Roki Sasaki

NPB news: Nov. 8, 2022

We’re a day away from the first of Samurai Japan’s two international friendlies against Australia, and though is not close to the team Hideki Kuriyama will eventually compete with in March, it does have Munetaka Murakami and Roki Sasaki, who is going to start Thursday’s game at Sapporo Dome.

NPB has also announced the details of the active player draft, while the Nippon Ham Fighters’ new park has an issue, and the award for the person making the greatest contribution to pro baseball was awarded to a Japan Series-winning manager for the 20th time in 22 years, although the player that people spent the whole season talking about and lifted the game to new heights, did get an honorable mention.

Sasaki meets the dome

During the season, Sasaki had some difficulty adapting to the league’s harder mounds in Sendai and Osaka, and Sapporo Dome is reputed to have one of those MLB-style mounds as well. He’ll also be using the slicker WBC ball. We used to call it an MLB-style ball, but MLB surreptitiously changes its balls so often, it’s tough to guess what an MLB ball is like anymore.

Sasaki said he intends to go mainly with his fastball and forkball and see how that works out.

DeNA’s Shota Imanaga, who threw a no-hitter the last time he pitched at Sapporo Dome, will start Game 1.

Murakami, who homered three times in two weekend games at Tokyo Dome against the Fighters and the Giants, who tasked a couple of third-tier pitchers to preserve a two-run lead, only to serve up home runs to Murakami and his Swallows teammate Tetsuto Yamada.

The active player draft

The draft has been compared to MLB’s Rule 5 draft, because some players who are not high in their teams’ plans will be able to go to a different club, but that is about where the similarities end. Each team will be required to offer up two players, and take one, but other than that, the process is fiendishly difficult to understand.

About the only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that the team which puts the most players into the draft pool, will get first pick of whose available.

It will be held in private on Dec. 9.

Es Con Field’s seats are too close for NPB

NPB’s executive committee on Tuesday took up the issue of Nippon Ham’s new stadium not meeting its standard of having 60 feet of foul territory behind home plate. The wall in front of the first row of seats at Es Con Field Hokkaido, declared 95 percent complete a week ago, is just 50 feet from the base.

Nakajima wins Shoriki Award

As I’ve written a number of times elsewhere, the Matsutaro Shoriki Award for the greatest contribution to pro baseball, used to go to players or managers from the time it was created to honor Sadaharu Oh for surpassing Hank Aaron’s career home run total in 1977. Sometimes managers won, sometimes players won, sometimes players on also-ran teams won.

That all changed dramatically in 2021, when Oh’s single-season home run record, that had stood alone since 1964, was tied by a player who led his team to the Pacific League pennant. In any other year, he would have been an obvious choice, but I’m guessing that being a black American was too much for the award committee to handle, so Tuffy Rhodes was passed over in favor of the Japan Series-winning manager, Tsutomu Wakamatsu.

And that became more or less the standard. Win the Japan Series, get a prize. There have since been four exceptions, once when a player shared the award with the manager, Shinnosuke Abe in 2012, once when the losing Japan Series manager, Senichi Hoshino, shared it with the winner, Oh, in 2003, once when Oh won as WBC champion, leaving Japan Series winner Trey Hillman without the prize, and 2017, when Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo was passed over for a third award in favor of reliever Dennis Sarfate.

Kudo, of course, would win three more Japan Series, and thus three more Shoriki’s to go with the one he got as a player and the one from his 2015 Series title.

According to reports, the committee on Tuesday was divided about whether to give it to Murakami, whom everyone was talking about all season and who packed people into the ballpark, or Nakajima, and in the end, they decided to go with the manager, but gave Murakami a special award, the same prize.

The special prized first went to Ichiro Suzuki in 2004 for setting an MLB hit record, and then to Masahiro Tanaka, the player everyone talked about in 2013 when they weren’t talking about Wladimir Balentien, but who didn’t win the big prize because his manager, Hoshino, did.

Last year, they handed out two, to Olympic manager Atsunori Inaba and to Shohei Ohtani for winning AL MVP, so it seems like the runner-up prize is becoming a thing, as long as the managers get their due.

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