Masataka Nashida, who won Pacific League pennants with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Nippon Ham Fighters and finished his managing career with the Rakuten Eagles, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his management agency revealed Wednesday according to Kyodo News.
The 66-year-old former catcher had been resting since complaining of fatigue on March 25 and developed a fever three days later. On Monday he had trouble breathing and saw a doctor. He was admitted to a hospital on Tuesday, where he was diagnosed with severe pneumonia.
After a 17-year career with the Buffaloes, Nashida coached for the club and after winning the Western League pennant as their minor league manager in 1999, was promoted to manage the first team in 2000. In 2001, the Buffaloes went from last place to first but lost in the Japan Series to the Yakult Swallows.
He managed Kintetsu until the club was disbanded after the strife-torn 2004 season and merged with the Orix BlueWave. He went on to manage Nippon Ham in 2008 following the departure of Trey Hillman, and won the 2009 pennant, only to lose in the Japan Series to the Yomiuri Giants.
He managed the Fighters until 2011 and ran the Eagles from 2016 to 2018.
Tuesday’s preseason game between the Yakult Swallows and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks gave me a chance to see some players for the first time. So here are my notes on some players of interest. Because the game was at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka, the Hawks’ home broadcast displayed most pitches’ spin rates.
This took me back to talk in my scouting course of average rates for MLB. But before you get into that, have a look at this nifty article about spin efficiency by Trevor Powers. As far as I understand it, fastball movement can be improved, without increasing spin, by throwing the ball so that the spin axis is perpendicular to the direction of the ball.
As I watched the game after reading this — with knowledge of the spin rates different pitchers put on their deliveries — who is more or less efficient. The Fighters and Giants played at night, and I got a good look at Nippon Ham’s top pick Ryusei Kawano.
RHP Yuki Tsumori, Hawks
A 22-year-old right-hander (born 1/21/1998), Tsumori was the Hawks’ third draft pick last autumn out of Tohoku Fukushi University. He throws straight side-arm, with 142 kph velocity on his fastball and a sweeping slider. He threw five pitches and missed most of his spots.
RHP Noboru Shimizu, Swallows
A 23-year-old right-hander (born 10/15/1996), Shimizu was Yakult’s top pick in 2018 and had a rough 1st year, allowing frequent walks and home runs. Because he only threw 26 innings with the big club, he still qualifies as a rookie.
Shimizu throws 3/4. He sat at 147 kph with some hop on the fastball. He threw forkball, that Data Stadium identified as a two-seamer that got him swings and misses, and threw a curve that he didn’t command well, but looks like it could be good in time as he can spin that puppy about the MLB average of 2,500 RPM.
LHP Yuto Furuya, Hawks
Furuya is a 3/4 lefty, who is 21 (born 2/19/1999) who was Softbank’s second pick in 2016. He is described as having a fastball with good movement, but they were fairly straight on Tuesday, and he missed lots of targets.
LHP Hiroki Hasegawa, Swallows
Hasegawa is a 3/4 lefty who is also a SoftBank product, having signed with them out of the 2016 developmental draft. His fastball touched 153 kph with spin rates close to 2,400 RPM. The fastball command was spotty. He also had a forkball that tumbled and missed bats. He’s 21 (born 8/23/1998) and there’s a lot to work with.
LHP Ryusei Kawano, Fighters
The 21-year-old 3/4 lefty (born 5/30/1998) was Nippon Ham’s top draft pick last year. Against Yomiuri on Tuesday, he showed a 147-kph four-seamer that he sometimes had terrific movement on. His command improved as the game went on, and he then showed:
Slider, one that sweeps and one that drops
curve he can throw at different speeds
A splitter (looked like his sweeping slider though)
A forkball change that he gets on top of and runs it away from right-handed hitters like a screwball.
His delivery has a funky, start-stop to it. In this game, he kept everything down, but given how well he manipulates the ball, he has a lot of room for growth and adjustment. At first glance, he reminds me of a left-handed Tomoyuki Sugano although the command will have to come. The fastball, change, and curve are all above average with a lot of upside.
I’m calling this spring’s preseason stories “Open and shut” since a main theme so far is 72 exhibitions scheduled to be played behind closed doors as Japanese companies are being asked to curtail large gatherings in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Sands opens with pair
Hanshin Tigers newcomer Jerry Sands blasted two of his team’s five solo home runs in a 5-4 win over the SoftBank Hawks on Saturday. The Tigers got three scoreless innings from their Opening Day starter, Yuki Nishi, and another scoreless frame from former Hawk Kenichi Nakata.
Yusuke Oyama, who is fighting to secure the starting third base job for Hanshin, also homered twice, while 2016 rookie of the year Shun Takayama homered to continue his comeback spring effort. Hawks starter Nao Higashihama allowed four solo homer, all off breaking pitches.
Matsui goes 5 in Eagles restart
Yuki Matsui, making the shift from closer, started and went five innings for the Rakuten Eagles in a 4-2 win over the Lotte Marines. J.T. Chargois and Alan Busenitz worked scoreless innings in relief for the Eagles, while former Eagle Frank Herrman and former Carp Jay Jackson each worked an inning for Lotte.
The PL clubs exchanged a host of players over the winter via free agency and other deals with. Herrmann, (Opening Day starter) Manabu Mima, and a pair of young minor leaguers, infielder Kenji Nishimaki and pitcher Fumiya Ono joined Lotte. Going the other way were Lotte’s former captain, infielder Daichi Suzuki, veteran right-hander Hideaki Wakui and pitcher Tomohito Sakai.
Buffs, Fighters show off season openers
The Orix Buffaloes’ Taisuke Yamaoka worked five scoreless innings, while the Nippon Ham Fighters’ Kohei Arihara allowed a run in three as the two teams went with their Opening Day starters. Orix newcomer Tyler Higgens worked a scoreless inning of relief.
Orix first baseman Takahiro Okada, who was exiled to the minors for the duration of the season after letting a routine grounder go through his legs last summer, homered in his first at-bat.
Viciedo blasts off
Dayan Viciedo homered and singled in his home preseason debut at a silent Nagoya Dome, while new Carp pitcher DJ Johnson allowed a run in one inning of work.
“The deciding factor is his leadership of the pitchers. He’s demonstrating that he wants it,” manager Akihiro Yano said.
Nishi joined the Tigers a year ago from the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes, and went 10-8 with a 2.92 ERA. His English NPB players page is HERE.
Cousin picks walk-up music
Nishi’s distant cousin, Tigers’ first-round draft pick, Junya Nishi, has selected the music to be played for him at Koshien Stadium according to the Daily Sports.
The music for the slugging pitcher who has been working out at the minor league camp in Aki, Kochi Prefecture is going to be Shota Shimizu’s “Kazenifukarete.” While the Tigers have not said anything about the possibility of using Nishi in the lineup, at least we know what music he’ll have if he ever gets to the first team. #TigerPriorities
So far so good for Austin
Tyler Austin continued to rake on Tuesday. After homering twice and singling in his preseason debut on Sunday, the new DeNA BayStars import doubled and walked in a 1-0 practice game loss to the Central League rival Yakult Swallows.
2 solid innings for Fighters’ VerHagen
Drew VerHagen retired six of the seven batters he faced on Tuesday in the first live game action he’s seen with the Nippon Ham Fighters in a 5-0 win over KBO’s Samsung Lions, the Nikkan Sports reported. The 28-year-old threw seven first-pitch strikes, touched 147 kph and mixed in his slider and change, striking out three.
Marte homers in 1st game of spring
Jefry Marté, who is being asked to compete for the third base job following the offseason acquisition of first baseman Justin Bour, homered in the Tigers’ intrasquad game on Tuesday, his first game action of the spring according to the Daily Sports.
The search for the best outfield defensive tools on the planet brings us to Japan’s Pacific League and the top three in the 2019 voting for the three outfield Golden Gloves. I thought it would be easier to select a PL winner than in the CL, but I was wrong.
Shogo Akiyama, Lions 秋山 翔吾
Takashi Ogino, Marines 荻野 貴司
Haruki NIshikawa, Fighters 西川 遥輝
By default, Akiyama, whose metrics have been slipping year by year, is the PL winner of the tools challenge. Despite the ubiquity of PL TV, the league’s streaming service, I’m simply unable to find any video collections of Takashi Ogino or Haruki Nishikawa. Those who are interested more on Nishikawa can find my profile of him HERE, since he has expressed an interest in playing in the majors.
If you are interested in the new Cincinnati Reds outfielder, my profile of the former Lions captain is HERE.
Conclusion and admission
My outfield tools surveys of four leagues, the National, American, Central and Pacific, has produced four finalists:
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
Jackie Bradley, Jr, Boston Red Sox
Seiya Suzuki, Hiroshima Carp
Shogo Akiyama, Seibu Lions
My choice for the best outfield tools in the world goes to Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox. If I had to pick No. 2 it would be Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays.
I tried to evaluate every outfielder on the following criteria:
judgment at the wall
I omitted “good hands” from consideration because all the candidates are exceptional at catching the ball. But having said that, Bradley is as good at that as anyone I’ve seen — and I grew up watching Willie Mays. I am hesitant to give out an 80 score, but let’s call it a 75.
Based on the video above, I’ve rated his arm strength is 75, his accuracy a 70. His footwork is as good as Kiermaier’s which is the best I’ve seen. But there’s a cherry on top, the grace and speed at which he transitions from catching to throwing is an 80. Again, he’s not AS good at scaling outfield walls as Lorenzo Cain, but nobody is. Having said that, Bradley is pretty darn close.
The other special thing about him is his jumps. He appears to be in motion before the batter swings. His raw speed gives him incredible range when he is right, and allows him to make up for guessing wrong.
I have less confidence in my Japanese choices in the outfield than I had in the infield, because while I’ve seen these guys a fair amount, I’ve been a writer, not a scout.
I’m trying to change that, of course, and my podcast colleague John E. Gibson could give a far more educated opinion about tools, because that has always been an after thought. Until now, my thinking has been, ‘Does he make the play or not? How often does he make plays? What are the context of the plays he made or didn’t make? Are they part of the story of this game or the story of that player or of Japanese baseball.
Gibson likes to talk about tools, but for the most part, they pretty much didn’t enter into my calculus. Which is kind of odd in a way, since the greater part of sports writing in Japan is obsessed with technical minutia about tools and skills. I preferred to write about how people grew and learned rather than why they decided to move their hands apart when the gripped the bat.
Anyway, I hope to remedy that indifference to specific skills going forward.
The Nippon Ham Fighters announced the sale of the naming rights for their new stadium in Kita Hiroshima, Hokkaido, on Wednesday, saying the value of the deal is believed to be the highest in the history of sports in Japan, exceeding the 470 million yen ($4.3 million) a year paid by Nissan for the rights to Yokohama International Stadium — the home of the J-League’s Yokohama F Marinos soccer club.
The natural grass field with a retractable roof is expected to open for business in 2023 and will be known as ES CON Field Hokkaido. The new naming rights holder is real estate developer ES-CON Japan, a subsidiary of the Chubu Electric Power Group that will be involved in the development of the surrounding property — known as Hokkaido Ballpark F Village.
The development is located near Kita Hiroshima Station about 8 kilometers east of the Fighters’ current home, Sapporo Dome.
When it is built, it will give all six Pacific League teams complete operating rights over their ballpark. Orix, SoftBank, and Seibu are the majority owners of their stadiums, while Rakuten and Lotte hold operating licenses. Only three of the six Central League clubs own the operating rights to their stadium.
The Fighters relocated to Sapporo in 2004, where they have dramatically increased the size of their fan base and their sponsorship revenues. In addition to the new ballpark, the team has also negotiated a major upgrade of its spring training base in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.