Tag Archives: HIroshima Carp

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

Part 3 of a survey of the world’s best outfield defensive tools takes us to Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League. Unlike Major League Baseball’s Gold Gloves, Japan’s fielding awards, the Golden Glove does not discriminate among positions, meaning virtually all the winners are center fielders.

Japan’s awards where the winners actually receive a golden glove, were previously known as the Diamond Glove, a name that might have been changed the first time someone tried to make a glove out of diamonds.

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The Central League’s best

  • Yoshihiro Maru, Giants 丸 佳浩
  • Seiya Suzuki, Carp 鈴木 誠也
  • Yohei Oshima, Dragons 大島 洋平

Maru and Oshima are both center fielders, while Suzuki plays in right.

Yoshihiro Maru

Maru has won seven straight Golden Gloves but despite that nobody to my knowledge has put together a highlight video of his fielding exploits. Having said that, his 2019 season

Seiya Suzuki

Suzuki was a high school pitcher who feels he could have succeeded as a pitcher as well. Until 2019 when Maru moved to the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent, Suzuki in right was paired with Maru in center. Suzuki has a gun, solid throwing mechanics, and is fairly good at going and getting the ball.

His foot speed is not what it was four years ago, and though he was tested as a center fielder for the national team, nobody wants to take that cannon out of right field. His metrics are not quite the best among right fielders though, as one would also have to consider Chunichi’s Ryosuke Hirata.

Seiya Suzuki showing off his arm.

Yohei Oshima

Again, the quality of the highlights are fairly poor. It shows Oshima tracking the ball and catching it with the throws unable to make the highlight reel. According to Delta Graphs, he had an arm when he was a pup, but he’s now 34.

My choice, for lack of contrary evidence, is Suzuki. He has fairly soft hands with 60 speed and a 70 arm. Video of CL players is haphazard because NPB has no media arm — each team is responsible for televising its own home games — and only the Pacific League has a marketing arm that produces video.

Scout Diary: Jan. 25, 2020

It’s back to scouting Japanese amateurs today. I’ve got no assignments to work on today. I was going to look at college outfielders from the website ( http://www.baseballwebtv.com/ ) but couldn’t play any videos from that.

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Scouting report on Takaya Ishikawa

Instead I thought I’d produce a report on one of the first-round picks from October’s NPB amateur draft, infielder Takaya Ishikawa. Unlike the other high school players I’ve looked at, there wasn’t a ton of video available on youtube, but I like the look of this guy as a hitter. He’s 6’1″, 200 lbs, a third baseman with average speed who is not polished as a fielder but who looks like he was born to hit.

The player he reminds me most of is Hiroshima Carp star Seiya Suzuki — who was also a slugging pitcher-infielder in high school. Suzuki had plus speed however and his fastball off the mound was clocked a little faster than Ishikawa’s.

As the cleanup hitter for Japan at the Under-18 World Cup in November, I figured there might be some video. What I found was even better. The WBSC’s tournament website has every game on video.

Using that, I’m going to comb through every game and have a look at as many players as I can.

Note: It’s vastly harder to make observations of games than it is of highlight videos. Video of games, however, allows you to get do-overs with your stopwatch, but you are at the mercy of camera angles that don’t show the runner crossing the bag at first and so on.

Having been through a number of chats with our experienced instructors, you realize how much there is to see and picking up on those things quickly enough to keep up is an amazing skill I can only marvel at right now.

Anyway, to return to Ishikawa. who will turn 19 in June, here are my notes so far.

Grades

Hitting ability 50 – 60, power 50 – 60, running speed 50 – 50, arm strength 60 – 65, arm accuracy 45 – 55, fielding 50 – 50, range 45 – 50, baseball instinct 60 – 60, aggressiveness 60 – 60. Hits the ball straight away.

Physical description

Tall with a well developed lower body. It looks like his school (Toho HS) doesn’t believe in upper body weight training. A slightly larger version of Seiya Suzuki. A toe tap (like the MLB version of Shohei Ohtani) without any of the typical Japanese high leg kick.

Abilities

Disciplined hitter. He’s looking to drive his pitches. Compact swing, good extension, power to pull and straight-away center. Alert fielder, with sound mechanics and soft hands and quick release.

Weaknesses

Fielding is mechanical, showed some hesitation.

Summation

This is guy knows what he is doing at the plate. He was named as top draft pick by three NPB teams. My main concern is that Chunichi does not have a good track record with developing players strength-training skills. He could definitely build up his frame — as Suzuki has done, but only time will tell.

Takaya Ishikawa

Cheating, Japanese style

Now that two MLB managers and one GM have lost their jobs over a sign-stealing scheme, I thought I’d relay this conversation I had with former Chunichi Dragons cleanup hitter Kenichi Yazawa.

A few winters ago, he brought up the topic of the late Morimichi Takagi, who died suddenly on Friday. The taciturn Hall of Fame second baseman had a knack to spot opponents tipping their pitches. From there, the conversation moved to sign stealing, and the elaborate ways Japanese teams went to transmit that information to the guy in the batter’s box.

“Takagi loved finding out how guys tipped their pitches. He’d spot something like where the pitcher’s palm was. He’d tell me what to look for. But when I was at the plate, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t see it,” Yazawa said.

“When he was on the bench, he’d never say anything. He spent every instant concentrating on the pitcher. You could do that with (Yomiuri Giants star Suguru) Egawa. He’d hold the glove in front of his face in his windup, and you could tell by the size of the gap between the top of his glove and the bill of his cap whether it would be a fastball or not.”

“But for me, even if I could figure it out, I didn’t want to know because the whole process messed up my timing if I was thinking about that.”

“A former Taiyo Whales catcher, (Hisaaki) Fukushima. In the late innings once, when the score would be 6-0 or 7-0, he’d say, ‘Yazawa, what kind of pitch do you want next?’ I’d think, what would be good, so I’d say, ‘OK. How about a curve?’ I asked him if I’d really get one, and he said it would be a curve. And it was. So he’d ask if I wanted another one, and it here it came.”

“I liked to think along with the pitcher, try to guess based on the kind of pitcher he was. This type we’ll probably throw this, while another type of pitcher would throw that.”

“At old Nagoya Stadium, the Dragons used to station a scout inside the scoreboard. They weren’t like the electronic ones now. They had numbers and letters on boards. If we were playing the Giants, there would be a “G” and below it a “D.” If a curve or a breaking ball was coming, the scout would wiggle the “D,” so you’re there looking at, it’s in your line of sight to the pitcher. If it didn’t move, it meant the next pitch was a fastball.”

“That stuff all started with (Hall of Fame catcher Katsuya) Nomura with the Nankai Hawks. Blazer, Don Blasingame, was involved in that. He was really good at it. Another of the coaches they had at Nankai was Takeshi Koba.”

“Koba liked to do that when he was the manager in Hiroshima. At old Hiroshima Shimin, they had a member of the team staff in the scoreboard and there was a light in the scoreboard that would flash once for fastball and twice for a curve. Actually, I was the one who discovered that. After that they quit. Later they used a radio signal to trigger a buzzer that Koji Yamamoto and Sachio Kinugasa and players like that would have concealed in their sliding pants.”

Dr. Gail Hopkins, who played two years for the Carp when Koba was their manager and finished his Japan career with the Hawks under Nomura and “Blazer” — as Blasingame was known — has confirmed Yazawa’s account.

Best 10 of the 2010s

I know one’s supposed to do these things before 2020, but Ione of the things about New Year’s Eve in Tokyo is that the trains run all night, and I was on the train, so it seemed like an optimal time. So here are my top 10 Japanese baseball stories of the past 10 years in chronological order.

2013: It’s the ball stupid

Six weeks into the 2013 season and everyone noticed it. Home runs were jumping and the players union, worrying about pitchers failing to collect on their incentives, asked what was going on. Commissioner Ryozo Kato said, “Nothing. The ball is the same uniform ball we introduced in 2011.”

His disloyal lieutenant, Atsushi Ihara, stood there and let his boss tell that knowing full well that he had conspired with the Mizuno Corporation to introduce a livelier ball without the commissioner’s consent or knowledge. Ihara, one of four people involved, came from the Yomiuri Shimbun — owner of Japan’s most influential team and the leading opponent of the commissioner — whose new ball cut home runs and who had introduced a third-party panel to adjudicate player arbitration cases.

So Ihara let his boss hang himself in public. And then later came clean that he and his immediate superior, who was not a Yomiuri guy, had switched out the balls. Ihara’s boss was fired, the commissioner was ousted and Ihara, the fox, was put in charge of the henhouse.

2013: Masahiro Tanaka, Senichi Hoshino and the Eagles

Masahiro Tanaka went 24-0 and didn’t lose all year until Game 6 of the Japan Series. After that complete game, he earned the save in Game 7 as the city of Sendai — struck by a killer earthquake and tsunami two years earlier — won its first Japan Series.

Manager Senichi Hoshino, who had lost his three previous Japan Series as manager of the Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers said when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame that he lost interest after winning the Central League pennant because his mission in life had been to beat the league-rival Giants. But in 2013, as Pacific League champions with NPB’s newest franchise, he faced the Giants and beat them in seven.

2014-2016: Tetsuto Yamada

From July 2014 through July 2016, the Yakult Swallows second baseman may have been the best player on the planet. He wasn’t a very good fielder in 2014 but took steps forward the next year when he was the CL MVP and led the consistently bad Swallows to the pennant.

His 2015 season was the 10th best in NPB history as measured by win shares and adjusted for era. His run came to a screeching halt in August 2016, when he was on his way to an even better season, but was hit in the back by a pitch that threw him off his game for nearly two seasons. Because of his stellar 2016 start, he became the first player in NPB history to record multiple seasons with a .300 average, 30 homers and 30 steals — even though he was an offensive zero the last two months of the season.

2015-2016: Giants stung by gambling scandal

Toward the end of the 2015 season, three Yomiuri Giants minor league pitchers were found guilty of betting on baseball — including games by their own team, although not in games they played in. The following March, a fourth pitcher, Kyosuke Takagi, revealed he, too, had been betting on games.

The first three players were all given indefinite suspensions and fired. In March 2016, Kyosuke Takagi also admitted to gambling. The only pitcher of the four of any quality, Takagi was let back into the game after a one-year suspension, following a recent pattern in which athletes who break the rules in Japan receive punishment inversely proportionate to how successful they are as competitors.

2016: Shohei Ohtani

If Yamada was the best for a 25-month span, 2016 cemented Ohtani’s place as the most intriguing player in the world. Ohtani had his first “Babe Ruth season” in 2014 with 10-plus wins and 10-plus home runs, but 2016, when he often batted as the pitcher in games when his manager could have used the DH was magical.

That summer, the Tokyo Sports Kisha Club, which organizes the voting for Japan’s postseason awards, made a rule change that allowed writers to cast Best Nine votes for the same player at multiple positions — provided one was a pitcher. The Ohtani rule allowed him to be win two Best Nine Awards, as the Pacific League’s best pitcher and best designated hitter.

His signature game came against the SoftBank Hawks — the team his Fighters came from behind to beat in the pennant race. Ohtani threw eight scoreless innings, opened the game with a leadoff homer and scored Nippon Ham’s other run in a 2-0 victory. Although he rolled his ankle running the bases in the Japan Series, he capped his year batting for Japan by hitting a ball into the ceiling panels at Tokyo Dome in November’s international series.

2016: Hiroshima Carp end their drought

In 2015, Hiroki Kuroda returned from the major leagues and even without Sawamura Award winner Kenta Maeda, the Carp’s young talented core snapped a 24-year drought, winning their first CL title since 1991.

The Carp went on to win three-straight CL championships, the longest streak in club history. When the club failed to win its fourth straight pennant and finished out of the postseason in 2019, manager Koichi Ogata resigned.

2019: Ichiro Suzuki retires in Japan

The only better script would have been for Suzuki to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for another MVP and a World Series championship.

2010-2019: The CL status as a 2nd-class league is confirmed

The PL won nine Japan Series in the decade, the only time either league had ever done that. It equaled the best 10-year stretch by either league—when the Yomiuri Giants won nine straight from 1965 to 1973 bookended by PL titles.

2010-2019: The SoftBank Hawks

Never mind that the Hawks opened the decade by losing the playoffs’ final stage for the 4th time in 7 years to the third-place Lotte Marines. Softbank’s six Japan Series titles from 2011 t0 2019 under two different managers made them the team of the decade.

2019: The Giants discover the posting system

In November 2019, Shun Yamaguchi was posted by the Yomiuri Giants, who along with the Hawks have been the most critical of NPB’s posting agreement with MLB. When approached for comment about the impending news, the Giants’ official response was “that’s a rumor” and “speculation.”

Eight days later it was a done deal. Then followed the fun stuff as first one executive said it was a “one-off deal” and that the team had not changed its policy, having been obligated by contract to post Yamaguchi, which is pretty dumb, since the Giants agreed to that contract in the first place when they took him on as a free agent three years before.

The move makes it virtually impossible that the club will be able to keep ace and two-time Sawamura Award-winner Tomoyuki Sugano much longer and not post him.

Alex Ramirez, the flexible manager

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, like pretty much any ballplayer you talk to, has a huge bag of cliches and simple rules to explain how to prepare for and play baseball games in the form of expressions “you always want to…” or “you never…”

But when you get past the superficial sound bites that come from being a former big leaguer, you get a guy who is always on the lookout for the next thing that might work.

On Sunday, Ramirez said he was open to using a reliever to break the first-inning ice for his starting pitchers as “openers.” If so, he would be Japan’s second manager to opt for that kind of a role following Nippon Ham’s Hideki Kuriyama.

Ramirez has long been used to getting flack in Japan. A lot of foreign players took exception to his choreographed home run celebrations that the fans loved, often saying, “If you don’t do that back home, don’t do that here.” To which Ramirez was fond of answering: “In case you hadn’t noticed we’re in Japan, not ‘back home.'”

As a manager, he has been criticized for batting his pitchers eighth, something which makes a ton of sense.

Having a batter who reaches base bat ninth means fewer RBIs from the No. 8 spot in exchange for more no-out, runner-on-base situations for the top of the order — something that will help you score a few extra runs a year.

Last year, when Ramirez had his best hitter, and Japan’s cleanup hitter, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo bat second, the old farts screamed, calling it an insult to Tsutsugo and Japan.

Last year, I tracked how each team’s starting pitchers did before and after facing their 19th batter in a game. Last season, when bullpen games were becoming very common, the BayStars were second-fewest in NPB with only 55 games in which a starter faced 19-plus batters, but it didn’t really help them.

From the 19th batter on in those 55 games, BayStars opponents had a .382 OBP, the 10th worst in NPB, and a .511 slugging average, worst of all 12 teams. The Fighters were the flip side of that. The pitchers who were allowed to go past 18 batters were really good, posting a .250 OBP and .196 SLUG.

Mind you, the Hiroshima Carp had 125 games in which their starters went through the opposing order more than two times while being nearly as good as the Fighters starters in those situations. But the Carp rotation — which led NPB with a .469 quality start percentage, was deep and the Fighters’ wasn’t.

The BayStars young starting corps has the chance to be an elite group, but Ramirez isn’t going to turn a blind eye to the possibility that using openers as part of a well-thought-out plan could help. Like the Fighters, the BayStars have a solid analytics team, and it would be no surprise to see DeNA improve their pitching and defense next season just because of Ramirez’s willingness to fly in the face of ignorant criticism and try the next thing.

The kotatsu league: 4 more years, Kikuchi to remain with Carp

Second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi will remain a Hiroshima Carp, he told a press conference at Mazda Stadium on Friday, Kyodo News reported in Japanese, when he signed a four-year contract extension after failing to get a timely guaranteed major league contract.

Below are some Kikuchi highlights so you all can see what you’re missing.

Soon after the Central League club agreed to post him, Kikuchi said he would only move to the majors on a guaranteed major league contract. After meeting with teams at December’s winter meetings in San Diego, he has now told Hiroshima that he intends to remain with the Carp for 2020.

My profile of Kikuchi is HERE.

Former Tigers skipper Yoshida blames “undignified” Solarte for troubles

This year, the Hanshin Tigers rushed Yangervis Solarte into the firing line with a minimum of exposure to Japan’s game. His immediate success was quickly followed by failure and a trip to the minors, from which the former major leaguer never recovered.

Solarte was given 80 first-team plate appearances, then judged unworthy and demoted to the farm team. When he said a few days later that he was unable to “get motivated,” he declined promotion to the first team and returned home.

Yoshio Yoshida, a deserving Hall of Famer as a shortstop who also managed Hanshin to its only Japan Series championship in 1985, told the Nikkan Sports on Friday that Solarte’s problem was a “lack of dignity.”

“That Solarte, he COULD play at shortstop but he demonstrated a lack of dignity.”

Former Hanshin Tigers manager Yoshio Yoshida

Solarte went 13-for-69, but four of those hits were home runs. He drew nine walks, scored sic runs and drove in nine. Hardly a disaster.

The Tigers are a proud organization steeped in tradition. Unfortunately, one of those traditions is discarding foreign imports who fail to meet the team’s expectations for instant success and blaming the individuals for the club’s traditional lack of patience and understanding.