The big news in Japan on Friday was not really about Japan but about Shohei Ohtani, whose accidental success is the stuff of legend. Ohtani is a player with tremendous talent, who is being celebrated by a system as a success story, despite the fact that he became a success because he slipped through the cracks of that same system that would have defined him as something smaller.
The AL MVP award was of course Ohtani’s second as a major leaguer, the other coming when he got all but one first-place vote in 2016.
Also on Friday, we had the Japan Series managers meeting. This is where ostensibly the managers settle questions about ground rules and decide whether or not they will announce their starting pitchers or even adopt the DH in the home park of the non-DH Central League team.
This time, Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu channeled his inner Katsuya Nomura and announced that his time would not reveal its starting pitchers. Orix Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima, however, opted to name Yoshinobu Yamamoto as his Game 1 starter.
One would think the owners could get together and actually decide on the best way to market NPB’s highest-value asset, instead of leaving it in the hands of whoever happens to be managing that year.
But that’s the way NPB rolls. Teams, not the leagues, and not NPB are supposed to be the drivers of the bus. That has to be the case since the most influential team in either league, the Yomiuri Giants, would be as eager to have other owners influence how they run their Japan Series as GOP politicians in the U.S. would be to have true majority rule.
Sure, NPB approves the broadcasters for each game, but these rights are assigned by the teams and rubber-stamped by NPB. There is no marketing plan. During any given series, up to four different broadcast crews and approaches might be applied, giving each game a vastly different look and feel.
But because each broadcaster is tied to the teams and not to a big deal with NPB, each has little incentive to invest in a superior product for just a game or two.
Instead, because NPB has to bow to the teams’ wishes, the managers could ostensibly decide to scrap certain rules or add others at their discretion. “No run is allowed to count unless the runner does the Hokey Pokey after touching the plate?” why not?
As far as the starting pitchers go, the best reason for not announcing yours is to take advantage of a team that platoons a lot. Neither of these teams platoon much, so that’s not a thing.
The Swallows pitching staff generally follows a PL-style approach, throw strikes, get ahead in counts, and don’t give away walks. The Buffaloes are used to that, but the Swallows pitching staff is really a diverse bunch and not knowing who’s coming might be a minute advantage.
Yakult has power lefty (Keiji Takahashi), precise crafty lefty (Masanori Ishikawa), young hard-throwing right-hander Yasunobu Okugawa, crafty finesse right-hander Yasuhiro Ogawa, and with Cy Sneed in the States and Albert Suarez in the bullpen, I guess strike-throwing right-hander Hirotoshi Takanashi or Juri Hara if he’s back from his playoff injury.
The Buffaloes are solid one-to-three, with Yamamoto and lefties Daiki Tajima and Hiroya Miyagi. The addition of Taisuke Yamaoka presents an interesting possibility and rookie Soichiro Yamazaki, whom the Swallows haven’t seen is also a fun wild card.
Yakult will likely choose the DH to upgrade its defense rather than add an extra bat, with Domingo Santana moving to DH and sparkplug Kotaro Yamasaki playing right. But they could also go with offense by keeping Santana in right and using Shingo Kawabata and Seiichi Uchikawa as the DH. We’ll see.