Tag Archive > Yusei Kikuchi

NPB Bullet Points: Year End Blowout

» 26 December 2010 » In npb » 20 Comments

Alright, it has been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but I have been reading. Here’s a list of stories I’ve gathered up over the last month, in roughly chronological order. Most of the source content is Japanese but there are a few English items in there.

  • Back in early December, Osamu Yamamoto of the Chugoku Shimbun shed some light on the Hiroshima Carp’s US scouting practices, and shared some evaluations of players that the Carp signed over the last few years. Among this year’s signings, Dennis Sarfate graded at the top of the team’s five point scale with an A, while Chad Tracy and Bryan Bullington punched in a notch below at the AB level. Hiroshima has also added former Carp player Scott McClain as a second US-based scout.
  • Yakult lefty Masato Nakazawa has gotten married.
  • Speaking of weddings, Yankees lefty farmhand Naoya Okamoto attended one in Kyoto, where he bumped into several former teammates. Judging by the pictures, I’m concerned Okamoto may have joined a gang (笑).
  • A personal favorite of mine, Nagisa Arakaki has signed for 25% pay cut next season. Once upon a time I thought Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher, but he’s been done in by injuries. Hopefully he’s able to come back, but I fear his days as a power pitcher are over.
  • Kengo Kubo of Nikkan Sports fills us in on Yomiuri Giants representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake’s ideas for increasing Japanese participation abroad, including establishing a “Team Japan” to play in overseas winter leagues. This year, six players including Yoshiyuki Kamei played in Australia. Hopefully I’ll find some time to write more about this subject because there are some interesting ideas out there.
  • Sanpo reports that Yusei Kikuchi has signed a management contract with talent agency HoriPro, the first active baseball player to do so.
  • Norichika Aoki’s 2011 goal is to surpass Ichiro’s record of 210 hits within the first 130 games of the season. Incidentally, Ichiro’s 1994 pace translates to 232 hits over the current 144-game schedule.
  • Hiroshima’s Kenta Maeda was quoted in Sanspo as saying he’d like to “try going to the Majors”, in response to a question from pro golfer Mika Miyazato. However, a couple days after he said this, Gen over at Yakyubaka.com found him contradicting himself.
  • Former Yakult Swallow Jaime D’Antona was on the field when Matt Murton broke Ichiro’s hits record, and shared his thoughts on the official Swallows blog. Here’s an excerpt: “It was great also, since it was at Jingu,to see our fans appreciate his achievement and cheer for him with the Tigers fans. That showed a lot of class for our fans and proves we have great baseball fans, not just all or nothing Swallows fans. I think that is important in sports and you don’t see that too often.” I caught this one via the Tokyo Swallows Twitter feed, and recommend following them if you happen to use Twitter.
  • Yoshiaki Kanemura looks back on Hideo Nomo’s historic move to the Dodgers.
  • Like Aoki, Softbank’s Munenori Kawasaki is taking aim at the single-season hits record next year. As part of his offseason training, he’s working on hitting bad pitches. Last year, Kawasaki finished just behind Murton, Aoki and Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a Hawks-record 190 hits.
  • The great Mister-Baseball.com has covered the Australian Baseball League this season, which Kamei and Shuhei Fukuda participated in.
  • Deanna attended some bounenkai (year-end) parties and found this cool glass.
  • Nikkan Sports reports that Rusty Ryal will by paid 100m yen (lazy conversion: $1.2m) and play third base for Yomiuri. Rusty’s dad Mark played for Chunichi.
  • Yomiuri’s Kiyotake commented again on Winter Leagues on the 24th in Sanspo, saying that he had a “request for players from Puerto Rico”, and that he wants to get players “opportunities in competitive games overseas.”

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NPB Bullet Points: While I Was Away

» 07 May 2010 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 6 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve written any actual content about Japanese baseball… sometimes real life gets in the way. Let’s see if we can fix that, at least for now.

  • The surprise of the season so far for me has been the performance of the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are neck and neck and neck with the SoftBank Hawks and resurgent Seibu Lions for the Pacific League lead. Lotte is getting it done in style too, leading the Pa-League in team runs scored, runs allowed, batting average and era. Will it continue? You have to figure that Kim Tae-Kyun and Tadahito Iguchi will cool off at some point, but they have a decent lineup 1-9. The pitching is a little bit of a concern too, as new manager Nishimura is letting some of his starters go a bit further into games than Bobby V used to. We’ll see if that turns into a problem down the stretch.
  • Over in the Central League, it’s nice to see the Yokohama BayStars competing with a respectable 16-18 record so far. Yokohama is getting good production from a number of pitchers, including newcomers Naoyuki Shimizu, Shigeru Kaga, and Shintaro Ejiri. The ‘Stars are still struggling in spots offensively, but should be better over the course of the season by virtue of the sheer number of weak bats they took out of the lineup last offseason.
  • Bridging the gap between those first two bullet points is the apparently impending trade of Yuji Yoshimi from Yokohama to Lotte. The big lefty was once a promising starter, but injuries derailed him for a couple of years and recently he’s been more of a middle-of-the-pack long reliever. Lotte seems to want him as a starter.
  • And more on Lotte: reliever Hiroyuki Kobayashi has qualified for international free agency, and is reportedly likely to seek a move to the majors. This has come up before with Kobayashi so it isn’t exactly a surprise at this point. I could see him playing for the San Francisco Giants, if they have an opening for a righthander. Former Lotte man Shun Kakazu scouts Japan for the Giants, and Brian Sabean can be creative in putting together his bullpen.
  • Former Hanshin lefty Jeff Williams wants to return to the Tigers as an active pitcher, but the Tigers want to bring him back as a scout. The idea would be for current scout Andy Sheets to focus on hitters, while Jeff would look for pitchers. Jeff certainly knows what it takes to succeed in Japan, but I would love to see him pitch for the Tigers again and eventually get a proper do-age send-off.
  • Who will be this year’s Junichi Tazawa or Yusei Kikuchi? Maybe it will be Chuo University pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, who seems to be eclipsing Yuki Saito in terms of media ink. The Giants and Mets each had a scout at Sawamura’s most recent scout, with Mets’ Isao Ojimi saying that it would “be a waste for him to say in Japan”, while the Giants’ Shun Kakazu said that he hit 97 on his gun. Draft Reports has a quote from Sports Hochi from February saying that Sawamura is favoring playing in Japan.
  • Moving along to Kikuchi, the young lefty now known simply as Yusei struggled with both his command and velocity in his first couple ni-gun appearances, but showed signs of improvement on May 4th, when he threw five scoreless innings and hit 147 kmph (92mph) on the gun. Seibu is saying he won’t be promoted before the All-Star break, but could get a look afterward.
  • Casey Fossum bought the PSP version of Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 for his five year-old son, but was annoyed to learn that Konami made him pretty bad in the game, and vowed to use it as motivation to do well and be a better player in next year’s version of the game. Speaking of Fossum, he’s blogging about his experiences in Japan.
  • Off-topic bullet point: I came across this essay about the state of Japan’s technology and IT sector (link to PDF file), and why it’s in trouble. It makes some good points, but overall I found it disappointing as it covers the usual tired criticisms of over-reliance on manufactured consumer goods and an under-developed services sector.

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Six 2010 Season Storylines

» 18 March 2010 » In npb » 2 Comments

The Pacific League opener is nearly upon us. Here are a couple of storylines I’ll have my eye on this year:

  • Have the Yokohama BayStars done enough to contend for a playoff spot this year? — Yokohama added 12 new players this offseason, most of whom are veterans intended to help the 2010 club. Will it be enough to compete for a third place finish? My gut feeling is that Yokohama’s pitching is still a little lacking, but if they get a bunch of career years… you never know.
  • Shane Spencer… Lew Ford… Kevin Mench… Matt Murton? Have the Hanshin Tigers gotten it right this year?
  • Are the Rakuten Golden Eagles Pacific League title contenders this year? The Eagles finished second last year despite predictable regression from Hisashi Iwakuma, a mediocre bullpen and some major lineup gaps. Have they plugged enough holes to win the Pacific this year?
  • Can either Hanshin or Chunichi unseat Yomiuri as the Central League champion? The Kyojin-gun has a three-year stranglehold on the Se-League. Is this a new dynasty or do the Tigers or Dragons have enough to knock ‘em back? Or even Yakult?
  • What will Yu Darvish do this year? Will he mundanely post a fourth straight sub-2.00 era, sub-1.00 whip season? Will he throw a no-hitter?
  • How much of Yusei Kikuchi will we see at the top level this year? He’s already been penciled in to the ni-gun rotation to start the season.

The Pacific League opens on March 20. I’ll try to do some kind of live chat, so stay tuned for details.

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New Pitches

» 04 March 2010 » In mlb, npb » Comments Off

It’s spring training, and that means pitchers are refining their arsenals. Here are some of the guys that are working on new pitches this spring:

We’ll have to wait and see what from this list survives to see game action.

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NPB Bullet Points: Real Bullets This Time

» 01 March 2010 » In npb » 3 Comments

In the year and a half or so I’ve been writing posts called “NPB Bullet Points”, I’ve never written about actual bullets. Thanks to Chunichi Dragons pitcher Maximo Nelson, that changes today.

Nelson was arrested for violating Japan’s weapons control law a couple of days ago when passing through security for a domestic flight. It turns out that he had a single bullet in his carry-on luggage. Nelson explained what happened at his apology press conference: “In the Dominican, I had put away about 50 bullets in that bag. When I was coming to Japan, I had planned on clearing out all the bullets and bringing that bag, but there was one left. I didn’t notice it.” I was wondering why that wouldn’t have triggered security already, but Nelson had an explanation for that: “at the time I came to Japan, I had that bag inside a suitcase I checked with the airline. Also when I traveled to Okinawa, it was with the luggage the team collected and delivered. So it didn’t get caught in the inspections.”

Nelson bowed deeply and seems to be apologetic. It seems like the team is conducting its own investigation, but it doesn’t look like this will cost Nelson his spot with the Dragons. In Sports Hochi article, manager Hiromitsu Ochiai was quoted as saying “this experience was awful, but from this point on do your best.”

On with the rest of the bullet points…

  • Yusei Kikuchi, now known simply as Yusei, has been sent to Seibu’s ni-gun (farm team) camp.
  • Yu Darvish’s wife, entertainer Saeko, gave birth to the couple’s second child, a boy weighing in at about 3400 grams. Darvish wasn’t present for the delivery, as he was tied up showing Buddy Carlyle how he grips his slider
  • According to the Yuma Sun by way of Nikkan Sports, Eri Yoshida was drafted out of the Arizona Winter League by the Golden League’s Chico Outlaws. Yoshida has a deal to play this season with Mie of the Japan Future Baseball League, and is going to talk her options over with her parents.
  • A great nugget from the previously referenced Yoshida article is that Ila Borders, who played Indy ball in the late 90’s had and failed a tryout with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2000. I had never heard that before.
  • College pitcher Yuki Saito, in the States training with his Waseda University team, was given the opportunity to throw off the mound at Dodgers Stadium. Nikkan Sports also picked up on the attention Saito is getting from SF Giants scouts John Cox and Shun Kakazu. That is the same Shun Kakazu that worked with Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines.
  • Giants rookie Hisayoshi Chono, who I’m skeptical of, is off to a great start this spring, going 14/32 over his first eight games.
  • This isn’t normal NPB Tracker news, but a couple weeks ago Taiwan’s Brother Elephants signed Canadian Ryan Murphy. To me, this is notable because Murphy spent the last two years in Holland’s Honkbal Hoofdklasse, and has experience in Australia as well.

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NPB Bullet Points: Spring is in the Air

» 04 February 2010 » In npb » 1 Comment

It’s the first week of February and pouring rain in the Bay Area, but NPB spring training camps are kicking into full gear. Here are some news and notes from around the league. All of the below articles are in Japanese.

  • Let the wear and tear begin: new Chiba Lotte Marine Takumi Nasuno threw a 300 pitch bullpen session the other day, bringing his total for the four days he’s spent in camp to 646. In what Sponichi referred to as “Bobby-free” Lotte had six pitchers throw over 200 pitches on Feb 5. The article explains that this was in contrast to Bobby Valentine’s practice of limited bullpen sessions to 20 minutes at a time. I have to question the wisdom of working pitchers like that this early in camp, after several years of getting more rest under Valentine.
  • Chiba Lotte also signed former Hanshin infielder Makoto Imaoka after a brief trial in camp. Imaoka gets a 15m yen salary for 2010.
  • Having so far failed to attract any offers, 38 year-old infielder Toshihisa Nishi is planning on working out in front of MLB scouts in the near future.
  • Chunichi rookie Ryoji Nakata, who was already chunky at 115 kg, has put on 3 kg since getting into camp.
  • Here’s a video interview with Yusei Kikuchi, who is now professionally known simply as Yusei.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa has finally signed for 2010, getting a 400m yen salary. Kyuji paid his own way through camp up to this point.

And finally, Brandon Siefken of Japan Baseball News is kicking off a monthly newsletter in April. Each month’s issue will include a spreadsheet of statistical data. You can get the full details here and subscribe here.

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While I Was Away

» 16 January 2010 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 18 Comments

Okay, time to come out of hiatus with my first NPB Tracker post of the year.

Player Personnel

Did I miss anyone?

Other News

  • MLB and NPB are discussing holding a global world series between the champions from the two leagues. It doesn’t seem as close as initially reported, but I would love to see this happen. More later…
  • Having failed to get any NPB offers, former Orix Buffaloe Katsuaki Furuki is moving into the ring and becoming a figher
  • Yusei Kikuchi has begun working out for his first pro spring training. And believer or not, he’s walking on air
  • More jibba-jabba about Yu Darvish going to MLB
  • Matt Murton will play center field for Hanshin

Any other big stories over the last few weeks that I didn’t include?

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Top 10 Events of 2009

» 28 December 2009 » In mlb, nichibei, npb, npb draft » 2 Comments

2009 went by super fast. Here are my top ten events in Japanese baseball for the year that was.

10. Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami sign with MLB teams; Yomiuri, Chunichi don’t notice. Uehara and Kawakami both signed with MLB clubs early in 2009, meanwhile, their former teams finished 1-2 in the Central League, with Yomiuri taking the Japan Series Championship.

9. Tuffy Rhodes hits 450th NPB home run. Tuffy continued his remarkable comeback in 2009, reaching 450 homers early in the season. A healthy 2010 will see him reach 500.

8. Rakuten makes first ever post season appearance as Katsuya Nomura retires. Rakuten to reached the second round of the playoffs in their fifth year of existence and appears to have a bright near-term future. Nomura restored his legacy with Rakuten after arguably failing to revive Hanshin and his wife’s ugly tax fraud problems.

7. Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium opens. Japan’s first new stadium in years opens to rave reviews, and while the Carp look competitive at times, they ultimately slump to a fifth-place finish.

6. Yusei Kikuchi stays in Japan; gets selected by only six teams in draft. After a lengthy cross-Pacific courting process, Kikuchi gave into social pressures and choose to stay in Japan and enter the NPB draft. After speculation that he could get picked by 10 or 11 teams,he winds up getting taken by six, with the remaining six teams grabbing other players uncontested. He eventually signs a max contract with Seibu.

5. Hideki Matsui wins World Series MVP. Matsui leaves NY in style with a dominant World Series performance, despite not starting any of the games played in Philadelphia.

4. Bobby Valentine leaves Marines. Bobby V goes back to Connecticut after a successful six-year run with Chiba Lotte, in which he turned around a moribund franchise and became one of the finest advocates for Japanese baseball in the West.

3. Yomiuri wins first title since 2002. It took seven years for Yomiuri to win a Japan Series post-Matsui. The Giants won three times in his ten-year Giants career (1994, 2000, 2002).

2. Ichiro collects 200 hits for ninth straight year. ’nuff said.

1. Japan wins second straight WBC title. Japan is now 2-2 in WBC appearances, avenging its embarrassing 2008 Olypmic loss.

Honorable mentions: Junichi Tazawa reaches MLB in first pro season; great Koshien finale; Yu Darvish/Alex Ramirez win MVPs; Hanshin re-imports Kenji Johjima

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Kikuchi to Debut as Reliever?

» 29 November 2009 » In npb » 2 Comments

Seibu Lion’s manager Hisanobu Watanabe has suggested that his plan for Yusei Kikuchi might be to have the highly-touted lefty start his pro career in middle relief. The Lions already has a starting rotation which consists of 2009 Sawamura Award winner Hideaki Wakui, a proven young starter in Takayuki Kishi, and also former major leaguer Kazuhisa Ishii. Unless Kikuchi shows his ability to be part of the rotation during spring training, the plan, barring injuries, may be that he will start his professional career from the bullpen.

Manager Watanabe also reminded Kikuchi through the media of three points in challenging for a spot in the rotation.

1. Don’t practice too much

This comes from the concern that Kikuchi could overwork himself if he pushed to hard to start the season in the rotation. What the manager and the baseball world really want to see at the start of the spring training is a healthy Yusei Kikuchi.

2. Don’t neglect the fundamentals

Watanabe already gave Kikuchi a practice menu written by the training coach and he believes that building the basis of his body will lead to successful pitching.

3. No special treatment

Ichi-gun on opening day? I have no answer for that. I am not going to put him on the roster because he can just pitch. He needs to show results during spring training.”

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Daisempai

» 23 November 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

Long before Yusei Kikuchi entertained eight MLB suitors, before Junichi Tazawa rattled the cage by skipping NPB to sign with the Red Sox, before MLB teams first took note of Yu Darvish, before Daisuke Matsuzaka attracted $51m in posting money, before Hideo Nomo ‘retired’, before Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to reach the majors, before Walter O’Malley tried to acquire Shigeo Nagashima, there was Eiji Sawamura.

November 20 marked the 75th anniversary of Sawamura’s famous one-hit loss to the touring team of American all-stars. Sawamura, then 17, struck out Hall of Famers Lou Gerhig, Babe Ruth and  Jimmie Foxx, but surrendered a solo home run in the 7th to Gerhig, which was all the Americans needed to win 1-0.

The Americans responded to the loss by trying to sign Sawamura. There are various retellings, but the story goes that a Pirates scout asked Sawamura to “autograph” a contract. Connie Mack also tried to acquire him for the A’s, perhaps in a more above the board way. Sawamura refused and eventually went pro in Japan, but died in World War II. the Sawamura Award was established by NPB in 1947 (pre-dating the Cy Young Award).

The word “sempai” (先輩) roughly translates to “one who came before” or “senior”, like an older kid at school, or Nomo to Matsuzaka. Prepend it with a “dai” (大), meaning “big”, and you get “daisempai” (大先輩), as in someone who went to the school school, but graduated long before you even started. In a sense, Sawamura was the earliest predecessor to all the players I mentioned in the first paragraph.

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