August players of the month

Yuki Yanagita of the SoftBank Hawks is sure to be named the PL’s player of the month — although “batting average leader of the month” would be a better title since the folks that pick them don’t seem to care whether a candidate has any defensive value or does anything besides hit for average. Since layers who lead their league in batting in a month, while hitting .400, are generally a lock for the award, this month’s CL selection should be interesting.

There are two good candidates. Soichiro Tateoka, who hit an even .400 for the Yomiuri Giants, and Tetsuto Yamada, who led the league in a few categories (runs, home runs, total bases, RBIs, stolen bases, slugging average and OPS, while batting a measly .310 for the Yakult Swallows.

For pitchers of the month, it will be a surprise if anyone but Chunichi Dragons rookie Shunta Wakamatsu (4-1, 2.12 ERA) wins, although it could go to Miles Mikolas of the Giants (3-0, 0.75 ERA in three starts) to make up for not being selected in July after winning the June award.

There are four good candidates for the PL pitcher of the month award, three starters, and one reliever. Hawks ace Tadashi Settsu, Orix Buffaloes’ youngster Daiki Tomei and Nippon Ham lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa each went 3-0 — which is pretty much the minimum standard for a starter. Tomei had the best ERA, 1.55, while Settsu won all three of his starts and had a complete game while striking out 23 batters in 22 innings. The reliever is Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate, who pitched in 11 games, won one, saved eight, and had two holds. Sarfate struck out 19 batters in 11-2/3 innings.

Dave Okubo’s disappearing runner trick

Rakuten skipper Dave Okubo’s aggressive base running has led to some head scratching in Sendai.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, host John E. Gibson interviewed Julio Franco, the player-manager of the Ishikawa Million Stars in Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge League. One topic they discussed was being aggressive on the bases. Japanese teams tend toward playing station-to-station ball,  but Hiromoto “Dave” Okubo, the new manager of the Rakuten Eagles, likes players to take more risks on the bases.

John and I both appreciate the idea behind taking everything you can get on the bases, but the Eagles’ reckless abandon has come at a cost, something John has begun to comment on.

Through Sunday, Aug. 24, the Eagles have been caught stealing an NPB-high 54 times, a huge factor in the team’s losing the highest percentage of runners on base this season (not counting runners out on ground ball double plays): 6.7 percent. That, and the club’s lack of power — their 67 home runs are last in the Pacific League and 11th fewest in NPB, while they are last in Japan in doubles and triples — contribute to the Eagles scoring just a Japan-low 22.9 percent of their runners on base. The Eagles have the third lowest de facto on-base percentage (the percentage of runners who reach safely by any means): .318.

So the Eagles have the fewest runners on base in the first place, they lose more of those guys running the bases, and their 84 sacrifice hits are third in the PL, so they should be staying out of double plays. But the Eagles’ 73 GDPs are third in NPB, behind the Hawks and Swallows, the league leaaders in OBP.

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writing & research on Japanese baseball