Getting our fill at the plate

Here’s a scene we discussed on today’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast. A beautiful example of Buffaloes catcher Katsumi Yamasaki waiting for the throw next to the plate and blocking it off once he has the ball to tag out his Marines counterpart Tatsuhiro Tamura.

And here’s Tamura giving as good as he gets, with a nice tag on Friday. Have no idea why someone would prefer to see the runner slide into the catcher’s shin guards and then be tagged out, when they can have this instead.

This used to be the ideal for a catcher, recording an out without necessarily making a tag and then limping away.

Or this one, in which Hiroshima Carp catcher Tsubasa Aizawa doesn’t so much as tag the runner but sit on him.

Baseball’s twilight zone is in the rules

SoftBank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo was enraged to see his second baseman, Keizo Kawashima, taken out on a slide by Nippon Ham Fighters and former major leaguer Kensuke Tanaka, and argued the play was dangerous. Dangerous or not, it was not against the rules, which allow runners on the base path to interfere with fielders — except when they are batting fielded balls. Them’s the rules. As Casey Stengel famously said, “You can look it up.”

Which raises a question or two.

Why the heck was Kudo arguing about something that wasn’t against the rules? The umpires confirmed that by saying Tanaka did not leave the base path, which was never in question. Kudo’s point was that in Japan, where players rarely put opponents physically at risk regardless of rules that allow them to, the play was dangerous and SHOULDN’T BE permitted.

What the heck were managers doing during the 30 years I’ve watched NPB games by not arguing for obstruction calls at home plate or phantom outs at second base on double plays — which were always against the rules?

At least this time, umpire Masanobu Sasaki could fall back on what the rule book actually says. And now, the umps will proudly point to the rule and warn (and threaten with ejection) any catcher with the temerity of blocking the plate without the ball –which though illegal was considered a catcher’s duty until Feb. 1 , 2016, when players reported for camp.

What would he have said a year ago… “Uhm it’s the rule, you CAN obstruct the plate. Well, OK, you can’t technically block the plate without the ball, but we all know that you can, because IN THIS CASE we ignore the rules.

Minor material

A year ago, Tigers batting coach Tom O’Malley was touting rookie Taiga Ogoshi’s potential as a hitter. Although Hanshin’s third-round pick in the 2014 draft struggled at the top level last season, he had at the age of 22, one of Japan’s three best minor league efforts by a young player in the minors in 2015.

Egoshi posted an .809 offensive winning percentage in 209 plate appearances –- an unfortunately small sample size, but the two players who have had that amount of success in a similar number of plate appearances at the same age are now a pair of Hawks regulars: Yuki Yanagita and Akira Nakamura. Obviously, Egoshi will need to take several steps forward, but he is in good company. A fourth player with similar numbers at the same age is Seibu Lions prospect Hotaka Yamakawa.

Also among the better young hitters in the minors last season was Hawks outfielder Seiji Uebayashi, who at the age of 19 posted a .799 offensive winning percentage in 332 Western League plate appearances – for a more impressive season than Egoshi’s. He could be someone to watch. The only current player who had a similarly valuable minor league year at his age was Toshiaki Imae in 2004, who was as good but in 130 fewer plate appearances.

Here is Uebayashi’s first career homer against the Lotte Marines’ Rhee Dae Eun

Chunichi Dragons third baseman Shuhei Takahashi, a career .237 hitter in the Central League, is 22 now and has been steadily showing on the farm that he can HIT, posting a .602 offensive winning percentage as a 20-year-old and improving on that with a .781 season in 2015. The players who had similar minor league seasons at the age of 20 are a mixed bag – after all, it was a good season but not a great one:

  • Ryosuke Morioka (Dragons castoff)
  • Takehiro Donoue (another Dragons castoff)
  • Teppei Tsuchiya (Yet another Dragons castoff)
  • Katsuya Kakunaka
  • Akira Nakamura
  • Kodai Sakurai
  • Daijiro Tanaka (Giants)
  • Tomoaki Egawa (Hawks)
  • Yuki Tatsumi (Buffaloes)
  • Tetsuro Nishida (Eagles)
  • Aoi Enomoto (Eagles)

At the age of 21, Takahashi’s value comps were:

  • Munenori Kawasaki (He speaks English)
  • Taisei Makihara (Hawks)

The interesting comp there is Morioka (now with the Yakult Swallows), who is quick but not a base stealer, but a good on-base percentage guy. Another player of that ilk is Shunichi Nemoto of the Marines.

And since we’re on the topic of grand slams, here’s a come-from-behind blast by Takahashi from March.