Cleanup man bats 2nd, world survives

The world did not end on Monday, although considering the urgency two different broadcasts placed on Japan cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsustugo batting second for the first time in his life, it seemed some kind of cataclysm was in the making.

As many of you probably know, the No. 2 hitter is the Area 51 of Japanese batting orders. It’s the weird-shit-goes-on-there-but-don’t-ask-questions spot. From box score data I have access to, the No. 2 spot has been the seventh weakest spot in both teams’ lineup based on aggregate OPS.

This is a development, I believe, from the canonization of the sacrifice bunt that took place between 1975 and 1990, that dictated that the No. 2 hitter’s job was primarily to make productive outs. The irony is that at the same time the bunt was being spoken of as the secret to winning, home runs were beginning to fly out of Japanese parks.

Here are the figures from 2003 to 2016 — my current era box scores go back to 2003.

NPB OPS by batting order

Min YearMax YearB orderOBPSlugOPS
2000201610.3390.3790.718
2000201620.3240.3540.678
2000201630.3620.4510.813
2000201640.3580.4840.842
2000201650.3390.4430.782
2000201660.3280.4110.739
2000201670.3190.3860.705
2000201680.3000.3340.634
2000201690.2330.250.483

And here are the past two seasons below. As you can see, the No. 2 spot has kind of undergone an upgrade recently.

OPS by batting order 2017-2018

Min YearMax YearB orderOBPSlugOPS
2017201810.3430.4030.746
2017201820.3230.3740.697
2017201830.3770.4830.860
2017201840.3730.5100.883
2017201850.3360.4290.765
2017201860.3250.4210.746
2017201870.3120.3640.676
2017201880.2950.3340.629
2017201890.2380.2480.486

Nomura gets sick over this revolting development

Despite these changes, the two broadcast crews were pretty taken back. Here’s a snippet translated from the TBS broadcast, with former BayStars pitcher Hiroki Nomura doing the color commentary:

Nomura: He can say he’s going to keep the same approach, but the question is how he’s going to feel when there’s no outs and a runner on first…

<Carp No. 2 hitter Ryosuke Kikuchi comes to the plate with the leadoff man on first, doubles down the left field line to set up a four-run inning.>

Nomura: It would be hard to avoid that urge (to play small ball).

<Tsutsugo bats in the 5th inning.>
Announcer: I’m not used to saying, ‘Batting 2nd, Tsutsugo.’
Nomura: Frankly, it makes me feel queazy.

And here are some takes from another broadcast with former Carp ace Kazuhisa Kawaguchi providing the somewhat more enlightened commentary.

It’s all about the batting order

Analyst: Kazuhisa Kawaguchi
Announcer: Kei Fukuzawa

F: No. 2 Tsutsugo. Manager Ramirez said I want a high on-base percentage guy batting second. He has not hit well with runners in scoring position but he does get on base. So he wants him to get on base.
F: So in the first appearance as No. 2 in his life, Tsutsugo flies out to right.
K: Yes. He got him to hit his pitch.

<Neftali Soto steps in.>

<Ball 1 to Soto>

K: He (Tsutsugo) gets on base a lot as a No. 4 hitter, so for me what I’d like him to see is keep that same approach unchanged.
K: If he can’t do that, his results will get worse.
F: If you look at his last 5 seasons…
<Soto fouls off 2-0 pitch>
…he has basically batted 3rd or 4th.
K: No. 3 was not that long either…
F: Of course, one aspect of this may be motivation for the individual from manager Ramirez’s standpoint.
<Soto flies out to short>
F: No. 3 Soto flies out. Three outs, inning over.

<New inning and the camera focuses on Tsutsugo walking to left field.>

<Strike 1 to Carp batter Kosuke Tanaka>

F: The Carp are in an 11-game losing streak, and now we’re back from the all-star break as we begin the second half of the season.

<Strike 1 to Tanaka>

F: Tsutsugo, batting 2nd for the 1st time in his life, flew out, and the BayStars failed to score in the first inning.

<Ball 1 to Tanaka, 1-1>

F: The Carp are now batting in the second…

I’m glad to say that as runs were scored, and there was a game to talk about both broadcast crews kind of got over the whole thing.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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