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    Early season PL attendance and the Giants

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 26日 Saturday

    westbaystars at Japanesebaseball.com does a logical analysis on the early season PL attendance figures.

    Compared to the same time period last year (up to games ending April 24), SoftBank takes the biggest hit, down 10.3% (27,036 per game). But Nippon Ham makes up for that, up 10.2% (23,362). Orix, having moved to Osaka Dome, is up a whopping 45.7% (16,429).

    While the article attributes moving to Osaka as the cause for the rise for Orix, I’ll contend that it was their great start that got people coming out. SoftBank, on the other hand, has had its worst start in years, thus the downturn. I think that when you compare results on the field with results in the seats, that there will be a close correlation – which the press doesn’t seem to get for some reason.

    Yeah, that seems like a way more plausible reason. I’ve only been to 2 games so far this season. A half empty Jingu for a midweek Swallows-BayStars tilt, and a Sunday afternoon Hawks-Fighters game in Sapporo that drew well (just north of 30,000).

    Meanwhile, sports journalists are desperate to write good things about the Giants. Sure having your first 4 game winning streak of the season is a good thing, scoring 6 runs each in the first 3 wins, but that series sweep was against the lowly BayStars, the worst team in Japan, so that’s nothing to write home about. Now, the 3-1 win against the Tigers last night is a good thing for the club, though only getting 3 runs on 10 hits is rather inefficient. The Giants are the least patient team in the league with only 41 walks while Hanshin leads the league and almost doubles that with 78. Hmm…

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    2008.4.22 NPB Power Rankings

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 22日 Tuesday

    I’m rather busy at the moment, so I’ll try to keep this short. Previous week’s ranking in brackets.

    1. Hanshin Tigers(1) 15-4 .789

    Continues to roll right along with yet another 4-1 week. 4 of the top 7 in CL OBP with Akahoshi (.451), Arai (.415), Kanemoto (.413), and Toritani (.395) explain their position up top.

    2. Chunichi Dragons(2) 12-6-1 .667

    Can stake a claim for the top spot in the Hanshin series starting tonight.

    3. Saitama Seibu Lions(3) 14-9-1 .609

    Went undefeated in 3 games (2-0-1) in a short 4 game week that got reduced to 3 games by rain. Outslugging the rest of the league with its 26 homeruns, 7 ahead of the nearest competitor.

    4. Tokyo Yakult Swallows(4) 9-9 .500

    Continues to slip with a 2-3 week. Saw the 2-1 win on Tuesday against Yokohama, but that’s not much to write home about. Lim continues to look fantastic, not allowing a run in 7 appearances while only allowing 5 baserunners. He may return to the setup role when/if Igarashi returns from injury, in which case the duo could become the Betancourt-Borowski of Japan, at the very least.

    5. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters(6) 13-11 .542

    Another smallballrific week with game scores being 3-3, 2-4, 3-1, 4-2, and 2-4. I saw that last game on Sunday up in Hokkaido, great crowd and a funky dome in the great white north of Japan. Winning record but currently being outscored 69-77. Could they repeat Hanshin’s success last year as a playoff team with a negative run differential? Maybe.

    6. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks(5) 13-13 .500

    Dropped 2 out of 3 against perennial playoff rivals Fighters for a 2-3 week.

    7. Chiba Lotte Marines(8 ) 13-13 .500

    Went 3-2 against the Eagles and the Buffaloes to bring the record up to .500.

    8. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles(7) 11-13 .458

    A 1-3 week against the Marines and Lions. Iwakuma is in top form as he battles Darvish for the ERA lead with miniscule 0.46.

    9. Hiroshima Toyo Carp(10) 7-10-1 .412

    Won 2 of 3 against the ever slumping Giants as the teams swap spots.

    10. Tokyo Yomiuri Giants(9) 7-12-1 .368

    Lost both series against the Dragons and the Carp, losing both of Uehara’s starts as the ace gave up 10 runs in 9 innings over two starts.

    11. Orix Buffaloes(11) 10-15 .400

    Hitting bombs (19 HR is 2nd in PL) but unable to get hits with any regularity (.219 BA is only 1 point better than league worst Fighters, and probably the worst once adjusted for park factors), and league worst pitching staff sporting 4.10 ERA means the team’s at the bottom of PL.

    12. Yokohama BayStars(12) 4-13 .235

    Going 1-3 this past week actually raised the team’s winning percentage, can’t get much lower than that.

    Aaron Guiel Watch

    Still batting over .300, expect that to come down to his more typical 260-280 range though. A relatively quiet week with 1HR and 4RBI as he gave up his CL lead in the latter category, but earned his first HBP of the season in the game I saw at Jingu last Tuesday.

    18GP 74PA 13R 7HR 19RBI .313/.392/.734 8BB 1HBP 12K

    Pitchers Watch:
    Koji Uehara (Giants) – 2 painful starts giving up 10 total runs
    4GS 25IP 19/8 K/BB 5HR 17RA 6.12ERA
    Kenshin Kawakami (Dragons) – back with the big club yesterday after a short spell in the minors for an unspecified ailment, not scheduled to start in the Tigers series though
    2GS 15.2IP 13/1 K/BB 4HR 8RA 4.60ERA
    Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka (Eagles)
    5GS 41IP 38/15 K/BB 2HR 12RA 2.20ERA
    Shota Ohba (Hawks) – the rookie continues to serve up the long ball
    5GS 30.2IP 35/4 K/BB 8HR 10RA 3.44ERA
    Yu Darvish (Fighters) – yet another CG victory
    5GS 43IP 42/5 K/BB 0HR 3RA 0.46ERA 3CG

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

    2008.4.14 NPB Power Rankings

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 14日 Monday

    Previous week’s ranking in brackets. Still tight as ever in the PL with the 5 teams (except Orix) within 2 games of the league leader. And thanks to westbaystars’ pitching game scores comment at EWC, we know whose been rocking early this season.

    1. Hanshin Tigers(3) 11-3 .786

    Went 4 – 1 last week, and big bro “Aniki” Kanemoto got his 2000th hit to ensure his place in the Meikyukai (the old boys club version of a hall of fame).

    2. Chunichi Dragons(1) 8-5-1 .615

    A tough week going 2 – 3 losing close fought games to Hanshin, then beating up on Hiroshima. Losses were by 2 runs or less though.

    3. Saitama Seibu Lions(4) 12-9 .571

    A win some, lose some 3 – 3 week. But Brazell is absolutely smokin’ right now, he already has 8 homeruns which is 3 more than anyone else in the league, smashing one of them in a 15-5 win over Chiba.

    4. Tokyo Yakult Swallows(2) 7-6 .538

    An even tougher week going 1 – 3, a loss to the Carp sandwiched by rainouts, and losing the series against the Giants. Losses here were also by 2 runs or less.

    5. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks(6) 11-10 .524

    Dropped 2 games against Orix, but won 2 against Seibu. Hitting just fine, but not getting consistent pitching performance with their super staff, on paper, allowing 4.2 runs per game, the second worst in the PL.

    6. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters(7) 11-9 .550

    A 4 – 2 week where 1 win was by 2 runs, and all remaining games were decided by 1 run, including a 1-0 nailbiter shutout win by Darvish over Iwakuma’s Eagles. Being a fighters fan must do bad things to your heart.

    7. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles(5) 10-10 .500

    Swept Orix, but got swept by the Fighters. Two great pitching performances with a 0-1 complete game loss by Iwakuma, and a 3-0 shutout by Tanaka.

    8. Chiba Lotte Marines(8) 10-11 .476

    A Jekyll and Hyde week slugging it out in the Seibu series (18 RS – 19 RA), then a series of pitching duels against the Fighters (6 RS – 5 RA). 

    9. Tokyo Yomiuri Giants(10) 5-8-1 .385

    The sleeping Giant half awoke, going 3-1-1 against the crosstown Swallows and the lowly BayStars.

    10. Hiroshima Toyo Carp(11) 5-7-1 .417

    Rain washed away 2 games, 2 gritty wins, and 2 blowout losses to Chunichi last week.

    11. Orix Buffaloes(9) 8-13 .381

    Starting to slip from the PL pack with a 2-4 week. Getting swept by the Eagles, including a brilliant 10K shutout performance by Tanaka, is not a good sign. 

    12. Yokohama BayStars(12) 3-10 .231

    A 1-3 week where they offered a helping hand in reviving the Giants, and they also played the Tigers. You can’t win games when you score 2.8 runs per game in a hitters park (and allow 5.3 runs per game). 

    Aaron Guiel Watch

    The man keeps on slugging, in fact he managed to raise his slugging percentage over the past week, amazingly enough.

    13GP 54PA 11R 6HR 15RBI .340/.426/.830 7BB 0HBP

    (CL leader in HR, RBI, SLG) 
     
    For good measure, let’s keep an eye on some pitchers: 
    Koji Uehara (Giants)
    2GS 16IP 17/2 K/BB 4HR 7RA 3.94ERA
    Kenshin Kawakami (Dragons)
    2GS 15.2IP 13/1 K/BB 4HR 8RA 4.60ERA
    Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka (Eagles)
    4GS 32IP 30/12 K/BB 1HR 9RA 1.97ERA
    Shota Ohba (Hawks)
    4GS 30.2IP 35/4 K/BB 6HR 10RA 2.93ERA
    Yu Darvish (Fighters)
    4GS 34IP 32/5 K/BB 0HR 2RA 0.53ERA
    Granted, he plays in the pitchers park of NPB, Darvish continues to dazzle, all this only in his 4th year and as a 22 year old.

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

    2008.4.7 NPB Power Rankings

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 7日 Monday

    I was never really fond of power rankings for sports leagues since they’re so arbitrary. When Aaron Shinsano at EWC asked me to do NPB power rankings, I was hesitant. Not only was I busy with my new job, the task of ranking teams fairly seemed like too much work. But after a while, I suddenly realized that it doesn’t have to be fair, power rankings are always arbitrary anyways. But there’s certainly demand for them as every sports publication, on or offline, seem to indulge in these things. So I’ve decided to join the ranks of the arbitrary rankers! (And hey, what great timing, EWC’s Korea League Rankings have just gone up!)

    Even though it’s a real logjam in the PL with only 3 games separating the 6 teams, without further ado, here’s the NPB power rankings for 7 April 2007, a little more than two weeks and one week into PL and CL seasons, respectively.

    1. Chunichi Dragons 6-2-1 .750

    After a lackluster first year in NPB (batting .261 after a .312 career in the KBO) Byung-kyu Lee has awoken with a .314/.351/.486 line 9 games into 2008. Woods, Nakamura, and Morino(!) are supplying the power, so Kosuke Fukudome is not being missed thus far. Team pitching is absolutely shutting down the opponents with a 1.95 ERA, almost 1 full point lower than the next team in the league.

    2. Tokyo Yakult Swallows 6-3 .667

    Sweet revenge in the home opener Tokyo derby where the team swept the crosstown rival Giants who signed away the birds top pitcher, Greisinger, and one of the top hitters, Ramirez. The team has continued its hot play, but the lineup cannot be expected to keep on slugging .450 (it was .409 last season), and team ERA of 4.04 doesn’t bode well for the future, but things are looking good at the moment. Losing closer Igarashi to injury after the first game may have been a blessing in disguise as import Chang-Yong Lim has wicked stuff, mid-90’s fastball with late movement from a deceptive submarine delivery, and he has probably won the closer’s job (though using him in the most high leverage situations before the 9th would probably be better for the team than a strictly 9th inning closer role, and the birds’ pen is not exactly awash with talent so the return of Igarashi would help.)

    3. Hanshin Tigers 7-2 .778

    The cats feasted on weak opposition in Yokohama, Hiroshima, and the slumping Yomiuri to their current record. Real test starts tomorrow with the series against the mighty Dragons. 

    4. Saitama Seibu Lions 9-6 .600

    Getting it done with both hitting (18 HR is more than twice the second place team in PL, and .418 SLG also leads the league) and pitching (2.77 ERA leads the league). Brazell has been a pleasant surprise (.276/.323/.603 and his 6 HR leads the league) and Takeya “Okawari” Nakamura is showing a return to his 2005 debut year form with 4 HR and .296/.367/.630 after two disappointing years. Rotation has been absolutely solid, with a couple of surprise veterans, one being Nishiguchi’s slow start (is this the beginning of the end for this vet?) and Kaz Ishii’s gems (3GS 3W 1.67ERA). 

    5. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 7-7 .500

    Started the season ice cold with 4 straight losses, then went on a tear winning 7 in a row, then got swept in the most recent series against the Lions. Enigmatic, you could say. But the team took hold of first place in PL for the first time ever in its short franchise history last week. Starters “Ma-kun” Takana, Iwakuma, Nagai, and Asai have been solid, and 40 year old slugger Yamasaki continues to defy father time leading the league in hitting with .390/.490/.707 overshadowing Fernandez who is also off to a hot start with .352/.367/.611.

    6. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 8-7 .533

    54 RS and 58 RA, makes sense being stuck in the middle of the table despite superb performances by everyone’s coveted rookie Ohba who pitched a 16K 0BB shutout on Saturday (1 strikeout shy of tying Hideo Nomo’s NPB record for rookies) against the Marines.

    7. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 7-7 .500

    37 RS and 48 RA, yet the team is doing it again, somehow being kept afloat with a .500 record. Yu Darvish didn’t allow a run until his 3rd start of the season (0.72 ERA in 25 IP) so that certainly helps. But their chronic inability to score runs (though they play in an extreme pitchers park) will come back to haunt them this season, finally. Terrmel Sledge (.236/.340/.457) is needlessly being bashed by the fans because of his low BA, but he’s doing about as well as expected otherwise, as indicated by his numbers in the minors (.309/.401/.490) and majors (.247/.327/.418). Something needs to be done about the league worst .279 OBP.

    8. Chiba Lotte Marines 7-8 .467

    Rotation’s having a shaky start beyond the Naruse, Watanabe, and Kobayashi trio. But the team’s 50 RS and 59 RA means they’re in the thick of things in the PL.

    9. Orix Buffaloes 6-9 .400

    League worst .211/.281/.322 and 61RA puts a shudder in their coaches and fans (and probably themselves too). Tuffy Rhodes (.952 OPS) is playing like himself, but Greg LaRocca (.526 OPS) and Alex Cabrera (miniscule .356 OPS!) need to wake up if this team is going to go anywhere, as they’re dependent on the import cleanup.

    10. Tokyo Yomiuri Giants 2-7 .222

    Best NPB on paper got swept by the Swallows in the opener, and hasn’t recovered since, despite having a great array of pitchers and sluggers. Though opening the season against scorching Swallows and always tough Tigers and Dragons couldn’t have helped. If the team doesn’t right the ship in the upcoming Yokohama series, it’s tough going again with consecutive series against the Swallows and Dragons after that. Koji Uehara declaring his MLB intentions in this midst doesn’t help him or the team, he truly shot from the hip. This team will surely climb up through these rankings as the season progresses. Oh yeah, and .284 team OBP is by far the worst in the CL.

    11. Hiroshima Toyo Carp 3-5-1 .375

    36 RS and 30 RA, have the Carp been unlucky? Nah, the run differential is skewed by the 17-3 win over the BayStars on Sunday. Arai was no Godzilla, but losing him certainly hurt the lineup. And losing Kuroda to the Dodgers have been extremely painful as 25 year old former 1st round pick Kan Otake has been the only good starter (3RA in 16IP) at this early point in the season.

    12. Yokohama BayStars 2-7 .222

     

    Rather hopeless start to the season, scoring only 29 runs on .677 OPS while allowing by far the league worst 57 runs on 6.37 ERA. And unlike the Giants, there aren’t huge improvements in sight. Team’s lone slugger Murata is off to a slow start (.216/.275/.432) but starters Terahara, Wood, and Miura are off to solid starts with ERA in the 3s. But the bullpen’s been absolutely disastrous in the first week of the season.

     

    Aaron Guiel Watch

     

    The underappreciated (many Swallows fans were hoping he wouldn’t return to the team this year) Canadian slugger (his fight song is great, starting out with a long Oh Canada! introduction, which the cheer squad can play because he’s a patient hitter) is the NPB King of Three True Outcomes (HR, K, BB) in the mould of Adam Dunn but not as extreme as Jack Cust. He hit .245/.381/.493 last season with 35 HR (2nd in CL). But incredibly enough, many fans can’t see past his low average. Anyways, this JHB blog will track his year.

     

    Guiel also has a reputation for bending the space-time continuum (one example being his inside the park homerun during playing manager and Swallows legend Atsuya Furuta’s retirement game), but this requires an entirely separate entry  😛

     

    Aaron Guiel (as of 2008.4.7) – the whole team’s off to a hot start and Aaron’s no exception
    9GP 37PA 8R 3HR 12RBI .344/.432/.781 5BB 0HBP
    (CL leader with 12RBI) 

     

    For good measure, let’s keep an eye on some pitchers:

     

    Koji Uehara (Giants)
    1GS 9IP 7/2 K/BB 2HR 4RA 4.00ERA
    Kenshin Kawakami (Dragons)
    2GS 15.2IP 13/1 K/BB 4HR 8RA 4.60ERA
    Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka (Eagles)
    3GS 23IP 20/9 K/BB 1HR 9RA 2.74ERA
    Shota Ohba (Hawks)
    3GS 25IP 29/2 K/BB 3HR 5RA 1.80ERA
    Yu Darvish (Fighters)
    3GS 25IP 26/4 K/BB 0HR 2RA 0.72ERA

     

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, Sabermetrics, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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 😛

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