Tag Archives: designated hitter

Series notes Nov. 20

When home is not home

The Yomiuri Giants and SoftBank Hawks open the Japan Series on Saturday, when the Central League champion Giants host Game 1, not at their home park, Tokyo Dome, but at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, the home of the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes.

The move was necessitated because Tokyo Dome is in use for Toshi Taiko, Japan’s most prestigious corporate league tourney. The event typically takes place at Tokyo Dome from the end of August to early September, but was displaced this year due to the pandemic.

The Giants are therefore taking their act on the road to a park that will be far more familiar to the visitors. This has happened a few times in the past, most recently from 1978 to 1980. In 1978, the Yakult Swallows’ home games were played at Tokyo Dome’s predecessor, Korakuen Stadium.

For the next two autumns, the Hiroshima Carp squared off against the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who played their home games at the Nankai Hawks’ home, Osaka Stadium instead of either of the two parks the Buffaloes used for their regular-season games.

In 1974, the Lotte Orions opted to host their games at Korakuen rather than at their main park, Sendai’s Miyagi Stadium, which in a completely overhauled form is now the home of the Rakuten Eagles.

Game 1 will be the first Japan Series game at Kyocera Dome since the Kintetsu Buffaloes hosted the first two games of the 2001 series there before losing on the road to the Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium.

Senga arises from confusion to tie Horiuchi

One thing that sets the Japan Series apart from its cousin the MLB championship series is the almost random way in which things take place in NPB’s flagship event.

Are starting pitchers announced ahead of time? It depends on the managers. If they want to, then the starters are announced, otherwise not. Postgame press conference? They happen when and how the teams want them, and the same for postgame player interviews.

Absolutely the only thing NPB organizes is the pre-series managers meeting and press conference. After that, it’s a free for all. The beat writers know where to go because they’ve been doing it all year, but the rest of us, we have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

In 2014, Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times and I fired off our first stories after the final out of Game 4, and got to the field looking for the Hawks’ manager’s presser. We’d both been to dozens of them at Fukuoka Dome, but hadn’t been there in a long time. All the beat writers were gone, all the doors were closed and we couldn’t figure out how to get into the lounge where the Hawks skipper was meeting the press. There was, of course, no video, nothing online, nothing organized.

That’s the way NPB rolls. Virtually everything is up to the teams at all times. No one takes charge of quality control except in the most abstract fashion.

Thus, it is only through the generosity of the managers, the Hawks’ Kimiyasu Kudo and the Giants’ Tatsunori Hara, that we will know who the following day’s starters are.

Game 1 will see Hawks ace Kodai Senga, who led the PL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, against Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano, who led both leagues with 14 wins.

It will be the first time the two have faced each other in an official game, and Senga becomes the second pitcher to start Game 1 in four consecutive Japan Series following former Giants ace Tsuneo Horiuchi. Horiuchi started four of the Giants’ last five Game 1s in their streak of nine consecutive Japan Series championships. If the Hawks win their fourth straight over the next week, SoftBank’s streak will be second longest to the Giants.

It’s not brain surgery

This is the 20th anniversary of the infamous brain surgeon series between the then-Daiei Hawks and Giants. After Game 2, the teams traveled to Fukuoka Dome for Game 3 the next day, rather than on Tuesday, which became a travel day.

The Hawks won their first PL championship in Fukuoka in 1999, the club’s 11th season in Kyushu since being purchased by the Daiei supermarket chain’s owner after the 1988 season. The Hawks, founded by the Nankai Electric Railroad in the 1930s, crashed and burned after 1977 when manager Katsuya Nomura was exiled because of his messy personal life.

From 1978 to 1998, the Hawks posted a .427 winning percentage, easily the worst in Japan during those years. So with no likelihood of hosting a Japan Series in the immediate future, someone in the front office failed to block the rental of Fukuoka Dome for a neurosurgeon’s convention during the series. The club ended up paying a 30 million yen fine (about $300,000).

Designated hitters all the way

Nippon Professional Baseball on Thursday announced that due to the pandemic — which eliminated interleague play and has prevented PL pitchers from hitting all season — the designated hitter rule will be available to teams in every game, regardless of the home team’s league.

This is the second time for the Japan Series to have a universal designated hitter and the first time since 1985. The DH was first introduced in the Pacific League in 1975 but wasn’t allowed into the Japan Series until 1985.

It began on a one-year DH, one-year no DH, rotation but that only lasted until 1986, when pitchers batted in all games for the last time. Since then, the pitchers hit in the CL parks but not in the PL stadiums.

DH scorecard

The thing about the DH and the Central League is that a lot of CL teams aren’t really equipped with a big run producer who is a natural for the DH slot due to defensive limitations. With the exception of the Yomiuri Giants, who used to spend every winter vacuuming up big name aging sluggers, most CL teams really didn’t have a DH option and had to turn to guys who neither got on base nor hit for extra bases.

As one can see below, while CL teams have posted pathetic DH numbers, the Giants have not, and have instead been every bit as good as their opponents.

Japan Series DHsOBPSlug
PL .336.428
Japan Series DHsOBPSlug

Time for the CL rerun season

The Central League may not be the strongest of Nippon Professional Baseball’s two top leagues, but it is the most dependable. Take any Pacific League innovation, and the CL will criticize it as a slap in the face of Japanese baseball tradition. Yet at some point, the CL will want to co-opt it.

This happened when the PL adopted Mizuno’s rabbit balls in 1978 and eventually four of the six CL clubs opted for it. It happened when the PL pushed to send pros to the 2000 Olympics and Yomiuri eventually took that push over and became an Olympic sponsor. It happened in 2004 with the PL’s expanded postseason, which the CL took over and called the Climax Series from 2007, and now it is beginning to happen with the designated hitter.

The DH advantage

After the Yomiuri Giants, who were easily the class of the CL this season, were swept in the Japan Series, manager Tatsunori Hara said the DH gives PL teams an advantage and said it’s time for the CL to break with tradition and adopt the designated hitter rule.

As these things do, it’s taken a while for CL teams to realize that while they may still draw more fans to their larger ballparks, they are now, if not a second-class league, weaker than the league they historically have loved to belittle.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, my co-host John E. Gibson argued that the Giants were hindered in the series by having to put their best pinch-hitter, Shinnosuke Abe, in the lineup as a DH, rather than keep him on the bench for use in an emergency. I found this a weak argument since players produce better results when not pinch-hitting.

The irony is that the big-budget Giants are one of those CL teams that have long stockpiled older sluggers acquired as free agents who were ideal DH’s.

In Abe’s case, using him as a DH instead of having him at first and regular first baseman Kazuma Okamoto at third, allowed the Giants to shore up their defense. The flip side of the coin was that in order to keep their DH in the lineup at Tokyo Dome in the Giants’ home games, the SoftBank Hawks had to use Alfredo Despaigne in left field.

Despaigne contributed on offense and did hurt the Hawks’ defense but with Tokyo Dome having no power allies to speak of, he is more suited to playing there than say Koshien or Nagoya Dome.

Does the DH really help the PL?

Central League teams have been able to use designated hitters in the Japan Series since 1985 and in interleague play, which kicked off in 2005. The following tables show how each league’s DHs have performed against each other in those games through 2019, and they present a stereotypical picture of one league relying on slow sluggers who draw walks, and the other on more rounded players with less pop in the DH slot.

DH batting results 1985-2013


Below are the basic results of non-designated hitters in all games played between the two leagues since the 1985 Japan Series. The gap between DH production and other hitters is not nearly as striking. Without the DH, PL teams are much faster, hit for more power and draw more walks. The PL non-DH hitters homer about 3 percent more often than CL hitters, while their doubles increase by 5 percent and triples by 26 percent.

Non-DH batting in all games


Perhaps someone pointed this out to Hara, but the PL’s success at in DH games, all at home except for the 2014 regular season stunt, when the DH was only used in CL parks in interleague, has been resounding.

Games results with the DH


Games results without the DH


The CL appears to have a normal home advantage without the DH, but is lost when they go on the road and have to use the designated hitter.

Another part of the issue has been that the PL’s larger parks — combined with their ability to have big hitters as designated hitters, has encouraged the use of faster more athletic outfielders. But with the the fences having been pulled in in Sendai, Fukuoka and Chiba, it will be less advantageous to trade power for outfield speed than in the past.