Monday musings: Dave’s return

No, Dave Okubo is not back with the Rakuten Eagles, but we wouldn’t know it from the number of outs they’ve made on the bases through their first nine games.

When Hiromoto Okubo managed the Eagles in 2015, the Auduban Society had to disassociate itself from Rakuten because of the number of Eagles who were being slaughtered on Japan’s base paths that season. It’s been four years, but the reckless version of the Eagles have returned with a vengeance.

The Eagles’ offense has actually functioned so far this year. They finished the season’s second weekend with 45 runs, tied with the SoftBank Hawks for second behind the Seibu Lions for both the Pacific League and NPB lead. They’ve 121 runners, excluding home runs, which is second in NPB behind the Lions. The problem is 18 of those have been lost on the bases — which doesn’t count the eight removed on ground ball double plays (tied for second most in NPB

Pct of runners’ outs on bases (through 4/7)

TeamBase running outsTotal BRPct
Eagles18121.140
Buffaloes996.093
Hawks9109.064
Marines790.056
Giants6112.054
Tigers594.053
Lions7124.048
Fighters5106.047
Carp391.033
Swallows391.033
Dragons5102.029
BayStars198.010

The Eagles’ outs break down as follows: runners out on bases: 9, caught stealing 7, picked off 2.

No sacrifice is too great

Despite the fact that Pacific League pitchers only bat in nine games a season — when on the road during interleague play against Central League opponents, PL teams typically sacrifice more often. In the past eight seasons since a uniform ball was employed in 2011, the PL has sacrificed more often than the CL.

This year, however, it seems to be the CL’s turn for the ultimate sacrifices again. Last year, the CL also led by sacrificing 2.2 percent of the times a runner was on first base, while the PL was getting the bunt down 2 percent of the time.

Two things appear to be driving the change: 1) an influx of new managers who bunt less, Seibu’s Hatsuhiko Tsuji, Rakuten’s Yosuke Hiraishi and Lotte’s Tadahito Iguchi, and 2) a change of heart in Sapporo. The Nippon Ham Fighters, once one of NPB’s most bunt-happy teams under former university teacher Hideki Kuriyama, have begun to shy away from the sacrifice.

One wonders whether there is any connection between having a general manager who is familiar with sabermetrics in Hiroshi Yoshimura and the Fighters’ more astute look. The Fighters definitely employed an extreme infield shift last week against the Rakuten Eagles, and are also dabbling with the use of an opener.

This spring so far, five of the six PL clubs are among the six least-frequent sacrificing teams. The PL’s Orix Buffaloes, run by old-school skipper Norifumi Nishimura rank sixth, and have been the PL club most likely to bunt.

And while you’re looking at the table, spare some time for a round of applause for Iguchi and the Marines.

Team sacrifice attempt pct (through 4/7)

TeamSHFailed SHRunners on 1BAttempt pct
Dragons10278.154
Tigers7375.133
BayStars9179.127
Giants7395.105
Carp6277.104
Buffaloes3282.061
Swallows3171.056
Hawks5090.056
Eagles50100.050
Fighters4085.047
Lions1098.010
Marines0077.000

Speaking of the Marines

Not only has Iguchi’s team not attempted a sacrifice this season, but when you look at how the 2018 season ended, we may be seeing something of a pattern. Having spent much of my life watching Japanese baseball, I thought nine games might be a record of some sort, but it’s not.

Although Iguchi’s team sacrificed once in its season finale, the Mariners did not record a sacrifice hit in any of the preceding 15 games. That gives them a 25-game stretch with one sacrifice.

He told me before the season that his coach’s were not going to go overboard on instructing the unique talents out of the young players but didn’t say anything about sacrifices. He didn’t have a streak anything like that — or like this year’s — during the rest of the 2018 season.

That 15-game streak is pretty remarkable, although Tsuji’s Lions had three nine-game streaks last season, and the Eagles had a 13-game streak.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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