Nippon Ham Fighters

The Nippon Ham Fighters found a new life in Sapporo, where they moved in 2004 to take up residence at Sapporo Dome after decades of being co-tenants with the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium and later Tokyo Dome.

The move, which corresponded with a front-office restructuring and the hiring of American Trey Hillman the year before, made the team as competitive as it had ever been. The club became the first in NPB to give the general manager the final say in player personnel decisions and team training and conditioning policies.

To some degrees, all Japanese teams are meritocracies, but the Fighters have established a reputation for casting Japan’s widest net in search of front-office and coaching talent. The man who engineered the move to Hokkaido and became the club’s top executive, Toshi Shimada, started out as an interpreter with the club. The current general manager, Hiroshi Yoshimura, is a former baseball reporter, and the organization has employed high school coaches to fill scouting and coaching vacancies.

In 16 seasons up north, the club has finished fourth or worse just five times, and has not had consecutive “B-class” seasons. Although Sapporo Dome is not a good place to watch baseball, the team is building its own roofed facility in the neighboring city of Kita Hiroshima that is due to open in 2023.

  • Manager: Hideki Kuriyama
  • 2019 Finish: 5th, 13 games out of 1st place

Manager’s record:

YearTeamGWLTPctFinish
2012Fighters144745911.5561
2013Fighters14464782.4506
2014Fighters14473683.5173
2015Fighters14379622.5602
2016Fighters14387533.6211
2017Fighters14360830.4195
2018Fighters14374663.5283
2019Fighters14365735.4714
Total1,14757654229.515
Prev. 3 yrs43222819212.5431,4,2

Kuriyama reportedly offered to resign at the end of his second fifth-place finish in three years, but management asked him to stick around, and he has. A journeyman outfielder, he was working as a TV analyst and university lecturer and had no managing experience when the Fighters picked him to take over for Masataka Nashida in 2012.

Once an extreme small-ball manager, whose teams led the PL in stolen bases from 2013 to 2016 and often led the league in sacrifices, Kuriyama changed gears in 2018, bunting half as often and drastically cutting down on stolen base attempts.

He and DeNA’s Alex Ramirez are the two managers most likely to adopt policies and tactics that fly in the face of convention. It may be no surprise that both clubs have large analytic sections. Last year, the Fighters became the first recent NPB team to try shifts against extreme pull hitters, who are rare in Japan, and also the first to modify its starting rotation, using openers and starters only expected to go through the opposing lineup once or twice.

The 2019 season, however, was an injury plague. No. 2 starter Naoyuki Uwasawa’s season ended in June, while Nick Martinez, who went 10-11 in his 2018 debut year had a season-ending injury to his forearm prior to Opening Day. Taiwan outfielder Wang Po-jung failed to make an impact, and while there were pleasant surprises from 24-year-old second baseman Ryo Watanabe, and side-arm closer Ryo Akiyoshi–picked up for a song from the Swallows, too many established regulars had somewhat disappointing seasons at the plate.

Key players

  • Haruki Nishikawa CF
  • Taishi Ota RF
  • Kensuke Kondo LF, 3B, RF
  • Ryo Watanabe 2B
  • Sho Nakata 1B
  • Takuya Nakashima SS
  • Wang Po-jung LF
  • Yushi Shimizu C
  • Kotaro Kiyomiya 1B, LF

Strengths and weaknesses

With the departure of Brandon Laird to Lotte and the failure of Wang to adjust smoothly in his first NPB season, the Fighters’ home run ranking, once respectable despite playing so many games at the cavernous Sapporo Dome, fell to worst in the league.

Team Offensive rankings

  • Best in the league: triples
  • Next to best in the league: BABiP, Avg
  • Next to worst in the league: runs, SB pct, GDP, Slug, Iso Power
  • Worst in the league: home runs, stolen bases

The Fighters’ raw pitching-and-defense numbers always get a huge boost from Sapporo Dome, but despite the troubles faced by the starting rotation. The good thing is that the Fighters defense rebounded from a poor 2018 to lead the league in turning batted balls into outs. The biggest defensive issue for this club over recent years has been turning double plays.

Rankings against opponents’ offense

  • Best in the league: home runs, walks, BABiP, OBP allowed
  • 2nd best in the league: Avg, Slug allowed
  • Next to worst in the league: triples allowed, pitchers’ strikeouts
  • Worst in the league: GDP (5th time in 6 seasons Nippon Ham’s defensive GDP total has been worst or next to worst in the PL)

Other rankings

  • Next to best in the league: Holds (138),
  • Worst in the league: quality starts, complete games. Every other team had around 60 quality starts. But between Kuriyama’s openers and short starters, Nippon Ham had no dog in that fight.
  • And… led the league in relievers used with an NPB-record 541. Kuriyama tied for fewest sacrifice hits with Seibu, and issued the third-most intentional walks, 19.

Roster

Notes: Names in all caps are imported players; names with asterisks still qualify as rookies, hyperlinks are to the player’s English language page.

PosNameNo.Prev years 
PYuki Saito19
PTsubasa Nabatame*131
PTakayuki Kato144
PNaoyuki Uwasawa158
PKohei Arihara165
PHiroshi Urano176
PKosei Yoshida*181
PChihiro Kaneko1915
PKenta Uehara204
PNaoki Miyanishi2512
PNICK MARTINEZ272
PRyusei Kawano*280
PKazutomo Iguchi294
PToru Murata316
PKazuaki Tateno*330
PMizuki Hori343
PTakahiro Nishimura352
PDREW VERHAGEN360
PRen Kakigi*371
PRyo Akiyoshi396
PSuguru Fukuda*401
PBRYAN RODRIGUEZ412
PEito Tanaka*462
PKenya Suzuki*470
PKatsuhiko Kumon497
PRyotaro Suzuki*502
PNaoya Ishikawa515
PKohei Miyadai*522
PTaisho Tamai543
PMitsuo Yoshikawa5614
PToshihiro Sugiura577
PYuki Yoshida594
PDaiki Mochizuki*620
PRyuji Kitaura*632
PRyota Hasegawa*1130
PYuki Takayama*1483
CYushi Shimizu105
CShinya Tsuruoka2217
CShingo Usami305
CToshiki Kurobane4215
CTakuya Kori*603
CYua Tamiya*641
CYuki Umebayashi*650
CRyo Ishikawa686
IFKenshi Sugiya211
IFSho Nakata612
IFTakuya Nakashima911
IFKotaro Kiyomiya212
IFRyo Watanabe236
IFYuki Nomura*241
IFRyota Yachi327
IFKazunari Ishii383
IFCHRISTIAN VILLANUEVA441
IFShota Hiranuma454
IFKyohei Ueno*480
IFYuhei Namba*552
IFToshitake Yokoo584
IFJunnosuke Imai*703
IFRyunosuke Higuchi*1120
IFYuto Takahama1625
OFWANG PO-JUNG31
OFYuya Taniguchi49
OFTaishi Ota511
OFHaruki Nishikawa79
OFKensuke Kondo88
OFGo Matsumoto128
OFDaiki Asama265
OFAkihiro Hakumura436
OFYuya Himeno*614
OFChusei Mannami*661
OFShoto Kataoka*670
OFHokuto Miyata*1110
OFKazuyoshi Ebihara*1440

2019 team data

Batters

NameBatsGPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOAvgOBPSlugwOBA
Haruki NishikawaL1426515488815826654119593111.288.393.385.352
Kensuke KondoL138600490741483252591410381.302.422.400.371
Taishi Ota1325945577916128120776227111.289.325.451.336
Ryo WatanabeR1325434816012616511580248120.262.333.385.318
Sho NakataR124514450551092102480005583.242.329.449.337
WANG PO-JUNGL883403061878130335102565.255.321.327.294
Takuya NakashimaL1203282913964510161252270.220.278.244.243
Kotaro KiyomiyaL812782502651111733012175.204.270.340.271
Yushi ShimizuR98246216175680524011951.259.321.366.308
Kazunari IshiiL762261962644103422231661.224.282.367.284
Toshitake YokooR78191170732100313001534.188.268.300.255
Shota Hiranuma*L73184165203992116211026.236.291.333.278
Kensuke TanakaL89170153153962116001417.255.315.340.290
Kenshi SugiyaB83157134152841412511336.209.291.343.281
Shingo UsamiL4510396419300900619.198.245.229.221
Ryo IshikawaR468675315300300229.200.221.240.209
Shinya TsuruokaR356962411201400313.177.215.258.214
Yuya TaniguchiL3050484112021000212.229.260.396.286
Daiki AsamaL1333294621010015.207.233.345.243
Ryota YachiR2426251200010008.080.115.080.096
Junnosuke Imai*L2770100010002.143.143.143.129
Kohei AriharaR24420000000001.000.0000000.000
Takuya Kori*R2440100000002.250.250.250.225
Chusei Mannami*R2440000000002.000.0000000.000
Chihiro KanekoL26330000000003.000.0000000.000
Kenta UeharaL13330000000003.000.0000000.000
Toshiki KurobaneR4321000010011.000.3330000.233
Go MatsumotoR4330100000000.333.333.333.300
Akihiro HakumuraL1330000000003.000.0000000.000
Naoyuki UwasawaR11220000000000.000.0000000.000
Takayuki KatoL26110000000000.000.0000000.000
Kosei Yoshida*R4110000000000.000.0000000.000
Kazunari SanematsuR5110000000000.000.0000000.000

Pitchers

NameThrGCGSOWLSHW PctIPHHRBBKRERERA
Kohei AriharaR241115800.652164 1/3111144016149452.46
Chihiro KanekoR26008702.533109 2/310610407542373.04
Takayuki KatoL26005701.417928511237039363.52
BRYAN RODRIGUEZR34006718.46291 1/3897275536333.25
Naoyuki UwasawaR11005300.62571 1/3695276434253.15
Toshihiro SugiuraR14004400.50065527135030273.74
Taisho TamaiR650023011.40062521223422182.61
Mizuki HoriL53004415.50060 1/3619186137355.22
Naoya IshikawaR600032521.60054 1/3396167520203.31
Katsuhiko KumonL6100201171.000.00052 1/3415183124233.96
Ryo AkiyoshiR530005257.00051 2/3386194819172.96
Naoki MiyanishiL550012043.33347 1/33216511391.71
Kenta UeharaL13001300.25045 1/353793031285.56
Takahiro Nishimura*R350010031.000.00044 2/3406205522193.83
Hiroshi UranoR25003107.75034 1/3371173420194.98
Toru MurataR13000202.0003432452315123.18
Kazutomo IguchiR320010171.000.00032283719992.53
JOHNNY BARBATOR15002201.50032355212223205.63
Yuki SaitoR11000200.0002119181212114.71
Yuki Yoshida*R9000000.00021276111714146.00
Ryuji Kitaura*L6001100.50017 1/32116611115.71
Yohei KagiyaR18000001.00016 2/3160121611115.94
Kosei Yoshida*R4001300.25011183713151512.27
Mitsuo YoshikawaL4000300.00010 2/311278886.75
Tsubasa Nabatame*R4000100.0008102421077.88
JUSTIN HANCOCKR8000122.00078158779.00
Takahiro FujiokaL2000000.000340525515.00
Masaru NakamuraR1000100.000231406627.00
Eito Tanaka*R1000100.00022011229.00
Ryotaro Suzuki*R1000000.00022013000.00

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