Category Archives: Commentary

Winter meetings warming up

The Baseball Winter Meetings are an attraction by themselves, but this year they compete with boat rides at Opryland.
The Baseball Winter Meetings are an attraction by themselves, but this year they compete with boat rides at Opryland.

The good thing about Opryland is that you don’t have to ride the boats to get from one end of the facility to the other, but the sight of the Baseball Winter Meetings a HUGE facility.  One element of the meetings is the continual stream of front-office people mingling in lobbies and corridors. At Opryland, the miracle mile, is a bridge near the lobby.

Bridging the communication gap between big league teams at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Bridging the communication gap between big league teams at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

After a slow start on Sunday, in which the main piece of news was a “reported” signing of Hisashi Iwakuma by the Los Angeles Dodgers, things picked up a little bit on Monday as the managers press conferences began and more and more team officials and agents arrived. Monday, however, brought no clarity to Iwakuma’s status, as agent Adam Katz, who also represents Carp ace Kenta Maeda, refusing to comment on a deal that has not been completed.

Maeda is currently in posting limbo as his paperwork is cleared by MLB, so Katz said he was as free with his words as he’ll ever get regarding the two-time Sawamura Award winner.

“I expect that once the process starts, I’m not going to be providing updates, unfortunately. It’s not something I’ve done in all my years of representing ballplayers. So this will probably be it,” Katz said.

 

 

Does Japan’s game slow down in 2nd half?

Unlike most NPB teams, the Yakult Swallows were at full speed in the second half this year. Shingo Kawabaa slides into third with a September triple against DeNA BayStars third baseman Aarom Baldiris.

Many years ago, while exploring ways Japanese ball varied from the major league variety, I noticed that in Nippon Professional Baseball, triples declined in the second half of the season, while in the majors they increase slightly. Despite fewer games played over a longer season with a less arduous travel schedule, a lot of Japanese players look gassed in the second half.

Take Kosuke Fukudome. Back in his heyday with the Chunichi Dragons, running on the right fielder’s arm in April was a risky proposition. But three months into the season, runners would go from first to third with impunity on balls hit to right field. Considering the long practice schedule on off days and the two or more hours of practice before each game, it’s no wonder.

With the magic of the internet comes better access to potential sources of answers, and you know what? While the batting average on balls in play increases in the second half of the season — regardless which side of the Pacific you are on, the frequency of batters reaching third on those hits still decreases in the second half.

Splitting the season between June 30 and July 1, NPB teams since 2006 have hit triples on 1.73 percent of first-half hits, and 1.6 percent of second-half hits. In the majors, using the All-Star break from mlb.com as a convenient break point, MLB teams since 2006 increased from 2 percent in the first half to 2.1 percent in the second half.

I did a story for Kyodo News last month about the conditioning programs of the SoftBank Hawks and Yakult Swallows, the two teams that met in the Japan Series after beating up their leagues in the second half. It’s a small sample size, but the Hawks and Swallows were both below average in triples in the first half but well ahead of their leagues in the second.

Hawks players did intense training from the spring, flipping and hammering truck tires, and it appeared to pay off. Conditioning coach Atsushi Toriida, left, looks on.

Remembering Fukudome, I wondered if outfield assists followed a similar pattern. For NPB as a whole, outfield assists decreased in the second half this year, the first year I have kept regular fielding totals during the season. Hawks outfielders threw out eight runners in the first half, 10 in the second half, while the Swallows declined from 16 to 10.