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NPB news: Oct. 20, 2022

NPB held its new-player entry draft on Thursday, which went as predicted but left some wondering what a three- four- or five-way player might look like, while Orix is cleaning house of pitchers getting Tommy John surgery, and I have a kind of Japan Series preview.

Japan Series preview

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a mystery, and I’m disappointed I didn’t spot it before, but when one doesn’t have one’s own data base of daily results, one tends to miss things.

Runs scored and runs allowed

The Yakult Swallows scored 9.4 percent more runs than their opponents while slashing .250/.318/.410 while surrendering a slash line of .259/.320/.402. I’m sure it’s happened before, but it is weird.

Teams’ Runs Created in Japan tend to exceed actual runs scored by about 12.5 percent, but Yakult is an outlier and has been an outlier since Shingo Takatsu became manager, their RC exceeded runs scored by 8.3 percent in 2020, by 6.7 percent in 2021 and by 6.9 percent this season, so I’m inclined to say that this is a feature of Yakult’s offense and not a fluke. Their opponents created 632 RC but scored just 566, which is normal for Japanese teams.

The Orix Buffaloes, who outscored their opponents by 7 percent, slashed .246/.317/.361 while their opponents slashed .236/.298/.340, which looks much more normal and their RC – RS relationship is also normal for Japan for both them and their opponents.

Yakult

The Swallows had four advantages over their opponents this year: two that show up in their slash line, their home run power and walks, and two that don’t, base stealing, turning double plays while staying out of them on offense.

Yakult’s offense had one ostensible disadvantage. The Swallows struck out in 20 percent of their plate appearances. This seems like a lot, but not only is it fairly common now, but the Swallows are the sixth straight Central League champion to strike out nearly 20 percent of the time during the regular season.

Orix

The Buffaloes, on the other hand, were the Pacific League’s contact-hitting poster children, they led the PL in sacrifices with 114 and struck out less than any other team in Japan. They also had, along with the Hawks, one of the best strikeout staffs in Japan.

Orix was good at preventing home runs, even when factoring in their park effects, but not good at hitting them, something that changes with the return to form of 2021 PL home run leader Yutaro Sugimoto, who hit 32 last year but just 15 this season. So I’m going to assume they’re a better home run-hitting team than their season numbers suggest and might be a more efficient offense than they were during the season.

How it might shake out

The Swallows struck out 58 times in last year’s six-game series, and might equal or surpass Hiroshima’s record 68 for a six-game series set against the Hawks in 2018. The Swallows survived this season on turning double plays and cutting down base stealers, and should have an advantage scratching out runs with their speed and power that Orix may have a hard time matching.

If Munetaka Murakami hits as well as he did over the course of the season, rather than continuing to be the low-average slugger he became at the start of September, then Yakult’s power advantage will be a huge.

Right now it’s small, but probably still significant. Unlike last year, when five of the six games were played inside, four games this time are scheduled outdoors, when long-sequence offenses, like Orix’s are more likely to suffer in the cold.

The Buffaloes will get runners on, and if they are not trailing, they will probably sacrifice a lot if only to stay out of double plays, since they may have trouble stealing.

The Buffaloes are clearly superior in their starting pitching, but not as good defensively, although they do appear to have better outfield arms. The Swallows are going to throw strikes and the Buffaloes are going to foul a lot of those off, and get into Yakult’s bullpen. Of course, the Swallows’ pitching strength is their bullpen, so that is a mixed blessing. That and their formidable offense make them a dangerous late-inning team.

Leaving it till late

Yakult was 35-34-4 when trailing by three runs or less after the seventh inning, which was the best record in Japan, while the Buffaloes were 29-40-2, which is still above average. Yakult was 9-9-3 in games tied at the start of the eighth inning, the same as when their games were tied after the eighth inning. The Buffaloes were 9-12-2 when tied after the seventh, and 4-11-2 when tied after the eighth.

It’s going to be an intriguing series, but I’ll stick with the Swallows. On this week’s podcast, I said Swallows in seven, but I’m going to go with six, instead. I like Orix and won’t be disappointed or surprised if they win.

The draft

The nine teams that announced their top draft picks selected those guys, while two of the teams that didn’t, the Hanshin Tigers and Lotte Marines, went after one of the announced picks and came up empty in their first-round draft lotteries with the Giants, and Eagles, respectively.

The TV broadcast then let Tatsunori Hara ramble on for an impressive amount of time, only to be outdone by Tsuyoshi Shinjo reveling in Nippon Ham getting the rights to two-way college star Kota Yazawa, whom Shinjo, in BIGBOSS mode said something along the lines of: “We’ve got a two-way player, but he can be a three-way player or a four- or five-way player.”

The Fighters also expended a third-round pick on the New York Yankees’ second-round pick from 2013, Gosuke Kato, who finished last season with Triple-A Syracuse after playing a handful of MLB games for Toronto.

In the developmental draft, SoftBank selected 14 players for the second straight year as they prepare to stock their fourth-tier minor league team. I tend to see the D draft as an indicator of which teams are committed to longterm player development, because while non-roster developmental contracts are cheap, having the players around and teaching them costs money. The Tigers and Swallows picked just one player each.

Orix cuts another Tommy John patient

In the wake of Orix demoting their top 2021 draft pick, pitcher Ren Mukunoki to a developmental contract as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, the Buffaloes have told pitcher Ryoga Tomiyama, who is now awaiting the procedure, that he will not be offered a contract for 2023.

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Oh, Matsui and Murakami

There was an interesting post on Twitter Saturday, which just begged for verification. It questioned whether Munetaka Murakami should be considered Japan’s best young home run hitter ever, since the conditions in which the Swallows star has hit his home runs are quite different from those faced by Sadaharu Oh and Hideki Matsui.

Conditions are always in flux, offhand I would agree with this post about Oh, the early part of Matsui’s career was a fairly normal era for home run production. The perception that Matsui hit in a “mini dead-ball era” is created by the switch to Mizuno’s rabbit ball by the Giants, Dragons and BayStars toward the end of his time in Japan.

The same thing probably led Robert Whiting to recently declare Wladimir Balentien’s 60 home runs to have taken place with a lively ball in place. The ball wasn’t particularly lively that year, but it was normal compared to the soft ball used the previous two seasons.

Continue reading Oh, Matsui and Murakami