Category Archives: Players

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Scout diary: Fujinami back on table

The current pandemic world of abnormal sports events may not be optimal, but for the next few days at least NPB is playing televised preseason games, and that means chances to see lots of players play baseball.

After finishing my scout course, I want to see everybody, and have tried a few different tactics to maximize coverage while also reporting on notable performances for the website. After a stressful trial-and-error period, I’ve settled on watching one game at a time, perhaps choosing based on the players involved but really focusing on everything I can during that game.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

It’s not helping me rapidly expand my knowledge of players, but it is rapidly expanding the things I know about a few individual players. On Wednesday, while I wanted to see Matt Moore pitch again for the SoftBank Hawks, I watched new Swallows right-hander Gabrial Ynoa pitch against the Hanshin Tigers and their one time teenage phenom Shintaro Fujinami.

Fujinami, a beanpole right-hander was once considered the top pitcher in a draft class that included Shohei Ohtani, but after going 35-21 over his first three seasons, he went 15-19 under his second pro manager. Last year, with his career in tatters, the 25-year-old pitched in one first-team game.

In addition to Fujinami and Ynoa, I was also curious about Orix Buffaloes third-round pick Ryota Muranishi, who may get some opportunities to pitch this year with the big club.

So, here are my snapshot reports of their games.

Shintaro Fujinami

Fujinami struck out five batters, walked one and allowed two hits over four scoreless innings. His command was below average but, the quality of his pitches was excellent.

He often got behind batters but then battled them in the zone, getting good arm action and good movement. That was probably the biggest take away.

He had good depth on a “cutter” that looks more like a slider and would be a plus pitch if he could command it better. His fastball command was mediocre but he was sitting at 93.2 mph with some good life on it. He threw some good splitters.

If he can improve the command at all, he is going to be really effective.

PresentFuture
Fastball6065
Curve
Control4050
Changeup
Slider (called a cutter)5050
Knuckleball
Other – Splitter5555
Poise4050
Baseball Instinct5050
Aggressiveness5050

Gabriel Ynoa

Ynoa is a 26-year-old right-hander who throws high 3/4. He has pitched in 55 major league games, mostly for the Baltimore Orioles. His fastball sat at 148 kph (92 mph). He also threw a slider a change and a few two-seamers. His fastball command was average, his slider a little less so, while he didn’t locate his change that well, although it had good depth.

He looks like he can contribute in the rotation and eat innings. If he is one of those imported pitchers who improve their command a bit in Japan, he could be successful here.

PresentFuture
Fastball5050
Curve
Control5050
Changeup5050
Slider5050
Knuckleball
Other – Splitter
Poise5050
Baseball Instinct5050
Aggressiveness5050

Ryota Muranishi

Muranishi is a right-hander who throws low 3/4. His fastball sat at 90.7, but it was fairly straight, and he didn’t command it real well. The splitter really dives and the cutter has a huge amount of glove-side run.

If he can locate the fastball and get ahead in counts, the split should be deadly. His command is not real good so that’s a maybe, but if it happens, he could be a good middle of the order rotation guy.

PresentFuture
Fastball4045
Curve
Control4050
Changeup
Slider4040
Cutter5055
Other – Splitter6060
Poise5050
Baseball Instinct5050
Aggressiveness5050

Open and shut: March 7, 2020 – Welcome to Japan, Joe Gunkel

New Hanshin Tigers right-hander Joe Gunkel started Saturday’s preseason game against the Nippon Ham Fighters at Koshien Stadium, and allowed seven runs in four innings. Despite the ugly totals it was anything but an ugly outing for the 28-year-old who pitched in the minors for the Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers and Marlins.

Gunkel put a couple of floating sliders on a tee, and got a lesson in what left-handed hitters in Japan will do to two-seamers when they are not trying to crush the ball, but by and large it was entertaining.

A lesson in pitching to Japanese left-handed hitters.

From his low 3/4 slot, Gunkel had a lot of horizontal movement on a 91.3 mph two-seamer that he mercilessly jammed right-handed hitters with, and even got one batter looking on a backdoor two-seamer.

His slider was inconsistent in quality and command, as was his four-seamer, but he threw a splitter that really dropped and got him swinging strikes, and he is quick to the plate.

He got burned on ground balls that found holes, a couple of jam shots and a fly to deep center on a mistake pitch that carried out of the unusually windless park. He also struck out six.

Gunkel has a lot to work with, and he has a great catcher in Ryutaro Umeno to help him over a couple of minor rough spots. Hopefully, he’ll learn to use his arsenal quickly enough to keep up with the adjustments opposing hitters will make so that he doesn’t hit a prolonged rough patch. That’s because imported Tigers pitchers who have major rough patches learn more than they want to know about the Western League and get released.

Austin, Soto go back to back

Taylor Austin hit his fourth home run of the spring for the DeNA BayStars on Saturday, while two-time defending Central League home run champion Neftali Soto followed him with his first. Get a look on Austin’s face after Soto’s home run.

When I saw they both came off SoftBank Hawks journeyman Ryoma Matsuda, who gives up a fair number of home runs, I wasn’t too surprised, but compared to some of the really fat pitches Austin crushed earlier in the preseason, it was a straight fastball but not a cookie.

The Hawks opened with Nao Higashihama, who’s been named their Opening Day starter, and he looked ready to go, although he did get away with a hanging curve to Soto up in the zone that the right-handed-hitting slugger pulled foul. Matsuda had less luck with his fat pitch.

Patton’s back

The BayStars got an inning of work from Spencer Patton, who ended a frustrating season by breaking his hand against a refrigerator door. I commented to a colleague that he didn’t pitch well last season, but looking at his sharp performance on Saturday and his numbers from Delta Graphs the past three seasons, nothing really stands out.

The one outlier is his win probability. He gave up an unusual number of hits in the most volatile moments. How much of that is down to bad luck and bad timing, I don’t know. An old fart uninterested in analytics might say he lacked the “will to win,” but I am going to go with really crappy timing and luck.

I am unaware of his contract situation, but a lot of teams would have been cautious about bringing Patton back. The BayStars do a good job with analytics, and I assume they want him around because they see the intrinsic quality and because he’s a good teammate. That stuff matters.

Scout diary: Report on Yasutaka Shiomi

Yasutaka Shiomi was taken 4th by the Yakult Swallows in NPB’s 2017 amateur draft. He played for corporate league powerhouse Japan Energy after graduating from Teikyo University. I haven’t had a chance to see him try and beat out an infield single. But he has been a successful minor league base stealer.

I updated this on 3/7/20 after Shiomi made a couple of very accurate throws from center field, raising his arm strength from 40 to 50 (average) and his accuracy from 50 to 60 (above average).

  • Birthday: 6/12/1993
  • H: 1.79 m, W: 76 kg
  • Bats: R, Throws: R
  • Position: OF

Physical description: Physically, he resembles Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada. He has a small leg kick similar to the Carp’s Seiya Suzuki.

PresentFuture
Hitting Ability5560
Power3030
Running Speed7070
Base Running7070
Arm Strength5050
Arm Accuracy6060
Fielding5560
Range6060
Baseball Instinct6060
Aggressiveness6060

Abilities: Knows what he is doing at the plate with very good strike zone discipline. He will chase, but generally makes the pitcher throw strikes. He also appears to be a good base stealer and base runner.

Weaknesses: Ground ball hitter.

Summation: Shiomi will get on base like nobody’s business and will likely take over in center field, where he will continue the team’s recent tradition of center fielders without really good arms.

Scout diary: March 3, 2020 – Swallows’ and Hawks’ wings

Tuesday’s preseason game between the Yakult Swallows and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks gave me a chance to see some players for the first time. So here are my notes on some players of interest. Because the game was at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka, the Hawks’ home broadcast displayed most pitches’ spin rates.

This took me back to talk in my scouting course of average rates for MLB. But before you get into that, have a look at this nifty article about spin efficiency by Trevor Powers. As far as I understand it, fastball movement can be improved, without increasing spin, by throwing the ball so that the spin axis is perpendicular to the direction of the ball.

As I watched the game after reading this — with knowledge of the spin rates different pitchers put on their deliveries — who is more or less efficient. The Fighters and Giants played at night, and I got a good look at Nippon Ham’s top pick Ryusei Kawano.

RHP Yuki Tsumori, Hawks

A 22-year-old right-hander (born 1/21/1998), Tsumori was the Hawks’ third draft pick last autumn out of Tohoku Fukushi University. He throws straight side-arm, with 142 kph velocity on his fastball and a sweeping slider. He threw five pitches and missed most of his spots.

RHP Noboru Shimizu, Swallows

A 23-year-old right-hander (born 10/15/1996), Shimizu was Yakult’s top pick in 2018 and had a rough 1st year, allowing frequent walks and home runs. Because he only threw 26 innings with the big club, he still qualifies as a rookie.

Shimizu throws 3/4. He sat at 147 kph with some hop on the fastball. He threw forkball, that Data Stadium identified as a two-seamer that got him swings and misses, and threw a curve that he didn’t command well, but looks like it could be good in time as he can spin that puppy about the MLB average of 2,500 RPM.

LHP Yuto Furuya, Hawks

Furuya is a 3/4 lefty, who is 21 (born 2/19/1999) who was Softbank’s second pick in 2016. He is described as having a fastball with good movement, but they were fairly straight on Tuesday, and he missed lots of targets.

LHP Hiroki Hasegawa, Swallows

Hasegawa is a 3/4 lefty who is also a SoftBank product, having signed with them out of the 2016 developmental draft. His fastball touched 153 kph with spin rates close to 2,400 RPM. The fastball command was spotty. He also had a forkball that tumbled and missed bats. He’s 21 (born 8/23/1998) and there’s a lot to work with.

LHP Ryusei Kawano, Fighters

The 21-year-old 3/4 lefty (born 5/30/1998) was Nippon Ham’s top draft pick last year. Against Yomiuri on Tuesday, he showed a 147-kph four-seamer that he sometimes had terrific movement on. His command improved as the game went on, and he then showed:

  • Slider, one that sweeps and one that drops
  • curve he can throw at different speeds
  • A splitter (looked like his sweeping slider though)
  • A forkball change that he gets on top of and runs it away from right-handed hitters like a screwball.

His delivery has a funky, start-stop to it. In this game, he kept everything down, but given how well he manipulates the ball, he has a lot of room for growth and adjustment. At first glance, he reminds me of a left-handed Tomoyuki Sugano although the command will have to come. The fastball, change, and curve are all above average with a lot of upside.

Maru goes behind fielding numbers

I wasn’t the only one to take note of Yoshihiro Maru’s declining fielding metrics since 2016 with the Hiroshima Carp, but I may have been the most outspoken about them. The important thing to remember, however, is that they are measures of things. And those things only become place holders for skill and ability in our heads and don’t represent actual reality.

It’s important to remember that just because someone’s metrics have declined, things other than declining individual performance might be at the root.

The table below gives three metrics for each year: Fielding Win Shares, and his ARM and UZR 1200 ratings from Delta Graphs. While Maru’s skills may have not altered one bit, his numbers rebounded in 2019 after he moved to the Yomiuri Giants.

Maru’s fielding figures

YearFieldingARM1200
20144.3+1.9-7.4
20153.3+4.0+4.5
20164.7+4.1+11.1
20173.6+2.4+16.1
20182.9-4.6-4.9
20195.3+1.9+8.5

Maru’s story

“I don’t think my speed or the quality of my jumps improved any from when I was in Hiroshima. The difference was (Carp right fielder) Seiya Suzuki,” Maru said Sunday.

“As long as I’ve played, I’ve always gone to catch balls if there was ever any doubt. It wasn’t the case that I let Suzuki catch balls in the gap, but rather his being fast and getting to more balls first.”

“I think the reason my data in Hiroshima gradually shrank, was that Suzuki played more and got better.”

In 2018, Maru’s numbers took two hits, one from playing time when he missed 10 games, and another from having a good fielder in left, Takayoshi Noma, instead of the previous platoon combination of slow sluggers Brad Eldred and Ryuhei Matsuyama.

The Giants, on the other hand, put him in an outfield that frequently had Alex Guerrero (slow) in left and Yoshiyuki Kamei (old) in right, and voila! Maru’s best defensive win share season of his career.

Not my thing

One thing that took me by surprise was Maru’s opting for domestic free agency after the 2018 season instead of sticking with the Carp until he could go overseas under his own power. I always saw him as a similar player to South Korean star Choo Shin Soo.

“No that was never going to be my thing,” Maru said. “I just didn’t see myself doing that and had no interest.”

Camping World: Feb. 22, 2020 – Let the games begin

This is the one week of the year where Japanese baseball looks like that in the majors. Teams are in camp and playing preseason games. Very often the games played until the final week of February are “practice” games, where rules can be bent to suit the needs of the managers. But once the “open season” begins, those games’ stats are recorded.

On Saturday, eight teams were in action, with most of the attention focused on the BayStars – Eagles game because Rakuten southpaw Yuki Matsui started in line with new manager Hajime Miki’s plan to move him out of the closer’s role. The other player of interest was the Eagles’ top draft pick, 24-year-old shortstop Hiroto Kobukata.

The Swallows – Carp game saw Hiroshima’s first pick, Meji University right-hander Masato Morishita and Yakult’s second pick, Japan Sport Science University right-hander Daiki Yoshida.

Morishita’s debut

Morishita looks much as he did last year as an amateur, a right-hander who balances about three seconds on his back leg before going to the plate. The one difference appears to be his arm slot. He had been high 3/4 in college, but was nearly 12-6 in the first inning. Ostensibly, he’d been tasked with making some adjustments in his previous bullpen session, and one wonders whether his arm slot was part of that. From the second inning it looked closer to what it had been in college and his command was spot on.

He allowed two runs in the first, basically because of his command. Few of the balls had anything coming off the bat, and his slider was particularly sharp.

Not “real” baseball

If one needs proof that these games are meaningless, one can look at Morishita’s not being ejected in the first inning for a “dangerous pitch.” A curve slipped out of his hand and traced an eephus arc before striking Alcides Escobar on the top of his helmet. Had this been a regular season game, the umpires would have been compelled to eject him for hitting a batter in the head.

Escobar “suits” Japanese ball

Escobar, the Swallows’ new shortstop, was praised as a good fit for Japanese baseball by the crew broadcasting the game, ostensibly because of what he can’t do. Other than his size, the 33-year-old Venezuelan fits Japan’s cookie-cutter image of a middle infielder: Plays good defense, runs and bunts well, while not being able to hit for power or reach base.

Goodness gracious.

One crowded infield

New Carp manager Shinji Sasaoka is trying out lots of combinations in his infield. He brought in second-year shortstop Kaito Kozono to play second, and the 2018 No. 1 pick did a reasonable impression of Ryosuke Kikuchi with the glove with a good charge toward the mound and a sharp throw to first across his body.

Former Yankees and Padres utility man Jose Pirela, who has impressed with the bat in camp, was tried out at third. Having spent most of his time with the Yankees and Padres at second base and in left field. He has good hands, it looked from this game like third base might be a challenge for his arm strength.

Nice start for Yoshida

While the Swallows’ top draft pick, high school star Yoshinobu Okugawa was throwing his first bullpen of the spring hundreds of miles away in Yakult’s minor league camp after hurting his arm in January, second-round pick Yoshida had two innings in the spotlight.

The 1.75-meter Yoshida has a super smooth delivery that looks like it was modeled on Tomoyuki Sugano’s although he doesn’t look like he’s trying to throw the ball through a wall like Sugano sometimes does. Yoshida, who has been used as the setup guy for the national collegiate team, has an above-average fastball with some hop to it, and showed a decent changeup and a slider, neither of which he commanded nearly as well as his four-seam fastball.

He located the fastball and missed some barrels with the change and retired all six batters he faced.

Matsui goes back to starting line

Yuki Matsui, who came to national prominence in high school for being able to survive extraordinarily high pitch counts, failed as a starter in his 2014 rookie season. That year he walked 67 batters in 116 innings, but was reincarnated as a closer the following season.

His English NPB page is HERE.

Matsui looked fairly uncomfortable, threw a lot of straight fastballs, missed his locations. He faced 18 batters and surrendered a pile of hard-hit balls while walking two batters and hitting one.

He did throw a number of quality sliders, and those kept the day from being a complete disaster.

Mirror, mirror

Yesterday, I filled out a scouting report on Eagles second pick Fumiya Kurokawa. A muscular second baseman, Kurokawa resembles current Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura. Kobukata, the top draft pick, is a small left-handed hitting shortstop like Rakuten’s incumbent at the position, Eigoro Mogi.

Kobukata started and had three hits, all ground balls pulled through the right side of the infield. He looked OK with the glove. I don’t know if it’s a Japanese thing but like Kurokawa, Kobukata takes an extra step to set his feet before he throws. When he does cut loose, however, he has a gun with some good carry.

The other news from that game was the absence of new BayStars import Tyler Austin, who has been smoking hot all spring, due to stiffness in his right elbow.

Scout Diary: Feb. 21, 2020 – Fumiya Kurokawa, 2B, Rakuten

I was going to do a rundown on all the top draft picks from NPB’s 2019 autumn draft, but Fumiya Kurokawa grabbed my attention with a story of his alertness on the bases, so here we are.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Furukawa was the second pick of the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles out of powerhouse high school Chiben Wakayama. He’s a second baseman, and that usually raises questions among amateurs because if he could field and had an arm, he’d be a shortstop.

  • Birthday: 4/17/2001
  • H: 1.82 m, W: 86 kg
  • Bats: L, Throws: R
  • Position: 2B

Physical description: Looks like a left-handed-hitting Hideto Asamura who has grown into his body more quickly than Asamura did. He has pronounced movement with his front foot, swinging his toe over the plate as he times the pitcher’s delivery.

PresentFuture
Hitting Ability5060
Power5060
Running Speed5555
Base Running7070
Arm Strength4040
Arm Accuracy5050
Fielding5055
Range5055
Baseball Instinct6060
Aggressiveness6060

Abilities: Soft hands, quick flips. Alert, aggressive base runner. Disciplined approach, compact swings, quick hands to the ball, with a slight uppercut.

Weaknesses: Hyper conscious of setting his feet before throwing, often taking an extra step before throwing.

Summation: He could develop real power, and pro coaches are sure to iron out his throwing technique and make him an above-average fielder.

2019 video of Kurokawa as a high school senior

Follow up

The report says nothing about his makeup or his speed to first, so those are things I’d like to fill in as time goes by. He did get to second on balls into the outfield in 8 seconds, but I don’t have enough records to know if that’s really fast or not.

Scout Diary: Jan. 31, 2020: The question about Junya Nishi

Today’s topic is right-handed pitcher Junya Nishi, the Hanshin Tigers’ top draft pick last autumn. Nishi, a Hiroshima native, played for Soshigakuen HS in Okayama and is a distant relative of Tigers pitcher Yuki Nishi.

Haven’t heard anyone talk about Nishi’s hitting, but he’s got real power. I asked longtime former Dodgers scout Hank Jones, one of the instructors in the Scouting and General Manager course at Sports Management World Wide, what teams did back in the day when guys had hitting AND pitching tools back in the day before Shohei Ohtani.

Essentially, Jones said, “Let him prove he can’t hit. If he can’t then he’s a pitcher.”

But now that we’re living in the post-Ohtani world, one would think any team would at least consider a novel approach to a player with such obvious talent.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Physically, Nishi resembles Ron Cey, although he is a little taller than Cey. His pitching motion makes it look like he’s constantly overexerting himself, and his follow through is violent rather than smooth.

The pitcher

In the pitching video below, the announcer reports Nishi as saying his balance is off when his cap comes off his head — which it does frequently. When he bats, it looks like his lower body imparts very little of the impressive power he generates.

Here’s a first-round national championship game in 2018, when Nishi was a month shy of his 17th birthday. He touched 91.3 mph in this game with 40 command. He has since been recorded at 93.2, which would make his velocity a 60. He has a slider with depth and 50 command, a curve that he doesn’t command well what appeared to be a splitter with arm-side run and good depth.

Junya Nishi’s 16 strikeouts in the national championships as a 16-year-old.

The video below is an analysis of his motion and deliveries against the national collegiate team prior to last year’s Under-18 World Cup. I can’t vouch for the RPMs given on the video. The curve with poor command appears little different than the ones he threw at Koshien Stadium a year earlier, but it looks like the slider and fastball are even better and he’s added a changeup and improved the splitter.

Some slow motion of him pitching against Japan’s national collegiate hitters.

The hitter

I first noticed Nishi when he drove in eight runs against South Africa as Japan’s DH in their Under-18 World Cup game last autumn in South Korea.

The other instructor in our scouting course, former Dodgers GM and Blue Jays scout Dan Evans, provided us with a hack for recognizing above-average major league power, which I won’t spill hear, but suffice it to say hearing that he led the World Cup in home runs and hit 25 in his high school career as a pitcher.

He’s a right-handed hitter, with 60 power that I’ll project to 65 with work on his lower body mechanics with a 50 hit tool. Like most Japanese hitters he sprays the ball to all fields, although his power seems to be mostly to left.

Here’s some video of Nishi hitting in high school.

Pitcher Junya Nishi raked and mashed in high school.

Conclusion

Japan is obsessed with pitchers, and Nishi has a lot to offer on the mound, but his delivery bothers me a little. I’m inclined to think his power is the real deal and that he may have more future value as a hitter with fewer adjustments needed.

Whether he can be a two-way player or not is a good question. But if I’m the Hanshin Tigers, I’d at least ask him if he’s interested instead of just assuming that the team knows more than the player. The Tigers are kind of a mystery to me. I don’t understand their inability to commit to young players or their past failures to modernize the club’s strength-training program.

Maybe they see the possibility Nishi presents, but if I were to bet, my money would be on the “We’ve already made up our minds about his future as a pitcher.”

Scout Diary: Jan. 31, 2020 – Pacific League’s best outfield tools

The search for the best outfield defensive tools on the planet brings us to Japan’s Pacific League and the top three in the 2019 voting for the three outfield Golden Gloves. I thought it would be easier to select a PL winner than in the CL, but I was wrong.

  • Shogo Akiyama, Lions 秋山 翔吾
  • Takashi Ogino, Marines 荻野 貴司
  • Haruki NIshikawa, Fighters 西川 遥輝

Shogo Akiyama

Collection of Shogo Akiyama catches
Best PL throws from the outfield, starting with Akiyama at 1:07.

By default, Akiyama, whose metrics have been slipping year by year, is the PL winner of the tools challenge. Despite the ubiquity of PL TV, the league’s streaming service, I’m simply unable to find any video collections of Takashi Ogino or Haruki Nishikawa. Those who are interested more on Nishikawa can find my profile of him HERE, since he has expressed an interest in playing in the majors.

If you are interested in the new Cincinnati Reds outfielder, my profile of the former Lions captain is HERE.

Conclusion and admission

My outfield tools surveys of four leagues, the National, American, Central and Pacific, has produced four finalists:

  • Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
  • Jackie Bradley, Jr, Boston Red Sox
  • Seiya Suzuki, Hiroshima Carp
  • Shogo Akiyama, Seibu Lions

My choice for the best outfield tools in the world goes to Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox. If I had to pick No. 2 it would be Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rationale

I tried to evaluate every outfielder on the following criteria:

  • arm strength
  • accuracy
  • release
  • jumps
  • speed
  • judgment at the wall

I omitted “good hands” from consideration because all the candidates are exceptional at catching the ball. But having said that, Bradley is as good at that as anyone I’ve seen — and I grew up watching Willie Mays. I am hesitant to give out an 80 score, but let’s call it a 75.

Based on the video above, I’ve rated his arm strength is 75, his accuracy a 70. His footwork is as good as Kiermaier’s which is the best I’ve seen. But there’s a cherry on top, the grace and speed at which he transitions from catching to throwing is an 80. Again, he’s not AS good at scaling outfield walls as Lorenzo Cain, but nobody is. Having said that, Bradley is pretty darn close.

The other special thing about him is his jumps. He appears to be in motion before the batter swings. His raw speed gives him incredible range when he is right, and allows him to make up for guessing wrong.

An admission

I have less confidence in my Japanese choices in the outfield than I had in the infield, because while I’ve seen these guys a fair amount, I’ve been a writer, not a scout.

I’m trying to change that, of course, and my podcast colleague John E. Gibson could give a far more educated opinion about tools, because that has always been an after thought. Until now, my thinking has been, ‘Does he make the play or not? How often does he make plays? What are the context of the plays he made or didn’t make? Are they part of the story of this game or the story of that player or of Japanese baseball.

Gibson likes to talk about tools, but for the most part, they pretty much didn’t enter into my calculus. Which is kind of odd in a way, since the greater part of sports writing in Japan is obsessed with technical minutia about tools and skills. I preferred to write about how people grew and learned rather than why they decided to move their hands apart when the gripped the bat.

Anyway, I hope to remedy that indifference to specific skills going forward.

The kotatsu league: Rakuten snaps up former Buffalo Romero

The Rakuten Eagles on Monday announced they have reached an agreement on a 2020 contract with 31-year-old outfielder Stefen Romero, who spent the past three seasons with the Pacific League rival Orix Buffaloes.

The signing gives Rakuten a third hard-hitting imported position player to go with third baseman Zelous Wheeler and right fielder Jabari Blash.

Romero, who played in only 81 games in 2019, dealt all season with a neck issue that he said would require a month of rest. On April 19, he suffered a right oblique tendon injury in Sendai that kept him out for nearly a month. He was again deactivated for a month from June 23 due to inflammation in a right oblique tendon. On Sept. 3, he hurt his right knee running the bases, but returned 10 days later.

Despite all those troubles, he posted a .305 batting average leading to a .363 OBP. Those numbers were likely skewed by good luck. After a .282 average when not homering or striking out from 2017-2018, Romero’s figure in 2019 was .385 in 295 at-bats last season.

Romero, who said he now makes use of a Rapsodo device in his offseason workouts, has become an extreme flyball hitter compared to how he was when he arrived with Orix in 2017 according to Delta Graphs.

His English language NPB page is HERE.

Romero is the sixth veteran the Eagles have acquired this winter, having brought in a trio of Lotte Marines (infielder Daichi Suzuki and right-handers Hideaki Wakui and Tomohito Sakai, former San Diego Padre and Seibu Lions submariner Kazuhisa Makita, and former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever J. T. Chargois.

The Sendai-based Eagles finished third in the Pacific League last season behind the two-time defending PL champion Seibu Lions and the three-time defending Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks. They ranked seventh among NPB’s 12 teams in both pitching and fielding according to Bill James‘ Win Shares, but dead last in offense.

The Eagles have never reached the postseason in an even-numbered year, finishing sixth, fifth, sixth, fourth, sixth, fifth and sixth.