Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Po-Jung Wang Goes Deep for First Time in 2020

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

Po-Jung Wang had two incredible season in the CPBL, where he hit where he hit over .400 and slugged 60 homeruns in those two seasons with the LaMiga Monkeys. In 2016 he became the first CPBL player to record 200 hits in one season. His fourth season with the Monkeys he slumped to a .351 average with only 17 homeruns, but by that time it was rumored that he was either going to Japan or the major leagues. After the 2018 season he became the first player from Taiwan to be posted to a foreign league.

The Nippon Ham Fighters won the bidding war, signing him to a three year four million dollar contract. After all the hype his first year in the NPB was a big disappointment, though injuries could have led to his downfall. He missed time in May and July to injuries and after a decent start he finished with just a .255 average and three homeruns in 88 games. The biggest slugger from Taiwan could only slug at a .327 clip in Japan and he was not a star on the defensive front in the outfield.

The 2020 season has not increased the hype. Japan has a limit of four foreign players on the roster maximum. They began the season with Christian Villanueva as their big foreign bat, but he has failed to produce (.239/.326/.333). On the pitching side they have Drew Verhagen and Nick Martinez, but neither of them are producing super star numbers. That should have left plenty of opportunity for Wang to show that he belongs.

He hasn’t, hitting just .194/.239/257 in his first 40 games. In the farm leagues he was dominate in eight games, hitting .684/.741/.947 with 13 hits in 19 at bats. Of those 13 hits just three went for extra bases, but those are still some pretty impressive stats. It showed what he is capable of, if given a chance. Yesterday he hit his first 2020 homerun.

The Fighters are still not out of the 2020 pennant race. But only two teams and just one wild card, instead of two wild cards, will advance to the playoffs in the Pacific League. With about 33 games left in the season the Fighters find themselves 7.5 games out of the playoff race. After this season Wang only has one more year on his contract. The Fighters might as well play him to see what he could possibly give them in his last year of his contract, the 2021 season.

Ryosuke Kikuchi Doing Well in Japan

Monday, September 28th, 2020

Ryosuke Kikuchi made an attempt to play major league baseball for the 2020 season. No teams showed enough interest in the gold glove fielding second baseman to offer him a large enough contract to sign. He eventually returned to play for the Hiroshima Carp, signing for four years for $2.7 million per year.

Many major league teams struggled to find a starting second baseman this year. The Red Sox were one, going with Jose Peraza at the beginning of the season and then trying to find other alternatives. The Oakland Athletics thought Franklin Barreto would be the answer but he failed and was later traded. There were others but injuries or poor performance created their problems at second base.

The negative with Kikuchi was his lack of stand out offensive tools. While his glove would be considered one of the best in the major leagues, his lack of power, inability to steal bases and his failure to hit for a high average or drum up a high enough On Base Percentage led to his downfall. His .270 career NPB batting average could translate to .250 or below at the major league level and his .315 career OBP would fall below .300. Major league teams are now looking for a little more offense in their second baseman.

This year Kikuchi appears to be showing a bit more homerun power while playing in Japan, but sacrificing his doubles numbers. Yesterday he hit his ninth homerun, which sets him up to surpass his career high 14 for a season if he continues at his present pace, but his doubles numbers have taken a hit. The result is that his .404 slugging percentage and .715 OPS this year are equivalent to his career numbers (.392/.707).

He could try again next year. Myworld thinks the results would be the same. At 30 years of age he has developed enough history to define his game and if major league teams failed to sign him last year his best bet would be to continue his solid performances in Japan.

Five Hanshin Tigers Players Test Positive for Corona Virus

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

Five Hanshin Tigers players tested positive for the Corona Virus, four from the top team and one from the minor league team. The four from the top team are infielders Kento Itohara and Naomasa Yokawa and pitchers Yuta Iwasada and Kosuke Baba. The minor league player was pitcher Masumi Hamachi, who had a brief callup in September with the major league club.

The minor league game between the Tigers and Dragons was cancelled. Players testing positive for the corona virus for the top team were removed from the roster for the weekend series with the Yakult Swallows. Forty players and staff from the minor league organization were tested and found to be negative. The Japan Times did not mention any testing procedures for the Hanshin Tigers team.

Earlier this season a couple Tiger players tested positive for the corona virus resulting in the delay of the start of the NPB season.

Chen Returns to Japan

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Chen Wei-Yen appears to be returning to Japan. According to he has signed a contract with the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Marines are still battling for the second playoff spot in the Pacific Division. The contract is for $290,000 for the last two months of the NPB season.

Chen originally pitched for the Chunichi Dragons from 2004 to 2011. In 2012 he became eligible for free agency and jumped to the Baltimore Orioles where he had a number of successful seasons with them. In his first season he finished fourth in the rookie of the year balloting. After becoming a free agent after the 2015 season he signed a large contract (5 years $80 million) with the Miami (Florida) Marlins and bombed after that. Despite owing him $22 million this year the Marlins released him after the 2019 season.

The Mariners signed him to a minor league contract for the 2020 season but he was ultimately released. It will be interesting to see if he has anything left in the tank to get the Marines into the playoffs. Chen has never had a lot of juice in his fastball, but relies on command to locate his pitches. That command has disappeared over time.

Pitching Matchup for the Ages in the NPB

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Myworld was fortunate to be in Sendai when Masahiro Tanaka had his 23 (or somewhere around there) win streak being challenged by the young 19 year old Shohei Ohtani. Tanaka prevailed but he was trailing early in the game.

It did not have the same historical significance and myworld was not there to witness the performance but undefeated Tomoyuki Sugano (10-0, 1.44) of the Yomiuri Giants was pitching against the Chunichi Dragons Yudai Ohno (5-4, 2.31) who had pitched five complete games in a row. Both pitchers were 1/2 in the ERA race in the Central Division.

Ohno went on to pitch his sixth complete game in a row, but gave up two runs. Sugano was a bit better, pitching shutout ball for seven innings. He was pinch hit for in the eighth and it led to one more run to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. The bullpen nailed down the last two innings, with Rubby de la Rosa earning his 10th save in the 2-0 win.

It was not the only stellar pitching performance in the NPB on Tuesday. Kodai Senga (6-3, 3.39) tossed eight innings of shutout ball, striking out 13 to lead the Softbank Hawks to a 2-0 win over the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Yuito Mori was called on in the ninth to pick up his 19th save. Senga allowed just three hits.

The Seibu Lions Kona Takahashi (5-6, 4.28) may have had the best pitching performance of the day, limiting the Orix Buffaloes to just one hit in their 2-0 win. Takahashi walked just one and struck out seven in his performance. He went against Yoshinobu Yamamoto (4-3, 3.01), a pretty good pitcher in his own right. Yamamoto gave up both runs, allowing five hits and striking out nine in seven innings of work.

When myworld rated the top ten pitchers in Japan, three of those five pitchers were named. Myworld may have to make some revisions to this list next year.

NPB to Eliminate Tazawa Rule

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Junichi Tazawa skipped the NPB draft so he could sign a major league contract with the Boston Red Sox back in 2008. To discourage other players from going directly to major league baseball they established a rule, called the Tazawa Rule” that required a Japanese player who chooses not to enter the NPB draft in order to play in another foreign league had to wait two or three seasons before they could be drafted by an NPB team, the years dependent on the rout the player chose to play in the foreign league.

Tazawa signed with the Red Sox in 2008 after playing in a corporate league in Japan. While he did not have a stellar career in major league baseball, he did pitch for the Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2013. He played long enough in the majors to finish with a 21-26 record with a 4.12 ERA while pitching in 388 games.

This year Tazawa had signed a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds. When the minor leagues was cancelled Tazawa had to find some place to play so he signed a contract with the Saitama Musashi Bears in one of the Japanese Independent Leagues. With the elimination of the Tazawa rule Junichi can now be eligible for the NPB draft next year.

Note that it is interesting that even at 34 years old he will have to be drafted in order to play. No team can sign him as a free agent. It will be interesting to see if any NPB teams draft him. The reason for the change was the increase in pay for players in the NPB. The minimum salary for players under contract in the NPB according to the Japan Times is about $40,000. The minimum salary for minor league players is around $20,000, although that may change with the recent negotiation between major league baseball and the minor leagues over a new bargaining agreement.

Ohno on a Streak for Dragons

Monday, September 7th, 2020

Even in Japan the complete game is becoming more of a rarity. That is why the streak from Yudai Ohno has been so spectacular. With his latest outing, a 5-0 shutout of the Hiroshima Carp, it now gives him five complete games in a row. His last two outings have been shutouts, lowering his ERA to 2.34.

Only Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants has a lower ERA (1.57). Sugano also has three shutouts and three complete games. No other pitcher has crooked numbers. Considering how slow Ohno started the season, going 0-3 in his first seven starts the streak from Ohno is remarkable.

While he has been a solid pitcher in his 10 year career with the Chunichi Dragons, he has never been considered one of the better pitchers in the NPB. His most complete games was in 2015 when he had six, with three of them shutouts. His high for wins in a season has been 11. With the Dragons he is 63-64 with a 3.24 ERA. Those Dragon teams have usually been awful, with a poor offense, so winning games was a challenge.

During the five game complete game streak Ohno has gone 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA. He has struck out 48 in those 45 innings. Normally, as a pitcher the whiff to innings pitch ratio for Ohno has been less than a strikeout per inning pitched. This year he has struck out 84 in 80.2 innings.

The Dragons continue to suffer trying to get over .500. This year they are still closer to the basement than near the top of the league, but they are only three games under .500, a big improvement over the last couple seasons. With a stable group of starting pitchers in Koji Fukutani and Takahiro Matsuba the Dragons could start making some noise in the Central Division

Hawks on a Streak

Monday, August 31st, 2020

The Softbank Hawks have been the top team in the NPB, winning five of the last six Japan series. In the last six years it was only 2016 they failed to win it all. This season it appeared the Hawks would be in a three team battle with the Rakuten Golden Eagles and the Chibba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League. An eight game winning streak has changed that narrative and stretched the Hawks lead to three games.

Hawks superstar Yuki Yanagita has led the charge during the streak. He is currently second in the Pacific League in hitting (.352), leading in homeruns (20), runs scored (60) and walks (51) and is fourth in RBIs (50). He has slugged four homeruns and driven in ten during the streak. He could start in any outfield in the major leagues, but don’t expect the Hawks to post their most valuable player. At 31 his major league window is closing.

The return of Cuban stars Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial has fueled the offense, though at this time only Gracial has been hitting. In 12 games Gracial is batting .341 with two homeruns and 5 RBIs. Despaigne has only appeared in three games since his return and has yet to have an extra base hit, batting just .250.

Catcher Ryoya Kurihara is having a breakout season in his first opportunity to start. He is hitting .261, with 11 homeruns and 45 RBIs. Those 45 RBIs put him second on the team. Last year he only played in 32 games. He would be the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the Pacific League if he is still eligible.

Wladimir Balentien, who holds the NPB record for most homeruns in a season has been a big disappointment (.196, 9, 22). He was a big free agent signing for the Hawks this year and could lose playing time with the arrivals of Despaigne and Gracial. His contributions have been minimal.

Kodai Senga is normally the ace of the staff, but he has had a disappointing season by his standards (5-2, 3.67). The Hawks have been relying on Shuta Ishikawa (6-0, 2.36). Last year Shuta only appeared in two games after showing great promise his first two years. The season is still early, but he appears to be having a breakout season as well.

The bullpen is where the Hawks reign supreme, even without their ace closer Dennis Sarfarte the last three years. Yuito Mori has taken over the closers role with 37 and 35 saves the last two years. This year he has 17 saves with a 1.82 ERA. The top setup man in the NPB could be Cuban Livan Moinelo, who at one point had interest in playing in the major leagues. He has 24 holds and carries a 1.45 ERA. Last year and this year he has virtually been unhittable, striking out almost two batters per inning. His first two years in the NPB his results could be described as vanilla.

The Giants used to reign supreme in the NPB. Since the Hawks have won five of the last six NPB titles that reign appears to be over.

Japan to Broadcast Games in the United States

Friday, August 21st, 2020

The Pacific League is hoping to expose Japanese baseball to United States audiences. They have signed a contract with United States sports channel For the Fans, an alternate name for Eleven Sports Network in the United States, to televise 200 games for the remainder of the Nippon Professional Baseball season. Japan had hoped to get a contract with ESPN but the start of major league baseball season and the broadcast of KBO games filled the time slots for baseball.

The Japanese baseball market has not expanded globally, mainly because of the conservative nature of the Central League, which has the team favorites Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. Without interleague play this year those television broadcasts will not include any games involving Central League teams, meaning their exposure to United States audiences will be absent.

The television exposure will hopefully make the Pacific League teams more popular with the global markets leading to increased opportunities for merchandise sales in the United States. The Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers would continue to lead the Japanese teams in selling merchandise to the Japanese market, but the Pacific League teams could surpass them in merchandise sales worldwide if they create a strong United States market to supplement their merchandise sales in the Japanese market.

Next on the agenda for the Pacific League would be a television market for Latin America.

Giants Shutout Tigers; Hawks Look to Cuban Reinforcements

Friday, August 21st, 2020

The Yomiuri Giants shut out the Hanshin Tigers in a three game series. It started with a 1-0 victory in the first game. Giant ace Tomoyuki Sugano improved his record to 8-0 with a complete game victory. It was his third shutout of the 2020 season. Giant slugger Kazuma Okamoto provided the only offense with a solo shot in the fourth inning, his 17th homer of the season.

The next day the Giants matched the record of Sugano with an 8-0 win over the Tigers. This time it was a bullpen by committee picking up the win, with Christopher Mercedes going just two innings followed by five different relievers to complete the shutout. Just like the first game the Tigers could only collect four hits against the six pitchers. Okamoto went deep again and Yoshihiro Maru clubbed his 11th homerun, a 3-run shot in the seventh to pace the offense.

The third game of the series saw Shosei Togo pitch 6.2 innings of shutout ball in the Giants 2-0 win over the Tigers. Three relievers followed to again limit the Tigers to four hits. Togo improved his record to 6-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.11. Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto drove in both runs to lead the Giants to victory.

The sweep by the Giants gives them a 4.5 game lead in the Central League. There .638 winning percentage is the best in the NPB.

Another league leader the Softbank Hawks may see the return of a couple Cuban reinforcements. The Hawks find themselves in a tie with the Chibba Lotte Marines for first place in the Pacific League with the Rakuten Golden Eagles just a half a game behind. The Hawks already have a pretty potent offense with Yuki Yanagita and Wladimir Balentien leading the charge. They may get an additional surge with the returns of Cubans Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne.

Both had to undergo a 14 day quarantine and then a minor league rehab assignment when they returned from Cuba. Because of the corona virus Cuba did not allow anyone to visit or leave Cuba in their fight against this virus. Gracial and Despaigne are now in Japan. Gracial is back with the Hawks after three games in the minor leagues. He has just two hits in his first 11 at bats. Despaigne is still in the minor leagues where he is hitting .267 with no extra base hits in six games.

Balentien has been struggling with the Hawks after leaving the Swallows as a free agent. He is hitting just .196, but has shown some power with his 9 homeruns. The Hawks were hoping for more. Japanese rules only allow four foreigners to each team’s roster. They have starter Rick Vandenhurk, who they can move up and down between starts. They also have Cuban reliever Livan Moinelo, who they can not move up and down from the roster so easily. So that means one of those offensive sluggers needs to be sent down when Vandenhurk is on the roster ready to pitch.

They also have the Braves first round pick Carter Stewart, who they signed as a free agent after the Braves could not sign him. He is 1-2 with a 2.91 ERA down on the farm. His 11 walks in just 21.2 innings shows he has some more work to do to find the plate.

Of course, have a surplus of talent is a nice luxury to have. Keeping them all happy will be the biggest challenge.