Category Archives: Commentary

Premier 12 or Premie 12?

The biggest moment of the Premier 12, South Korea’s stunning semifinal win over Japan at Tokyo Dome.

A pal referred to the Premier 12 as the Premie 12. Which kind of makes sense.

The tournament, which concluded Saturday night at Tokyo Dome, is living, breathing, andworth seeing. But it’s also underdeveloped and in need of love and care if it is to grow into a part of fans’ lives.

The tournament, organized by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, brings together teams from the 12 top national federations in the WBSC’s rankings. Two, six-team groups played a total of 30 group games for four quarterfinal berths.

Japan, which has turned its national team into a business (NPB Enterprises) with a full-time manager, Hiroki Kokubo, has had this tournament on its radar for years. The WBSC’s inability to negotiate a deal with MLB meant no players on MLB 40-man rosters were eligible to play, meaning nations with strong domestic leagues such as Japan and South Korea had an advantage.

Although Japan failed to reach the final due to a ninth-inning, four-run meltdown against South Korea at Tokyo Dome in Thursday’s semifinal. Kokubo, who was named to manage Japan in 2013 with no managing or coaching experience, carried four NPB closers on his roster but none were warm when South Korea’s first two hitters reached base in the ninth.

The 4-3 victory by manager Kim In Sik’s team over a previously undefeated Japan team was a mirror image of South Korea’s effort in the 2006 WBC. That year, Kim’s squad beat Japan twice en route to a 6-0 record through two rounds only to lose eventual champion Japan in a semifinal that was a scoreless tie through six innings. That result was much closer than Japan’s 10-6 win over Cuba in the final, when Japan led 6-1 after five innings.

Japan mauled Mexico 11-1 in the third-place game, while South Korea socked the United States 8-0 in the final to grab the gold.

As with the 2006 WBC, the Japan-South Korea semifinal was the tournament’s big game, as was their final at Dodger Stadium in 2009, when Yu Darvish blew the lead in relief after a strong start by Hisashi Iwakuma only to have Japan win it on a two-run, 10th-inning single by Ichiro Suzuki.

Overall, the games have been entertaining.

Shohei Otani hit 100 miles per hour in both of his impressive starts against South Korea and finished with 21 strikeouts in 13 scoreless innings.

The attendance was abysmal except in games played by Japan or Taiwan — or the final which was the second game of a doubleheader which many Japan supporters stayed to watch. The slick website was outsourced and, according to a WBSC spokesman, designed to support 15,000 visitors at a time, instead of the 1 million trying to log in.

Given the popularity of international soccer, it is possible to see how international baseball can capture imaginations and create a massive new market in the coming years. It’s not nearly there yet, but at some point the marginal value of 20 days of league play in a long season could be outweighed by a two-week international break in which national teams compete in front of huge summer crowds around the northern hemisphere and attract worldwide TV audiences.

Prior to the tournament opener on Nov. 8 at Sapporo Dome, Kim said he wanted the world to know how good the games were between his country and Japan, and the Premier 12 allowed him to deliver.

Dave Okubo’s disappearing runner trick

Rakuten skipper Dave Okubo’s aggressive base running has led to some head scratching in Sendai.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, host John E. Gibson interviewed Julio Franco, the player-manager of the Ishikawa Million Stars in Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge League. One topic they discussed was being aggressive on the bases. Japanese teams tend toward playing station-to-station ball,  but Hiromoto “Dave” Okubo, the new manager of the Rakuten Eagles, likes players to take more risks on the bases.

John and I both appreciate the idea behind taking everything you can get on the bases, but the Eagles’ reckless abandon has come at a cost, something John has begun to comment on.

Through Sunday, Aug. 24, the Eagles have been caught stealing an NPB-high 54 times, a huge factor in the team’s losing the highest percentage of runners on base this season (not counting runners out on ground ball double plays): 6.7 percent. That, and the club’s lack of power — their 67 home runs are last in the Pacific League and 11th fewest in NPB, while they are last in Japan in doubles and triples — contribute to the Eagles scoring just a Japan-low 22.9 percent of their runners on base. The Eagles have the third lowest de facto on-base percentage (the percentage of runners who reach safely by any means): .318.

So the Eagles have the fewest runners on base in the first place, they lose more of those guys running the bases, and their 84 sacrifice hits are third in the PL, so they should be staying out of double plays. But the Eagles’ 73 GDPs are third in NPB, behind the Hawks and Swallows, the league leaaders in OBP.

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