Tag Archives: Free agency

Darvish: don’t expect MLB penny-pinching to stop

Yu Darvish, who last week came close to being a San Diego Padres teammate with Tomoyuki Sugano, shared some thoughts about major league baseball’s free-agent market and what it means for Japanese players aspiring to play for MLB teams.

We may never know all the factors that went into Sugano’s decision to walk away from the Padres offer with two minutes to go before the posting-system deadline expired on Thursday. Sugano on Sunday described some of his feelings, which Kyodo News reported in English.

Sugano sought advice from both Darvish and Kenta Maeda about various conditions, and the Padres were simply not going to offer enough to overcome whatever concerns he might have had about playing in the States.

In a recorded message, Darvish said he didn’t intend to talk about Sugano’s situation, but felt to compelled to speak his mind about the current player market in the majors–one thing Sugano did complain about.

Here’s what Darvish had to say:

“These past years the free agent market has been incredibly slow. …The number of teams that don’t want to spend a lot of money has really increased. Now there’s also the coronavirus issue, and teams that have money are saying they don’t, so now the market is incredibly bad.”

“When I was a free agent in 2017, my agent said he’d never seen it so bad. But it’s worse now. In 2017, I got my money and my guarantees, but the players making plans now? The idea you could do really well and strive and get one free agent payday? That suddenly vanished.”

“It’s tough, but you know the teams aren’t going to be able to make up their coronavirus losses in a single season, so I think this situation is going to drag on for years. Japanese players coming here as free agents are not going to get the amounts they used to get. That’s how I’m looking at the current posting and free agent situation.”

Sugano expects to try again next year, when he won’t be hampered by a posting system deadline, but if Darvish is right, and he probably is, the situation a year from now could easily be worse.

The development gap

The shape of talent

One cause that was suggested for the gap was that CL teams look for players with more polished skills while PL clubs are more likely to go with players who have higher physical potential.

On Twitter, Brian Cartwright suggested it was a correctable issue if CL teams did a better job of evaluating and developing their talent. If that is the case, a study of value from the draft would reveal a talent gap leaning toward the PL, and it does.

In my story on the Hawks’ odds of winning this year’s Japan Series, I made a conservative estimate that the six PL teams would combine for a .530 winning percentage if thrown into a balanced schedule among all 12 teams.

“We don’t know how much better the Pacific League is than the Central League, but over the history of interleague play, the PL teams have a .532 winning percentage. Over the previous five seasons, the PL winning percentage was .555, and the PL’s Pythagorean winning percentage is .559.”

Jim’s Series odds

A note about using win shares

I’m going to measure individual player output using Bill James’ Win Shares. This system gives each team 3 win shares for a win. These are then divided between the offense, fielding and pitching. Those are assigned to individual teammates based on individual performance.

This method has pros and cons, but since a league’s win share total can’t exceed 3 times its total wins, one league outperforming another doesn’t show up in win shares except in interleague. The two leagues each played 120 games in 2020 with no interleague, and had the same number of wins (counting ties as two halves of a win), so even though the PL is evidently stronger, win shares won’t reveal it. What it does reveal is the relative shape of the talent in the two leagues.

And from a glance at the careers of players signed since NPB adopted its draft, it’s clear that the PL teams are now Japan’s draft kings.

Drafting and development

The draft began in 1965, and including undrafted amateur free agents, the career value of domestic players signed by CL teams was more than that of players signed by PL teams over the first 28 years. Over the last 28 years, that trend has reversed.

So while the two leagues have essentially equal access to domestic talent, domestic talent has become become a larger share of the PL’s overall talent base.

Draft yearsCL valuePL valuePL / CL
1965 – 197814,04013,1520.94
1979 – 199215,62914,2570.91
1993 – 200614,06715,5391.10
2007 – 20184,2224,9971.18
Value expressed in career value as calculated using Bill James’ Win Shares, and includes MLB WS

I did not know this trend existed at all. Did you? It should have been obvious, I suppose. From 1966 to 1979, the CL went 12-4 in the Japan Series. From 1980 to 2007, the two leagues split the Series 14-14. Since then the PL has lead 11-2.

Do CL clubs appease Giants in draft?

Another issue people in the game for a long time mentioned is the custom of CL teams sometimes shying away from competing with the Giants for amateur talent.

This latter assumption, if true, doesn’t appear to be a big deal now, although that may have more to do with teams not being able to sign top corporate and college players before the draft — something that had been in play from 1993 to 2006.

Although the Giants have the most value in Japan from their No. 1 picks since 2000, and the most total value from their picks 1-5 than any other CL team, this latter edge is not huge. The Tigers, BayStars and Swallows have all done nearly as well.

But looking at the overall amount of domestic talent taken from the draft, the PL has compiled a huge advantage. Using Bill James’ Win Shares, players signed out of the draft from 2000 to 2018 by PL teams have produced 9,046 win shares, or 3,015 wins — some of those are with other teams including some in MLB. Players signed by CL teams out of the draft during the same period, have produced 8,315 WS, or 2,770 wins.

Skeletons in the closet

NPB entered the 2007 season under a cloud when the guy assigned by the Seibu Lions’ parent company to take over the team decided to be of service to baseball by having a look into the team’s player acquisition closet and sweeping out the skeletons.

The boss assigned a third-party investigation to the task and found a long history of abuses of the system by Seibu and other clubs. Instead of being celebrated for creating an atmosphere of transparency, Seibu was punished for bringing the game’s disrepute into the light.

However, that also ended the systems where pro teams could agree to sign up to two corporate or college stars before the draft at the cost of reducing their access to high school talent, making the draft more of a crapshoot.

The Seibu Lions’ crusade for transparency cost them in 2007, when they were barred from the first two rounds of the high school draft. But embarrassing NPB and forcing it to eliminate the old draft system has done nothing to slow the PL’s dramatic improvement in drafting and developing domestic talent.

Free agency

Free agency started in Japan after the 1993 season, but until 2005, it was essentially one-way traffic. Atsunori Inaba changed that.

He left the Yakult Swallows ostensibly for MLB, but signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2006 after failing to get a guaranteed contract overseas. Prior to Inaba, the total value from CL players moving to the PL was 12 win shares. Going the other way, players produced 190 for CL teams after leaving the PL via free agency.

Inaba had an MVP-caliber season for the Fighters in 2006, and after that year, the free agent scoreboard stood at 196-35 in favor of the CL. Things really began changing in 2011, when Seiichi Uchikawa, left the BayStars for the SoftBank Hawks.

Since 2006 the score is 477-436, but that’s even counting two players in the PL column who high-tailed it back to the PL after spending a brief time with the Giants, Hiroki Kokubo and Saburo Omura.

Import export business

Leaving on a jet plane

After the 1994 season, Hideo Nomo dropped the PL’s Kintetsu Buffaloes like a bad habit. His move began to put another dent in the PL’s growing talent surplus.

Players who left PL teams to play in the majors have produced 1,112 major league win shares from 1995 to 2019. The CL graduates produced 791 win shares in the big leagues during that time. The top of the list is Ichiro Suzuki at 324, followed by Hideki Matsui (150) and Nomo (123).

Three former CL players are next in line — Hiroki Kuroda (81), Norichika Aoki (78) and Koji Uehara (76) but it hasn’t been updated for 2020, when Yu Darvish pulled even with Kuroda. Masahiro Tanaka (69) will pass those three former CL guys if he has three more productive seasons.

Foreign trade

Because of the nature of win shares, the value of a league’s important talent is essentially the flip side of domestic talent within that league. Thus, if the win shares attributed to domestic players increases in a league, the number of win shares that go to imports must decrease. That give us table below.

The same would be true if a bunch of extremely talented left-handed hitters suddenly peaked at the same time in a league. The right-handed hitters wouldn’t get worse, but as a group, they would create a smaller share of the league’s wins.

I suspect that the imported talent base in the PL is actually quite stable, and that the gap is not nearly as large now as it looks.

YearsCL valuePL value
1966 – 19791,4981,761
1980 – 19933,9594,243
1994 – 20073,0492,445
2008 – 20192,8542,219
WS values from imported players

Move it on over

A parallel to the movement of free agent talent is the value of imported players in the league other than the one they first signed in. Since 2008, the Pacific League, long a supplier of imported talent to the Central League, has had a cumulative trade surplus since 2008.

Years CL WS value from PLPL WS value from CL
1966 – 197910989
1980 – 199314940
1994 – 2007219131
2008 – 2019201252
WS values from imported players

Conclusion

The big difference between the two leagues right now is, as my Twitter follower suggested, simply a matter of talent evaluation and development, that has seen PL teams do a better job of drafting and developing domestic amateurs than the CL.

This appears to have been going on for some time, but for a long time was counterbalanced by what used to be a large drain of free agent talent from the PL to the CL, and by the PL’s losing more talent to the major leagues.

The PL for as long as I remember has been the more innovative league, and is has long been aware of the need to replace the talent lost to the CL and MLB. As mentioned in the previous article, the PL has taken more strides toward making baseball pay in Japan. And as the PL teams get better at both managing their businesses and organizing their talent, then it is going to be a tough slog for the CL to catch up.

Uehara takes aim at system again

On Thursday, former major leaguer Koji Uehara took aim at the posting system in a column for Yahoo Sports.

Readers will probably know I’ve been a big fan of Uehara’s wildcat stances for players’ rights and against Japanese baseball’s status quo. When Tsuneo Watanabe, then the Yomiuri Giants’ autocratic owner said he’d release any player who was so low as to send an agent to contract negotiations, Uehara sent an agent. The team didn’t release their ace as Watanabe promised, saying the lawyer who negotiated on Uehara’s behalf wasn’t an agent but a “consultant.”

Going postal

In the wake of the Giants’ posting of pitcher Shun Yamaguchi a year ago, and their current ace, Tomoyuki Sugano, this winter, Uehara recalled his own experience with that process and said the system needs to be fixed to make it less arbitrary.

In 2005, when he requested Yomiuri post him, the Giants blasted their star in public, calling him “selfish” and a player “who does whatever he wants.”

“I don’t want to complain (about my treatment). What I want is a standardized system. Currently, a player can ask to be posted and if the team can say ‘No’ and that discussion is over in one minute.”

–former major leaguer Koji Uehara

That might be OK if players could choose to play for a team that will post them, but most are not in that position.

Uehara argues for giving a player the right to post himself after eight years of service time. This takes the coy game of players being sly about their desires to play in the States, and simply allows a player to say “I’m going” and be done with it.

From pillar to posting system

He said the issue is that posting is 100 percent up to teams and that clubs with deep pockets like Yomiuri and the SoftBank Hawks, can afford to let their free agents go to the States without compensation, while other clubs, who have posted their stars, can’t.

The irony in Yomiuri’s rejecting the posting system for 20 years is that by forcing other teams to accept free agency, Yomiuri unwittingly created a door for Japanese stars to move to the majors without compensation. Not long after free agency was introduced, Hideo Nomo’s success in MLB created a market for Japanese talent. Once that happened, Japanese teams on tighter budgets to get value for stars before they went to the majors as free agents.

No quick fixes

But while it’s easy to say, let’s have automatic posting after eight years of service time, it’s just a patch on a particularly ugly system of labor control that is a legacy of America’s Gilded Age.

The pitcher recently argued for automatic free agency, which would instantly make every player with the necessary service time a free agent. In both cases, he aims to let the system shoulder the burden that players now must carry on their own shoulders of whether to file for free agency or to ask their team to be posted.

And though his solutions are simple to grasp, they would require major changes to the rules, and since the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association is relatively powerless, the owners are in no hurry to undertake systematic reform.

Even if change improves the business, the effort needed eats up time and energy. Besides, as long as things function the way they’re supposed to — even if that way makes no sense — no one in baseball thinks there’s a problem.

The solution at hand

Actually, players don’t need any kind of structural change to force teams to post them, as the SoftBank Hawks could likely tell you. They do, however, need the guts as amateurs to say, “Do it or else.”

A year ago, the Hawks and the Giants passed over a generational talent in the draft, 100-mph high school pitcher Roki Sasaki. The pitcher, who could have opted to turn pro in the States, met with teams interested in him prior to the draft and may well have demanded a contractual agreement to be posted.

This is something that amateurs have a right to do in Japan that they don’t have when turning pro with major league clubs, because of the shape and structure of NPB contracts. The risk, of course, is that teams will discard their draft picks and refuse to sign them — Japanese teams receive no compensation picks for unsigned draft picks.

Having individuals buck the system and make individual demands, as Uehara did, is what he’s aiming to avoid. But simply putting a patch on pro baseball’s autocratic norms won’t change the deeper problem.

The real problem

The problem is not the posting system, but the draft and reserve clause. These deny amateur ballplayers the right to freely negotiate and then tie them to their teams indefinitely.

The current system paints this as normal. Even fans, who would shudder at submitting to that kind of control over their own careers, consider it’s OK for ballplayers to have no choice or freedom, because, well, “It’s normal.”

An ideal solution

But there’s no reason why a more normal framework wouldn’t work, and pro soccer is a great model.

Teams and players can negotiate with whoever they like and agree to fixed-length contracts from Day 1. Players can move when they themselves and both teams agree to the terms, without any of this “players cannot claim any of the money involved in the transfer” nonsense.

Rosters could be limited to keep wealthy teams from hoarding the best talent, while development issues could be solved by having real minor leagues with the same rights over their players that the top flight leagues enjoy.

Applying a normal solution to the radically abnormal pro baseball situation we take for granted may be hard to fathom, but that’s no reason it wouldn’t work. It would be different, and difference in baseball is often interpreted to mean bad, but an organic, humanistic system could be a whole lot better.

I don’t know about you, but I’d find it a lot easier to support Individuals and teams that come together organically instead of having their movements within the system structured the way mazes structure the movement of laboratory rats.

It’s not like it will ever happen, but the world would be a saner and more reasonable place if people didn’t think that autocracy.

Sign up for news and alerts

What price freedom

Former Giants ace and major league closer Koji Uehara on Thursday raised a novel criticism of Japanese baseball’s free agency system. He took exception not with the absurd service time requirements, but how the system’s mechanisms turn it into a public loyalty test.

The Japanese system was established by owners who had been strong-armed by the Yomiuri Giants. Yomiuri wanted to be able to skim the cream of the nation’s veteran talent each year and couldn’t conceive that Japanese players might use it to play in the majors since the very idea was inconceivable to their social Darwinist mind-sets.

The system that went into effect in the winter of 1993-1994 so that the Giants could plunder other teams’ rosters and drive up salaries, requires eligible players to file for free agency. Players who do so may negotiate with any team but may not exercise that right again until they acquire an additional four years of service time.

Uehara believes that filing or not filing for free agency therefore becomes a public loyalty test, where players who announce they are not filing, or who are filing with the intent of re-signing with their existing clubs, are branded as being loyal, while others in some cases, are mocked in the press as being traitors.

“I don’t want players to make their decision about free agency based on it being an invisible measure of their loyalty to the team.”

–Koji Uehara

Uehara’s solution is superficially a simple one: Make every player with enough service time a free agent.

This small change, however, would force a drastic overhaul of the system. Players with enough service time would be free to leave whenever their contracts expire. The four-years of service time needed to refile would be scrapped. The notion of free-agent compensation would have to be reconsidered. Yet there is a bigger hurdle, the simple desire to keep the game the way it is.

Uehara also said automatic free agency would keep rival teams from approaching players in secret and encouraging them to jump ship.

“I’ve heard that before players make their decisions to file, other teams contact them on the sly trying to encourage them,” Uehara wrote. “But if there was no choice for players to make about whether or not to declare themselves free agents, then there would be no benefit to teams to contact players in secret. It would be transparent.”

Transparency, however, is not something Japanese pro baseball really excels at. Japanese baseball’s greatest advocate of transparency, former commissioner Ryozo Kato, ended confusion about the balls in play by instituting a standard uniform ball everyone could understand. But his desire to put things in the open was met by a backlash which ended up in his being ousted in a palace coup.

The owners simply don’t want to do anything differently if they don’t have to, but being hesitant to change is not always a bad thing.

Japanese teams market marginal players to their fan bases, and stars are only traded under exceptional circumstances. It’s part of the fabric that sees players as more than employees and hired guns. A change to a more matter-of-fact system like MLB’s might also encourage the adoption of MLB’s more unpalatable practices such as the wage slavery of minor leaguers and pre-arbitration major leaguers.

There’s nothing wrong with being business-like, but when being business-like means elevating promoting baseball games to sets of ruthless spreadsheet-driven transactions, then you risk losing what you’re trying to protect.

Sugano and the posting system

Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano has been cleared to move to the major leagues via the posting system, the Central League club told multiple Japanese news outlets on Wednesday.

The question now is whether he wants to go. Will he jump toward his long-cherished dream of challenging major league hitters next year or spend another season in a nation that has handled the coronavirus in a more efficient fashion and where the risk of infection is relatively low.

Staying in Japan will mean playing in front of crowds in 2021, something major league baseball cannot offer. Part of the charm of going to the States to play baseball is to play in the splendid parks politicians get taxpayers to buy for billionaire owners. But since no one knows when teams will be allowed to let fans in, it could mean another year of cardboard cutouts in empty barns.

Japanese candidates to move to MLB

For those unfamiliar with Sugano, he is one of the faster starting pitchers in Japan, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball according to analytics site Delta Graphs is 92.5 mph, but that is with plus command. He also has superb command of a plus slider, with an average to above-average fastball and splitter. Think Yu Darvish with less velocity and less than a dozen different pitchers but with consistently better location.

He will be eligible for international free agency after the 2021 season, so there is a chance the Giants will go against their history and post him this autumn.

Not if but when

Japan’s most notorious scandal rag, Tokyo Sports, reported this summer that the Giants were laying the groundwork for a Sugano posting, and one typically wants to ignore anything they publish, but the topic of when Sugano will move to the U.S. majors is one that gets asked A LOT. After all, the winner of the Eiji Sawamura Award as Japan’s most-impressive starting pitcher in 2017 and 2018, threatened to go to MLB if a team other than the Yomiuri Giants drafted him out of university.

Although it is said Sugano’s first choice would have been MLB rather than the Giants, the pull of family ties — his uncle, Tatsunori Hara, managed the team — proved too strong to ignore.

After the Nippon Ham Fighters won his negotiating rights in the 2011 draft, Sugano stayed out of baseball for a year so he would be eligible for the following season’s draft. At that time, the Giants had vowed never to post a player, so it was believed that Sugano would need nine years of service time to qualify for international free agency after the 2021 season at the earliest.

Yamaguchi becomes No. 1

But things have since changed. Last winter, the Giants posted right-hander Shun Yamaguchi. The Giants knew the move was coming and delayed making the announcement as long as they could. But MLB teams were already hearing about it, ostensibly from Yamaguchi’s agent, and the Giants finally made the announcement just before the start of MLB’s general managers meetings, when it was certain to be revealed.

The funny thing about Yamaguchi’s posting was at least one Yomiuri executive calling it an exception that had nothing to do with team policy. What eventually came out was that the team was contractually obligated to post Yamaguchi, after agreeing to that in his supplemental contract.

The hidden game of NPB contracts

While most fans may see the Giants decision to post Sugano as a matter of the team’s respect for his service, and there may be something to that, a more likely consideration would be whether he can require them to do so.

NPB contracts are one-year deals that stipulate a player’s salary for the following year and how it will be paid. When players agree to multiyear contracts, those contracts are referred to as supplemental contracts, riders, or side agreements. Nippon Professional Baseball does not handle these. They are strictly between the player and the team and their details are rarely made public.

Teams that post players may be doing so out of respect and honor but unlike deals in MLB, they are not micromanaged through the filter of the CBA, and could include basically anything that does not violate the terms of NPB’s charter. They couldn’t for example, promise to make a player an owner, or lend him to another team, since those acts are prohibited. But huge undisclosed bonuses? Sure. Promises to post or grant free agency under certain conditions? No problem.

Unless he is hurt and unable to play more than half of the 2021 season, Sugano will be free to walk then. Prior to Yamaguchi’s posting one could not imagine the Giants posting a player, but they DID agree to a deal that required them to do so in order to sign Yamaguchi. Sugano might have that kind of clause in his side deal as well, although we’re unlikely ever to find out.

The only thing we will know is that if Sugano does walk four months from now, the Giants will couch their decisions in terms of how they did at as a sign of respect for the individual and not because they were contractually obligated to do so.

NPB 2020 7-31 GAMES AND NEWS

Neal’s streak ends on Akashi homer

Kenji Akashi now has one home run for each of his 17 pro seasons. His sixth-inning solo shot broke a 4-4 tie and helped end Zach Neal’s string of winning decisions at 13 on Friday, when the SoftBank Hawks beat the Seibu Lions 5-4 at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.

Hawks right-hander Nao Higashihama survived two no-out walks to open the second inning but not a center-cut 3-1 two-seam fastball to Hotaka Yamakawa, who opened the scoring with his 12th homer of the year. Shuta Tonosaki followed with Seibu’s second hit, and Takeya Nakamura capped the inning with a two-run home run with a flat-straight fastball down the pipe that the six-time home run champ got off the end of the barrel but still drove 10 rows back in left field.

Neal (2-1), however, gave away the lead in the home half of the third.

After Takuya Kai’s one-out miss-hit infield single, Ukyo Shuto barreled up a low first-pitch two-seamer and nearly took off Neal’s head with his single. Neal then hung a 1-0 two-seamer up in the zone to Kenta Imamiya, who drove it off the center field wall for a two-run triple.

With Akira Nakamura at the plate, Yuki Yanagita walked and stole second and Nakamura singled in one run to tie it. Neal made a decent 1-2 pitch to the next hitter, but Ryoya Kurihara put a prototypical inside-out, left-handed swing on the low two-seamer and knocked it between third and short for an RBI single and a 4-3 Hawks lead. Yanagita’s run was his 32nd of the month, tying an NPB record.

Corey Spangenberg, who’d doubled, tripled and homered the night before, homered off reliever Shinya Kayama to tie it in the sixth. Higashihama struck out Nakamura with his 95th pitch to open the inning, and with two left-handed hitters due up, the Hawks turned to a south paw.

Kayama got veteran Takumi Kuriyama to fly out on his first slider, and then threw five-straight to Spangenberg. The last one missed down and in and Spangenberg bounced it off the top of the permanent wall in right for his fifth homer.

Again, the Hawks struck back. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Neal missed with a straight two-seam fastball up and over the plate, and Akashi drilled it into the “home run terrace,” the Casa de Pepe’s outfield field seats.

Kayama (1-0) earned the in relief for two-thirds of an inning of work, while Rei Takahashi, Livan Moinelo and Yuito Mori each supplied another scoreless inning, with Mori earning his ninth save.

Smells like team spirit in Sapporo

The Orix Buffaloes laid a big seventh inning on Nippon Ham Fighters ace Kohei Arihara to snap a tie game and earn a 7-2 win at Sapporo Dome.

Prior to the game, the Buffaloes activated infielder Shuhei Fukuda, who emerged as their regular second baseman in 2019, and outfielder Steven Moya. Both played key roles in what can only be described as a team win. Fukuda was the only Buffalo to score more than one run, while seven different players drove in one each, and five relievers combined for five scoreless innings in support of starter Tsubasa Sakakibara.

Moya who was 14-for-39 with eight walks in the pitcher-friendly Western League drove in Orix’s first run with a smash off the glove of first baseman Sho Nakata that he legged out for a fourth-inning RBI double. Buffaloes catcher Kenya Wakatsuki homered to tie it 2-2 in the fifth.

Singles by Masataka Yoshida and Moya put runners on the corners with two outs, but one of manager Norifumi Nishimura’s favorite plays, the delayed double steal of home backfired when catcher Shingo Usami faked a throw to second and caught Yoshida off third base.

Sakakibara’s trouble with the walk this season haunted him again. Two of the seven runners he handed free passes to in his four-plus innings scored to give the Fighters a 2-0 lead. A first-inning leadoff walk, a sacrifice and a Kensuke Kondo single opened the scoring. Taishi Ota cashed in a run with a single in the third following a pair of two-out walks.

After six serviceable innings from Arihara (1-5) things went sideways in the seventh.

Mune opened with a single and Wakatsuki doubled him to third. Ryoichi Adachi singled to break the tie, and No. 9 hitter Hayato Nishiura doubled in Wakatsuki from third. Arihara was yanked afte getting his first out on a liner to third, and Fukuda singled in a run. Yoshida delivered a sac fly, and Adam Jones doubled in Fukuda off Kazutomo Iguchi, the third Fighters pitcher of the inning. Moya walked before Mune made the final out.

Tyler Higgins and Brandon Dickson each worked around a single to pitch a scoreless inning and close it out.

Arihara, who had aspired to pitch in the majors next year, allowed six runs on 10 hits. He struck out six without issuing a walk.

Tamura, Marines get Ishikawa his 1st win

Tatsuhiro Tamura twice put Lotte in front, the second time for good with a two-out, two-run bases-loaded single that made a winner out of the Marines’ Opening Day starter, Ayumu Ishikawa (1-2), in a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Rakuten Eagles at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.

Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto (3-3), who also pitched on Opening Day for his club, had his splitter working better than it has all season when he struck out two in a 1-2-3 first, but after that he stopped missing bats and what started as a blitzkrieg became a war of attrition between the two starters.

Tamura’s second-inning double plated the game’s first run, but Ryosuke Tatsumi’s third-inning leadoff homer tied it, and back-to-back doubles by former Marines captain Daichi Suzuki and Eigoro Mori put the Eagles in front. It stayed that way until the roof caved in on Norimoto in the sixth.

Hiromi Oka drew a leadoff walk, and Leonys Martin was hit by a pitch. Some poor base running cost the Marines an out and a run when Oka was gunned down trying to score from second on a drive to the wall in right. A sac fly from Seiya Inoue, however, tied it. A single and a walk loaded the bases for Tamura. A 3-2 fastball down the pipe was shot back through the box and into center to put the Marines in front.

Yudai Fujioka followed with an RBI single off lefty Wataru Karashima. Former Eagle Frank Herrmann surrendered two runs in the eighth on a Yasuhito Uchida home run, but Naoya Masuda earned his 10th save with a scoreless ninth.

Norimoto allowed five runs on six hits, three walks and a hit batsman over six innings. He struck out six.

Rookie Marines cleanup hitter Hisanori Yasuda continued to do what he’s done all season, hit rockets. He went 3-for-3 with a double and a walk.

Enter the ‘Sands Man’ as Jerry saves Tigers

Tigers left fielder Jerry Sands made a game-saving catch in the 10th-inning to start an inning-ending double play, depriving the DeNA BayStars of their chance to win as Hanshin held on for a 3-3 tie at Koshien Stadium.

With two on and one out in the 10th, the final inning allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tigers outfield was playing in as is customarily done in Japan to cut off the run at the plate, when Yamato Maeda drove a ball that looked like it would get over Sands’ head for at least a one-run double.

But the former Dodger, who came within a foot of denying the BayStars the tying run with a diving catch in the seventh, hauled it in. The relay throw was on the money to double the runner off second.

Tigers catcher Ryutaro Umeno opened the scoring with a three-run home run in a fourth inning in which BayStars pitcher Taiga Kamichatani gave his outfielders a workout.

Sands’ drive was caught off the wall by center fielder Takayuki Kajitani for the second out, while right fielder Tyler Austin leaped for a long drive but failed to haul in a double off the bat of Yusuke Oyama. After Justin Bour walked, Kamichatani missed up with a cutter away and Umeno hit it off the end of the bat to right center. Kajitani gave chase but he would have needed a ticket to catch this one.

Austin became the second BayStar with a hit off side-armer Koyo Aoyagi when he smoked a grounder past first to open the sixth with a double. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout to put the visitors on the board.

Austin ran full speed into the right field wall in the bottom of the inning trying to catch a Justin Bour drive that went for a double but stayed in the game as Kamichatani stranded two to keep it close and allow the BayStars to tie it in the seventh.

Toshihiro Miyazaki opened with a double, and with one out and two on, Koki Yamashita batted for Kamichatani and singled in a run when Sands dove but fell just short of making the catch in left. Aoyagi was pulled after 90 pitches and exciteable right-hander Kosuke Baba took over. Baba retired Kajitani for the first time all night by fanning him on six pitches.

With two outs, Austin lined a good 3-2 fastball past third to tie it.

Tigers pitcher Joe Gunkel nearly gave the game away in the eighth, when he surrendered three singles, but he made a terrific catch on a line drive and was able to shot put the ball to first to complete a double play that allowed him to strand two runners.

Giants get past Carp rookie

After a wild but hitless three innings against the Yomiuri Giants, Hiroshima Carp rookie Masato Morishita decided to focus on throwing strikes and it proved to be his downfall in a 2-1 loss at Tokyo Dome.

Morishita (2-2) survived five walks and a hit batsman over three scoreless innings. With a one-run lead in the fourth after Ryoma Nishikawa’s second home run in two nights, the rookie threw strikes, and the Giants hit them.

Naoki Yoshikawa’s compact swing on a 1-2 fastball opened the door with one out. After a sacrifice by starting pitcher Seishu Hatake, Yoshiyuki Kamei also stayed compact and smashed an 0-1 fastball away up the middle for an RBI single.

Hayato Sakamoto mashed an 0-2 inside fastball for another single. Yoshihiro Maru turned on a 2-1 cutter and lashed it for a single and a 2-1 lead.

Hatake was ejected in the fifth for a dangerous pitch, when Carp catcher Tsubasa Aizawa failed to duck a fastball and it glanced off the top of his helmet.

These ejections are automatic, but he nearly got out of the way, leading one to wonder that if the hitter had better reflexes, Hatake’s pitch would not have struck the batter in the head, and thus wouldn’t have been classified as a “kikenkyu” and he wouldn’t have been ejected.

Viciedo rescues Dragons, Ono

Dayan Viciedo made it a one-run game with a two-run fourth-inning double, and singled in the tying run in a two-run sixth as the Chunichi Dragons came from behind to beat the Yakult Swallows 5-3 at Nagoya Dome.

Dragons lefty Yudai Ono (1-3) allowed one base runner through three innings, a one-out solo home run to Yasutaka Shiomi. But a one-out walk in the fourth was followed by a straight high fastball to 20-year-old slugger Munetaka Murakami, who belted his sixth home run.

With one out and two on in the bottom of the inning, Viciedo drove a ball to the wall in center that Kotaro Yamasaki leaped for but missed to make it a 3-2 game.

Swallows rookie Daiki Yoshida allowed two runs on two walks and three hits over five innings but did not figure in the decision. Thirty-five-year-old lefty Masato Nakazawa entered in the sixth and allowed both batters he faced to reach. After Viciedo tied it, Toshiki Abe drove in the go-ahead run.

Ono completed the game, striking out 10, walking two and allowing five hits.

Free-agent eligible Ono claims not to think

Chunichi Dragons lefty Yudai Ono on Friday amassed the necessary service time to file for domestic free agency this autumn and played his part in the accompanying media ritual to perfection.

When NPB informs news outlets that a player earns the right to file durning the next filing period, reporters due their duty and ask the individual about his plans for the future.

Ono then read his lines to perfection: “I haven’t given any thought to things happening down the road. My priority is to concentrate on the season.”

The famous exception to this ritual, Koji Uehara, who three days after securing his rights to international free agency told the media he would leave for the major leagues at the end of the season, lost his next three starts to start the 2008 season 0-4.

To be fair, Uehara’s body was not up to being a starter anymore. He had saved 32 games the year before but disliked being a reliever. It was only out of consideration for his service to the team that he was allowed another shot at the rotation. But after three more poor starts, he was not given another opportunity to start for four months.

Buffaloes call up Moya, Dragons drop Ishikawa

The Orix Buffaloes activated outfielder Steven Moya on Friday, a day after first baseman Aderlin Rodriguez was deactivated after being hit by a pitch.

Moya is in his third season. He played in 64 games for the Buffaloes last season after a trade brought him over from the Chunichi Dragons. The Buffaloes also activated Shuhei Fukuda, who became their regular second baseman last season. Fukuda has yet to play on the first team this year but was dynamite at the plate in his four Western League games.

Meanwhile, the Dragons have deactivated third baseman Takaya Ishikawa. He was with the first team while captain Shuhei Takahashi was deactivated due to pain in his left hamstring.

Although the 19-year-old Ishikawa has begun to look confident and assertive at the plate, Takahashi’s return means he is being sent down to amass playing time

Active roster moves 7/31/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 8/10

Central League

Activated

GiantsP31Seishu Hatake
DragonsIF63Naomichi Donoue

Dectivated

DragonsP36Yuichiro Okano
DragonsIF2Takaya Ishikawa

Pacific League

Activated

BuffaloesIF4Shuhei Fukuda
BuffaloesOF1Steven Moya

Dectivated

BuffaloesIF67Keita Nakagawa

Starting pitchers for Aug. 1

Pacific League

Fighters vs Buffaloes: Sapporo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Drew VerHagen (2-1, 4.23) vs Daiki Tajima (1-1, 2.56)

Marines vs Eagles: Zozo Marine Stadium 5 pm, 4 am EDT

Atsuki Taneichi (3-1, 2.20) vs Takahiro Shiomi (1-3, 5.46)

Hawks vs Lions: PayPay Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Shuta Ishikawa (3-0, 3.14) vs Keisuke Honda (0-2, 2.87)

Central League

Giants vs Carp: Tokyo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Kazuto Taguchi (1-0, 2.08) vs Hiroki Tokoda (1-3, 6.04)

Dragons vs Swallows: Nagoya Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Akiyoshi Katsuno (0-2, 6.00) vs Yasuhiro Ogawa (4-0, 4.21)

Tigers vs BayStars: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Yuki Nishi (2-2, 1.87) vs Shota Imanaga (3-2, 2.92)