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    NPB Power Rankings 08.6.26

    Posted by japanstats 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.

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    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.

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