Tag Archives: Hotaka Yamakawa

NPB 2020 7-10 games and news

Hail, hail the gang’s all here

For the first time since Feb. 24, fans in Japan were able to see games between teams from Nippon Professional Baseball’s two top leagues as clubs from the Central and Pacific leagues were allowed to admit u to 5,000 fans to their games starting Friday.

One of the games, between the CL’s Yomiuri Giants and Yakult Swallows at Hotto Motto Field Kobe, was rained out, and the game at nearby Koshien Stadium was called after five innings.

The opening takes place as COVID-19 cases surge around Japan and in particularly in Tokyo. Tokyo set a record for new infections on Friday.

Japanese ball to an American-style beat

To prevent the spread of the virus, fans have been asked not to participate in organized cheering, chanting and singing, while musical instruments have been banned. But when you take the organized cheering away from Asian baseball you get a much more subdued atmosphere.

Instead of every at-bat being accompanied by its background music and rhythm section, the reduced crowds created a buzz that ebbed and flowed more in tune with action on the field.

Kuriyama brings Lions back

Veteran left-handed hitter Takumi Kuriyama belted a two-run, game-tying home run in the eighth and drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning that pushed the Seibu Lions to 7-6 win over the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.

Kuriyama’s second home run of the season, off reliever Taiki Tojo, took Lions starter Zach Neal off the hook for the loss and preserving his streak of 12-straight winning decisions.

“One can’t be happier than this,” said the 36-year-old Kuriyama. “How the fans see us, their critical eye as well as their sympathy and understanding is essential.”

“I felt like all eyes were on me, and I felt the tension conveyed by everyone in the stands, it helped me buckle down.”

Tojo tried to go away with a first-pitch slider, but it drifted over the inner half of the plate and Kuriyama golfed it into the right field stands.

“I went up focused on hitting my pitch and not wasting the at-bat,” Kuriyama said.

Marines starter Ayumu Ishikawa seemed to struggle in the whipping wind in the first. A leadoff single by rookie Shohei Suzuki and a one-out walk set the table for Hotaka Yamakawa, who hammered a high fastball away and just got it over the fence in right for a three-run home run.

Neal got five groundballs in Lotte’s two-run first. The first two found holes, while the third resulted in a run scoring on a botched rundown. Brandon Laird became the first Marine to elevate the ball, with a sacrifice fly to the wall in left. Two more grounders ended the inning.

The Marines took the lead in the third when Martin walked and Laird reached on yet another groundball single. With one out, Neal tried to go inside to Seiya Inoue with a two-seam fastball but it hung up over the outside half of the plate and he reached the seats.

Yamakawa drew a leadoff walk in the fourth, and a nice stop by shortstop Yudai Fujioka allowed the Marines to get a force on Mori, who then stole second with one out. Kuriyama walked and a hit batsman loaded the bases. Rookie Seiji Kawagoe struck out on a borderline 3-2 pitch, but rookie Kakeru Kawanobe made amends for a bad throw that allowed the Marines’ first run to score by rifling a single to right.

With their lead cut to a run, Tatsuhiro Tamura opened the Marines fourth by working an eight-pitch walk. The Marines catcher advanced on a groundout and beat a good relay on Ogino’s single to left to make it a 6-4 game.

Right-hander Tetsu Miyagawa, Seibu’s top draft pick last autumn, worked around two walks in a scoreless seventh. New import Reed Garrett (2-0) struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth to earn the win, and Tatsushi Masuda worked a perfect ninth to collect his sixth save.

Ishikawa allowed four runs on three hits, three walks and two hit batsmen, while Neal surrendered six runs on four walks and six hits over six innings. Marines closer Naoya Masuda (0-1) walked two, hit a batter and gave up a single in the ninth and was tagged with the loss.

Rodriguez’s farewell bomb KO’s Fighters

Aderlin Rodriguez capped a two-out, ninth-inning rally with his fourth home run, a three-run shot that lifted the Orix Buffaloes to a 4-3 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

The walk-off “sayonara” home run was one of three on Friday. Fighters closer Ryo Akiyoshi retired the first two batters in the ninth before walking Adam Jones on seven pitches and rejuvenated left-handed slugger Takahiro Okada on eight.

After taking a slider for Ball 1, Rodriguez fouled off two low changeups from the side-armer but drilled the third on a line over the left field wall.

Christian Villanueva’s first home run as a Fighter, a two-run shot off right-hander Tsubasa Sakakibara, made it a 3-0 in the sixth.

Rodriguez, who saved a first-inning running with a leaping catch at first base, singled and scored in the eighth on a smash Villanueva was unable to handle at third. Lefty Naoki Miyanishi might have given the game away then, but for a diving catch in left by Kensuke Kondo, who started an inning-ending double play.

The bullpen wasted the best start of the season from Fighters ace Kohei Arihara, who surrendered two singles while striking out seven and walking one over seven scoreless innings.

‘Gita blast lifts Hawks past Eagles

Yuki Yanagita’s fourth home run in four games settled a tight pitchers’ duel when he led off the 10th inning by homering off new import J. T. Chargois (0-1) in the SoftBank Hawks’ 2-1 win over the Rakuten Eagles at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.

Eagles starter Takahiro Norimoto had his splitter working to perfection and struck out nine. He and Hawks starter Nao Higashihama, who was able to pin-point his fastball, each allowed a run over seven innings. Other than an eighth-inning scrape that Rakuten’s Alan Busenitz barely escaped, neither bullpen looked in danger of giving up a run. That was until Yanagita crushed Chargois’ fourth pitch for his seventh home run of the season.

Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi (2-0), who has started the season out of the bullpen after winning 12 games in the rotation as the 2019 PL rookie of the year, earned the win in relief.

Viciedo sayonara blast sinks Carp

Dayan Viciedo won it in the 10th inning with a walk-off home run to lift the Chunichi Dragons to a 3-2 home victory at Nagoya Dome over the Hiroshima Carp.

The two team’s Opening Day starters, Daichi Osera for the Carp and Yudai Ono for the Dragons, kept this game close through seven. The Carp opened the scoring on third-inning singles by Alejandro Mejia and Jose Pirela.

Journeyman Dragons outfielder Masataka Iryo drew a leadoff walk and scored the tying run in the fifth only for Carp infielder Ryosuke Kikuchi to take Ono deep in the sixth. Iryo, however, singled to open the eighth off journeyman reliever Yasunori Kikuchi and scored an unearned run to tie it on a Yohei Oshima sac fly.

The Dragons bullpen produced three-straight 1-2-3 innings, with Raidel Martinez working the 10th and earning the win when Viciedo homered off Geronimo Franzua to end it.

Tigers outlast BayStars in rain

Koji Chikamoto homered to open the Hanshin Tigers’ first and tie the game 1-1 and start a three-run inning in a 3-2 win over the DeNA BayStars in a game that was called after the top of the fourth due to rain.

Takayuki Kajitani homered to open the game, had three of DeNA’s four hits and scored both runs, but the Tigers offense in the first was enough to decide it at Koshien Stadium.

Kento Itohara followed with a triple and scored on a groundout before cleanup hitter Yusuke Oyama homered. Justin Bour walked and Jerry Sands singled off DeNA starter Shinichi Onuki (1-0). Onuki got out of the inning after one of manager Alex Ramirez’s beloved intentional walks brought Koyo Aoyagi (2-1) up to bat and the Tigers pitcher struck out.

As usual, the cast on Pro Yakyu News found fault with Ramirez’s managing because of his employing a shift against Bour, who singled through the open left side of the infield to lead off the third.

NPB 2020 6-27 GAMES AND NEWS

Sunday’s announced starting pitchers are HERE.

Let’s go Jerry!

The Hanshin Tigers dialed the right number on Saturday, when they called up 2019 KBO RBI leader Jerry Sands to the active roster. Sands made a run-saving sliding catch in the fourth inning, and put the Tigers ahead for good in the ninth, with a two-out, three-run homer off closer Yasuaki Yamasaki (0-1) in an 8-6 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium.

BayStars starter Michael Peoples allowed five runs in five innings. The right-hander struck out three, walked one and hit two. Jefry Marte’s sac fly opened the scoring in the first before Justin Bour singled in a run and stole a base in the visitors’ two-run inning.

The BayStars tied it in the bottom of the inning on doubles by Takayuki Kajitani, Neftali Soto and Keita Sano. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth, a BayStars runner on first an no outs, Sands slid into the left field corner to just snag a fly for the first out.

Trailing 6-5 in the ninth, Yamasaki, who also closes for Japan’s national team was in trouble for the second-straight game. The right-hander got two outs before walking Marte and pinch-hitter Yusuke Oyama. Sands belted a 1-2 pitch over the wall to put Hanshin in front.

Former Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, who reclaimed the Tigers’ closer role last summer, also got into hot water. The 39-year-old had blown his last save opportunity, the first time that had happened in over a year.

A walk to Soto, and a single to former Padre Tyler Austin, who drove in two runs in the sixth, put the tying runs on and a hit batsman loaded the bases with two outs before Fujikawa got out of it for his first save of the season.

Yamada crushes Giants

Tetsuto Yamada capped a sixth inning in which both teams combined for 11 runs with a grand slam as the Yakult Swallows beat the Yomiuri Giants 9-6 on Saturday.

Yamada doubled in a run and scored in the first inning, but the Giants pounded Swallows starter Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa for four runs in the sixth, two on Gerardo Parra’s third home run, a two-run shot.

Yoshimi stops Carp, Dragons’ losing skid

Kazuki Yoshimi (1-1), once the ace of the Chunichi Dragons staff, pitched out of a fourth-inning jam to allow a run over five innings in a 6-1 win over the Hiroshima Carp. Yoshimi, who has a long history of elbow surgeries and has had seven 100-inning seasons but only two since 2012. He struck out two and hit a batter while allowing four hits, all singles.

With a 3-0, fourth-inning lead, back-to-back, no-out singles brought up Seiya Suzuki, but the Carp star grounded into a double play. With two out and two on, Yoshimi retired Alejandro Mejia on a fly out to end the inning.

Sato caps Marines’ victory with 1st career hit

Toshiya Sato, the Marines’ second pick in last autumn’s draft, drilled a pinch-hit single to the wall in the 10th inning to lift Lotte to a 2-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes.

Tyler Higgins, made his Japan debut by getting three outs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded for the Buffaloes, while Marines relievers Jay Jackson and Frank Herrmann each struck out two in a scoreless inning of relief. Herrmann (2-0) got the win.

The Buffaloes have now lost five straight since right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto won last Sunday. With the Pacific League looking to reduce travel among its far-flung teams by holding six-game series, Yamamoto will go to the mound tomorrow to prevent the Buffaloes from suffering a six-game sweep.

Yamakawa decides Lions-Hawks slugfest

Takeya Nakamura, with six PL home run titles under his belt, and Hotaka Yamakawa, who owns the last two, each homered for the Seibu Lions in an 8-7 victory over the SoftBank Hawks at MetLife Dome.

The Hawks’ Yuki Yanagita set the tone early with a first-inning shot off Lions starter Wataru Matsumoto.

The Lions bullpen, which has been inconsistent to say the least, worked six scoreless innings, while allowing two walks and three hits.

Trailing 7-5 in the seventh, Sosuke Genda and Shuta Tonosaki singled off Sho Iwasaki (0-2) before Yamakawa hit his fourth homer of the season to put Seibu in front.

Reed Garrett, who struck out the side on Friday night to earn the win, retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, while closer Tatsushi Masuda survived a two-out triple to nail down his third save.

Asamura wrecks Fighters

Hideto Asamura took a hammer to the Nippon Ham Fighters, scoring twice and driving in seven runs in the Rakuten Eagles’ 18-4 blood-letting at Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.

Jabari Blash drove in three runs, scored twice, walked twice and singled for Rakuten, whose starter, former southpaw closer Yuki Matsui, surrendered four runs in four-plus innings.

Six Fighters pitchers combined to issue 10 walks.

Buffaloes call up Higgins

The Orix Buffaloes activated right-hander Tyler Higgins on Saturday to take the spot of Opening Day starter Taisuke Yamaoka, who strained an internal oblique tendon in the first inning of Friday’s start against the Lotte Marines in Chiba.

In two farm outings this season, the 29-year-old allowed a run on one hits and a walk, while striking out three. Higgins spent nine seasons in the minor leagues, mostly with the Miami Marlins. Last year, he pitched in 33 games for Triple-A El Paso, where the Padres assigned Japanese pitching coach Akinori Otsuka.

In his Japan first-team debut, Higgins came on with two on and no outs in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-1 game. After issuing an intentional walk, he retired the next three batters to send the game to an extra inning.

Tigers bring up KBO RBI king Sands

Outfielder Jerry Sands, who led the Korea Baseball Organization in RBIs last season, was called up for the first time this season by the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League on Saturday.

Since Opening Day, the Tigers have deactivated three imported pitchers, Onelki Garcia, Joe Gunkel and Jon Edwards. Their four active imports now are Sands, first baseman Justin Bour, third baseman Jefry Marte and reliever Robert Suarez.

“Hit it hard and make it fly Jerry. Home runs to left, home runs to right Jerry Jerry Sands Lets go! Jerry Sands Lets go!”

Jerry Sands cheer, as displayed on the big screen at Koshien Stadium this spring.

Sands has played in two games for the Tigers’ Western League farm club this summer and has one hit and three walks in seven plate appearances.

The Tigers started the season 1-6.

Scout Diary: Feb. 2, 2020. Hitters

Part 1 of this week’s scouting assignment is to try and unpack the astonishingly difficult world of evaluating hitters, starting with the difference between “pure” and “power” hitters following the lines laid down in the book “Baseball Uncenscored” by MLB scout John Story.

The mission

Part 1Identify one “pure hitter” as described in “Baseball Uncensored” and one “power hitter.” Describe how each is important in the line-up and why. How has the “power hitter” changed the game? How does this affect scouts when analyzing hitting?

Story writes that the goal of the good hitter is “to consistently hit the ball hard,” and that regardless how that goal is achieved, solid hitting mechanics are reason the best hitters achieve that goal. (p. 73) By that logic, the overall measure of the hit tool is the player’s ability to consistently hit the ball hard. The job of the scout, then, is to recognize this where it exists, and recognize what gifts a player has that will allow him to achieve this at a high level with proper attention to skills that can be developed and the effort required to master them.

He describes excellent hand speed and aptitude as natural abilities. Adjusting one’s hands to the pitched ball and a short compact stroke are, he writes, learned skills.

The big question for Story is whether a player has or can learn to generate bat speed. The key, he writes, is the hands, and how the small muscles trigger the swing. To this he adds, balance, knowledge of the strike zone and a good approach are also components.

So let’s look at two hitters, one pure hitter, and one power hitter.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Pure hitter: Kensuke Kondo

Kondo is a 26-year-old on-base machine for the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League. He qualifies as a pure hitter by virtue of his ability to consistently hit the ball hard. Here’s how he compares to other NPB hitters with 350-plus plate appearances the past two seasons according to Delta Graphs:

  • Lowest soft-contact percentage: No. 1 (2019), No. 8 (2018)
  • Lowest swinging strike percentage: No. 2 (2019), No. 4 (2018)
  • Lowest swing percentage out of zone: No. 7 (2019), No. 6 (2018)
  • Highest hard-contact percentage: No. 19 (2019), No. 10 (2018)

By those numbers we can deduce he consistently makes solid contact, knows the strike zone, and has a good approach. Here’s a youtube video of Kondo:

Kensuke Kondo

Here’s how Kondo looked in his days at Yokohama High School

Kensuke Kondo in high school.

Power hitter: Hotaka Yamakawa

Yamakawa is the first baseman and cleanup hitter for both the Seibu Lions and Japan’s national team. He was the PL’s 2018 MVP. His qualifications as a power hiter – according to the Story line – are: 23% of his fly balls are home runs, this was the 7th highest figure in 2019, the 5th highest in 2018.

In his career, he has hit one home run per 11.45 at-bats. Among hitters with at least 1,000 at-bats and 100 home runs, this rate – that Story calls “power efficiency” (p. 80) – ranks Yamakawa fifth  — in Japanese pro baseball history. Ranked ahead of him are: Sadaharu Oh (10.66), Randy “I’ll be a Hall of Famer in 2021” Bass (10.93), Charlie Manuel (11.25) and Orestes Destrade (11.35).

First, a look at Yamakawa in his days as a Fuji University star:

Hotaka Yamakawa in university
Hotaka Yamakawa during his first full season.

The power ball lottery

The realization over the past 10 years that balls driven at a velocity of at least 98 mph at an angle between 26 and 30 degrees result produces optimum results that often outweigh the cost of increased strikeouts has been the biggest game-changer since the period from 1919-1921. Then, the confluence of Babe Ruth showed home run hitting could be a productive tactic, and clean baseballs allowed others to replicate his experiment. Since then, the fear of the cost of a strikeout has steadily declined and now has all but evaporated.

If I’m a scout, I’m on the lookout for strong players with quick wrists, who can make the necessary adjustments. The other side of the coin is finding pitchers who can exploit those hitters, and consequently, batters who can put the ball in play against the shifts that have since been implemented.

The kotatsu league: Lions to bring back Mejia, sign 2 new imports

The Seibu Lions announced Friday they have reached an agreement to re-sign first baseman-pinch-hitter Ernesto Mejia on Friday and that they have also come to terms on deals with 29-year-old left-handed starter Sean Nolin and 28-year-old infielder Cory Spangenberg. In his major league career,

Spangenberg has played every position except first base and catcher, making him an obvious understudy to Japan national team utility man Shuta Tonosaki — although given the larger rosters and 12-inning limits, it is highly unlikely he’ll get to relive his two games of pitching experience from 2018.

The two-time defending Pacific League champions have also signed 31-year-old former Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers infielder Yuto Morikoshi.

Mejia (33), who lost his first base job due to the ascension of 2018 PL MVP Hotaka Yamakawa, will be entering his seventh NPB season, all with the Lions. In 2014, he joined Seibu shortly after the start of the season and tied for the league home run lead, the first time a player had done that in Japan.

His NPB player page is HERE.

The Heisei ERA, part 2

On this past week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, a listener asked:

  1. Who had the single most dominant season in the Heisei era (1989 to April 30, 2019)?
  2. Who was the best player of the Heisei era in NPB?

To recap our answers, we split on Question 1. John (@JBWPodcast) Gibson answered Masahiro Tanaka‘s 2013, 24-0 MVP season for the Rakuten Eagles, while I had Tetsuto Yamada‘s 2015 MVP season at second base for the Yakult Swallows, which ranks — according to Bill James’ win shares — as the seventh most valuable season in Japanese pro baseball history.

The Heisei Most Dominant Season Award

Tanaka’s season ranks 457th overall among all players in history, and second behind Hall of Famer Masaki Saito’s 1989 season for the Yomiuri Giants. But if one thinks about how the game has changed, Tanaka’s season is pretty darn remarkable.

The quality of play in NPB has increased steadily along with the number of pitches needed to get batters out. Saito, who is a big strong guy like Tanaka had a season that was a little better but required 33 more innings to accomplish.

In terms of how much Tanaka accomplished per inning pitched, his 2013 season is third in Japanese baseball history, behind two more Hall of Famers, Masaichi Kaneda (1958, Kokutetsu Swallows) and Tadashi Sugiura (1959, Nankai Hawks) during Japan’s most pitcher-friendly years since the end of World War II.

John, for those of you who haven’t heard it, brought up Wladimir Balentien‘s 60-home run 2013 season, but Win Shares has that ranked right behind Hotaka Yamakawa‘s MVP season last year for the Seibu Lions and the 28th most valuable during the Heisei era.

The Heisei MVP Award

John and I both picked Tomoaki Kanemoto as the Heisei MVP, which came as a shock to Mr. Gibson. The question excluded Ichiro Suzuki, but if I valued his MLB win shares at 1.2 per NPB WS, he ranks as the undisputed Heisei king. Through that somewhat conservative formula, Suzuki’s 540 ranks him third in Japanese baseball history, far behind the run-away leader, Sadaharu Oh (723 WS) and catcher Katsuya Nomura (581). Because the bulk of Suzuki’s win shares come from MLB, he would shoot past Nomura if each WS was valued at 1.5 per NPB win share.

If we allowed MLB win shares, Kanemoto would finish third, right behind Hideki Matsui.

Anyway, here are the top Heisei win share seasons:

Position players

PlayerYearTeamWS
1. Tetsuto Yamada2015Swallows46.8
2. Yuki Yanagita2015Hawks42.0
3. Hideki Matsui2002Giants41.7
4. Ichiro Suzuki1995BlueWave40.5
5. Kosuke Fukudome2006Dragons39.1
6. Kazuo Matsui2002Lions38.8
7. Alex Cabrera2002Lions37.7
8. Tuffy Rhodes2001Buffaloes37.4
9. Yuki Yanagita2018Hawks36.4
10. Takeya Nakamura2011Lions35.8

Pitchers

PlayerYearTeamWS
1. Masaki Saito1989Giants29.8
2. Masahiro Tanaka2013Eagles27.3
3. Masaki Saito1990Giants26.6
4. Masahiro Tanaka2011Eagles26.3
5. Hideo Nomo1990Buffaloes25.1
6. Hideyuki Awano1989Buffaloes24.2
7. Shinji Imanaka1993Dragons23.2
8. Tomoyuki Sugano2017Giants23.2
9. Yu Darvish2008Fighters23.1
10. Koji Uehara1999Giants22.8

And for the guy who doesn’t fit anywhere easily, Shohei Ohtani had 32.3 win shares in 2016 as a pitcher and a hitter, and would have ranked high in either list had he only batted or pitched.

You can find my post on NPB’s Heisei era pitching leaders HERE.