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.