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    Japanese Olympic Baseball Team analysis (lite)

    Posted by simon c on 2008 July 19日 Saturday

    Team Japan’s Hoshino GM and manager has made his final decision on the makeup of the Japanese National baseball team that will take to the field in Beijing. He emphasized intangibles like experience and previously playing together as a team (19 of 24 from the Asian qualifiers last autum return to the team) more than their current performance this season. We’ll see how this’ll pan out in the tournament, but Japan definitely has some holes because of this decision (but it may turn out to be a brillian move in a short tourney, who knows.) All players are from NPB, unlike Korea or Taiwan which has overseas based players from NPB or MLB minor league systems.

    Let’s look at the players performance so far to date and their career in some cases.

    Starters (some of them will be used as middle relievers, undoubtedly, as the team didn’t select any middle relievers)

    Kenshin Kawakami (Chunichi Dragons) 2.31 ERA, 101.1 IP, 103/22 K/BB.

    Struggled early in the season with a mysterious injury but seems completely recovered and his dominant self now, definitely should be one of the starters.

    Yu Darvish (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters) 1.88 ERA, 148.2 IP, 142/31 K/BB, 8CG.

    The best pitcher in Japan, period, and the country’s ace. He should be pitching against the powerhouse teams during the Olympics.

    Yoshihisa Naruse (Chiba Lotte Marines) 2.66 ERA, 105 IP, 80/20 K/BB.

    Another starter having a standout season with great control.

    Tsuyoshi Wada (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) 3.97 ERA, 99.2 IP, 75/25 K/BB.

    Having a subpar season by his standards, likely bullpen material in Beijing.

    Toshiya Sugiuchi (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) 2.69 ERA, 134 IP, 145/20 K/BB.

    Outperforming even Darvish and is having the best season so far in NPB. His 2.06 FIP as of 7/14 is by far (0.29) the best in Japan.

    Masahiro Tanaka (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles) 3.37 ERA, 120.1 IP, 98/35 K/BB

    Youngest member of the team at 19. His teammate Hisashi Iwakuma is having a lights out season, so I’m not sure why Tanaka was chosen over him, still got awesome raw potential, but Olympics is a short tournament to be testing out such young talent. More prone to giving out base on balls as well when compared to other starters, likely bullpen material here too, and could be very effective in short use.

    Hideaki Wakui (Saitama Seibu Lions) 3.32 ERA, 122 IP, 89/36 K/BB

    Slipped up a bit this year from his constant progression since his debut (7.32, 3.24, 2.79 ERAs in 2005-07). Probably will be used as a reliever unless Japan’s going to use more than 4 starters (Darvish, Sugiuchi, Kawakami, Naruse. A 3-1-3 schedule with rest days, that seems unnecessary).

    Relievers

    Koji Uehara (Yomiuri Giants) 6.46 ERA, 39 IP, 25/12 K/BB.

    A mystery selection considering his poor season (though he’s done better since returning from injury and being used as a setup man, but still don’t be surprised to see Uehara lose a game or two for Japan if used in high leverage situtations. He was brought along more for his international experience probably, but still there were so many more better qualified relievers to choose from like Kubota and Watanabe of the Tigers for example, and Oshimoto and Matsuoka who are sporting ERAs under 2 for the Swallows right now, but Hoshino went with the old familiar faces.)

    Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi Dragons) 2.83 ERA, 35 IP, 29/8 K/BB

    Dragons veteran shutdown closer. Though he often sported sub-2 ERAs in years past, so he’s not as rock solid this season.

    Kyuji Fujikawa (Hanshin Tigers) 0.86 ERA, 42 IP, 62/9 K/BB

    Absolutely the best reliever in Japan and Hanshin’s zero man closer, has been sporting K/9 well over 9 since 2005 with low number of walks. His high heater is unhittable.

    Catchers

    Shinnosuke Abe (Yomiuri Giants) 264/333/432 (AVG/OBP/SLG), 313 PA, 9 HR

    Best catcher in Japan when considering offence, but hasn’t been performing this season like his usual .850 OPS self, he could be another player dragging the team down if Hoshino insists on using him constantly, but he’s got international experience.

    Akihiro Yano (Hanshin Tigers) 292/309/388, 237 PA, 3 HR

    Turning 40 this year, and has lost his power that he had earlier in this century, probably on the team more for his veteran presence as Abe might be used as DH (though, there’s a logjam there too with the overflowing OF, barring Morino’s injury.)

    Tomoya Satozaki (Chiba Lotte Marines) 274/359/439, 223 PA, 11HR

    Solid catcher and WBC veteran, starting catcher? Then again Hoshino prefers familiar CL players over PL players it seems (he managed both the Dragons and the Tigers) .

    Infielders

    Takahiro Arai (Hanshin Tigers) – 1B/3B, 314/383/484, 360 PA, 8 HR

    Turned himself into a gap hitter from a homerun hitter with his move from the bandbox Hiroshima park to the spacious Koshien. He’s having his best OBP season to date, and this will be very valuable to the team because Japan doesn’t have huge sluggers (well, maybe except for GG).

    Masahiro Araki (Chunichi Dragons) – 2B/OF?, 249/291/307, 385 PA, 24 SB

    Capable of being a fifth OF and is an amazing at 2B. He posted .750 OPS in 2004-06 but this year’s numbers are identical to last year’s and at only age 30. Might be used as a defensive replacement for Nishioka.

    Shuichi Murata (Yokohama BayStars) – 3B, 303/358/600, 349 PA, 26 HR

    Probably Japan’s best option at 3B, even though 17 of his 26 homers so far has been hit in the friendly confines of Yokohama Stadium (a hitter’s paradise with the close fences).

    Shinya Miyamoto (Tokyo Yakult Swallows) – SS, 329/370/384, 328 PA, 3 HR

    Long time captain and spiritual leader of Team Japan. The 37 year old is performing well enough to warrant a spot on the limited 24 man roster (NPB uses a 28 man roster). His OBP is well above his career average of .325 which could be a fluke or he could have just become wiser at the plate. His ever decreasing fielding range means he shouldn’t be used as a defensive replacement though (but I fear Hoshino’s going to do that based on Miyamoto’s past reputation when he was an awesome shortstop).

    Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Chiba Lotte Marines) – SS/2B, 306/366/469, 375 PA, 9 HR, 16 SB

    Usually a shortstop but played second base in WBC, and is probably expected to do the same at Beijing. His OBP is consistent with his numbers from the last 2 seasons, but the 23 year old appears to have gained some power (not unexpected player development curve) which is great.

    Munenori Kawasaki (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) – SS, 327/358/402, 408 PA, 16 SB

    Part of double play combo with Nishioka at WBC. The 27 year old is performing well in line with his 2006-07 levels and with his international experience he should do well. But if the team goes for the bat at shortstop they’ll use…

    Hiroyuki Nakajima (Saitama Seibu Lions) – SS/3B?, 345/404/576, 364 PA, 17 HR, 16 SB

    Having a breakout season with the bat and can run as well, his weakspot is his defensive game with poor range. If Hoshino’s smart, he’ll start Nakajima at SS and bring in Kawasaki as a defensive replacement late in close games. There are rumours that Nakajima has been practicing at third (played 20 games there back in 2003), and his bat and legs may be worth replacing even Murata, but then again playing out of position in a short tournament is probably unadvisable. He’s playing third today with Seibu in the day game against the Marines, no doubt to prepare for the Olympics.

    Outfielders

    Masahiko Morino (Chunichi Dragons) – OF/1B/2B/3B, 302/383/525, 211 PA, 8 HR

    Versatile player with pop who can also play infield, missed part of season earlier with an injury but appears to be back in full health now, though he’s still an injury risk along with Uehara.

    Norichika Aoki (Tokyo Yakult Swallows) – CF, 339/410/570, 284 PA, 11 HR, 21 SB

    Also missed part of the season earlier with an injury but is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball since his return. The 26 year old is a clubhouse leader in Tokyo along with veteran Miyamoto, and his defensive skills and speed are impressive and his power game is constantly developing too. His spot as starting centre fielder hitting in the third spot is assured.

    Atsunori Inaba (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters) – OF/1B?, 317/388/533, 343 PA, 12 HR

    The 35 year old has somehow developed a power game this late in his career (career SLG .469, but over .500 since 2006) and can also man first base.

    Takahiko “G.G.” Sato (Saitama Seibu Lions) – RF, 316/384/584, 359 PA, 20 HR

    One of the few true sluggers on the team, he spent some time in A ball before returning to Japan and having a breakout season in 2007 and is doing even better this season. He was a late addition to the list of potential Team Japan players because the team brass weren’t sure if his 2007 was a fluke. In a way he does have international experience so I hope Hoshino will use him regularly (even as DH), but I fear the starting lineup will be CL heavy what with his tendency to go with familiarity and having never been involved in PL ball. He’s also a capable right fielder but doesn’t have the reputation.

    Every position on Team Japan has at least one player who can backup the position, so that is a wise move with the limited roster space. Despite Hoshino’s preference for familiar CL faces that have international experience, the team appears to be well balanced. Hopefully starters being used as relievers won’t cause many problems.

    Obvious omissions from the team are Tomoaki Kanemoto (Hanshin Tigers) who leads NPB in OPS at the moment at .996, and Nobuhiko Matsunaka (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, .973 OPS) who are both advanced in age and maybe Hoshino wanted Kanemoto to continue his consecutive innings played record(?) but Matsunaka was a crucial part of the WBC champion team in 2006 when he was an on base monster, but then again Arai’s defence may be more important in a short tournament and he’s not shabby with the bat either and was the sacred cleanup hitter in the 4 spot during the Asian qualifiers last autumn in Taiwan. Hisashi Iwakuma (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles) and Tetsuya Utsumi (Yomiuri Giants) are decent sized omissions on the pitching side, the former’s pitching motion is always a balk risk so that may be the reason for him, and the latter doesn’t have significant international experience as far as I know, but the pitchers that were chosen either have international experience or long track record of success in NPB.

    The team will gather on 2 August, have warmup games against the Yomiuri Giants farm team (5 Aug), PL selects (8 Aug), and CL selects (9 Aug) before heading over to China for the Olympics where they open play against one of the gold medal favourites Cuba on 13 August.

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

    NPB Power Rankings 08.6.26

    Posted by simon c on 2008 June 26日 Thursday

    Interleague games officially ended on Monday but the title was clinched by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Sunday, even though they tied with the Hanshin Tigers with 15-9 records. The silly tiebreaker rule doesn’t take head to head record into account, if that were the case the Tigers would’ve won the (still) rather meaningless Interleague crown because they took 3 of 4 from the Hawks (also won 3 against the PL leading Saitama Seibu Lions). Anyways, after a few days off (scheduled as reserve dates for rainouts), regular intraleague play resumes tomorrow with a full slate of 6 games.

    Anyways, here are how things shook out following the conclusion of the Interleague period.

    1. Hanshin Tigers(1) 43-22-1 .662

    Tied for best record in Interleague without having the advantage of playing against the sorry Yokohama BayStars, and beat up on the PL leading Lions and Interleague Champs Hawks. Most balanced team in the league with an on base juggernaut offense (top 3 CL OBP leaders, and only hitters to have OBP over .400 in CL are Kanemoto, Akahoshi, and Arai, and Toritani checks in at 8th with .362) So the Tigers lead the league in runs scored (273) despite homering the least (35), and their shutdown bullpen helps prevent runs big time and they lead the league in this category too (218). The complete package.

    2. Chunichi Dragons(3) 36-28-3 .563

    Regains the penultimate position in this ranking largely thanks to the Lions tailspin at the end of Interleague, as the Dragons only had a .500 record against PL teams, but managed to take 3 of 4 against Seibu.

    3. Saitama Seibu Lions(2) 39-30-1 .565

    Ended Interleague campaign on a horrible note, losing 6 straight and 9 of the last 12. Even losing both games to the lowly BayStars. This is still a strong team and PL race has just gotten really interesting with the slumping Lions and soaring Hawks as the top 4 teams are now bunched together within 4 games of eachother. Lions are probably thankful that what turned out to be a dreaded Interleague season is finally over.

    4. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters(5) 39-32-1 .549

    Was in the hunt for the Interleague title going into the final weekend, the team continues to win close games as the Fighters have only outscored their opponents by 4 runs for the season.

    5. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles(4) 35-34 .507

    A team with very good fundamentals (310 – 256, RS – RA) sits in 4th place in the PL standings but definitely has the capability to be in a playoff position and should be there sooner rather than later. Had first ever winning Interleague season in its history with 13-11 record.

    6. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks(6) 38-34 .528

    Interleague champions nudged their way up to claim the 3rd and final playoff position in the PL. The team seems to have woken up, it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep this up in their own league.

    7. Tokyo Yomiuri Giants(8 ) 34-33-1 .507

    Solid Interleague campaign of 14-10 has the team back in black. Good pitchers Takahashi and Uehara are returned to the big club after rehabbing from injury. The former should go into the rotation and the latter in the bullpen where he was a successful closer last season. Beneficiary of the new Free Agency rules agreed upon between NPB and the Senshukai (Players’ Association) reducing the number of years of service until domestic FA to 8, a quirk in the rule allows FA eligible imports to not count as imports, meaning that slugger Alex Ramirez will not count against the import quota starting next season.

    8. Hiroshima Toyo Carp(7) 30-32-2 .484

    A decent 13-11 record in Interleague. The dog days of summer may be very helpful to the Carp this year as all of NPB’s best will be at Beijing while the Carp will likely not lose anyone to the Olympics. They’ll just have to hang on until then, as a 3rd place finish and a seat in the playoffs is needed for Marty Brown to extend his contract as the manager of this feisty club that lost its cleanup hitter (Arai) and ace (Kuroda) to FA after last season. (Though Colby Lewis is doing a fine job filling in for Kuroda with 10-5, 2.28 ERA on a mediocre team playing in a hitters park.)

    9. Tokyo Yakult Swallows(9) 30-34 .469

    Norichika Aoki is back and has been his awesome self with a slash line of .331/.391/.506. NPB hitters may be getting wise to the ways of the Lim though, as the closer has given up 5 runs (4 earned) over his last 5 appearances. Aaron Guiel’s rehab seems to be going well, as he’s played 2 games in the minors recently (going 0-3 with a walk), hopefully he’ll be fully recovered soon and back with the big club. An Aoki – Hatakeyama – Guiel cleanup could be pretty awesome.

    10. Chiba Lotte Marines(10) 31-41 .431

    10. Orix Buffaloes(11) 31-40 .437

    Both teams had uninspiring Interleague season (10-14 and 11-13). Still no end in sight to their woes, but neither of them are even close to the patheticness of…

    12. Yokohama BayStars(12) 19-45-1 .297

    Only team to win less than 10 games (.417) in Interleague, the sad BayStars went 6-18 (.250), their saving grace was the sweep of the slumping Lions at the end of Interleague. U-G-L-Y.

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

    Prince Albert at IHWC

    Posted by simon c on 2008 May 5日 Monday

    This was unexpected, but then again I didn’t know that he went to the 2007 tournament in Moscow too. I met him and talked to him briefly at Nagano ’98, wishing him luck on his upcoming bobsleigh competition. He was really easy to talk to, not stuck up at all. I guess those born into royalty can be easygoing like that, instead of nouveau aristocrats. Didn’t know he spent time in Philly though, that was unexpected.

    The son of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, and Grace, Princess of Monaco (née Grace Kelly, a legendary Philadelphia-born film actress), gained his rulership in 2005, and is known as an avid sportsman. His Serene Highness graciously granted IIHF.com an interview during the second intermission of Sunday’s Czech Republic vs Russia game.

    “You know, René Fasel had talked to me about the World Championship here, and I knew I had to be in Quebec and Montreal around these dates,” said the Prince. “So I said: ‘Well, can I come over and watch a game?’ And here I am. I was at the World Championship in Moscow last year as well, and it’s great to be at these big events, these international competitions. This is a very special one here in Quebec, because it’s the 100th anniversary of the IIHF and the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. Both Quebec and Canada have a very strong tradition in hockey, as powerhouses in this sport. I’m happy to pay my respects.”

    The Prince participates in everything from tennis and swimming to handball and fencing. He has a particular passion for winter sports. In fact, he represented Monaco in bobsleighing at five straight Winter Olympics between 1988 and 2002. It’s no wonder he’s developed a taste for hockey as well.

    “Over the years, I’ve been watching different games in France, Europe, and at the Olympics,” he said. “I was also a student in the United States, and I saw the Rangers play a few times, as well as the Flyers, because part of my family is from Philadelphia. Perhaps I shouldn’t talk about the Flyers too much today, because they beat the Canadiens last night! I also watched the Flames play in Calgary many times. Because of bobsleighing, I was in Calgary a couple of times a year.”

    The Prince’s personal favourites in hockey are based on his family background and appreciation for pure skill.
     
    “Because my family is from Philadelphia, I’ve always followed the Flyers a little more intensely than other clubs. As for players, I had the chance to see Wayne Gretzky play a few times in his day. He was an incredible player, with incredible talent and charisma. I would also say I remember watching Slava Fetisov play. He’s now the Russian Minister of Sport, but he was an incredibly talented player too.”

    Posted in 02_English, culture, hockey, information, International, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    ‘Free Tibet’ flags made in China

    Posted by simon c on 2008 April 30日 Wednesday

     

    You can’t make this stuff up, who’d order ‘Free Tibet’ flags to be made in China? Must’ve been a subcontracting or something..

    ‘Free Tibet’ flags made in China (BBC)

    Made in China? Police believe some flags may have already been shipped

    Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

    The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

    Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

    But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper.

    Tibet independence

    The factory owner reportedly told police the emblems had been ordered from outside China, and he did not know that they stood for an independent Tibet.

    Workers who had grown suspicious checked the meaning of the flag by going online.

    Thousands of flags had already been packed for shipping.

    Police believe that some may already have been sent overseas, and could appear in Hong Kong during the Olympic torch relay there this week.

    The authorities have now stepped up the inspection of cars heading to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and onwards to Hong Kong.

    The Olympic torch is due to tour Hong Kong on Friday. It will then travel to a series of cities in mainland China before reaching Beijing for the start of the Olympic Games in August.

     

    Posted in 02_English, culture, information, random | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »