Tag Archives: Koshien Stadium

Fanning the flames

Having set July 10 as the day from when fans will be able to attend Japanese pro baseball games, executives have gone from “We’re not even thinking about getting fans into the park in these dire times” to “Of course we want the maximum number of fans in the park from Day 1.”

And now that MLB and its union have agreed to start their season, they should be looking to see how Japan has handled it and the potential pitfalls that await.

Hawks go 1st

The SoftBank Hawks, who will host the Rakuten Eagles in a six-game series from July 7, will open the doors to between 1,500 and 5,000 invited fans for the final three games at PayPay Dome. The Hawks said they will sell 5,000 tickets through a lottery for their games between July 21 and 31.

From Aug. 1, when teams have agreed to admit about half their stadiums’ capacities, the team will sell up to 20,000 seats, first come, first served.

They were quickly followed by other clubs as teams gear up to sell tickets and start cutting their losses.

House of cards

To its credit Nippon Professional Baseball has worked hard to establish testing and quarantine protocols with the help of leading public health experts. And compared to the United States, the situation is reasonably stable.

But stable is not safe, and the government is still encouraging social distancing, although one wouldn’t know it around the closest major station to my office. Shimbashi, especially the north side, is filled with tiny eating and drinking joints. Whenever there is breaking news at night and TV crews need man-on-the-street interviews, they flock to the “steam locomotive” plaza north of the station where people are constantly milling about.

Walking through Shimbashi is seeing a world of people determined not to care about the risk to their health or others. Tokyo isn’t a hot spot at the moment, but it sure looks like it’s not far removed from being one.

The government of Trumpist prime minister Shinzo Abe has steadfastly kept the brakes on testing, so there is no real feel for how bad the situation is. On Wednesday, Tokyo announced 55 confirmed infections, its highest total since May 5.

So while things appear normal on the surface, there has been no concerted effort to test and control the virus, so we’re all guessing, and crossing our fingers that this house of cards doesn’t come tumbling down with the help of baseball teams rumbling to get paying fans back in the seats.

Major trouble on the horizon

While Japan’s situation appears fragile, seeing the majors talk about opening up when minor leaguers and team staff are producing positive test results and infection rates in many parts of the United States is positively scary.

At least in Japan, the virus has not become politicized.

Getting back to work is not seen by anyone as a patriotic duty. Wearing a mask is not a sign of political dissent. Through MLB owners’ greed, the politicization of the virus and scientific research as a whole and the surging rates of infection, and MLB may need a tremendous amount of luck to avoid being part of a public health catostrophe.

No fans will be in the stands, but that won’t stop people from flocking to ballparks located in neighborhoods with bars, as Japan has shown.

Crowding outside closed doors

Even without fans in the stands, fans are being drawn to watering holes to crowd together and support their teams with like-minded fans. This comes at a time when, according to the ministry of health labor and welfare, Japan and Tokyo in particular is experiencing a gradual increase in the number of daily infections.

On Wednesday, the Yukan Fuji reported on the problem of people opting to socialize rather than social distance and suggested that by packing into bars, the fans were far more likely to be exposed to the virus than at ballparks.

The story also showed fans flocking to the stadium gates to catch glimpses of whatever they can, without paying much attention to social distancing.

Summer HS championship faces cancellation

The Japan High School Baseball Federation will decide on Wednesday whether or not to cancel its 102nd national championship, Japan’s most iconic sports event, at Koshen Stadium in light of the current public health crisis.

The federation’s second-biggest tournament, March’s national invitational, was canceled.

From Friday, the government-issued state of emergency was lifted in 39 prefectures. The Nikkan Sports reports that 20 of the 35 prefectural federations that replied to their inquiries indicated they will hold their annual summer tournaments regardless of whether the national championships are held or not.

According to the report, Tokyo’s federation is still planning to hold its tournament in some form.

Scout Diary: Jan. 31, 2020: The question about Junya Nishi

Today’s topic is right-handed pitcher Junya Nishi, the Hanshin Tigers’ top draft pick last autumn. Nishi, a Hiroshima native, played for Soshigakuen HS in Okayama and is a distant relative of Tigers pitcher Yuki Nishi.

Haven’t heard anyone talk about Nishi’s hitting, but he’s got real power. I asked longtime former Dodgers scout Hank Jones, one of the instructors in the Scouting and General Manager course at Sports Management World Wide, what teams did back in the day when guys had hitting AND pitching tools back in the day before Shohei Ohtani.

Essentially, Jones said, “Let him prove he can’t hit. If he can’t then he’s a pitcher.”

But now that we’re living in the post-Ohtani world, one would think any team would at least consider a novel approach to a player with such obvious talent.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page´╗┐

Physically, Nishi resembles Ron Cey, although he is a little taller than Cey. His pitching motion makes it look like he’s constantly overexerting himself, and his follow through is violent rather than smooth.

The pitcher

In the pitching video below, the announcer reports Nishi as saying his balance is off when his cap comes off his head — which it does frequently. When he bats, it looks like his lower body imparts very little of the impressive power he generates.

Here’s a first-round national championship game in 2018, when Nishi was a month shy of his 17th birthday. He touched 91.3 mph in this game with 40 command. He has since been recorded at 93.2, which would make his velocity a 60. He has a slider with depth and 50 command, a curve that he doesn’t command well what appeared to be a splitter with arm-side run and good depth.

Junya Nishi’s 16 strikeouts in the national championships as a 16-year-old.

The video below is an analysis of his motion and deliveries against the national collegiate team prior to last year’s Under-18 World Cup. I can’t vouch for the RPMs given on the video. The curve with poor command appears little different than the ones he threw at Koshien Stadium a year earlier, but it looks like the slider and fastball are even better and he’s added a changeup and improved the splitter.

Some slow motion of him pitching against Japan’s national collegiate hitters.

The hitter

I first noticed Nishi when he drove in eight runs against South Africa as Japan’s DH in their Under-18 World Cup game last autumn in South Korea.

The other instructor in our scouting course, former Dodgers GM and Blue Jays scout Dan Evans, provided us with a hack for recognizing above-average major league power, which I won’t spill hear, but suffice it to say hearing that he led the World Cup in home runs and hit 25 in his high school career as a pitcher.

He’s a right-handed hitter, with 60 power that I’ll project to 65 with work on his lower body mechanics with a 50 hit tool. Like most Japanese hitters he sprays the ball to all fields, although his power seems to be mostly to left.

Here’s some video of Nishi hitting in high school.

Pitcher Junya Nishi raked and mashed in high school.

Conclusion

Japan is obsessed with pitchers, and Nishi has a lot to offer on the mound, but his delivery bothers me a little. I’m inclined to think his power is the real deal and that he may have more future value as a hitter with fewer adjustments needed.

Whether he can be a two-way player or not is a good question. But if I’m the Hanshin Tigers, I’d at least ask him if he’s interested instead of just assuming that the team knows more than the player. The Tigers are kind of a mystery to me. I don’t understand their inability to commit to young players or their past failures to modernize the club’s strength-training program.

Maybe they see the possibility Nishi presents, but if I were to bet, my money would be on the “We’ve already made up our minds about his future as a pitcher.”

The kotatsu league: Tigers conclude Bour hunt, Giants rearm

The Hanshin Tigers on Saturday announced they have acquired 31-year-old slugging infielder Justin Bour on a one-year deal reported at $2.5 million according to Kyodo News (in Japanese).

One interesting thing about Bour is that according to Fangraphs he has a fastball hitter with a history of success against curveballs. While most of the curves he sees in Japan will be a little different from those he was more used to in the States, it suggests some ability to adjust off the fastball. He will see really good breaking balls, and it would be no surprise if he still has good success once he gets his timing down — until the locals wise up and become more selective.

When the deal was first agreed to, Tigers head of baseball operations Osamu Tanimoto compared Bour to former Tigers icon Randy Bass because of his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field — potentially negating the impact of the jet stream blowing in from Osaka Bay that holds up fly balls hit to right field at Koshien Stadium.

As a matter of interest HERE are how NPB’s different main parks affect the frequency of home runs hit by left- and right-handed hitters — with the higher figures indicating how much harder it is to hit home runs based on which side of the plate the batter bats from.

Sanchez to Giants

On Friday, the Yomiuri Giants announced they had concluded a contract with 30-year-old right-handed pitcher Angel Sanchez, who went 17-5 with a 2.62 ERA last season for the SK Wyverns of KBO. Sanchez was in his second season in South Korea. His two-year contract with the Central League champs will pay him approximately $3 million for the first year according to Kyodo News Japanese language site.

The Giants are going to lose their best pitcher from 2019, Shun Yamaguchi unless the right-hander fails to sign an MLB contract by the end of his 30-day posting window.

In a statement released by the team, Sanchez, who is from the Dominican Republic, said coming to Japan had been a dream of his since he was a child and that he was eager to learn the language so he could communicate with fans and teammates.

Bolsinger still available

Mike Bolsinger, who was released this month after his second season with the Lotte Marines, surprisingly remains on the market. Following a 2018 debut campaign in which nearly everything went right and he finished with a 13-2 record, Bolsinger was 4-6 in 2019 with an ERA 1.5 runs higher than the year before.

Although Zozo Marine Stadium had new turf in 2019, Bolsinger suffered from a foot injury through the first half of the season, when he went 1-3 with a 4.87 ERA over 57-1/3 IP through June. During that stretch, he allowed 12 homers and walked 34 batters. From July, he was 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA while walking 18 batters over 45-2/3 innings and allowing two home runs.

Take him to the SoftBank

This should trigger your “small sample size” alarm, but Bolsinger is 4-2 in his seven starts against the three-time defending Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks with 1.41 ERA and an average game score of 62.7.

To show you he’s human, the two-time defending PL champion Seibu Lions batters have treated Bolsinger like he doesn’t walk on water, handing him a 6.81 ERA and a 3-2 record over eight starts. Still, that’s 15 starts against the Marines’ two toughest opponents out of 35 career starts against the five other PL teams.

As I pointed out somewhere, that besides the foot issue, Bolsinger’s biggest shift from 2018 was in how often batted balls found holes against him. Opponents batted .278 against him on balls in play a year ago and .295 through June — when he was not pitching well. From July, when he had stopped giving up walks and home runs, opponents’ Babip was .329.

I’m biased because Bolsinger is a good guy, and easy to talk to, but those are the facts. The team that picks him up should get a bargain and results somewhere in between what he did in 2018 and 2019.

High school body sets limits, kind of

For the first time in its history, Japan’s national high school baseball federation set pitch limits for its games and those organized by prefectural federations.

Kyodo News’ English language story is HERE.

The move is for three years starting from next spring’s national invitational. During the time the rule is in effect pitchers will ONLY be allowed to throw 500 pitches over any seven-day period, but will be able to pitch on back-to-back days, although not on three straight days.

The move comes 11 months after Niigata Prefecture’s high school body implemented its own measures and was shouted down by the national federation. But without Niigata going out on a limb and without some strong words of support from the head of Japan’s Sports Agency, Daichi Suzuki, it is an open question whether the national body — which had resisted considering pitch counts for so long — would have acted.

Still, it’s a positive step, and the mere fact that is coming from a body that has in the past seemed so intransigent, could have an oversized impact on the amateur baseball landscape.

NPB games, news of Sept. 30, 2019

Tigers have their cake and eat it, too

The Hanshin Tigers booked a spot in the playoffs by winning their sixth-straight game on Monday, beating the Chunichi Dragons 3-0 at Koshien Stadium in the final game of Japan’s regular season.

Not only did they win their sixth-straight elimination game, but they found room to play departing veteran Takashi Toritani two innings at shortstop and give longtime reliever Akifumi Takahashi a place in the limelight.

In his speech to the fans, first-year manager Akihiro Yano promised that the Tigers would do their best to inspire Japan the way the national rugby team had been doing in the Rugby World Cup currently taking place across Japan.

The Tigers got a boost when Dragons starter Yudai Ono was pulled with one out in the fourth inning, having lowered his ERA to 2.58 so he could lead the league in ERA.

Ono, who no-hit Hanshin on Sept. 14, saw his ERA against the Tigers this season improve to 1.35. Ono is 3-0 against the Tigers, 6-8 with a 2.94 ERA against everyone else. Ono got a big ovation from the Tigers fans, although some of them may have been cheering the fact that his exit gave their team a better chance to win.

And as if on cue, his replacement, Takuya Mitsuma (2-2), surrendered an infield single and a walk.

Yusuke Oyama put a good compact swing on a 2-2 shoot inside with good run on it that caught too much of the plate. He smashed it up the middle to break the scoreless deadlock. A two-out wild pitch made it 2-0 Tigers.

Here’s Oyama’s RBI single.

Tigers side-armer Koyo Aoyagi (9-9) struck out five over five scoreless innings. He was pulled for pinch-hitter Hiroki Uemoto in the bottom of the fifth and Uemoto singled in an insurance run.

With a three-run lead, the Tigers began honoring their players. A day after Randy Messenger faced one batter in the final career game of his 10-year Tigers career, reliever Akifumi Takahashi faced one batter in his final regular season game. He received flowers from Ono and teammate Kosuke Fukudome, who had been his teammate with Chunichi as well.

Takashi Toritani, who will leave the Tigers at the end of the season, pinch-hit in the seventh and played the last two innings at his old position.

Here’s Toritani’s reception as pinch-hitter.

Kyuji Fujikawa, who at season’s start appeared like he was on that same road for disappearing veterans, continued his remarkable turnaround as closer. The 39-year-old converted his 16th-straight save opportunity since the club began using him in that role on July 26.

The Tigers’ win eliminated the Hiroshima Carp from the postseason for the first time since 2015. Hanshin’s next job will be the first stage of the CL Climax Series. The best-of-three series begins on Saturday at Yokohama.

By winning six-straight elimination games to reach the playoffs, the Tigers surpassed the feat of the 2010 Lotte Marines, who had to win their final three regular season games. They went on to become the first NPB team to win the Japan Series after finishing third in their league. Hanshin’s path was considerably more difficult, however, since they would not even have gotten to the elimination games had they not won their three games before it became do or die. Those wins, coupled with Hiroshima’s loss

The game highlights are HERE.