[j-ball] 1999 Japanese baseball preview
- I haven't yet finished work on my March 28 news page, but I figured I'd
send the rough draft to the list since it may get some kind of dialogue
Questions? Comments? Angry retorts? Feel free to jump in...
1999 Japanese baseball preview
(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)
BAYSTARS: After struggling nearly four decades to win their second
Central League pennant, the BayStars may not have to wait long for their
third. Though it could be certainly argued that Yokohama is an average
team that won the 1998 Japan Series because all of their players had
"career years," there are at least five reasons that the BayStars are the
team to beat this year: 1) their offense is one of the strongest in Japan;
2) Yokohama boasts one of the youngest rosters in Japan; 3) manager
Hiroshi Gondo has taken pains to make sure his team remains healthy and
consistent.; 4) Gondo has implemented a pitching plan that helps each
hurler reach his full potential; 5) reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki is one the
best closer in Japan.
Yokohama's batting has been steadily improving for the last five
years, and it's unlikely their machine gun offense will suddenly jam.
Except for first baseman Norihiro Komada and second baseman Bobby Rose,
Yokohama has one of the youngest and most injury-free line-ups in the
Central League. Though the BayStars would be vulnerable if either catcher
Motonobu Tanishige (age 29) or shortstop Takuro Ishii (also 29) become
sidelined, Hitoshi Nakane can fill any hole in the outfield while former
Boston Red Sox infielder Arquimedez Pozo can take over third base, second,
or first. Although Yokohama's outfield corners are weak, Tanishige is a
solid backstop, and the team has an all-gold glove infield. Because
manager Gondo keeps line-up changes to a minimum, Yokohama's batters can
rely on their instincts rather than worrying about who is batting before
or after them.
Gondo's greatest success has been introducing a coherant pitching
plan. A former Rookie of the Year pitcher who burned his arm out after
five years of overwork, Gondo rarely allows his starters to throw more
than 100 - 110 pitches in a game. After the sixth or seventh inning, the
bullpen takes over. When Yokohama has a slim ninth-inning lead, Sasaki
(45 saves, 0.64 ERA) will protect it. Gondo's strategy not only lends a
sense of consistency to his pitching staff, but it reduces the chance that
key players will become injured.
Aside from acquiring Pozo and 23-year-old rookie pitcher Eiji Yano,
the BayStars made few off-season changes. Considering the strength of
their team, they didn't have to.
GIANTS: If any team can take the Central League pennant away from
Yokohama, it should be the Giants. One reason the Giants have the highest
payroll of any Japanese team is that they've got some of the best players,
including 1998 home run king Hideki Matsui, gold glove right fielder
Yoshinobu Takahashi, 384 career-home run slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, career
3.19 ERA hurler Hiromi Makihara and Sawamura Award-winning pitchers Masumi
Kuwata and Masaki Saito. It's only a slight exaggeration to say the
Giants are an all-star team unto themselves. Why then have the mighty
Kyojin placed fourth and third in a six-team league the last two seasons?
Part of the problem is that while35-year-old Makihara, 31-year-old
Kuwata and 34-year-old Saito were dominant pitchers five years ago, all
three are showing signs of age. Kuwata, for his part, hasn't been the
same since returning from elbow surgery in 1997. Yomiuri's other top
starter, Balvino Galvez, a headhunter with a short fuse who turned 35 last
month, remains one of the most dominant pitchers in Japan. Galvez led the
CL in hit batters (9) despite missing the last two months of the season
after he was suspended for throwing a ball at an umpire. Although the
Giants have several strong prospects in the pipeline, few are likely to
have an impact this season.
If the Giants do overtake the BayStars, they'll have their
power-hitting offense to thank for it. Last season, Yomiuri led the CL in
home runs (148), and Matsui will be looking for his second straight crown.
Takahashi has been swinging a hot bat during the pre-season and may have
his own eye on the home run title. Third baseman Daisuke Motoki can come
through in the clutch while second baseman Toshihisa Nishi, left fielder
Takayuki Shimizu and shortstop Tomohiro Nioka will all struggle to get on
base so the team's sluggers can drive them home.
Though Yomiuri's defense has been burdened by several slow or aging
sluggers (Kiyohara, Katsumi Hirosawa, Hiroo Ishii to name a few), the
Giants will probably have one of their best defensive years in recent
memory. But one has to wonder why gold glove-winner Takahashi patrols
right field while clumsy slugger Matsui remains in center? Is first
baseman Kiyohara's defense that bad? Or maybe the Giants want to give
their top hitter a more visible defensive position. As long as the Giants
continue to value the show more than the win, they'll likely crumble under
their own arrogance.
DRAGONS: Although the Dragons trailed Yokohama by less than five games
for most of last September, Chunichi may have a tough time staying near
the top this year. The biggest problem for the Dragons is how they plan
to score any runs.
Of those players who compiled enough at bats to compete for league
titles, Koichi Sekikawa led the Dragons with a .285 batting average while
Leo Gomez (.274, 26 home runs) and Takeshi Yamazaki (.255, 27) offered
some punch and Lee Jeong Bum (.283, 10) stole 18 bases. Aside from
compiling the most team steals and walks in the Central League, the
Dragons offense offered very little to get excited about. Only the
Hanshin Tigers scored fewer runs (450) than the Dragons (488). True,
Chunichi's new home favors pitchers more than almost any other CL park,
but that's little consolation when the Dragons scored just 30 more runs
than their opponents last season.
Pitching was Chunichi's strength last season, and they compiled a
best-in-Japan 3.14 team ERA with 904 strikeouts (second highest out of
twelve teams) and 454 walks (second lowest). Kenshin Kawakami (14-6, 2.57
ERA) won Rookie of the Year honors while Shigeki Noguchi (14-9) led the CL
with a 2.34 ERA. But the rest of Chunichi's starting rotation -- Ken
Kadokura (10-9, 3.40) and Masa Yamamoto (9-9, 3.66) -- were less
impressive. Yamamoto will be 34 this season and relief ace Sun Dong Yol
(29 saves, 1.48 ERA) is 36. Both showed signs of age last season. Korean
lefty Samson Lee and 34-year old right-hander Kazuhiro Takeda (13-10, 3.62
ERA with Daiei) will likely compete for the fifth starter position.
Although the Dragons have a solid bullpen, manager Senichi Hoshino rules
his team with a haphazard hand. Last year, he allowed Noguchi to throw
200 pitches in one game for no reason whatsoever. This season, Hoshino
will further tax Chunichi's already strained defense by moving erratic
shortstop Lee to center field to make room for prospect Kyosuke
There's little reason to think 1999 will be a much better year for
the Dragons. Chunichi's pennant hopes rest on too many ifs -- if Yokohama
and Yomiuri self-destruct.... if Fukudome can hit .300 with 20 home
runs... if Kawakami can avoid the sophomore jinx... if Yamamoto and
(burned out lefty) Shinji Imanaka can recover their Sawamura Award-winning
touch... if Lee can go a whole season without injury... if Sun can keep
chugging along... if Yamazaki could win a home run crown...
SWALLOWS: This year, Yakult figures to be the Central League wild card.
The Swallows could be the team to beat. In 1998 Sawamura Award winner
Kenjiro Kawasaki, fastball pitcher Tomohito Ito and "King of K" Kazuhisa
Ishii, the Swallows have three of the finest starting pitchers in Japan.
Assuming new arrival Jason Jacome can stay healthy the entire season and
Kazuya Tabata can return to his pre-1998 form, Yakult could have the most
devastating starting rotation in Japan. But that assumes they have a
One of Yakult's biggest problems last season was their lack of a
reliable closer. Shingo Takatsu, who had filled that role for several
years, pitched erratically in 1998 and eventually earned a trip to
Yakult's minor league sqaud. The inconsistency of the Swallows' bullpen,
in turn, affected their starting rotation because former manager Katsuya
Nomura would often overwork his starters by leaving them in as long as
possible. Although no one was able to effectively fill Takatsu's shoes
last season, the Swallows appear ready to replace him with Mark Acre at
the first sign of trouble.
Though Yakult's pitchers have a solid defense (particularly down the
center, though they could have trouble along the foul lines) to back them
up, they may not be able to depend on a lot of runs. Injuries have taken
their toll, and will continue to do so after the season starts on April 2.
Though Mark Smith has returned to action after suffering a broken finger
in February, right fielder Atsunori Inaba, Japan's Charlie Hustle, will
likely miss most if not all of the season due to injury. Second baseman
Katsuyuki Dobashi will miss opening day because of knee surgery, while his
back-up, Hatsuhiko Tsuji, has been suffering shoulder pain. Last week,
the Swallows announced that center fielder and lead-off batter Tetsuya
Iida will miss opening day because of a dislocated shoulder.
The acquisition of Mark Smith and Roberto Petagine will surely help
the Swallows score runs, and Atsuya Furuta remains the best backstop in
Japan, and a great clutch hitter. But with all the injuries Yakult has
suffered, Furuta may not be able to find a clutch in which to hit. Look
for the Swallows to get off to a slow start, but slowly climb their way up
the standings as their injured members return to the field.
TIGERS: Though he may be regarded as one of the finest managers in Japan,
anyone expecting Katsuya Nomura to lead the Tigers to a Japan Series
championship this season is likely to be disappointed. When Nomura took
over the Swallows in 1990, he led Yakult to a 58-72 (fifth place) finish,
and improvement of only three wins over the previous season. With the
Swallows, he arguably had a lot more talent to work with than he does now
with Hanshin. Rebuilding takes time, and Nomura's job has barely begun.
In nearly every batting category last year, the Tigers finished last
in the league. Though their meager .242 team batting average and 86 home
runs may be influenced by Koshien Stadium's spacious foul territory and
deep outfield walls, their 28 steals and 933 strikeouts -- the worst
figures posted by any Japanese team -- can't be rationalized away.
Hanshin's offense is in sorry shape.
With shortstop Makoto Imaoka (.293 average), second baseman Yutaka
Wada (.272), and outfielder Tomoshika Tsuboi (.327), Nomura does at least
have something to build on, though none of the three hit with much power.
To add a little power to their line-up the Tigers signed former Oakland
A's slugger Mike Blowers and first baseman Mark Johnson. Considering
their ages (Blowers is 34, Johnson 31), neither will likely have a
long-term impact on the team, so their acquisition seems aimed more at
convincing fans that the Tigers are serious rather than fixing what really
Hanshin's pitching situation doesn't look much better. Despite
playing their home games in one of Japan's most extreme pitchers parks,
the Tigers allowed more hits (1,246) than any other Japanese team while
compiling the fewest strikeouts and allowing the second highest number of
walks in the CL. Keichi Yabu (11-10, 3.51), Tetsuro Kawajiri (10-5, 2.84)
and Darrell May (4-9, 3.47) were Hanshin's top starters last year, but
Nomura will need to find at least two more arms to round out the rotation.
Closer Ben Rivera (27 saves, 2.38 ERA), whose velocity decreases with
each pitch, may continue to be effective as long as Nomura resists the
urge to have him pitch more than one inning a game.
Hanshin simply has too many problems to be seriously considered as a
pennant contender this year. With the exception of Tsuboi, their outfield
is a mess. The addition of Blowers and Johnson -- who were both acquired
for their batting -- probably won't do much to improve the Tigers defense
along the foul lines. Hanshin has several pitching prospects on the farm,
but it's unclear when they'll be ready to do some heavy lifting on the
varsity team. Since center fielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo is no asset in the
line-up, Nomura might as well give him a shot at pitching. In Akihiro
Yano, Nomura may have found a catcher he can work with -- but Yano is no
Atsuya Furuta. The Swallows probably wouldn't have won four pennants this
decade without their two-time MVP backstop... regardless of Nomura.
CARP: Hiroshima has only dropped into the Central League cellar once in
he last 25 years. 1999 will probably be their second trip to the bottom.
Though the Carp usually sink like a rock when mid-summer injuries plague
their roster, it seems unlikely that Hiroshima will even get off to a
After losing Luis Lopez a year ago, the Carp offense has been
struggling to make things happen. Tomoaki Kanemoto (.253, 21 home runs),
Tomohiro Maeda (.335, 25), and gold glove winner Koichi Ogata (.326, 15)
still form one of the best outfields in Japan but they are starting to
show the effects of age and injury. Leg problems have slowed Maeda down,
forcing him to move to right field, while new center fielder Ogata missed
a large chunk of last season after crashing into an outfield wall. The
left side of Hiroshima's infield -- including third baseman Akira Eto
(.253, 28) and shortstop Kenjiro Nomura (.282, 14) -- should hold together
for at least one more season. But the right side could be a mess. Second
baseman Eddie Diaz has a good glove but he's been having trouble hitting
the ball recently (a .200 average in 13 pre-season games). The Carp don't
have a first baseman, but they'll try to fill the hole with weak-fielding
Kojiro Machida or Itsuki Asai. Timoniel Perez, who's been nursing a leg
injury for the past month, will likely bounce between first base and the
At this point, the Carp only have one reliable starter, import Nathan
Minchey (15-11, 2.75 ERA). A year after giving up his starting role to
Kanei Kobayashi, Shinji Sasaoka (5-11, 3.79) has yet to fully readjust to
the starting rotation. The hottest Hiroshima hurler this year appears to
be Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara (4-0, 4.22 ERA in 5 pre-season games), but he's
lucked out by getting run support when he needs it most. Kobayashi
meanwhile will have to struggle to avoid the sophomore jinx that has
plagued past Rookies of the Year Yasuyuki Yamauchi and Toshikazu Sawasaki.
For the Carp to put together a winning season, they'll need all of
their regular position players to stay healthy and their starting rotation
to start firing on all cylinders. It's unlikely that either will happen.
Unlike the Central League race, the PL pennant chase is wide open. Last
year, only 9.5 games separated the first place Lions from the last place
Marines, and that competitive balance should continue this year. Almost
every PL team made significant changes, but the Fighters and Buffaloes
appear to have made the strongest off-season acquisitions. The pennant
race may very well turn on which teams made the best moves over the Winter
FIGHTERS: In a six team league this evenly matched, the Fighters might
have the edge simply because they filled addressed their problem areas
better than the other five. Not perfectly, but better.
In the last two seasons, the Fighters have made improvements in their
power-hitting and baserunning. In 1998, they hit 150 home runs (best in
Japan) and stole 91 bases (only the Lions swiped more). They were hitting
really well in the first half, but their bats fell silent after the
all-star break. Adding outfielder Micah Franklin (.329, 29 home runs at
AAA Iowa last year) should help. Third baseman Atsushi Kataoka (.300, 17
home runs, 113 walks) and shortstop Yukio Tanaka (.274, 24 home runs) may
not be able to repeat their 1998 performances, but other Fighters batters
are due for a good season: centerfielder Tatsuya Ide should be able to
swipe 25 bases while outfielder Katsuhiro Nishiura can hit .250 with 20
home runs and 20 steals. Two-time home run king Nigel Wilson should have
little trouble hitting 30 home runs this season. The Fighters can hit for
average, with power and speed -- the key is getting them to do all three
at the same time through the entire season.
Nippon Ham's pitching staff had a pretty good season in 1998,
compiling a team 3.83 ERA. They didn't get a lot of strikeouts (703 --
last in the league), but they surrendered an average number of walks are
were pretty stingy with hits (1,160 -- the lowest amount in the PL). To
bring the Fighters a pennant, 23-year-old Satoru Kanemura (8-8, 2.73 ERA)
and 28-year-old Hiroyuki Sekine (9-7, 3.36) need to stay consistent while
two others need to improve over their 1998 performance: Tsutomu Iwamoto
(11-8, 4.11), Hiroshi Shibakusa (7-11, 3.90), and Masaru Imazeki (9-6,
3.74). Shannon Withem was brought in to replace Kip Gross, who missed
most of last season because of an elbow injury, which should be a positive
change. Nippon Ham's bullpen should be in pretty good shape with set-up
man Tsuyoshi Shimoyangi (2-3, 5 saves, 3.07 ERA) and closer Erik
Schullstrom (7-3, 8, 3.00). Though Schullstrom's ERA may seem a little
high for the role he plays, he's been very reliable, allowing runs in only
seven of his 38 appearances last season.
Nippon Ham has the talent to produce a first place finish. But all
the wheels to me moving in the same direction -- before and after the
BUFFALOES: The Buffaloes have a solid offense and some very good
pitchers, but the challenge for them this year is to get their starting
rotation back on track. In 1998, the Kintetsu pitching staff compiled a
worst-in-Japan 4.28 ERA.
In addition to treating Japanese baseball fans to a rare treat -- a
chance to watch a knuckleball pitcher in action -- Rob Mattson (9-7, 3.55
ERA) is also one of his team's best starters, along with 23-year-old
Masaki Maki (6-6, 3.89). To be competitive this year, the Buffaloes will
need comebacks from lefty Hideo Koike (7-3, 6.81) and right-hander Akira
Okamoto (8-13, 4.04), both of whom were outstanding starters in 1997.
After losing his relief job, Motoyuki Akahori (3-3, 4.21) has struggled to
make the transformation to starter, but he's a better pitcher than his
1998 stats indicate, and the Buffaloes will need him to pitch his best.
Kintetsu, meanwhile, has one of the best bullpens in the league. Akinori
Otsuka led the PL with 35 saves last season while 74 strikeouts in 55+
innings with a 2.11 ERA. Ace middle reliever Hiroki Sakai (6-1, 197) will
be joined by Shigeki Sano, who missed most of the 1998 season because of
injury. If the starters can just keep the Buffaloes in the game until the
bullpen is ready, the Buffs could be hard to beat.
Kintetsu's offense is led by designated hitter Phil Clark, who, in
addition to hitting .320 with 31 home runs last season, set a new PL
record with 48 doubles. Though a knee injury slowed Tuffy Rhodes down
last season, the right fielder is capable of batting .300 with 25 home
runs. He's also a fine defensive outfielder -- possibly the best
all-around foreign player in Japan (Yokohama's Bobby Rose is his only
competition for that title). Third baseman Norihiro Nakamura (.260, 32)
can also drive in base runners like center fielder Naoyuki Omura (.310, 23
steals) and catcher / outfielder Koichi Isobe (.291 average). The
Buffaloes have a good outfield defense, but their infield could use a
little help and it would help things if they could find one reliable
The Buffaloes have the potential to win a pennant this year, but it
all depends on how well their starting rotation holds up under the strain
of a full season.
MARINES: Things should have gone differently from Lotte last season. The
same team lost a record 19-straight games and finished with a 61-71 record
also scored more runs (581) than they allowed (563). In theory, they
should have finished the season with a 67-65 record which would have been
good enough for a second-place tie.
Probably Lotte' biggest problem was their lack of a bullpen through
the first half of the season. Both set-up man Toshihide Narimoto and
closer Yasuyuki Kawamoto missed the first half of the season because of
injuries. That, in turn, affected the Marines starting rotation, who
became overworked when former manager Akihito Kondo refused to turn games
over to his erratic relief staff. By the time Kawamoto returned to
action, the Marines had already acquired Brian Warren, who made his first
appearance on July 10 and compiled a 0.93 ERA in 24 relief appearances.
With both healthy this season -- and the addition of left-handed starter
Dean Hartgraves and rookie Masahide Kobayashi -- the Marines bullpen and
starting rotation should improve. Lotte compiled a team 3.70 ERA
(second-best in the PL) last season, helped partly by the pitcher-friendly
dimensions of Marine Stadium, and this year they may have the best staff
in the PL.
The large foul territory at Marine Stadium makes their 1998 team .271
(PL best) batting average all the more impressive. The loss of Julio
Franco may hurt the team's offense, but left-fielder Brent Brede should be
able to supply a steady stream of doubles and singles. Frank Bolick,
however, suffered a knee injury in February and hasn't played in any
pre-season games since early March. It's unclear at this point how Bolick
fits into Lotte's regular season plans, but since the Marines are most
lacking when it comes to power-hitting, they may have to rely on third
baseman Kiyoshi Hatsushiba (.296, 25 home runs) to drive speedy runners
Makoto Kosaka (.233, 43 steals) and Koichi Hori (.241, 12 steals) home.
On the whole, Lotte's pitching will probably improve more than their
offense tails off. With a strong bullpen, a 70-win season is not out of
LIONS: In several areas, the Lions will be entering the 1999 season a
weaker team than they were last season. The loss of Domingo Martinez, cut
from the team despite clubbing 30 home runs with a .283 batting average
because he was too slow, will hurt Seibu's offense because the team now
has no reliable slugger to knock the team's assortment of speedy runners
home. All-Star first baseman Taisei Takagi has been sidelined with a leg
injury for the last two months, leading to speculation that manager Osamu
Higashio will put new import Archi Cianfrocco at third base and shifting
Ken Suzuki to first, where he will share designated hitter duties with
Cianfrocco appears to be a good choice to man third base, assuming
that he starts hitting. In 13 games, he's compiled a .262 batting average
with only one extra base hit (a double) and 14 strikeouts (one whiff short
of the league lead). Seibu's other new import, Greg Blosser, is only
batting .194 with two home runs. Neither appears destined to have a great
impact on the Lions' offense.
Although the Lions led the PL with a 3.66 team ERA last season, their
bullpen is in disarray. Manager Higashio can't seem to decide who his
closer should be. Last year, Shinji Mori, Fumiya Nishiguchi, Denney
Tomori, Takehiro Hashimoto and several others all got a chance to earn
some saves, but none of them were deemed good enough to hold onto the role
for any extended period of time. Likewise, Higashio had a hard time
getting any consistent performances from his starting rotation.
Nishiguchi, in particular, pitched several complete games over the course
of the season, but was usually chased out of each subsequent game after
giving up several early-inning runs. During his pre-season appearances
this year, Nishiguchi has continued to pitch erratically. Still the Lions
have several quality right-handed starters, but they could really used a
lefty, something they overlooked when signing right-handers Barry Manuel,
who will probably spend the season doing middle relief work, and rookie
Daisuke Matsuzaka. Like Nishiguchi, Matsuzaka has been hot one day, cold
Given all the negative changes, it's rather hard to imagine the Lions
winning as many games as they did last season.
BLUEWAVE: The loss of reliever Masao Kida, who signed a contract with the
Detroit Tigers last November, will likely have a huge impact on the
BlueWave. Last season, Orix tried to use him as a starter, but when their
bullpen problems got worse (and the team sank into last place), Kida was
shifted to the bullpen where, as a closer, he compiled sixteen saves with
a 1.29 ERA. At this point, however, Orix doesn't have anyone who can fill
the hole. Willie Banks, who throws 97+ mph, may be tapped for the role,
but an article in the March 22 issue of Shukan Baseball suggested that two
right-handed youngsters, Rui Makino and Kazu Maeda, will get first shot at
the closer spot. The same article suggested that Orix will give priority
to Mark Mimbs and Edwin Hurtado to fill the two foreign player spots on
the BlueWave pitching staff.
Concentrating on the young players may not be a bad idea for Orix.
In the past few years, they have lost Kida, lefty reliever Takahito Nomura
(traded to the Giants for Kida), right-handed starter Shigetoshi Hasegawa
(to the Anaheim Angels, and they were rebuffed when they tried to draft
high school pitcher Nagisa Arakaki in last year's draft. The cumulative
effect has been the overall weakening of the BlueWave's pitching.
Although top starter Nobuyuki Hoshino floundered last season (6-10, 5.12
ERA), the gaunt lefty has been looking like his old self recently. In
addition to Mimbs and Hoshino, the BlueWave will count on right-hander
Hiroshi Kobayashi (10-9, 3.59) and several other lesser names to round out
While their pitching staff may suffer from bullpen inconsistency, the
BlueWave should have a strong offense. Ichiro Suzuki (.358, 13 home runs
last season) will be looking to bag an unprecedented sixth-straight
batting title while Troy Neel (.288, 28) has a good chance of winning his
second home run crown -- if he can out-slug teammate Yasuo Fujii (.250,
30). Center fielder Yoshitomo Tani (.284, 10) and left fielder / catcher
So Taguchi (.272, 9) are consistent performers. Newcomer Robert Perez has
a good shot at displacing Harvey Pulliam for the second foreign
position-player roster spot. If his handling of pitchers is as good as
his hitting, second-year catcher Takeshi Hidaka could solve the BlueWave's
With three foreign pitchers and four imported batters, the BlueWave
are clearly hoping to meet any need. But without a reliable reliever to
fill the closer role, it seems unlikely the BlueWave will finish the 1999
season with a winning record.
One last thought: It was interesting to see that the Seattle Mariners
chose to put Ichiro Suzuki in the lead-off spot since Orix manager Akira
Ogi has refused to entertain the notion at all. For the past five years,
the five-time batting champion has held the number three spot, even though
he probably has the speed to make more things happen in the lead-off spot.
HAWKS: Plagued by a sign-stealing scandal and their parent company's
financial problems, If Daiei has any hope of bringing a pennant back to
Fukuoka this year, they're keeping those plans to themselves.
Although it looks like third baseman Hiroki Kokubo will return to Daiei's
line-up this year, the loss of first baseman Luis Lopez (released at the
end of last season) and top pitcher Kazuhiro Takeda (fled to Chunichi
after declaring free agency), is going to hurt.
Without Takeda or any imported hurlers, there's little reason to
think the Hawks will improve much on their 1998 team 4.02 ERA.
Left-handed ace Kimiyasu Kudo (7-4, 3.07 ERA in 93 2/3 innings) missed
most of last season and he may not do much good this year either. If
Daiei hopes of avoiding the cellar, they'll need top-notch pitching from
starters Tatsuji Nishimura (10-10, 3.36), Hidekazu Watanabe (4-8, 5.18)
Shintaro Yoshitake (5-4, 4.58), and lefty Masahiro Sakumoto (6-6, 4.13).
Unlike their starting rotation, Daiei's bullpen looks solid, with
26-year-old right-hander Katsunori Okamoto (2.91 ERA, 21 saves) acting as
The Hawks' power-hitting offense probably needs a bit more balance.
Kokubo, Koichiro Yoshinaga, Tadahito Iguchi and Kenji Jojima can all
probably hit 20+ home runs, but concentrating on making contact instead of
murdering the ball might help players like Iguchi, who slugged 21 home
runs last season but compiled 121 strikeouts and an unimpressive .221
batting average. Ignoring their most pressing need more quality pitchers
the Hawks have signed just one foreign player for this season, Melvin
Nieves, who's talent for slugging resembles that of Iguchi, only with a
somewhat higher batting average.
With no disrespect to Nieves -- he could bat .300 with 30 home runs
and the Hawks would still be ten games out of contention -- is this the
best Daiei can do? Unless the Hawks get serious about fixing their
pitching problems, this may be another very long season.
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- Latham-san wrote:
> I haven't yet finished work on my March 28 news page, but I figured I'dBefore I jump in too deep, I'd like to share some of the final results of
> send the rough draft to the list since it may get some kind of dialogue
> Questions? Comments? Angry retorts? Feel free to jump in...
Open-Sen (pre-season games) with you. I'll save my team by team comments for
when I have more time.
Here's what Nikkan Sports has for the final standings of Open-Sen:
Team G W L T W% | RS RGU HR SB BA ERA
--- -- -- -- - ---- + --- --- -- -- ---- ----
YG 19 12 6 1 .667 | 93 60 21 15 .298 2.79
FDH 23 12 8 3 .600 | 127 107 19 10 .290 4.05
OBW 22 11 8 3 .579 | 114 99 18 18 .293 3.68
CD 18 8 6 4 .571 | 71 68 11 16 .250 3.41
CLM 15 8 6 1 .571 | 61 55 6 12 .276 3.52
NHF 18 9 9 0 .500 | 93 96 24 18 .290 4.99
SL 17 8 8 1 .500 | 81 83 11 18 .257 4.90
HC 16 7 8 1 .467 | 49 65 5 14 .208 3.41
HT 18 8 10 0 .444 | 80 79 19 9 .244 4.10
YBS 18 7 11 0 .389 | 102 116 14 9 .276 5.79
KB 17 6 10 1 .375 | 85 94 20 19 .275 5.22
YS 19 5 11 3 .313 | 56 90 9 11 .227 5.12
And here's some information that I've been tracking in my database (Runs
scored and given up match the figures in the newspaper, so I'm fairly
confident about the numbers.)
Team G R H E LOB HDP | R H E LOB HDP
--- -- --- --- -- --- -- + --- --- -- --- --
YG 19 93 180 10 119 19 | 60 140 12 123 22
FDH 23 127 225 20 175 30 | 107 199 15 172 24
OBW 22 114 216 25 158 24 | 99 195 24 153 28
CD 18 71 143 8 116 22 | 68 166 12 120 22
CLM 15 61 135 12 117 16 | 55 110 11 92 13
NHF 18 93 175 13 113 14 | 96 171 8 130 19
SL 17 81 114 8 137 10 | 83 150 14 128 13
HC 16 49 99 19 88 13 | 65 126 10 119 13
HT 18 80 145 16 110 19 | 79 155 18 132 17
YBS 18 102 169 17 139 25 | 116 188 20 117 24
KB 17 85 149 12 109 17 | 94 149 8 108 14
YS 19 56 129 4 146 13 | 90 160 12 133 13
My lunch break is over and, no matter how much I want to comment on some of
these numbers, it'll have to wait. So, in the mean time, what do you all
make of these?
Japan Pro Yakyu This Week
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- Note about that last message. Sorry, I seemed to have included a different mail
message at the bottom. My miss. Please disregard it.
Also, in the data I tracked, the HDP (Hit into Double Plays) should be DP
(Double Plays turned). So the number of DP in the opposition columns is the
number that a given team hit into. Sorry about that.
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- Finally, a chance to write, rather than input data.
To recap what we have so far, Latham-san made his 1999 predictions like this:
Yokohama Nippon Ham
Yomiuri Osaka (Kintetsu)
Hiroshima Fukuoka (Daiei)
The arguments that Latham-san posted to the list and to his site
(http://www.baywell.ne.jp/users/drlatham/baseball/news/news.htm - may have moved
to his archives if you are viewing this message after the week of March 28,
1999) are solid, based on team momentum at the end of 1998 and on team
acquisitions for 1999. But (you knew this was coming, didn't you?), I just
can't agree with his end results.
To start off, while I remain a BayStars fan, I just don't think that they'll be
able to repeat. Not only is it very difficult to repeat in the Central League,
but if Open-Sen (pre-season) is any indication of the season to come, then there
are some additional factors that need to be considered.
In my previous message, I sent results for Open-Sen for runs, hits, errors,
runners left on base, turned double plays, and all of the same for the
opposition, grouped by team. Looking at the Yokohama line (YBS), they ranked
high in pretty much every category, positive and negative. It's kind of hard to
look at the figures as they are, so I further broke the stats down to a per game
basis. And what I found was that Yokohama ranked #1 in runs scored (5.67/game),
runs allowed (6.44), hits allowed (10.44), double plays turned (1.39) and
hitting into double plays (1.33). (They also received the most errors (1.111) -
but I'm not sure what to make of such a stat.)
The Yokohama all gold glove defense committed .944 errors per game, second only
to Hiroshima's boot camp graduates' 1.188. While the whopping 6+ runs per game
given up can be written off as testing pitchers and/or leaving them in to get
work since a "real" game isn't on the line, can the same be said about all of
these errors? That's almost one per game! I guess the 1.39 double plays per
game helped to erase some of those errors. But then again, there's a problem
with that logic. Yokohama's ERA was 5.72, worst of all 12 teams. That's 5.72
runs per 9 innings, and considering that no game went more than 9 innings, where
did the other 4-5 unearned runs per game come from? Errors. This is something
that Yokohama needs to get a handle on if they want to see V2.
Well, I'm afraid that that's all the time I have on my lunch break today. I
need to commit to set ranking as Latham-san did. And what about the rest of
you? Still waiting for more information before you commit?
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