I hope some of you got to listen to this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, when we raised some of the topics from last week’s post about someone in the DeNA BayStars organization blaming former manager Alex Ramirez for this year’s lousy start.
Through Sunday, the BayStars under new manager Daisuke Miura are 4-19 with four ties. Without the big imported bats of Neftali Soto and Tyler Austin, the BayStars have struggled to score despite terrific contributions from a number of youngsters. They now have scored 73 runs, next worst to the Chunichi Dragons’ 67, while allowing an NPB-worst 135.
Why blame Ramirez?
Twenty-seven games are a little less than a fifth of the season, and there’s no doubt that the BayStars are a much better team than their record appears. The problem is that it’s a bad look, but the team backed itself into a corner last year by claiming that its successful run under Alex Ramirez ended in failure, and therefore Miura couldn’t fail to do better.
The propaganda line was that the BayStars were a championship-caliber outfit being handicapped by Ramirez’s inferior management. These arguments shifted over time from when they started in July 2020 to when he stepped down in November, but here’s a brief list.
- Bats pitchers eighth
- Bats an unqualified hitter (Keita Sano) fourth — Sano ended up having a tremendous season, so people shut up about this one.
- Built a good offense that didn’t score as many runs as expected.
- Did poorly in close games
- Destroyed team morale by basing lineup decisions on players’ previous performance in specific ballparks.
- Does not bunt or steal bases — this comment was always pegged to farm manager Miura, whose squad led the Eastern League in sacrifices and steals.
Lessons from the past
Some may remember that this was the same excuse given for sacking Bobby Valentine in 1995 — that his mismanagement cost the longtime Pacific League doormats the pennant that year in his first season.
This argument is perhaps occasionally valid, but more often than not it is just lazy. The BayStars, a former executive has told me, are under a huge amount of pressure from their owner to succeed, and that admitting the reality of the team’s decent but not over-powering talent base has not been an option.
The BayStars are not yet a championship-caliber team, just as the Marines weren’t in 1995. Pretending that they are doesn’t change the fact. And if your argument is, like Lotte GM Tatsuro Hirooka’s was in 1995, that an average manager would win the pennant, well then the new guy will be the answer. Hirooka, of course, was fired the following year, largely for convincing the owner to fire Valentine.
Ramirez was fairly good at giving opportunities to young players and was as hyper-prepared for games as any manager since Katsuya Nomura.
As a player, Ramirez was extremely adept at reading situations in order to make the most efficient contact with his bat. He understood the catcher-batter-pitcher dynamic as well as any player of his generation. The focus on optimal contact, I believe, was a hard one to get over.
I’ve argued that his batting the pitcher eighth was a solid longterm option both from a mathematical perspective and the fact that his teams produced better batting the pitcher there in 2017 and 2018. Fumihiko Sato, in Delta Graphs’ Delta Baseball Report Vol. 4, went through those games and the ones from 2020, counted the runs. Sato found that each turn through the BayStars lineup with the pitcher batting eighth produced 0.1 runs more than with the pitcher batting ninth.
Relative to the previous five seasons, Ramirez took over a .414 team and played .499 ball. That’s the second-best turnaround in franchise history after Hall of Fame manager Osamu Mihara, who turned a .356 club into a .485 outfit and won a Japan Series to boot.
Daisuke Miura may be a step forward. It’s too early to say. The biggest handicap he may face is the organization’s conviction that the team is a pennant winner now, and the burden of being the one to turn around a team after a failure, who was in fact a success.