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Monthly Honors

Nippon Professional Baseball named its batters and pitchers of the month(s) of July and August on Wednesday, the months lumped together due to the four-week Olympic break in their midst.

The Central League picks were Yomiuri Giants closer Thyago Vieira and Hiroshima Carp right fielder Seiya Suzuki, while the Pacific League’s honorees were Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Lotte Marines center fielder Kyota Fujiwara.

One of the interesting things NPB does is make a table of award candidates well before the end of the month. I only wish they put a table of top candidates after the selection. Of course, that would end up making some of their decisions look kind of dumb. To be fair the selections have vastly improved over the past three years.

For discussion’s sake, I’ve included the figures of the guys I considered might also win it this month.

Central League

For batter of the month, Suzuki was really the only choice, even for an award that has traditionally annoyed reason. Yomiuri cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto was his closest competitor, and since they are similar players, the comparison is very simple.

PARHRRBIBBOutsAvg.OBPSlug
Suzuki112169271861.333.455.700
Okamoto10315916963.323.383.652

Among CL pitchers, it was more complicated to choose between Vieira and Carp ace Daichi Osera. Vieira is a good selection, but I guarantee you that five years ago, he had zero chance of winning the award because a starting pitcher, Osera, went 4-0 with an ERA under 2.50.

Vieira was qualitatively better as relievers generally are, and I think one could argue that a closer’s leveraged innings are worth between two and three times that of a starter. If you’re on the two-times side of that, Osera is your man, if you’re closer to the three-times side, then it’s Vieira.

WLSIPHRBBSOWHIPERA
Vieira0091205130.580.00
Osera4003436190.941.59

As usual, the league’s explanation added things that had nothing to do with his actual performance during the period in question. “From May 3 to Aug. 31, he was not charged with a run for 31 consecutive games, matching the record for import pitchers set by former Hawk Brian Falkenborg.”

In the context of the award, Vieira’s record has nothing to do with anything, but it does give the selectors an excuse not to select two players from a last-place team.

Suzuki’s mentioned his leading the league in the triple crown stats “a performance worthy of being a cleanup hitter” (irrelevant). Among the fluff, they did mention that the Carp went 14-12 with one tie in July and August, the only time they’ve been over .500 in a “month” this year.

The best one for Suzuki was “he showed no signs of fatigue from the Tokyo Olympics.” I’m sure Suzuki was stressed out during the Olympics, and his August performance has to be a relief considering he didn’t hit a lick for Japan.

Pacific League

Fujiwara definitely qualified as best in the league. His NPB blurb cites his playing in all of his team’s games while leading the league in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, stolen bases, and slugging percentage while being second in home runs, batting average, and on-base percentage.

He’s 21-years-old and his numbers make him an excellent comp for the guy who got his 2,000th career hit over the weekend, Seibu outfielder Takumi Kuriyama.

PARHRRBIBBOutsAvg.OBPSlug
Fujiwara108185151360.348.439.630
Yanagita103175151557.337.437.570

Yamamoto’s second straight selection cites his 4-0 record, league-leading ERA, and second-best strikeout total, with details of his four wins, and comments that he was instrumental in Orix being in first place with the additional fluff of his current win streak running back to interleague play…

WLHIPHRBBSOWHIPERA
Yamamoto4003214320.690.84
C. Sasaki307112361.001.64

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Conflict Avoidance

One has to wonder if umpires have just decided to stop enforcing Japan’s home plate collision rule, which clarifies existing obstruction rules, and prohibits fielders from being in the basepath even with the ball in hand where a runner is trying to score.

On Tuesday, Tatsuhiro Tamura was blocking home plate with his foot and did so without the ball in hand, which is pretty clearly obstruction.

Lotte catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura blocks off the third-base corner of home plate in the third inning on Tuesday.

There is no reason Tamura couldn’t have left a lane to home plate open and made the tag the way fielders at every other base. He had time, and this may have been the reason for the dumb-ass decision–that Tamura didn’t need to obstruct the runner in order to make the tag.

The play was reviewed on video at the request of Orix skipper Satoshi Nakajima, a former catcher, and crew chief Tetsuya Shimada ruled there was no violation of the collision rule. What’s needed in such a case, to be fair, is the reason why the umps believe there was no infraction, because if they see it, they presumably have a better reason than, “we don’t agree with the rule.”

Do they think the runner has a direct path to the base? Did catching the ball require his foot to be blocking off the plate? I’d love to hear what they have to say about it.

Tatsuhiro Tamura gets the ball, while according to the umpires leaves a lane open for the runner to touch the base.

By doing this, the umpires are reducing the burden on catchers to make tags, which is why the collision rules were needed in the first place.

Ten years ago, umpires allowed catchers to forgo tags. Catchers were allowed to cover the base, catch the ball before or after the runner slid into his shin guard — or lowered a shoulder — and as long as the catcher held on to the ball, no tag was necessary.

I suspect the only way to get the umpires to actually rule that a catcher is blocking the plate is for a runner to throw an elbow in an effort to touch the base. Until that happens, the umps appear happy just to ignore what’s in front of their faces.

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