko ahead of Wada as well, so he would have been my fourth choice for this award.

Pacific League Best Nine 2B — my pick Tadahito Iguchi (Lotte), winner Kensuke Tanaka (Nippon Ham)

I was actually kind of on the fence about this one. In the end I took Iguchi’s glove, power and walks over Tanaka’s batting average. The voters didn’t agree though, and Iguchi finished in third. In second was Softbank’s Yuichi Honda who hit .296 and led the PL with 59 steals.  Yasuyuki Kataoka would have been my third choice, but he finished a distant fourth despite better overall numbers than Honda.

Pacific League Best Nine OF — my picks Teppei (Rakuten), Yoshio Itoi (Nippon Ham), winners Takumi Kuriyama (Seibu), T-Okada (Orix)

I picked T-Okada as the DH on my Best Nine, so I can live with him winning as an outfielder. I just don’t see how Kuriyama beats either Teppei or Itoi though, particularly Itoi, who was superior in slugging, on-base percentage, and base stealing.

Pacific League Best Nine DH — my pick Okada, winner Kazuya Fukuura (Lotte)

Fukuura put up a respectable .295/.354/.475 line, but didn’t get enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title.

Remarkably, the voters and I only disagreed on one Central League award:

Central League Best Nine SS — my pick Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri), winner Takashi Toritani (Hanshin)

I succumbed to the shiny allure of Sakamoto’s 31 home runs on this one. Toritani had a better batting average and on-base percentage, and made fewer errors.

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