Category Archives: Commentary

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.

Time for good old-fashioned witch hunt

Kyosuke Takagi speaks to the press on March 9

OK. Saying the Yomiuri Giants should change their game-starting theme music at Tokyo Dome to the Who’s “You Better You Bet” was seriously in bad taste.

The thought occurred when a new story on Tuesday suggested Giants players were betting on their games after a fashion. But the more one learns about, the less one is inclined to lump it together under the rubric of the same gambling scandal that has haunted the Giants since the autumn.

The news was that for the past three-plus seasons, a Giants player giving a pre-game pep talk to his peers would be rewarded by a 5,000 yen gift from each teammate after a win. Should the team lose, the would-be motivational speaker would pay his colleagues 1,000 yen apiece. Both NPB and the Giants organization were aware of this practice last autumn but determined it wasn’t of any importance to the critical issue of whether players were gambling on baseball (the correct decision) and decided not to make it public (the wrong decision).

Since Kyosuke Takagi last week became the fourth Giants pitcher to admit to losing some serious money with gamblers from betting on pro games, every thing that remotely seems like somehow it might smell of controversy is being held up as an example of evil wrongdoing.

Former prosecutor Katsuhiko Kumazaki, the person currently occupying NPB’s commissioners office, said: “Even though this does not qualify as a violation of the baseball charter, we cannot permit it, and it was one of the root causes of the gambling scandal involving Giants pitchers.”

How’s that for logic? And Kumazaki was a really, really famous prosecutor.

Now in the hysteria to root any connection between money and pro baseball players, the custom of fining players small amounts for messing up in practice has come under scrutiny.

The media is acting as if this kind of thing was a deep, dark secret, a skeleton in NPB’s 12 closets. But once those are all rooted out, how long will it be before the media expresses outrage at the practice of “fight money,” the cash payments teams pay to contributing players after a win. Virtually every reporter knows about the custom, but when it does become public — as it just might in the current hysteria — the media can be guaranteed to act with sufficient self righteous fury.