Tag Archives: DeNA BayStars

Garrett joins Team

The Seibu Lions announced Wednesday that pitcher Reed Garrett would take part in his first practice the following day at the club’s alternate spring facility in Kochi, with the “B” training group, made up primarily of youngsters and rehabbing veterans.

This makes Garrett the Lions’ first returning import to report to camp. The Lions are one of three teams, along with the Pacific League rival Nippon Ham Fighters and the Central League’s DeNA BayStars, that have had the most difficulties getting returning imports into the country.

All Japan residents are free to enter during the current state of emergency but must undergo a two-week quarantine. Players have been able to enter Japan from Taiwan, which from the start was extremely diligent in containing the virus and has had only a handful of deaths.

The Lions, Fighters and BayStars will likely enter the season with most of their returning imports not yet ready to play.

Visa vici vini

In the Fighters’ case, players typically travel directly to Okinawa without going through Sapporo, and when the coronavirus restrictions were imposed, the club was unable to secure the visas in the same way it was accustomed to doing.

Japan’s local immigration offices can be very helpful when they want to be and very rule-bound and spitefully bureaucratic when they desire. Years ago, I worked in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and was technically required to travel about 80 kilometers to Yaizu, to go to the nearest office in the prefecture, when the closest office was half that distance, in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture.

All the teachers where I worked went there to renew our visas. Upon arriving, we received a lecture on why they were only doing it out of the kindness of their hearts when they had every right to turn us away and make us go 120 kilometers in the other direction. Then we received our visas.

This is probably the reason why three teams are getting hammered by the immigration process, although the Fighters may be in the toughest spot. I don’t mean to be rude, but Sapporo’s culture of anal-retentive adherence to rules would make most Swiss natives blow their top.

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Yamaguchi free to go

The Toronto Blue Jays released Shun Yamaguchi on Friday, opening the door for the right-hander to return to Japan after only year of his two-year contract.

The Yomiuri Giants were reportedly preparing a contract offer for Yamaguchi, who led the CL in wins in 2019, and who became the tradition-bound franchise’s first posting last winter.

Because the Blue Jays home games last season were held in Buffalo, New York, Yamaguchi never got to pitch in Canada.

Miura loses practice debut

Daisuke Miura’s first-team managing debut in a 3-0 practice game loss to the Central League rival Chunichi Dragons on Saturday made headlines in Japan as his side had three runners thrown out trying to steal, Hochi Shimbun reported.

“The three failed stolen base attempts are OK. One theme is to be aggressive,” said Miura, who managed the farm team last season. Everyone gave it a shot, so there were things to learn. There are a lot of things you can’t learn unless you try. We learned a lot.”

It’s hard to tell whether he was being ironic. His minor leaguers led Japan’s Eastern League in steals and sacrifice hits last year, while his predecessor’s offense got on base and hit for power, but finished third in runs scored. These figures are often trotted out along with Miura’s extensive use of one-run tactics last season, as if they are a kind of Japanese magic wand that will dispel the club’s poor scoring luck.

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Ramirez’s Way

Alex Ramirez, whose five-year tenure with the DeNA BayStars was the second-longest in NPB among foreign-born managers next to Bobby Valentines’ seven with the Lotte Marines, will not remain with the Central League club in 2021, the club’s chief executive, Kazuaki Mihara told the Sankei Sports.

Despite a sometimes subtle media campaign run by people around the team to paint Ramirez’s managing in an unfavorable light, the club said it recognized the Venezuelan-born skipper’s gifts and said they wanted to retain his services after he quit the dugout job.

“We talked different times, but he said that for the time being he would like to spend valuable time with his family. We respect his stance and won’t offer him a contract,” Mihara said.

The franchise’s .443 winning percentage since its inception in 1950 to 2015, the year before Ramirez took over, is the worst of any franchise in existence since NPB went to 12 teams in 1958. Ramirez’s 692 games are third-most in franchise history. His .499 winning percentage is second-best among managers who managed more than one season to Hiroshi Gondo’s .541.

Gondo and the two who managed longer, Osamu Mihara and Kaoru Betto are all Hall of Famers and Ramirez will likely join them within a few years.

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Logic-defying rants

More logic-defying Ramirez rants

Tuesday saw another attack on Alex Ramirez’s managing, this time from Nikkan Gendai, which claimed it was appropriate to fire the DeNA BayStars skipper at the conclusion of this year’s one-year contract.

The article claimed people within the team are now talking about Ramirez being out, and that former ace and current minor league skipper Daisuke is the logical choice to succeed him

The article argues that Ramirez is the reason that the BayStars have scored fewer runs than the Giants despite similar offensive numbers.

“The (BayStars) batting average tops the league, and they are second in home runs. Yet they are fourth in the league and have scored 27 fewer runs than the Giants. One cannot argue with the reasoning that the difference is down to the managers.”

–Unnamed former BayStars player

As I’ve written before, whenever one sees an article by a former player for a team arguing that the manager should be fired, one should consider the possibility that the player in question is ripping the manager so that the new regime will hire coaches including the former player himself or former teammates who desire coaching positions with the club.  

In regards to the logic, the data bears up under scrutiny. The BayStars are essentially as good as the Giants at getting runners on base and advancing them and have scored fewer runs. But saying the difference between the two managers’ skill IS the difference and saying that conclusion is arrogant beyond words.

Let’s look at this in a different context. Let’s say we have two batters. Over five seasons, Player A has batting averages of: .289, .330, .307, .319 and .275. Player B’s averages over the same period are .248, .290, .270, .265 and .295.

In the current season, Player A bats .275 and Player B bats .295. What person, with any understanding of the randomness of batting averages, would conclude that Player A is batting .275 because he is an inferior hitter? No one, that’s who. Yet that is essentially the argument against Ramirez, that everything he has done the past four years is irrelevant and ONLY this year’s offensive underperformance is the true indicator of the manager’s quality.

That is analogous to the BayStars’ offense this year. They have underperformed their projected runs scored by one run, while the Giants have overperformed by 31 runs. But calling it Ramirez’s fault is stupid because over the past five seasons, his teams have outperformed expectations more than any in the CL.

Since 2016, when Ramirez took over, the BayStars’ offense has averaged scoring 27 runs per season more than its Bill James Runs Created projections. Over the last two seasons they are an average of 20.5 runs above expectations. This is exactly the same figure for Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara.

Team2020 RS2020 RC5-year average above RC
DeNA42342427
Yakult39537617
Hiroshima42641116
Hanshin40737316
Chunichi34932915
Yomiuri45041912
Teams sorted by their average Runs Scored – Runs Created

The thing is the BayStars’ have an active analytics department, and unless their boss is as ignorant and or politically motivated as the former player who contributed to this story, then they will look at Ramirez and see they have something special.

Ramirez’s problem is compounded by a poor win-loss record relative to their actual offensive and defensive results. Given the runs they have scored and allowed, the BayStars should be 48-45-5 this year, five fewer wins than they have actually managed.

If you look at the team’s underlying credentials, what they actually do, and how their talent base has actually expanded under Ramirez, then claiming he should be fired is just an appeal to populism without logic.

The same player argues that Miura is a credible candidate because his team is second in the Eastern League, which I will admit is a positive. The other argument given is that the BayStars farm team is leading the EL in sacrifice bunts. This is an opaque attack on Ramirez, who bunts less than any other manager in the CL.

Knives are out for Ramirez

None of Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 managers draw more flak from the media than Alex Ramirez. Some of that criticism is just because he is different, but when stories begin to emerge blaming a skipper for a team’s losses and asserting he doesn’t know what he is doing, you can be damn sure there is a reason for it that has nothing to with the guy’s managing chops.

Last year, Ramirez was ripped for batting Yoshitomo Tsutsugo second, with some former players saying it was proof the Americanization of Japanese baseball had gone too far.

Prior to that, the skipper was attacked for batting his pitchers eighth, something I’ve pointed out makes tons of sense. While I’m not a fan of his love of the intentional walk, he’s the one in charge and it’s kind of a small thing.

Ramirez entered the season with 280 wins in four seasons, the third-highest win total in franchise history. He hasn’t yet won a pennant, but only two others have with this club and he is only the third to take the team to the Japan Series.

The attacks resumed Sunday when Ramirez admitted he wasn’t confident one of his pitchers would know the sign for the run-and-hit, so Ramirez let it go without calling for a sacrifice bunt. And as we know, managers are blamed for their teams not scoring when they fail to order a sacrifice since sacrifice bunts result in a 100 percent chance of scoring a run – just kidding.

“I had the fast Tomo Otosaka on first and (pitcher Kentaro) Taira hits right-handers well,” Ramirez said of the second-inning opportunity with one out and a runner on first and a 1-0 lead against the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday.

“I thought about giving the run and hit sign, but I wasn’t sure Taira knew it so I decided against it.”

The BayStars blew an early 1-0 run lead and a 3-2 lead in the ninth, when the Yomiuri Giants tied it against closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, who took the loss when his replacement surrendered a two-run home run.

Masamune Umemiya, writing for the Asahi Shimbun’s Aera.dot, ripped into Ramirez saying it “defies belief a professional would not know the signs.”

Umemiya attacked Ramirez for using an opener and pulling the starter on a bullpen day last (July 16 in Nagoya) after allowing a run in the first inning, and for pulling starting catcher Hikaru Ito after ace Shota Imanaga allowed three runs in the second inning. Ito was deactivated the following day. Other managers do this stuff all the time, but the number of times they are criticized in the media for it is about zero unless there is a larger agenda at work.

Managers wrestle with options whose real percentages are unknowable – except it seems to a few omniscient critics. Few managers have been worse at in-game tactics than Hall of Famer Tatsunori Hara during his first five or six years or his mentor Shigeo Nagashima.

What really matters is that the players respect the manager’s decisions and believe he gives them a reasonable chance to win, and that the manager organizes the team in a way that facilitates growth and success–the real building blocks of championships.

The final component of these attacks in Japan is the “This team is too good to lose” argument.

This was famously made by Tatsuro Hirooka and his surrogates in 1995 to argue that Bobby Valentine had cost the Lotte Marines a pennant that any average manager would have won. I don’t remember the exact number, it might have been 20 games Valentine was supposed to have been worse than average by Hirooka’s calculation. It might have been 10. But even 10 is an unimaginably large number.

In Valentine’s first season, the Marines had their best finish in 10 years and their best winning percentage in 11. But Hirooka, who hired him, didn’t like his style and attacked him at every turn. The Marines finished 12 games back of Ichiro Suzuki and the Orix BlueWave, but as far as Hirooka was concerned, Valentine had ruined a championship-caliber team that no one knew existed until they hired him.

Umemiya wheeled out this argument against Ramirez, by quoting a baseball writer who said many former players considered the BayStars to have the most balanced team in the Central League and the best starting pitching. Therefore, this argument goes, any fault must be the manager’s.

It’s fair to discuss Ramirez’s choices, and to his credit, he doesn’t dodge questions. But when Tsuyoshi Yoda ran out of position players and had to use a relief pitcher to pinch-hit with two outs in the 10th, the bases loaded and his team trailing by a run recently, there weren’t any stories about how he was ruining the Chunichi Dragons.

But since Sunday, there have been a half-dozen stories by reporters questioning Ramirez’s fitness that were supported by the expert opinions of former players.

When one sees that one begins to ask, “Why now?”

In 2011, when batting conditions wrecked offensive numbers all over Japan and the Hanshin Tigers played poorly, a reporter friend said that Hanshin’t press corps was keen to attack the team’s older Japanese veterans for their failure to hit for average, but coaches directed the writers’ wrath to the failures of the imported players, Craig Brazell and Matt Murton. That guidance by the Tigers coaching staff led to some really weird stuff.

Japanese baseball is weird some times. The DeNA franchise fired its most successful manager ever, Hiroshi Gondo, because his outspoken criticisms of traditional pro baseball customs irritated the older former players in the media who couldn’t forgive his insolence and attacked him the way Ramirez is now being attacked. Like Ramirez, Gondo was no fan of the mindless, automatic sacrifice bunts Japan championed. Despite his success with a team that had been a traditional doormat, nothing Gondo did was good enough.

In his first season, Ramirez became the first BayStars manger to finish third in 10 years. When he finished third the next year, there were calls that his contract should not be extended. One suspects that the reason for those stories and these new ones is that the old guys whose opinions fill the airwaves and the sports papers have a specific candidate they would like to have instead of Ramirez.

That became crystal clear on Tuesday when a story was published about a minor league game in which DeNA’s farm team had executed four sacrifices in a 6-4 Western League win over the Yomiuri Giants

As soon as stories like that appear, about how a popular former player is succeeding Japanese-style in THE MINORS, at a time when the first-team manager is under fire for not bunting in the second inning, then you know there is an agenda propelling those stories.

ramping up: 21 days to go

One aspect of the long layoff forced by the novel coronavirus is that players who were due to miss the original March 20 start of the season, are now regaining fitness and may be able to make the roster when the season finally starts on June 19.

350 days

That’s how long it will be between starts for Naoyuki Uwasawa when he takes the mound for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Tuesday’s practice game.

Last season, Uwasawa was a key component of the Rube Goldberg contraption that was the Fighters’ pitching rotation last season. Manager Hideki Kuriyama used him and Kohei Arihara as the pillars in conventional starting roles, with a handful of others tasked with going either once or twice through the opposing lineup depending on the skipper’s confidence in them.

In a June 18 interleague game, Uwasawa was kneecapped by a batted ball hit by Neftali Soto, the DeNA BayStars’ two-time Central League home run champ. Prior to that game, the Fighters starting pitchers were 26-18 with a 3.65 ERA. Afterward, even with some superb 1-inning opening acts by Mizuki Hori, they went 18-31 with a 4.32 ERA.

On Thursday, he faced five batters in a simulated game at the Fighters’ minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, and is expected to pitch two innings on Tuesday at the Lotte Marines’ Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba.

Yanagita back with a bang

Yuki Yanagita, who until the recent ascension of Hiroshima Carp right fielder Seiya Suzuki, was considered the Japanese outfielder most coveted by MLB clubs, returned to the SoftBank Hawks’ first team for an intrasquad game on Saturday. Yanagita has been rehabbing since his 2019 dumpster fire of a season was capped with right elbow surgery in the offseason.

Yanagita missed most of the season with a knee injury and failed by the slimmest of margins to get the 140 days of service time needed to be a free agent this winter. Had the Hawks brought him up a few days earlier, he would have been on track to fulfil his stated goal of playing in the majors. They didn’t and he signed a long-ass contract that keeps him in Fukuoka for essentially the rest of his career.

On Saturday, according to the Sankei Sports, he hit an opposite-field homer from submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the Pacific League’s 2019 rookie of the year and another player who was due to miss the start of the season in March but now has a shot at helping out the rotation from the start.

Stewart takes drive off shin

The Hawks’ Carter Stewart Jr left the mound after pitching just one inning when he took a shot off his right shin that was turned into the final out of the inning.

Iguchi changes tune on Sasaki

Eighteen-year-old right-hander Roki Sasaki who repeatedly was clocked at over 100 miles per hour in his final high school season, apparently will appear in a practice game for the Lotte Marines in the coming weeks, manager Tadahito Iguchi indicated to the media on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Iguchi had said Sasaki, who twice hit 160 kilometers per hour in a simulated game on Tuesday, would not be ready to appear in a game next month.