Tag Archives: Boston Red Sox

Talking ’bout practice

Japan’s 10 February preseason games scheduled to be played in Okinawa Prefecture to closed practice games, Nippon Professional Baseball’s secretary general Atsushi Ihara said Monday according to Sponichi Annex.

Japan is currently under a state of emergency until at least March 7, although Okinawa intends to lift its emergency status after Feb. 28. Preseason games after that date are still expected to take place with crowds limited to 5,000, while Ihara said that since the government currently wants people to return home after 8 p.m., all preseason games held where there is a state of emergency will be played in the day.

GM Ishii playing catch-up

In Kin, Okinawa Prefecture, Masahiro Tanaka became the pitcher with the second-highest career win total to throw a bullpen at the Rakuten Eagles camp, when manager and general manager Kazuhisa Ishii threw 37 pitches, Sponichi Annex reported Monday.

The 47-year-old Ishii, whose 182 career wins in Japan and the majors are five more than the 32-year-old Tanaka has from his years with the Eagles and New York Yankees, wanted some practice before throwing live BP during the third phase of the Eagles training camp.

“I quit when I stopped wanting to play baseball, and I didn’t think I’d start again. By throwing (BP) I’ll be able to communicate with players from within the game itself,” said Ishii, who spent time that morning sprinting up a slope on the auxiliary field.

“I’ve been aging but I want to keep my body in good shape. The players are all well conditioned and I want to be able to keep up.”

Dragons count Viciedo among the healthy

Chunichi Dragons first baseman Dayan Viciedo, has bounced back from a dislocated left shoulder, according to those who count BP home runs in spring camp. At the Central League club’s minor league camp in Yomitan, Okinawa, four of Viciedo’s 45 swings launched balls over the outfield fence, Tokyo Sports reported.

Viciedo hurt the shoulder playing defense in an Oct. 28 game against the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium.

Fukudome also trying to keep up

Kosuke Fukudome, the oldest active player in NPB at the age of 43, is back with the Dragons this season for the first time since 2006, and is also trying to keep up with the kids.

In other news:

Seibu’s dome remake to include home run bar

New seating at Seibu Dome, which is getting a makeover ahead of the season with new turf, seats in the outfield that had been artificial turf and before the roof was constructed, grass. On Monday the club introduced the Meito Home Run Bar Panorama Terrace, 140 places in right field equipped with swivel-chair bar seating and the corporate sponsorship of the Meito chocolate company.

BayStars holding another clinic for women

The DeNA BayStars said Monday it will hold another clinic aimed at women players at its minor league indoor facility in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Feb. 20 with Eri “The knuckle princess” Yoshida and former pro player Yu Kato—among the three women instructors.

Word out of Boston…

… is that right-handed free-agent reliever Hirokazu Sawamura’s talks with the Boston Red Sox are progressing, according to Chris Cotillo.

Profile: Hirokazu Sawamura

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Common sense

Tomoyuki Sugano is returning to the Yomiuri Giants instead of signing a deal with a major league team through the posting system.

Before Sugano announced his decision to seek a major league contract, the 31-year-old Yomiuri Giants ace expressed concern about the risk of playing the 2021 season where the coronavirus pandemic was far worse and where pro baseball was far less secure than back home. Indeed, in a comment released by the team, Sugano cited the effects of the pandemic on his decision-making process.

“I concluded I would play for the Giants this season, too, after assessing the trends in the majors due to the novel coronavirus,”

Tomoyuki Sugano, in a statement translated by Kyodo News

But the coronavirus is no longer the only shadow clouding Japanese players’ dreams of going to the majors.

The economics of MLB used to mean a huge pay raise for top stars coming from Japan’s two leagues, where salaries never exceed $10 million a year–We don’t really know what Japan’s highest salaries are or were, since teams and players tell reporters whatever figures they like.

MLB used to be about maximizing revenues from marketing entertaining baseball games with a healthy dose of civic extortion to leverage good sweet ballpark deals. But return on investment is now the goal rather than building a marketable baseball product.

At first, four teams were reported to be in on Sugano, but the New York Mets opted out of the fray, and this week it appeared the Boston Red Sox could not meet Sugano’s price.

It is not the first time a front-line Japanese starting pitcher’s salary expectations have not been met by the marketplace. In the winter of 2010-2011, Hisashi Iwakuma, able then to negotiate with only the winner of his posting bid, failed to find a middle ground between a figure he would accept and the A’s valuation of him.

The A’s were trying to exploiting market inefficiencies, and didn’t have to compete with other teams, but the new efficiency has less to do with getting baseball value at the best price than cutting out everything that might be a temporary drag on the budget.

But now the push to drive down salaries is at full throttle, fueled by anti-competitive situation where the U.S.’s pro baseball monopoly is using its leverage to suppress its labor market.

MLB’s pampered billionaire owners are pleading poverty as they fire already-poverty stricken minor leaguers as well as scouts, coaches and operations staff who represent the bones, tendons, ligaments and nervous system of the pro baseball bodies.

This is not an isolated event, but rather a symptom of the current Make America Gilded Again movement.

So was electing a crass transaction-driven self-described mogul president meant abandoning America’s pandemic prevention regime, including research presences in likely hot spots, such as Wuhan, China because they represented only budgetary costs but added nothing to the profit line.

America is now becoming a modern parody of the late 19th century, where oligarchs ratchet up exploitation of poor labor, while suppressing civil rights.

Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capital building by domestic terrorists, who chant “Blue Lives (marginalizing minorities) Matter” overran law enforcement officers, who responded to the whitebread assault with the kind of restraint unseen when BLM activists were caught in the open a minute after curfew and beaten.

It was an echo of reconstruction era America, where domestic terrorism was accepted and its enablers welcomed in the capital with rarely as much as a wringing of hands.

This is America now, where a large swath of the population has embraced the belief that they are being discriminated against because their white privilege is being called into question by the majority of their countrymen.

This is the America where a TV personality can be elected president through voter suppression and is allowed to encourage racist behavior against others. It is the America where his true believers use his calling the coronavirus the “Chinese flu” as an excuse to harass Asians in public.

It is the America from where Masahiro Tanaka abandoned training in Florida after spring training was canceled. He has a family and was rightly concerned about their well being in a country where a spiteful angry minority has been empowered by a demagog.

Even if the president is removed from office, he is a symptom of an environment where clever people in media make a living peddling lies and conspiracy theories to the insecure and the gullible, and where a two-party system locks out independents and is beholden to oligarchs.

Wednesday’s insurrection has woken a few to the current dangers, but if I were Sugano and Tanaka, who is currently a free agent, I’d consider myself lucky to have a route back to Japan.

Tumbling Dice, K?

More than a year removed from his comeback player of the year season with the Chunichi Dragons, 39-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound at MetLife Dome, where 21 years earlier he got his pro start with the Seibu Lions.

Entering his sixth season in Japan since the SoftBank Hawks lured him away from MLB, Matsuzaka is a shadow of the pitcher who was called the “monster” when he turned pro out of Yokohama High School. His basic repertoire is now a fastball, a cutter, and a change — a forkball this year.

In 2018, Matsuzaka went 6-4 with a 3.74 ERA in Japan’s best pitcher’s park, Nagoya Dome, largely because he didn’t give up a lot of home runs and got more than his share of big outs after letting lots of runners on base.

Matsuzaka’s game is locating the fastball, getting hitters to miss-hit the cutter and sometimes swing and miss at the change. On Sunday, he also threw a decent slider and curve.

But 14 years and two days after he became a national hero for the second time in his baseball career by beating Cuba in San Diego to win the 2006 World Baseball Classic final and earn tournament MVP honors, Matsuzaka had no command to speak of.

He allowed four runs over five innings, and caught breaks when most of his mistakes were not hammered. He said recently he needs to work on the cutter, and he missed badly with most of the 24 I tracked. He couldn’t locate his fastball, or the change. The slider and curve were his best pitches.

The Lions, who in 2018 became the second league champion in NPB history to have the league’s worst ERA, repeated the feat a year ago.

Matsuzaka knows what he’s doing, and knows when to challenge hitters in the zone, but if he’s constantly behind in counts and can’t throw strikes, he might be too much of a burden even for the Lions’ powerful offense to carry.

Here’s a link to the Pacific League TV game highlights.

Scout Diary: Jan. 31, 2020 – Pacific League’s best outfield tools

The search for the best outfield defensive tools on the planet brings us to Japan’s Pacific League and the top three in the 2019 voting for the three outfield Golden Gloves. I thought it would be easier to select a PL winner than in the CL, but I was wrong.

  • Shogo Akiyama, Lions 秋山 翔吾
  • Takashi Ogino, Marines 荻野 貴司
  • Haruki NIshikawa, Fighters 西川 遥輝

Shogo Akiyama

Collection of Shogo Akiyama catches
Best PL throws from the outfield, starting with Akiyama at 1:07.

By default, Akiyama, whose metrics have been slipping year by year, is the PL winner of the tools challenge. Despite the ubiquity of PL TV, the league’s streaming service, I’m simply unable to find any video collections of Takashi Ogino or Haruki Nishikawa. Those who are interested more on Nishikawa can find my profile of him HERE, since he has expressed an interest in playing in the majors.

If you are interested in the new Cincinnati Reds outfielder, my profile of the former Lions captain is HERE.

Conclusion and admission

My outfield tools surveys of four leagues, the National, American, Central and Pacific, has produced four finalists:

  • Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
  • Jackie Bradley, Jr, Boston Red Sox
  • Seiya Suzuki, Hiroshima Carp
  • Shogo Akiyama, Seibu Lions

My choice for the best outfield tools in the world goes to Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox. If I had to pick No. 2 it would be Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rationale

I tried to evaluate every outfielder on the following criteria:

  • arm strength
  • accuracy
  • release
  • jumps
  • speed
  • judgment at the wall

I omitted “good hands” from consideration because all the candidates are exceptional at catching the ball. But having said that, Bradley is as good at that as anyone I’ve seen — and I grew up watching Willie Mays. I am hesitant to give out an 80 score, but let’s call it a 75.

Based on the video above, I’ve rated his arm strength is 75, his accuracy a 70. His footwork is as good as Kiermaier’s which is the best I’ve seen. But there’s a cherry on top, the grace and speed at which he transitions from catching to throwing is an 80. Again, he’s not AS good at scaling outfield walls as Lorenzo Cain, but nobody is. Having said that, Bradley is pretty darn close.

The other special thing about him is his jumps. He appears to be in motion before the batter swings. His raw speed gives him incredible range when he is right, and allows him to make up for guessing wrong.

An admission

I have less confidence in my Japanese choices in the outfield than I had in the infield, because while I’ve seen these guys a fair amount, I’ve been a writer, not a scout.

I’m trying to change that, of course, and my podcast colleague John E. Gibson could give a far more educated opinion about tools, because that has always been an after thought. Until now, my thinking has been, ‘Does he make the play or not? How often does he make plays? What are the context of the plays he made or didn’t make? Are they part of the story of this game or the story of that player or of Japanese baseball.

Gibson likes to talk about tools, but for the most part, they pretty much didn’t enter into my calculus. Which is kind of odd in a way, since the greater part of sports writing in Japan is obsessed with technical minutia about tools and skills. I preferred to write about how people grew and learned rather than why they decided to move their hands apart when the gripped the bat.

Anyway, I hope to remedy that indifference to specific skills going forward.

Scout Diary: Jan. 30, 2020 – American League’s best outfield tools

Who has the best outfield defensive tools in the world?

To find out, I’m looking at the leaders in award fielding honors in center field in four of the world’s top pro leagues. Today is a quick look at the three finalists for the American League’s 2019 Gold Glove in center field.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

  • Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
  • Mike Trout, Angels
  • Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox

First up is Keven Kiermaier. In addition to the good hands, great jumps, speed and strong arm, his throwing mechanics are incredibly fluid. His feet are extremely quick, so even though he is ready to release the ball very quickly, his feet are set, allowing him to make hard accurate throws. Although he is fearless at the wall, he lacks the grace there Lorenzo Cain possesses, which puts Kiermaier in the same group with every other outfielder in the world.

Kevin Kiermaier

Mike Trout has the physical strength to leap at the wall and athleticism to make diving and tumbling catches look effortless. He may be a little faster than Kiermaier, but is not as fluid with his throws as the Rays’ glove wizard.

Mike Trout

Jackie Bradley Jr., however, is my pick for No. 1 in the AL. He can cover ground with the best of them and has the speed to recover when his aggressive jumps send him the wrong way. While his throwing mechanics are not as quite as smooth as Kiermaier’s — nobody’s are, he has the strength and flexibility to make any catch at any angle.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Next we’ll start our look at Japan with the top three in the voting for the Central League’s 2019 Golden Glove.

Tuffy Rhodes: The beginning

On Tuesday, one of Japanese baseball’s all-time greats, Tuffy Rhodes, remained gathering dust in the middle of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame players division voting results, omitted by more than 70 percent of the voters.

I spoke with Rhodes a year ago after Craig Calcattera wrote about Rhodes’ Hall of Fame slog, and Craig’s story sparked a small amount of outrage among Japanese fans. I expected to catch up with him in Phoenix last March and then write the interview but we never connected. Tuffy’s not a hermit, but he moves at his pace.

Here’s the first part of our interview — about how he got to Japan and what changed him. In 13 Japanese seasons, Rhodes’ 464 home runs are 13th most all time. He is 20th in career walks, 24th in runs.

“I’m the true definition of retired. I’m enjoying life,” he said, adding that the Hall of Fame debate doesn’t concern him.

“I try not to worry about things like that, that I don’t have control over. I would love to be in the Hall of Fame there. It would be a great honor. But you know, there are only two or three things in my life that outweigh the joy, the great time and the learning experience and the people I met in Japan. I can’t replace that.”

Rhodes said his parents encouraged everyone in their family to play sports and he played everything. His favorite was basketball, but baseball represented an opportunity the others didn’t.

There was more of an opportunity, a way to take care of my family,” he said. “I was highly drafted (3rd round) by the Houston Astros, and the bonus worked well. Your minor league pay is like $700 a month, and you’ve got to have four or five roommates just to survive.”

“I made the major leagues at 21. I found it was easy to get to the major leagues but the hard thing was to stay. I didn’t work as hard as I should have. I tried to rely on or depend on natural ability when everyone there had ability that was incredible. I learned it the hard way.”

He’s famous for his three-home run Opening Day against Dwight Gooden on April 4, 1994. However, Rhodes was 23 years old and the plan that season was for him to be the Chicago Cubs’ fourth outfielder.

“Glenallen Hill was hurt to start the season,” Rhodes said. “We had Sammy Sosa in right field making $6 million, and Derrick May in left making about $2 million, and Glen was making three or four million. And I was making about $300,000, but Glen got hurt and that opened the door for me. When he got healthy, he just took his job back. The hard thing was I could not make the adjustment to coming off the bench.”

The year before, Rhodes had really bloomed in Triple-A for both the Astros and Royals. His failure with the Cubs in 1994, however, exposed his inability to learn the game and adjust. The Cubs waved him, and he was picked up by the Red Sox. There, Roy Poitevint, who had created a cottage industry of funneling players to Japan, could shop him to a Japanese team.

Rhodes caught the eye of the Kintetsu Buffaloes’ Minoru Ichihara, and the subsequent scene came straight out of the movie “Mr. Baseball,” when the Red Sox gave him the news.

“They said, ‘We’ve got good news and bad news,'” Rhodes said. “I said, ‘What’s the good news?’ He said, ‘We have a team that wants you to play every day.’ I said to myself, ‘Well, hell. There can’t be no bad news.’ He said it was in Japan and showed me the contract they were offering me, I didn’t think twice about it. I just said, ‘Where do I sign?’”

“I didn’t give 120 percent in America, the total commitment to baseball. I told myself, when I get to Japan I’m going to do whatever it takes to play as long as I can. I didn’t think it was going to be 13 years.”

“I got older, and I started developing. I started lifting weights. I never lifted weights in the States. Oh my goodness, no.”

So he entered a world where his willingness to learn and maximize his potential was matched only by the desire of his coaches to teach him their game. The result was some tough love and a lot of magic.

“In Japan, the spring trainings were totally different. It was work, work, work. And they teach you how to play tired. I was going to do whatever it took. I was going to do everything. I wasn’t going to complain about nothing. Was I shocked? Yes. Especially when I had to take an hour of batting practice by myself. My first year, Sasaki kantoku (manager) made me take batting practice for an hour by myself. Unbelievable.”

“Luckily the next day was a day off. I didn’t come out of the room. I didn’t eat dinner that night. I didn’t come out of my room the next day. I was done. But it taught me, how to use my hands and relax in situations when you’re tired. It worked out well.”

Like a lot of players who come to Japan, Rhodes did not start his first season on fire. But the Buffaloes gave him the time to figure things out.

“They were very accommodating each year, one other thing that was very good was that I was on the Kintetsu Buffaloes,” he said. “I wasn’t on the Hanshin Tigers, I wasn’t on the Tokyo Giants or the Chunichi Dragons. I was on a team like the Minnesota Twins or the Cincinnati Reds, so the spotlight wasn’t on our team so much.”

“I hit .240 or .250 until I figured out the baseball here. If I had hit .240 with the Hanshin Tigers or Tokyo Giants, I probably would have had a one-year experience in Japan.”

Were some things harder to get used to?

“The bunt in the first inning, the managers getting on the younger kids hard,” he said. “I’ve seen one of my managers smack one of the rookie players for missing the bunt sign in Tokyo Dome my first year and I could not believe it.”

“At the same time, there was the discipline part. You had no choice not to do it. I’m the kind of guy who needs somebody behind me. I need a personal trainer if I’m going to work out. I need a coach if I’m going to work out. I need a schedule, and I know I’m that type of person, so Japanese baseball was great for me. They taught me how to play chess instead of checkers.”

“They taught me to look for 2-0 curveballs and forkballs, to not always look for a fastball. In America, we look for the fastball and react to the breaking balls. They taught me to look for different pitches in different counts I had one pitcher, he threw 95 miles an hour, but 3-2 he threw me a changeup 95 percent of the time. I knew just because of my books and my notes.”