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    Posts Tagged ‘greisinger’

    2008 CL season review and playoff preview

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 October 16日 Thursday

    The Central League concluded their 2008 regular season recently and is gearing up for its Climax Series playoffs which will start this Saturday the 18th as Hanshin hosts Chunichi for the best of 3 series at their home away from home, the Kyocera Dome Osaka, because their venerable Koshien Stadium is undergoing renovations that could not have been rescheduled. What, did the Koshien brass think that the Tigers were not going to host any postseason games this year?

    Anyways, the Pacific League has completed the first round of its playoffs with the 3rd place Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters earning a clean 2 game sweep over the 2008 miracle team, the Orix Buffaloes, in the very same Osaka Dome. The pitching and defence minded Fighters are built for the postseason where run scoring is at a premium. The Fighters won game 1 behind a strong 1 run (unearned) 14K complete game performance in the 4-1 win by their dominant ace, Yu Darvish. The Buffs managed 9 hits in the game, but 5 of them were of the infield variety. Game 2 featured a strong performance by starter Shugo Fujii and the bats came alive for an easy 7-2 win. Through the quirk of scheduling (probably to maximize weekend dates) the Fighters get to throw Darvish out there in one of the first two games of the PL final against the Saitama Seibu Lions which starts tomorrow, Friday the 17th, and possibly have him pitch the deciding game 6 on the 23rd if necessary. That’ll be a tough hurdle for the Lions to clear, despite starting the best of 7 series off with a 1-0 advantage and playing all games at home.

    Back to the CL for the regular season recap and playoff preview.

    1. Yomiuri Giants

    84-57-3 (.596)

    RS-RA: 631-532

    The all star team that was supposed to win the CL pennant did manage to achieve the feat in the waning days of the season, through a combination of a dominating second half of the season and the monumental Hanshin collapse (more on that later). Signing highly prized free agents Alex Ramirez (144GP 600PA 319/373/617 with 45 HR 125RBI), Seth Greisinger (31GS 206IP 3.06ERA 17-9), and Marc Kroon (61G 61IP 2.21ERA 41SV) from their poorer CL cousins turned out to be an absolute bonanza as Kroon had no injury problems and Rami-chan’s 2007 revival wasn’t a fluke. Well, these were gambles that the richest NPB club could afford to take. The Giants have an import conundrum as Lee Seung-Yeop came on hot coming back from the Olympic where he played hero with 7HR and 18RBI in September (including homering in 3 straight at bats against the lowly BayStars). But their pitcher from downunder Adrian Burnside had a decent season as well when given the opportunity as he had 3.48ERA in 75IP. Teams are allowed to carry 4 imports on the active roster, and the Giants will host the winner of the Hanshin-Chunichi series starting on the 22nd.

    After it was all said and done, Michihiro Ogasawara (310/381/573 with 36HR) and catcher Shinnosuke Abe (271/350/502) had their usual productive seasons, and while Tetsuya Utsumi (184.1IP 2.73ERA) had yet another strong season and MLB bound Koji Uehara had a strong second half to make his record a respectable 3.81ERA in 89.2IP after a disasterous start to the season, Hisanori Takahashi returned to his pre-2007 form with 4.13ERA in 122IP and Hiroshi Kisanuki had similar numbers with 4.14ERA in 74IP. The Giants should prove to be a formidable opponent for either winner of the first round, as the team will be right at home in the homer-happy Tokyo Dome.

    2. Hanshin Tigers

    82-59-3 (.582)

    RS-RA: 578 – 521

    The Tigers held the Central League until the 141st game of the 144 game regular season, at one point holding a 13 game lead over the Giants in the summer, but allowed Yomiuri to win the league in the 143rd game of the year completing the greatest choke of Central League history (previous record was the 1996 Giants overcoming a 11.5 game deficit to take the league crown). The Hanshin batters Kanemoto, Akahoshi, and Arai held the top 3 spots in CL OBP rankings with Toritani in 8th at the beginning of summer. But at the end of the season only Akahoshi and Kanemoto kept their spots in the top 10 with 3rd and 6th respectively, Arai and Toritani had just fallen out of the top 10, but Kentaro Sekimoto at .364 in 14th just below the former two means that this team should still know how to get on base and not make outs.

    The team is driven by a trio of 40 year olds in Tomoaki “Aniki” Kanemoto (307/392/527, 62XBH 108RBI), Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (2.99ERA 162.1IP 11-6, most IP on the team), and catcher Akihiro Yano. The Tigers seemed to lose steam midway through the season when key cogs Yano, Arai, and Fujikawa were lost to the Olympic team in Beijing. But not being able to revive the team when these players returned after the Games was just sad. The vaunted reliever trio of JFK was less effective this season, perhaps showing the effects of their age and work over the past several seasons, with Jeff Williams (3.09ERA 55.1IP) and Tomoyuki Kubota (3.16ERA 85.1IP) more hittable than usual and only Kyuji Fujikawa (0.67ERA 67.2IP 38SV) posting his usual numbers. The emergence of Ryo Watanabe (2.67ERA 67.1IP) should take some of the load off the trio and the bullpen will be a key component in the playoffs as Tigers starters don’t go deep into games (as seen by Shimoyanagi’s 162.1IP being the team leader). The team will have to return to an earlier form of getting on base and shutdown bullpen to pull off some success in the postseason against defending Japan Series champs Chunichi and the red hot Giants.

    3. Chunichi Dragons

    71-68-5 (.511)

    RS-RA: 535 – 556

    The defending Japan Series champions had to fight the upstart Hiroshima Carp hard at the end of the season to squeak into the playoffs. The Dragons were battling for the CL pennant until they quickly lost steam with the Olympics where the team lost NPB-high 4 players to Beijing in Araki, Morino, Kawakami, and Iwase, the latter blowing up badly as he was left in or brought into games he shouldn’t have been on the way to Japan’s 4th place finish. The Dragons have a great ace in Kenshin Kawakami (2.30ERA 117.1IP) and Masa Yamamoto had a revival season with 3.16ERA over team high 133.2IP. Closer Hitoki Iwase (2.94ERA 49IP 36SV) has become more hittable over the past two seasons and this may be a key difference with Hanshin.

    4. Hiroshima Carp

    69-70-5 (.496)

    RS-RA: 537 – 569

    Marty Brown’s little team that could almost snatched a playoff spot away from Chunichi but just fell short by 2 games in their final season at the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium. The new Hiroshima stadium that will open next spring looks to be a beauty of a ballpark in the NPB filled with characterless multipurpose domes. The Carp were carried on the back of new import Colby Lewis (2.68ERA 178IP 15-8, 2nd in CL ERA and wins despite being on a losing team) and Kenta Kurihara continues to grow as an offensive force (2008 – 904OPS, 2007 – 873, 2006 – 837) but the team is in serious need other offensive parts to fill out the lineup. Yeah, it’s nice that Higashide hit 310, but he can’t draw walks or hit for power (678 OPS).

    5. Tokyo Yakult Swallows

    66-74-4 (.471)

    RS-RA: 583 – 569

    The birds underperformed their Pythagorean expectations (based on RS-RA) despite having a capable bullpen stocked with Lim Chang-Yong (3.00ERA 51IP 33SV though it seems the league figured out how to hit the funky submariner as the season went along because he was unhittable early in the season), setup men Kenichi Matsuoka (1.39ERA 71.1IP), Takehiko Oshimoto (3.34ERA 72.2IP), and oft-injured Ryota Igarashi (2.47ERA 43.2IP). The emergence of Masanori Ishikawa (2.68ERA 195IP 12-10, after 3 seasons of 4+ ERA) as the staff ace was a bright spot of the pitching staff. On the hitting side, Norichika Aoki replicated his 2007 season with 347/413/529 further cementing his position as one of the best Japanese hitters. The emergence of Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (279/364/406) and Kazuki Fukuchi (320/366/449) as dependable bats is promising. And there is talk that Aaron Guiel will return to the Swallows next year after a miserable injury-riddled season (200/306/396), his age (36) is a worrying factor though for a three true outcomes (strikeout, homerun, walk) type player like him.

    6. Yokohama BayStars

    48-94-2 (.338)

    RS-RA: 552 – 706

    The miserable season for Yokohama came to a thankful end, but not before the BayStars managed to become the only team to surrender over 700 runs this season. The only bright spots on the team were hitters Shuichi Murata who won the CL homerun title with 46 roundtrippers (though 29 were hit in his bandbox of a home park Yokohama Stadium), and the breakout season by Seiichi Uchikawa (378/416/540) who became only the 10th player in NPB history to finish the season with a batting average north of .370, can he be the second coming of Norichika Aoki?

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    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

    2008.5.12 Pitching and Batting leaders

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 May 13日 Tuesday

    Just a quick run down on pitching and batting leaders in NPB as of 5/12 after the slew of Golden Week holidays games.

     

    FIP

    ERA

    Pitcher

    Team

     

    防御率

       
           

    1.89

    1.66

     Iwakuma

    TRGE

    1.93

    3.17

     Sugiuchi

    FSH

    2.20

    2.2

     Lewis

    HC

    2.31

    2.77

     Greisinger

    YG

    2.57

    2.22

     Komatsu

    OB

    2.75

    2.26

     Shimizu

    CLM

    2.77

    3.45

     Utsumi

    YG

    2.79

    2.31

     Tanaka

    TRGE

    2.81

    1.46

     Darvish

    HNF

     

     

    OPS

    Batter

    Team

         
         

    1.051

     Yamasaki

    TRGE

    1.009

     Sato

    SSL

    0.983

     Tanaka

    HNF

    0.949

     Hashimoto

    CLM

    0.945

     Rhodes

    OB

    0.94

     Arai

    HT

    0.93

     Ramirez

    YG

    0.927

     Matsunaka

    FSH

    0.921

     Morino

    CD

    0.898

     Nakajima

    SSL

     

    Yes, I know that both metrics are far from perfect, but since there’s no information like this out there right now for NPB, I thought I’d provide one (hopefully periodically). I used the constant of 3 for FIP because NPB is a low power, small ball, low scoring league.

    No surprises that some Giants like Greisinger and Utsumi show up as being underrated when you compare their FIP to ERA, the team doesn’t value defense.

    And there are no surprises on the OPS side, either they’re proven sluggers or hitters who have started off the year hot. Yamasaki is an interesting case, he may just be continuing his hot streak which lasted all of last year, or maybe proving that he turned a corner in his age 38 season last year when he suddenly regained his form from 10 years ago when he battled Hideki Matsui for the homerun title when he was a Dragon. He won the homerun title last season, and is currently leading the league in AVG and OPS.

    Bocachica hasn’t reached the number of plate appearances to qualify, but he’s doing great at .950 OPS. And despite his major slump the last few weeks, Guiel is still 24th in NPB in OPS at .801.

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

    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 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.

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