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[j-ball] 1999 Japanese baseball preview

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  • Dan Latham
    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 going.
    Message 1 of 4 , Mar 27, 1999
      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...

      Dan Latham

      1999 Japanese baseball preview
      (Teams listed in predicted order of finish)

      Central League:

      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
      consistent bullpen.
      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
      ails Hanshin.
      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
      solid start.
      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.

      Pacific league:

      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
      all-star break.

      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
      the question.

      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
      the next.
      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
      the rotation.
      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
      backstop problem.
      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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    • Michael Westbay
      ... Before I jump in too deep, I d like to share some of the final results of Open-Sen (pre-season games) with you. I ll save my team by team comments for
      Message 2 of 4 , Mar 29, 1999
        Latham-san wrote:

        > 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
        > going.
        > Questions? Comments? Angry retorts? Feel free to jump in...

        Before I jump in too deep, I'd like to share some of the final results of
        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?

        Michael Westbay
        Japan Pro Yakyu This Week

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      • Michael Westbay
        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
        Message 3 of 4 , Mar 29, 1999
          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.

          Michael Westbay
          Japan Pro Yakyu This Week

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        • Michael Westbay
          Finally, a chance to write, rather than input data. To recap what we have so far, Latham-san made his 1999 predictions like this: Central Pacific Yokohama
          Message 4 of 4 , Mar 30, 1999
            Finally, a chance to write, rather than input data.

            To recap what we have so far, Latham-san made his 1999 predictions like this:

            Central Pacific
            Yokohama Nippon Ham
            Yomiuri Osaka (Kintetsu)
            Chunichi Chiba
            Yakult Seibu
            Hanshin Orix
            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?

            Michael Westbay
            Japan Pro Yakyu This Week

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