Tag Archive > Yoshinori Sato

11 Players I’m Looking Forward to Following this Year

» 16 February 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

I didn’t set out to order these guys in any specific way, but looking at the list, there are basically three groups of players: young breakout candidates, veterans coming back from injury problems, and a couple of veteran ni-gun imports.

Sho Nakata (IF/OF, Nippon Ham): Nakata hit 30 home runs in 322 ni-gun at-bats last year, but every time I’ve seen him at the ichi-gun level he’s looked overmatched. Supposedly he’s a butcher at first base, but this spring Ham is giving him a look in left field. If he can stick with the big team he should get enough at-bats to get comfortable.

Romash Tasuku Dass (P, Nippon Ham): I’ll admit that only real reason Dass has caught my eye is that he’s half Indian. I didn’t really follow him at all last year, but apparently he only saw 15 innings of work at ni-gun.

Kohei Hasebe (P, Rakuten): Hasebe was heavily hyped as an amateur but has so far had two lackluster seasons as a pro. Rakuten has a deep rotation, and we’ll see if he can flourish under Marty Brown.

Yoshinori Sato (P, Yakult): Yoshinori has a great arm, but is basically a two-pitch pitcher with command problems. If his command improves I think he’d be as good or better than Wirfin Obispo, who has a similar arsenal.

Shota Ohba (P, SoftBank): Ohba has shown that he can get NPB hitters out, but has yet to put together a complete season. The talent is there.

Yasuhiro Ichiba (P, Yakult): Ichiba was another highly regarded amateur who has failed to make an impact as a pro. I thought a change of scenery would help Ichiba last year, but it didn’t. This year, he’s experimenting with a new, three-quarters delivery.

Makoto Imaoka (IF, Lotte): From 2002-05, Imaoka was one of the most competent, productive hitters in Japan. From 2006-09, he got progressively more horrific until Hanshin finally released him. The Marines are giving him a chance to contribute this year, and hopefully he’ll play like he has something to prove.

Yoshinobu Takahashi (OF/IF, Yomiuri): Takahashi is a guy that Hanshin fans love to hate, but I’ve always thought he was a very good player, perhaps even a little underrated. In my eyes, he should have been the Central League MVP in 2007, instead of Michihiro Ogasawara. He’s been battered an ineffective over the last two years, and even if he’s healthy this year he’ll have to compete for playing time.

Nagisa Arakaki (P, SoftBank): Seven years ago, I thought Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher. And he was pretty good for a while, before catching Steve Blass Disease and dealing with shoulder injuries (two problems which are probably not mutually exclusive). Arakaki has been indefinitely relegated to ni-gun, which suggests he has a long way back.

Aarom Baldiris (IF, Orix) & Juan Muniz (IF, Lotte): Baldiris and Muniz have a few things in common — they are both veteran minor leaguers, both started in Japan on ikusei contracts, and both led their respective farm leagues in batting last year. Baldiris is younger and has gotten time at the top level, where he hasn’t hit enough to stick despite strong defense. We’ll see if either break through this year.

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The Life and Times of Hisashi Iwakuma

» 24 March 2009 » In npb » 2 Comments

More than anyone else on the Japan team, it was Hisashi Iwakuma that made a name for himself in this year’s WBC. Iwakuma put in an outstanding performance in the round two elimination game against Cuba, and again in the final when he left the game with a lead over Korea. He isn’t a new face to NPB fans, but he’s not a phenom like Yu Darvish and hasn’t gotten much exposure abroad. 

It’s been somewhat of a winding road to this point for Iwakuma. Let’s take a look at how he got here.

2002
I was living near Osaka in 2002, when Iwakuma arrived on the scene for the local Kintetsu Buffaloes. The Buffaloes were coming off a Japan Series appearance, but had a pretty weak rotation, and he put up respectable numbers in his first full year. More than anything, I recall his funky two-stage delivery, and that people were talking about his as someone to watch in coming years.

2003
Iwakuma broke out with a 15-10 record and 3.45 ERA in 195 2/3 innings, and along with Jeremy Powell gave the Buffaloes a solid front-end rotation.  Kintetsu’s power lineup was aging at that point though, and they weren’t able to compete with the strong Fukuoka Daiei Hawks for the Pacific League title.

2004
Iwakuma started the season with a 12-game winning streak and was the top vote-getting pitcher in the Pacific League for the All-Star game.  Iwakuma plays in the Olympics later in the summer and finished with a 15-2 record.

More signficantly, the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix Blue Wave agreed to merge their baseball operations in the summer of ’04, leading to the establishment of team currently known as the Orix Buffaloes. The merger spurred talks of contraction, which eventually led to a fan-supported players’ strike and the creation of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles franchise. The merge was a sad event for me, as it meant the end of the Blue Wave name, which I really liked.

2004-5 Offseason
Iwakuma refused to play for the merged Buffaloes team, and was traded to the Rakuten expansion team. Rakuten seemed to have a decent foundation to its rotation with Iwakuma and college ace Yasuhiro Ichiba
. Ichiba never panned out, and was just recently traded.

2005-7
Wilderness years. Two-stage delivery’s were banned in NPB, forcing Iwakuma to re-work his mechanics. This video gives you a sense of the changes he had to make; you can see his Kintetsu-era windup from about 1:00-1:20*. He also struggled through injuries and had a doormat of an expansion team behind him until 2007.

 *note about the video: click the large button that says 再生 to play the video. There is also an annoying comment feature that can be disabled if you click the button in the lower right of the video player, the one that kind of looks like a chick with a cartoon talk-bubble

2008
A big return to form. Iwakuma stayed healthy and apparently mastered his mechanics. The video I linked to above shows a change he made to his arm slot, which resulted in him getting more groundball outs, and dramatically reduced his home run rate. Despite his excellent season, Iwakuma was snubbed from the Olympic team, which in part allowed him to win a league-leading 21 games. He was the first 20-game winner in NPB since Kei Igawa
 and Kazumi Saito both won 20 in 2003, and the first 21-game winner since Yoshinori Sato in 1985. 

For his efforts, he was awarded the Sawamura Award as NPB’s best pitcher, and the Pacific League MVP despite playing for a 5th-place team.

The Future
Iwakuma signed a 3-year, 1.1bn yen ($11m) deal with Rakuten after the 2008 season. It’s uncommon for NPB players to sign multi-year deals prior to reaching free agency, so his contract is evidence that Rakuten really thinks highly of him.  Since I was getting asked this during the NPB chats, as far as I can tell he has about five years of NPB service time, which means he has another four to go before reaching international free agency. Rakuten seems to be commited to building a competitive team around him.

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