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    Submarine knuckleballer… and it’s a she!

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 November 17日 Monday

    This story is full of goodies for the obscure baseball lover.

    The newly formed Kansai Independent League, which will begin play in 2009, has just held its draft. This is the 3rd independent league in Japan to start operation this decade, after the pioneering Shikoku-Kyushu Island League and the Baseball Challenge League (Hoku-Shinetsu region).

    yoshida_press 

    yoshida_test

    The Kansai league features the first female owner of a pro ball club in Japan as the Kobe 9Cruise (yes, that’s the team name) is owned by Kazuyo Hirota who runs a local mineral water company. The league held an open combined tryout on 4 November, and the draft on 16 November where Kobe selected Eri Yoshida, a 16 year old high school girl who is a submarine knuckleball pitcher (got all that?), with one of its picks after they saw what they liked in the tryout. Yoshida passed the first and second tests of the tryout, then pitched an inning where she struck out the first batter on a knuckler, walked the second batter, then got the next two batters to ground out to second and pop out to short.

    She received a compliment from a former Yomiuri player and new Osaka pitching coach that her knuckler and fastball both have the same delivery. Her fastball is in the high 60s, so I assume she relies almost entirely on the knuckler. It’s reported that she’s considering transferring to a Kobe high school, and indie games tend to be played on weekends, so I guess this could somehow all work out, it’ll an interesting story to follow as Yoshida becomes the first professional female baseball player in Japan (in a men’s league, there was a women’s league for 2 brief years following the war).

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    Posted in 02_English, baseball, high school, information, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

    2008 Central League Preview

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 1日 Tuesday

    Well, we’re now 3 games into the 2008 Central League season, but here’s the season preview. (Here’s the Pacific League preview for 2008.) There’s been lots of player movement, relatively speaking for Japanese pro sports, new impact players moving within CL, coming over from the PL (pretty much a one way street), and overseas, from both Asia and the Americas.

    Chunichi Dragons
    2007 Record: 78 – 64 – 2 (.549)
    2007 RS – RA: 623 – 556
    Coming: Kazuhiro Wada, Maximo Nelson, Tomas De La Rosa
    Going: Shinya Okamoto, Kosuke Fukudome

    Last season’s Japan Series champions lost Fukudome. Theoretically, losing a career 305/397/543 hitter from your lineup should be devastating, but the Dragons won the postseason without him anyways. What is it with star players getting injured and missing half the season before they go to the majors? Ichiro, Johjima, and now Fukudome. Anyways, the Dragons acquired Wada from the Lions via free agency to fill the hole, Wada’s OBP and SLG have been declining for the past 5 seasons (from .428 and .632 to .370 and .473). He’s no longer the great power threat that he was, but this is no surprise with his age. He’ll still be adequate though, much like Norihiro Nakamura that the team picked up from the blacklist scrapheap last year to man third base. The team’s got solid pitching and defence, led by one of Japan’s top pitchers in Kenshin Kawakami, closer Takuya Iwase, and the doubleplay combo of Masahiro Araki and Hirokazu Ibata, all key parts to a successful championship defence.

    Hanshin Tigers
    2007 Record: 74 – 66 – 4 (.529)
    2007 RS – RA: 518 – 561
    Coming: Satoru Kanemura, Keiichi Hirano, Takahiro Arai, Scott Atchison, Lew Ford
    Going: Osamu Hamanaka

    The team that managed to vastly outperform its Pythagorean expectation (.460, 66 – 78 ) by an amazing 10 games thanks to short term maximum gain use of its vaunted bullpen JFK trio Jeff Williams (65.1 IP, 66 K, 16 BB, 4.1 K/BB, 0.96 ERA(!), 42 HLD), Kyuji Fujikawa (83 IP, 115 K, 18 BB, 7.2 K/BB(!), 1.63 ERA, 46 SV), and Tomoyuki Kubota (90 GP(!), 108 IP, 101 K, 32 BB, 1.75 ERA, 46 HLD) in high leverage situations. Though it’s a wonderful strategy (JFK won 15 comeback games together) in the short term, but Williams is in his mid 30’s and Fujikawa and Kubota are in their late 20’s, so it’s probably a matter of time before their arms fall off. Luckily, the team added slugger Arai from the Carp, but you can expect his 290/351/480 line to see a decline after moving from a hitter’s paradise to a pithcer’s park and he’s on the wrong side of 30. Depending on how much Arai’s offense declines by, the Tigers may be forced yet again to press JFK into action often during the season in order to make the playoffs (finish in the top 3).

    Tokyo Yomiuri Giants
    2007 Record: 80 – 63 – 1 (.559)
    2007 RS – RA: 692 – 556
    Coming: Marc Kroon, Alex Ramirez, Seth Greisinger, Soichi Fujita, Adrian Burnside
    Going: Jeremy Powell

    Yomiuri made the biggest splash of the offseason (as usual) by signing away the BayStars’ closer Kroon, and Swallows’ slugger Ramirez and ace Greisinger (only 1 year removed from success in the KBO). Much like the Yankees, this is by far the highest scoring team in the league, and has a strong closer, but its Achilles heel is the weak middle relief (which the team did not address in its offseason moves, as Koji Uehara is moved back into the rotation, but that’s his place as staff ace) and aging lineup (Seung-Yeop Lee and Michihiro Ogasawara are coming off surgeries). With so many players brought in from other teams, the team’s spiritual hopes rest on the 19 year old Sakamoto, the 1st round pick of 2006 high school draft. But you can’t expect a kid hitting .268/.325/.377 in 2-gun (minors) to succeed in NPB, expect him to be sent back after the Giants figure out he needs much more seasoning and less media pressure. I also expect a significant drop from Ramirez’s walk year performance, but this was a luxury bet that the Giants could afford to take. I expect this team to cruise through the regular season, feasting on weak pitching of the pennant race grind, then get shut down by superior pitching and defence of the opposition in the postseason, yet again. (Pythagorean expectation of .608 and 88 – 56 also shows that the team was dropping close games while blowing out inferior opponents.)

    Hiroshima Toyo Carp
    2007 Record: 60 – 82 – 2 (.423)
    2007 RS – RA: 557 – 673
    Coming: Colby Lewis, Ben Kozlowski, Mike Schultz, Scott Seabol
    Going: Hiroki Kuroda, Takahiro Arai

    The Carp have passionate supporters, but losing your ace (Kuroda to the Dodgers) and cleanup hitter (Araki to Hanshin) from your already woeful team isn’t going to help matters at all. The club hopes that some of the newcomers will turn out well, as the ability of its overseas scouts to find good imports have been historically the team’s strong point. Seabol looks to be a good candidate to take advantage of tiny Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, as he slugged about 300/350/550 in the PCL from 2003-07. Lewis starts the season in the rotation and his minor league numbers of 8.59 K/9 and 2.75 BB/9 are promising, but he’ll have to keep the fly balls in the park. Kozlowski’s numbers are less impressive and he starts the year in the bullpen. Shigenobu Shima doesn’t look likely to bounce back too much from his drop in production as he’s already on the wrong side of 30, and none of the players are high OBP types, so just young slugger Kenta Kurihara and Seabol can’t be expected to carry the offence, though that’s what it’s shaped up to be. This will be another long season for the freshwater fishies.

    Yokohama BayStars
    2007 Record: 71 – 72 – 1 (.497)
    2007 RS – RA: 569 – 623
    Coming: Hiroaki Ohnishi, Mike Wood, Dave Williams, Travis Hughes, J.J. Furmaniak, Larry Bigbie
    Going: Katsuaki Furuki, Hitoshi Taneda, Marc Kroon

    Is this the least inconspicuous team? The Hamasters lost Kroon to league rival Giants, but otherwise the player movements are unexciting, maybe except for the fact that Hughes is a 6’5” giant towering over everyone in the field, especially from the top of the mound, but his career 4.11 BB/9 in the minors does not bode well. And Bigbie may be running away or blacklisted from the majors depending on who you talk to, he’s a career .726 OPS and .789 OPS in the majors and minors respectively, and he should be able to take advantage of the comfortable confines of Yokohama Stadium. The club significantly overshot their Pythagorean expectation (.455, 65 – 79) by 6.5 games and with no significant additions to the roster, so I expect definite regression, especially with Kroon gone. Slugging thirdbaseman Shuichi Murata (improved every season in OPS from 788 to 929 from his debut in 2003) and pitchers Hayato Terahara, who managed a full workload for the first time in his career after coming over from the Hawks, and veteran Daisuke Miura, with his immaculate pompadour, are the players to watch for on this team.

    Tokyo Yakult Swallows
    2007 Record: 60 – 84 (.417)
    2007 RS – RA: 596 – 623
    Coming: Kazuki Fukuchi, Yoshitaka Hashimoto, Takehiko Oshimoto, Keizoh Kawashima, Chang-Yong Lim, Daniel Rios
    Going: Shugo Fujii, Hajime Miki, Alex Ramirez, Seth Greisinger, Brian Sikorski

    The Swallows suffered similar losses as the Carp, in having both the staff ace Greisinger and revived slugger Ramirez signed away by the Yankees Giants. But the team hopes to fill these holes with Daniel Rios who hopes to repeat Seth’s successful transition from the KBO where he went an incredible 22 – 5 in 232.2 IP of 2.07 ERA in 33 GP (I guess KBO teams use something similar to the MLB style 5 man/day rotations, unlike in the NPB where a 6 man/7 day rotation is the norm, so starters only get about 25 starts per season). His K-rate had been decreasing and it’s well below Greisinger’s, so he’ll have different challenges in adjusting to Japan. Lim looked great with his late breaking fast pitches coming from a submarine delivery, it should take NPB hitters a while to figure if him out, if ever. In fact, he has taken over the closer’s job from Igarashi who strained his thigh in his first appearance in 2 seasons after a return from elbow surgery. Lim looked sharper anyways, but this doesn’t help the club. The team’s poor bullpen was probably more the cause than pure unluckiness when it comes to undershooting of its Pythagorean expectation last season (.477, 69 – 75). A combination of healthy Igarashi and successful Lim is needed to return the bullpen to competency.

    The birds likely won’t miss Ramirez because his 2007 was probably a walk year fluke (see link on Giants preview), and hopes that his hole can be filled by a healthy Adam Riggs who can OPS above .850. Aaron Guiel will continue to be the King of Three True Outcomes (Walk, HR, or Strikeout), although BA obsessed fans are wish for more, you can expect a line similar to his 2007 of 245/381/493, which makes him the second most valuable hitter in the lineup, only behind the awesome hit machine Norichika Aoki. The youngster has added power to his stroke bringing his SLG up from .417 to .508 in his 3 full seasons (and his OPB was a truly awesome .434 last season, even though his 202 hit rookie year still gets highlighted more by the fans and media), and he will be rightfully hitting in the 3rd spot this year. The middle of the lineup is as good as any, but unfortunately it can’t be said the same about the rest. So the new manager Shigeru Takada is instituting a small ball strategy, but to achieving success with that will require a true shut down bullpen which the Swallows don’t have… unless Masaru Satoh develops into a useful lefty out of the pen along with Lim baffling NPB hitters all season long. Though, the strategy does mesh well with the now pushed back outfield walls and the new slower turf.

    The Swallows started off the year perfectly by sweeping the Giants in the annual Tokyo derby season opener. But the Giants should come around soon to battle for 1st with the Dragons. Tigers should be positioned for the 3rd and final playoff position, but wishful thinking has all the stars aligning for the Swallows and overtaking the popular Hanshin team. BayStars and the Carp will battle to get out of the basement. And Chunichi Dragons are again the most likely team to emerge with the CL crown in the postseason to attempt their defence of the Japan Series title, even if they finish behind the Giants again in the regular season.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

    2008 Pacific League preview (NPB)

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 March 19日 Wednesday

    Since Japanese baseball sites lack in depth statistical data and analysis, and because I don’t have much time, this is more or less just a poorly written cursory glance at the upcoming 2008 Pacific League season in NPB.

    Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
    2007 Record: 79 – 60 – 5 (.568)
    2007 RS – RA: 526 – 489
    Coming: Shugo Fujii, Hajime Miki, Terrmel Sledge
    Going: Satoru Kanemura, Yoshitaka Hashimoto, Takehiko Oshimoto, Keizoh Kawashima

    Unlike last year when the team faced the great unknown with the departure of their best hitter (Michihiro “Guts” Ogasawara to the Giants) and their wacky team leader Shinjo (retirement), the Fighters go into 2008 defending their second consecutive PL crown without losing any significant pieces from their roster. In fact, the team has added a major league calibre bat in the terrifically named Terrmel Sledge. But it looks like he has a thing for pitchers parks, as he has gone from Washington’s JFK to San Diego’s Petco to now the Fighters’ cavernous Sapporo Dome. He has hit significantly better on the road than at his pitchers park homes in each of his past 3 seasons (a difference of at least .180 in OPS), but his move to the pitcher friendly PL instead of the hitter friendly CL may do him in. It will be interesting to see.

    The Fighters can still finish in 1st without significant contribution from Sledge, as long as he’s not dragging the team down, as shown in last year’s championship run thanks to its superior pitching (and probably defence), despite being the lowest scoring team in the league. The value of airtight pitching and defence surely increases in the postseason, though at the same time it can be easy to see difficulties for the Fighters if the offence remains last in the league, even though pitching and defence can repeat its success of allowing the fewest runs in the league two seasons running. The team outperformed its Pythagorean expectation of .536 (77-67) but that is not a surprise with its strong tactical, pitching, and defensive games in a pitchers park. This is a team that won the league while scoring the fewest runs, after all.

    Chiba Lotte Marines
    2007 Record: 76 – 61 – 7 (.555)
    2007 RS – RA: 629 – 525
    Coming: Brian Sikorski, Winston Abreu
    Going: Yasuhiko Yabuta, Masahide Kobayashi, Soichi Fujita

    2 seasons removed from the glorious 2005 Japan Series championship under the guidance of Bobby Valentine, the Marines have dismantled their famed YFK relief corps of Yabuta, Fujita, and Kobayashi with the first man going to the Kansas City Royals via free agency and the second going to the Yomiuri Giants via untendered contract and the last man going to the Cleveland Indians also via FA. Out of the 3, Yabuta may be missed the most as Kobayashi had become known for creating unnecessary drama in the 9th and his ERA climbed to 3.61 after 2 seasons of about 2.5, and Fujita completely lost it last season with a 12.64 ERA over 31 appearances (logging only 15.2 IP) and reports out of Giants camp this season indicates that he still hasn’t found it.

    The two newcomers of significance are Brian Sikorski and Winston Abreu. The former is a known commodity in Japan and is expected to be productive providing about a 3.00 ERA in relief, and Winston Abreu figures to be similarly effective if he can successfully translate his recent AAA game that gave him 2.48 and 1.20 ERA in the last two seasons (and not the his 6.81 ERA in limited major league service).

    Solid pitching is led by Yoshihisa Naruse (an amazing 16-1 and 1.82 ERA) and Hiroyuki Kobayashi (2 consecutive seasons of 10+ wins and ~2.7 ERA). The offense is forced to rely on Julio Zuleta, Jose Ortiz, and Benny Agbayani for power. Ortiz came was signed in June last season to cover for Zuleta’s injury and it will be beneficial to the team to have them both in the lineup, even if all 3 players are only good for about .800 OPS.

    The Pythagorean expectation of the 2007 club was .589 (85-59) so the team underperformed their expectations slightly and is fully capable of making a repeat visit to the playoffs, the question is, are they capable of winning the pennant?

    Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
    2007 Record: 73 – 66 – 5 (.525)
    2007 RS – RA: 575 – 508
    Coming: Shota Ohba, Tetsuya Matoyama, Jeremy Powell, Dennis Houlton, Michael Restovich
    Going:

    This is another team that underperformed their Pythagorean expectation in 2007 (.562, 81-63) and is fully capable of winning it all this year. The Hawks have a slew of arms and Ohba, the coveted first round draft pick won out of 6 teams, and Powell, somehow being punished for the continued incompetence of the Orix front office by being banned until June, will only add to their depth. Houlton (3.83 minor league ERA) and Restovich (.862 minor league OPS) are rather uninspiring, but the team is capable of advancing far in the postseason without them.

    The parade of arms continues with ace materials Nagisa Aragaki (7-10 and 3.60 ERA after a 13-5 and 3.01 ERA in 2006 from this 2003 second round pick), Tsuyoshi Wada (12+ wins each in the past 3 seasons, along with sub-3.00 ERAs in the last 2 seasons, 1st round pick in 2003), Kazumi Saitoh (fantastic 2006 with 18-5 and 1.75 ERA, battled injuries but still posted 2.74 ERA in 72.1 IP last season, had off season shoulder surgery) and Toshiya Sugiuchi (recently had 2 sub-2.5 ERA 15+ win seasons sandwiched by a 7-5 and 3.53 ERA season). Though, Saitoh and Wada are coming off surgeries so whether they’ll return to form and when that’ll be are some questions.

    The offense has some definite question marks. The fragile Hitoshi Tamura lost his power stroke somewhere along the way from Yokohama to Fukuoka. But this should not come as a surprise when a player moves from one of the most extreme hitters parks to one of the most pitcher friendly stadiums. Nobuhiko Matsunaka saw a huge drop off in his power numbers (his OPS since 2004 are 1.179, 1.075, .981, .798) he’ll need a rebound to be a useful useful on firstbase. But having registered his lowest BA/OBP/SLG since his rookie season, pitchers may have figured out that they can now challenge him without paying too high a price. Hiroki Kokubo had a revival season hitting .277/.338/.494 in 2007 after returning home to the Hawks from the Giants where he hit .256/.325/.458 in his last season in hitter friendly Tokyo Dome and CL. But his numbers still can’t hide the decline that comes with his age, 36.

    Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
    2007 Record: 67 – 75 – 2 (.472)
    2007 RS – RA: 575 – 676
    Coming:
    Going: Kazuo Fukumori

    The Eagles have been making steady improvements ever since joining the league in 2005, being forced to construct their roster out of the Kintetsu-Orix merger scrapheap (winning percentage over the last 3 seasons are .281, .356, and .472 and the team finished out of the cellar in respectable 4th place in only its 3rd season). The team should get better as sophomores Masahiro Tanaka (11-7, 3.82ERA, 9.47 K/9, and 3.28 BB/9 in 186.1 IP) and Satoshi Nagai (7-7, 3.61ERA, 6.94 K/9, and 3.61 BB/9 in 127 IP) both had solid rookie seasons in 2007. If former aces Hisashi Iwakuma (5-5, 3.40ERA, 8.4 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 in 90 IP) and Yasuhiro Ichiba (5.37 ERA in 2007 in 58.2 IP after 4.37 ERA in 193.2 IP the year before) can regain their health, along with the growth of former Kintetsu 1st round high school pick Hideaki Asai (8-8, 3.12 ERA, 6.67 K/9, and 2.49 BB/9 in 144.1 IP, his first 100+ IP season), the Eagles should have a solid rotation.

    Closer Fukumori was signed away by the Texas Rangers, but the 31 year old struggled to a 4.75 ERA 17 save season in 2007, so he may not be missed. It will be interesting to see how much the 39 year old Takeshi Yamasaki will see a drop off in his numbers after his best season in 11 years with .261/.359/.577 and 43 HR 108 RBI in 2007 (his best year since 1996 performance of 39 HR 107 RBI and .322/.382/.625), a realistic expectation might be something north of .800 OPS as he has fluctuated .784, .690, .867, .764, and .936 over the last 5 seasons in the PL (last 3 with the Eagles).

    Saitama Seibu Lions
    2007 Record: 66 – 76 – 2 (.465)
    2007 RS – RA: 564 – 585
    Coming: Kazuhisa Ishii, Shinya Okamoto, Hitoshi Taneda, Mattew Kinney, Craig Brazell, Hiram Bocachica
    Going: Kazuki Fukuchi, Alex Cabrera, Kazuhiro Wada

    The club has added the prefectural name of Saitama to their name starting this season, along with other local activities, in an effort to lay better roots down in the local community.

    Lions lost the big bats of Cabrera and Wada, even though they’re power numbers have been declining as the greybeards aged in their late 30s, their bats were most productive ones in the lineup and their .370+ OBP and near .500 SLG will be missed. The team has attempted to plug these holes with the signings of Brazell and Bocachica. The former is absolutely crushed AAA pitching to the tune of .307/.337/.605 but he lacks plate discipline and will get into deep funks during the PL seasons while adjusting to Japanese pitching. Bocachica OPSed at over 1.000 in his last 2 AAA seasons, and knows how to get on base, so he carries more hope of becoming the next Cabrera. But of course, this depends on if they manage to adjust to Japanese baseball, and that remains to be seen.

    Seibu also added a serviceable league average arm and veteran presence in Ishii who will dependably eat up innings. And depending on the performance of the imports, a breakout season by Takeya “Okawari” Nakamura (22 HR and .603 SLG in 2005, .359 OBP in 2006) will be required if the team wants to contend for a playoff spot.

    Orix Buffaloes
    2007 Record: 62 – 77 – 5 (.446)
    2007 RS – RA: 536 – 585
    Coming: Osamu Hamanaka, Katsuaki Furuki, Alex Cabrera, Eric Junge
    Going: Tetsuya Matoyama, Hiroaki Ohnishi

    The Buffaloes remain the sole truly corporate team in the league, not embracing the local hometown spirits displayed by the remaining PL teams. However, this befits the owner Miyauchi, who is responsible, along with reviled Giants owner Watanabe, for trying to contract NPB down to 10 teams in an effort of cost cutting without putting in significant efforts to better market the product first to increase revenue, a small minded man.

    The aging squad added oft-injured Hamanaka (collapsed to .598 OPS after .845 in 2006) and Cabrera (steady decline in OPS over the last three seasons with 1.013, .968, .889, but he should still be useful). The club signed Junge, who is totally uninspiring with a career minor league line of 4.11 ERA, 6.86 K/9, and 3.24 BB/9, but he is a true band-aid late signing after the team had botched the Powell contract and lost him to the Hawks.

    Mamoru Kishida, Yoshihisa Hirano, Chihiro Kaneko, and Tom Davey provide a pretty solid pitching core, and the cleanup of Greg LaRocca (29 doubles, 27 HR, and .891 OPS last season), Dusty Rhodes (42 HR and 1.006 OPS after being out of NPB for a year), and Cabrera will instil fear into any pitcher. Come to think of it, this team can improve this season.

    With no significant additions or subtractions to their lineups, we’ll probably see the same 3 teams in the playoffs again in 2008. That’ll be the Fighters, Hawks, and Marines, though the order in which they finish will probably depend a lot more on injuries, breakout performances, and the number of players over- or underperforming their expectations, than the strength of these teams on paper. The growth of the Eagles is intriguing, but now that they have a good arsenal of arms, they’ll need to start acquiring quality bats to compete with the big boys. The Lions and Buffaloes are relying on stop gap veterans, both domestic and imports, to bolster their teams, not very encouraging, but it looks like the Buffaloes improved more and might battle the Eagles for 4th. In retrospect, since this is a pitchers league, using ERA+ probably would’ve been a better indicator than being caught up with all the ERAs around or below 3.00, oh well, too late now, I don’t have time to re-research and rewrite 😛

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

    Lohse’s 1 year 4.75 mil contract

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 March 17日 Monday

    Kyle Lohse signs a 1 year 4.25 million dollar (with 500k in performance bonus) contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Similarly replacement level pitchers like Carlos Silva and Jeff Suppan have been getting something like 4 year $40m contracts in recent off seasons, but something changed. Maybe a critical mass of major league teams have finally realized the value of replacement level performance, as suggested in the timely USS Mariner article (via EWC). Also it’s probably ironic that the ever rising salaries of free agents brought on this shift in player valuations sooner than later (though, it’s the future replacement level free agents that will miss out on free money, the current batch have already laughed their way to the bank at least once).

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, opinion, Sabermetrics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    More Sabermetric man-crush for Brian Bannister

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 March 12日 Wednesday

    Here’s more sabermetric love going to Brian Bannister. It’ll be interesting to see if he can repeat his success from his rookie year where he managed a winning record and sub-4.00 ERA with the Royals.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, MLB, Sabermetrics, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Projected 2008 MLB standings

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 March 12日 Wednesday

    Wow, PECOTA sure is bullish on the undevilled Tampa Bay Rays (89 projected wins). Realistically TB is such a young team that the projection variations (78 – 89 wins) is just showing the volatility and unpredictability involved in projecting such a young team with many players big upsides who lack significant MLB service time and career stats. (Links to TangoTiger’s blog.)

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, Sabermetrics, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    The Kosaka Zone

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 February 8日 Friday

    The incredible range displayed by 4 time Golden Glove winner Makoto Kosaka, mostly manning shortstop for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

    Too bad the rise of Nishioka made him an expendable player by Bobby Valentine after the 2005 championship season and was traded for cash to the Giants where he had no hope of grabbing a starting job unless he really smoked with the bat, but his hitting went into a deep funk and never recovered after switching teams.

    http://japanesebaseball.com/players/player.jsp?PlayerID=962 

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, NPB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Brian Bannister Q&A

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 January 28日 Monday

    I’ve never read an athlete interview like this. This is an intelligent ballplayer, if not stat obsessed (an otaku, heh) of the sabermetrics kind. He’s totally in tune with progressive statistics and the importance of OBPs, though granted this is becoming more widely accepted by the general American media and fans as it appears regularly during TV broadcasts now. But Bannister digs deeper and applies the underlying philosophies to his actual pitching, this is really interesting. Now we’re not just getting sabermetric analysists in the front offices, but also out on the playing field!

    He’s likely to be available in later rounds of almost any fantasy draft, and faces really tough competition regularly against top hitting Indians and Tigers lineups, but when I’m faced with a choice between him and an equivalent starter, I will draft this Royal. (i.e. I’m now a fan.)

    Here’s a quote:

    MLBTR: What’s the most misunderstood aspect of succeeding in baseball by typical fans, sportswriters, and announcers?

    Bannister: There are two things that make baseball unique from other sports. One, baseball is a game of skill that is accentuated by the physical tools of the person performing those skills. Most people superficially judge a position player solely on size, strength, and speed, when his eyesight, balance, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, and mental makeup are much more influential factors in his future success. It is when a player embodies all of these qualities that we get our superstars and hall-of-famers. I would much rather face a hitter with “80” power and “80” speed but bad strike zone discipline than one with no power and a .400+ OBP. Over the course of time, the hitter with the .400+ OBP is going to hurt me much, much more, especially if he is surrounded by other good hitters.

    Secondly, whether you like it or not, baseball is a game of randomness. We play outdoors (mostly) in changing elements and field dimensions, and each pitch results in a series of events that can go in either teams favor. One thing that I have have come to accept is that just because I train hard physically, I practice perfectly, I prepare diligently, and execute a pitch exactly as I wanted, it can still result in a home run. In golf, if you analyze all the variables correctly (lie, distance, slope, wind, etc.) and execute your swing perfectly, it will result in a great shot. Not so for a pitcher or a hitter. A hitter can swing the bat perfectly and it will result in an out more than six times out of ten. Therefore, as a pitcher, I study and play to put the percentages in my favor more than anything because I know that I can’t control the outcome in a single game or series of games, but over the course of a season or a career I will be better than average.

    from MLB Trade Rumours

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, opinion, Sabermetrics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Alex Ramirez

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 January 23日 Wednesday

    I’m not sure what to make of the sudden resurgence of the former Swallows star and now a new Giants cog Alex Ramirez’s career. He has been superficially consistent through his NPB career hitting around .300 with around 30 HRs and 100+ RBIs every year.

    But his OBP/SLG/OPS has been seeing a steady decline since his peak in 2003 of 373/616/989 dipping down to 289/449/738 in 2006. But then suddenly we saw him hit 371/569/940 at the age of 32. I wouldn’t be surprised if his 2007 numbers were more an exception rather than a return to his peak form, and to see his numbers end up being closer to 2006 rather than 2007 figures. Then again, Yomiuri can afford to take that gamble…

    Ramirez:
    http://japanesebaseball.com/players/player.jsp?PlayerID=1354

    Wonder how much Ramirez will change his post-HR “performance” from his Swallows versions like this:

    From my comment made on an EWC post.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

    Japanese ballparks are bandboxes, truth or myth?

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 January 10日 Thursday

    Japanese ballparks are often accused of being tiny bandboxes where routine outfield fly balls slapped by weak hitters turn into homeruns. Is this actually true, or is this just an outdated myth similar to “Tokyo/Japan is expensive” (it’s not, especially now with the weak yen, tax inclusive pricing, various deregulations that brought down tariffs and prices, and the no tipping culture.)

    Let’s take a look at actual ballpark dimensions because otherwise they’re just mere speculations and anecdotes.

    NPB Stadiums

    2007                  
     

    Field Dimensions (feet)

    Wall Height (feet)

     

    Franchise

    City

    Stadium

    Year

    LF

    CF

    RF

    LF

    CF

    RF

    Surface

    BayStars

    Yokohama

    Yokohama Stadium

    1978

    308.4

    387.1

    308.4

    16.4

    16.4

    16.4

    Turf

    Carp

    Hiroshima

    Hiroshima Municipal Stadium

    1957

    299.9

    379.9

    299.9

    10.5

    10.5

    10.5

    Grass/Dirt

    Dragons

    Nagoya

    Nagoya Dome

    1997

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    15.7

    15.7

    15.7

    Turf

    Giants

    Tokyo

    Tokyo Dome

    1988

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    13.1

    13.1

    13.1

    Turf

    Swallows

    Tokyo

    Meiji Jingu Stadium

    1926

    298.6

    393.7

    298.6

    11.5

    11.5

    11.5

    Turf

    Tigers

    Osaka

    Hanshin Koshien Stadium

    1924

    315.0

    393.7

    315.0

    10.5

    10.5

    10.5

    Grass/Dirt

    Buffaloes

    Osaka

    Osaka Dome

    1997

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    13.8

    13.8

    13.8

    Turf

    Eagles

    Sendai

    Miyagi Baseball Stadium

    1950

    333.0

    400.3

    333.0

    13.1

    5.9

    13.1

    Turf

    Fighters

    Hokkaido

    Sapporo Dome

    2001

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    18.9

    18.9

    18.9

    Turf

    Hawks

    Fukuoka

    Fukuoka Dome

    1993

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    19.2

    19.2

    19.2

    Turf

    Lions

    Saitama

    Seibu Dome

    1979

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    14.3

    10.5

    14.3

    Turf

    Marines

    Chiba

    Chiba Marine Stadium

    1990

    326.4

    400.3

    326.4

    13.1

    13.1

    13.1

    Turf

       

    NPB Average (feet)

    1973

    320.8

    396.4

    320.8

    14.2

    13.3

    14.2

    Mostly turf

       

    NPB Average (metres)

    97.8

    120.8

    97.8

    4.3

    4.0

    4.3

    Mostly turf

       

    CL Average (feet)

    1962

    313.0

    392.5

    313.0

    13.0

    13.0

    13.0

    Mostly turf

       

    CL Average (metres)

    95.4

    119.6

    95.4

    3.9

    3.9

    3.9

    Mostly turf

       

    PL Average (feet)

    1985

    328.6

    400.3

    328.6

    15.4

    13.6

    15.4

    All turf

       

    PL Average (metres)

    100.2

    122.0

    100.2

    4.7

    4.1

    4.7

    All turf

       

    MLB Average (feet)

    1986

    331.7

    405.4

    329.1

    10.4

    8.9

    10.9

    Mostly grass

       

    MLB Average (metres)

    101.1

    123.6

    100.3

    3.2

    2.7

    3.3

    Mostly grass

    I tacked the MLB averages onto the bottom of the chart for the sake of comparison. Yes, I know MLB stadiums have tons of wonky dimensions, but this makes it interesting nonetheless.

    There’s some interesting stuff here:

    • Central League teams play in older and smaller ballparks, while Pacific League teams play in modern stadiums (unfortunately they’re mostly multipurpose domes in the vein of Metrodome and SkyDome), Seibu added a roof and pushed back the outfield walls to its current dimensions a few years back. Swallows’ Jingu stadium is undergoing renovations this offseason where LF/RF walls will be pushed back to 101m (331’) and wall height will be raised to 4.5m (14.9’), turning it into a more conventional stadium from a hitters’ paradise.

    • PL stadiums have almost the same dimensions as an average MLB stadium, but with higher walls. So, this makes PL as a whole more pitcher friendly, as many potential homeruns are turned into doubles. Combining this with the Japanese style of small ball (utilizing bunts, steals, and hit and runs to get that first run on the board to put pressure on the opposition, instead of waiting for the 3 run homer and big innings that is more popular in the majors), the lowest scoring team in the PL won the pennant and the playoffs. That team is the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (often mistakenly shortened as the Ham Fighters but “Nippon Ham” is the sponsor and “Fighters” is the team name) which was led by the now-KC manager Trey Hillman who embraced the Japanese style of play and often won low scoring 1 run games like 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 thanks to his superior pitchers led by the 21 year old man-child Darvish Yu whose father is Iranian. I still think that OBP is an underrated skill amongst NPB management, so if some manager in a hitter friendly park can collect moneyball type players of its first incarnation (good plate discipline and power), then his team can have some success at the plate for bargain prices.

     

    • CL parks, on the other hand, are very friendly to hitters. Especially old Jingu and Hiroshima stadiums with short porches and low walls. Outfield flies that should turn into outs elsewhere in Japan (and in the majors) can become homeruns here. I can’t remember how the Rays’ Akinori Iwamura hit majority of his homeruns (even though I’m a Swallows fan) but this partially explains his significant power drop off when he went to the majors. But this makes the new Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda’s record even more impressive, as he had to contend with the fences being so close behind him. Yokohama is also hitter friendly with its cozy confines and minimal foul territory (see below).

     

    • On the whole, NPB stadiums are boring when compared to their MLB counterparts. Almost all stadiums built or renovated within the last 20 years feature 100m (328’) LF/RF and 122m (400’) CF walls and artificial turf. On top of that all stadiums are perfectly symmetrical. Japan missed the boat on the HOF type quirky modern retro ballparks. But then again NPB has nowhere near the financial clout of MLB to get fancy new baseball only stadiums (with retractable roofs and natural grass) built for them with mostly municipal tax payer money. Apparently the near 20’ wall of Fukuoka Dome is called the “Japanese Green Monster” sometimes, but I’ve never heard this reference before reading it on Wikipedia. Older ballparks that were used before the current ones built or renovated within the last 20 years were smaller bandboxes like Jingu and Hiroshima today, so that is where the reputation comes from, I’d reckon. Homerun king Sadaharu Oh’s 868 career homeruns while playing home games in the smaller Korakuen Stadium (Giants’ and Fighters’ home before Tokyo Dome) are equivalent to 527 MLB homeruns according to this great analysis by Jim Albright.

     

    • There are nice fairly modern outdoor stadiums with natural grass and large enough capacity in Japan. But unfortunately they’ve either been vacated like the Kobe stadium (BlueWave’s former home before they merged with the Buffaloes and gradually moved all games to the Osaka Dome), or have been built in rural locations and are only used by the NPB in neutral site barnstorming games every year (Botchan Stadium in Matsuyama on the relatively sparsely populated Shikoku island, and Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki on the southern island of Kyushu where the Giants hold spring training camps).

     

    • Unfortunately, the proliferation of domed stadiums in NPB means that most playing surfaces are artificial turf, with Hiroshima and Tiger’s Koshien stadiums being the only exceptions out of the 12, whereas there are only 3 artificial turf fields out of 30 MLB stadiums. These two stadiums feature something interesting that is not seen in North American pro level diamonds, completely dirt infields. Here’s what Koshien looks like during one of its national highschool championship tournaments (which culturally similar to March Madness):

    Koshien Stadium during a national highschool championship tournament

     

    These are drawings of NPB fields to give you an idea of their outfield size, gaps and foul territories.

    Drawings of NPB fields

    Foul territory sizes range from big in Sapporo Dome to tiny in Yokohama Stadium. Tokyo Dome’s gaps are not rounded like other stadiums, so that makes it easier to hit homeruns to left centre and right centre gaps.

    Since I haven’t actually done any park factor calculations and whatnot, this is all for now.

    So, there are bandbox stadiums in the CL, but there is no such thing in the PL where parks are modern with MLB dimensions but have higher walls. Interesting factors to consider when translating NPB player performances into MLB equivalencies (there are 24 interleague games each season now, 2 games each home and away, so PL teams get to play a few games in those small CL parks.)

    It would also be interesting to compare this against Korean and Taiwanese stadiums.

    Posted in baseball, information, MLB, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »