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    Asia League 2008-09 Season Preview

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 September 18日 Thursday

    Seibu Prince Rabbits (JPN)

    07-08: 20-1-9 (61 pts) Lost in playoff semifinals to Cranes

    In: Tomohito Okubo (from High1)

    Out: Chris Yule (to Cranes)

    The regular season champs from last season has added a power play quarterback in the offensive defenceman Okubo (5G+28A=33P), but let go of point getter Yule (10+25=35, tied for 5th in AL in points) who promptly made a move up north. The team went on a 6 game 11 day training camp to Bayern, Germany a month ago (where they went 1-5) and has been training since early summer. The core of the team is the same, and Okubo-Yule swap might have been made to bring up younger forwards as it is an ageing team. Look for another solid season from the bunnies, and they’ll be hungry to bring the trophy back down to Honshu from Hokkaido where its been for the past two seasons.

    High1 (KOR)

    07-08: 19-1-10 (58 pts) Lost in playoff semifinals to Oji

    In: Ryan Haruo Kuwabara (from Cranes), Magnus Osterby (from DEN), Chris Allen (from AUT league), Brent Garvereau (from ITA)

    Out: Tomohito Okubo (to Seibu), Steve McKenna (to Sharks)

    The team has been steadily getting better in its three seasons in the league (7th => 4th => 2nd), but with the league going to a balanced schedule this season, High1 will not have more chances to beat up on the weak Chinese side (who may not be rollovers this season anyways). It will be interesting to see how imports who played in various European leagues last season will fare, and last season’s AL scoring champ Korean-American Alex Kim (23+28=51) is back to power the offence.
    Oji Eagles (JPN)

    07-08: 18-2-10 (57 pts) PLAYOFF CHAMPION!

    The championship club finally did the sensible thing and officially named the team the Eagles. That was the original name of the club when it was established in 1925, and the eagle has been featured on its jersey and used as a mascot for a long time. The team is going with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” for this season, as all the main players are back, including its imports Shane Endicott (13+22=35) and Ricard Persson (11+17=28). Goalie Masahito Haruna was absolutely brilliant (92.8 save %, 1.89GAA) in Oji’s 9-0 playoff run, and he may have to do the same again to repeat as champions.

    Nippon Paper Cranes (JPN)

    07-08: 16-2-12 (50 pts) Lost in playoff finals

    In: Kelly Fairchild (from Vienna, AUT), Brad Tiley (from Linz, AUT), Chris Yule (from Seibu), Masahito Nishiwaki (back from a year with ECHL Dayton Bombers)

    Out: Ryan Haruo Kuwabara (to High1), Jamie McLennan, Tyson Nash

    The 06-07 champs slipped out of the gate last season as the club went with cheap imports with no big league experience while losing sniper Nishiwaki who was second in team in goals with 24 the previous season. The team righted its ship midseason with the acquisition of veterans Tyson Nash and Jamie McLennan and made their way to the finals. The front office made sure to reinforce the team with veteran imports from the start this season with veterans who played capably in the Austrian league last season, and has had cups of coffee in the NHL. And it will be interesting to see how much Nishiwaki has grown in his season in North America, and how goalie Ishikawa will handle a whole season. This team will definitely be a force to be reckoned with this upcoming season. “Noodles” McLennan’s skates will be big ones to fill for the goalies though.
    Anyang Halla (KOR)

    07-08: 14-2-14 (44 pts) Lost in playoff quarterfinals to Cranes

    In: Song Dong-Hwan (back from military service), Jon Awe (from AHL), Brad Fast (from DEL), Brad Radunske (from DEL)

    Halla has been disppointing observers as the team has been unable to crack the top four in the standings the past two seasons. This may not have been a coincidence from losing Song Dong-Hwan to Korea’s mandatory military service for those two seasons, he’s back and all ready to go as he scored a goal and an assist in his first game back in the preseason Anyang Cup game. And as always, new imports will play a big role. Leading scorer Patrik Martinec (7+29=36, 4th in league) is the only returning foreigner. 

    Nikko IceBucks (JPN)

    07-08: 10-2-18 (30 pts) Lost in playoff quarterfinals to Oji

    InEric Lafreniere (FRA-1), Mickey Gilchrist (AIHL Newcastle North Stars)

    Out: Kevin Kimura (back to Canada)

    The perpetually cash-strapped team seems to have acquired a rather rich sponsor in Tobu Railways, let’s hope this is a long-term working relationship. Maybe because of this, the club is able to afford imports this season (last year’s team was importless for financial reasons). Though, the imports are the type of small players that other teams overlook coming from Div III US college hockey and via France and Australia (not Austria), but these types of unusual signings are not unusual for the Bucks who have signed a former Japanese inline national team member before. A 6th place finish will not be enough to make the playoffs this season as there will only the top five teams will make the playoffs (with 4th v 5th best of three play-in being the first round), so let’s hope the imports skills translate well to the Asian game.
    China Sharks (CHN)

    07-08: 3-0-27 (10 pts) Didn’t make playoffs

    In: Steve McKenna (from High1), Wade Flaherty (from AHL), Adam Taylor (from AHL), Kevin Du (ECHL/GerOBL), and another player to be added via tryout

    The perpetually bottomdwelling Chinese look to make some noise this season. Last season, the team had a last minute management change and the new China Sharks GM Chris Collins didn’t have enough time to put together a solid team (and midseason goalie reinforcement Kelly Guard left China only after two games). But with plenty of time to prepare this season, the team is bringing on NHL and AL veteran McKenna and NHL veteran (with respectable AHL numbers in recent years) Flaherty as a playing coaches. Harvard grad Kevin Du is apparently given a spot on the team until the end of the calendar year as a special ethnic player (his father is Chinese), a somewhat strange but interesting arrangement that will hopefully be fruitful. Flaherty will undoubtedly keep the team in many, many games where they have no business having a chance to win, so this should definitely be the most interesting year for a Chinese team.

     

    This season, the top five teams will make the playoffs, with the 4th and 5th place teams playing a best of three play-in to earn the right to play the 1st place team.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

    Leafs absurdity

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 15日 Tuesday

    … and on the other end of the hockey economic spectrum we have the, it’s been over 40 years since their last Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs.

    I echo the second comment on this mirtle blog entry, as if the gigantic hockey economy of GTA cannot support another NHL franchise because the area is populated only with Leaf fans, willing to literally pay through the nose for some atrocious hockey, and no one else. MLSE is doing a mighty fine job retaining their monopoly on their ginormous hockey market.

    But when I tried to explain to the locals just how unaffordable tickets in Toronto were, I couldn’t quite do it justice. You can say “$400 a seat” all you want, but that doesn’t take into account the licence fees and everything else that corporate tickets holders pony up at the Air Canada Centre.

    Which is why it’s a good thing Rick Westhead gives us a glimpse at just what people are paying for Maple Leafs tickets (as part of a story on shady ticket-selling deals going down at the parent company):

    “He (the MLSE sales employee) wanted to meet at the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop on the 401 in Milton,” Tanguay said. “I met him, gave him the envelope with the cash, and a cheque for $65,000 and had him sign the invoice indicating the cash was part of the deal, too.”

    Besides $40,000 to cover the cost of the personal-seat licence, which gave him the right to buy tickets from MLSE, Tanguay agreed to pay $25,000 for the Leafs and Raptors tickets themselves.
    Now, what our friend here is buying is two season’s tickets to the Leafs and Raptors in the lower bowl.

    In addition to $40,000 up front for the licence, another $25,000 per season pays for a grand total of two tickets to 82 games (41 for each team), which works out to about $160 a seat. It’s safe to assume the Leafs tickets would be worth considerably more than the Raptors, likely in the range of $230+ apiece.

    And our buyer was desperately waiting on a list somewhere to shell that money out (not to mention the part about meeting at a truck stop with $5,000 cash).

    These are not the best seats in the house by any means: The red section is behind one net, from the halfway point of the lower bowl on up.

     

    Ah well, at least the Leafs are featured in one promising silly thing. Mike Myers + Jessica Alba + Justin Timberlake + Toronto Maple Leafs = ?

    Well, Love Guru may or may not be funny, but this sure is:

    Posted in 02_English, culture, hockey, information, NHL, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    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 »