Tag Archives: sacrifice bunts

NPB games, news of Aug. 17, 2019

Pacific League

Buffaloes 6, Marines 0

At Kyocera Dome, Stefen Romero continued to rake, hitting a pair of RBI doubles in support of 24-year-old rookie Daichi Takeyasu (3-1) as last-place Orix beat Lotte.

Romero’s three-hit game gives him an 11-game hit streak. His hero interview with Takeyasu is HERE.

Takeyasu, the third pick of the Hanshin Tigers in NPB’s 2015 draft, has been a finesse pitcher in his three previous minor league seasons, striking out about six batters per nine innings. On Saturday, he struck out five, walked four and surrendered two hits.

He has pitched well each time he’s faced a team for the first time. After interleague, the Hawks and Lions saw him for the second time and he allowed 11 runs in five innings. Against opponents facing him the first time, he’s 3-0 having allowed nine runs in 40 innings.

“You can’t win with two hits,” Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi told reporters afterward. “He was precise with his location and got us to hit his pitches.”

Ikuhiro Kiyota, batting cleanup for the Lotte for the first time this season, said, “His pitches looked hittable, but we were hitting bad pitches. His locations were good and his fastball had a good feel to it.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 6, Eagles 1

At Sapporo Dome, Kohei Arihara (12-6) struck out six, while allowing one run over seven innings, and Nippon Ham scored four runs off Shu Sughara (1-3) over 2-2/3 innings to snap a nine-game losing streak at the expense of Rakuten.

Mizuki Hori, the Fighters’ regular opener, worked the eighth, and closer Ryo Akiyoshi the ninth to complete the two-hitter.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 13, Hawks 8

At Yafuoku Dome, Seibu gave SoftBank’s Kodai Senga (11-5) the worst hiding of his career, scoring nine runs in three innings, with Takumi Kuriyama highlighting a nine-run second inning with a three-run home run.

The Lions’ Kona Takahashi (9-5) held the Hawks scoreless through seven innings before surrendering six runs in the eighth.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Giants 4, Tigers 2

At Tokyo Dome, Hayato Sakamoto hit his 32nd home run in the first inning, and Yomiuri padded its lead with three runs off Hanshin’s bullpen after Yuki Nishi (5-8) finished his solid six-inning outing.

For the second-straight day, the Tigers loaded the bases in the top of the first, but this time didn’t even score a run, and didn’t have another good scoring chance again.

With a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning, the first two Giants batters reached, manager Tatsunori Hara had Alex Guerrero, with 65 homers in 280 career NPB games, sacrificing. Here’s how that played out on the Dazn broadcast:

Announcer: “That sacrifice by Guerrero raised the volume at Tokyo Dome.”

Murata: “If Guerrero was in poor form, that might have been expected. But he’s hitting well right now. So I think that is just an outstanding move by the manager…”

and wait for it…

Murata: “…That tells you the manager’s intent is to absolutely win. He’s setting the tone (of an in-your-face challenging atmosphere).”

Announcer: “Manager Hara has pushed the Giants one step closer to victory, and the infield is all the way in now.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Swallows 6, Dragons 5

At Jingu Stadium, Munetaka Murakami broke a 4-4 tie with his 27th home run and added a second solo shot as Yakult outlasted Chunichi.

Murakami now has the third-highest single-season home run total for a player under 20 behind Kazuhiro Kiyohara’s first two seasons (31 as an 18-year-old rookie and 29 the next year).

BayStars 8, Carp 3

At Yokohama Stadium, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo hit two home runs and now has 201 for his career, while lefty Kenta Ishida (3-0) threw six scoreless innings to earn the victory as DeNA snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over Hiroshima.


Carp’s Batista fails doping test

The Hiroshima Carp deactivated first baseman Xavier Batista on Saturday, the day after they learned from NPB that he had tested positive for a banned substance. Batista’s 26 home runs leads the team.

The 27-year-old, who signed a six-year contract extension in 2017, becomes the sixth player to fail a doping test in Japan since NPB adopted testing protocols in 2007.

NPB games, news of July 31

Pacific League

Lions 2, Hawks 0

At MetLife Dome, Seibu won a pitcher’s duel over SoftBank. In the third game this season at MetLife Dome in which neither team scored more than two runs, Kona Takahashi went six innings, while Kyle Martin, Katsunori Hirai (4-1), and Tatsushi Masuda (15th save) finished up for the Lions.

Robert Suarez, who is being tested out as a starter this season, needed 105 pitches to get through four scoreless innings, and Seibu broke through for two runs in the eighth. Sosuke Genda singled and scored on a booming one-out Hotaka Yamakawa double. Yamakawa was safe on a single when he had no right to be but the Hawks couldn’t make the routine throw and tag.

The win moved the Lions to within four games of the first-place Hawks.

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 4, Eagles 3

At Sapporo Dome, all the action occurred in the first and seventh innings. Rakuten broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh when Zelous Wheeler singled and scored, and Nippon scored three in the home half. The first Fighters run came when Kazuhari Ishii’s RBI double stuck in the right field wall for an “entitle two base” as they say in Japanese baseball English. Three batters later, Yuya Taniguchi’s pinch-hit double broke a 3-3 tie.

Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto (2-2) allowed four runs in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one. Frank Herrmann surrendered Taniguchi’s double, while Alan Busenitz worked a scoreless eighth for the Eagles.

Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Toru Murata had his best outing of the season, three scoreless innings of relief for Nippon Ham, and Ryo Akiyoshi saved his 18th for the Fighters.

Game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 8, Marines 4

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Orix took the lead in the first on an error and a high casual fastball from Hideaki Wakui that pint-sized slugger Masataka Yoshida knocked into the field seats in right-center for his 20th home run. Wakui (3-7) had a “you’re not supposed to swing at those high ones, dude” look.

Orix starter Taisuke Yamaoka (8-3) contributed to what was a night of fat pitches but fared better than Wakui. Being Japan, Orix manager Norifumi Nishimura brought out his closer with a four-run lead in the ninth and Brandon Dickson

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Carp 3, Giants 2

At Tokyo Dome, Hiroshima’s Ryoma Nishikawa led off the game with his second first-inning leadoff homer in two days and his fourth of the month in the win over Yomiuri. Ryosuke Kikuchi followed with another and Kris Johnson (8-6) cruised. The lefty allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven scoreless innings.

Alex Guerrero belted a two-run home run for the Giants and came within a hair of tying it in the eighth when he lined into a double play with a runner on third. Geronimo Franzua who came on to face him finished up and got five outs and his sixth save.

Old fart bunt alert

The Pro Yakyu News cast couldn’t help from drooling a little bit when Giants manager Tatsunori Hara ordered young cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto to sacrifice with no outs and a runner on second while trailing by a run in the eighth inning.

Mitsuru Manaka: “Even though the Giants lost, about the eighth inning Yomiuri Giants manager Hara demonstrated his persistence by ordering Okamoto to bunt.”

Masaki Saito: “He was aiming to have a runner on third with one out.”

Manaka: “Manager Hara is willing to bunt isn’t he?”

??? : “In order to win, to get this game, he’ll really play small ball.”

Manaka: “Tomorrow is Game 3. I can’t wait. Wow. What a tenacious sacrifice.”

When I first started writing sabermetric guides to Japanese baseball 25 years ago, this stuff absolutely drove me nuts, and then it was nonstop. Now it’s only once a day or so, and I’ve built up something of an immunity.

Game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 4, Swallows 3

At Yokohama Stadium, Toshiro Miyazaki’s one-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth broke a 3-3 tie and lifted DeNA past Yakult after the Swallows tied it in the eighth on a two-run Tetsuto Yamada home run.

BayStars starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi didn’t figure in the decision but was sharp, allowing a run over six innings.

The win moved the BayStars to within 3-1/2 games of the league-leading Giants.

Dragons 3, Tigers 2

At Koshien Stadium, 19-year-old Chunichi right-hander Takumi Yamamoto (1-1) allowed a run over six innings to earn his first pro win. Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo combined for five of the Dragons’ 11 hits against Hanshin.

The 1.67-meter (5’6″) Yamamoto said he hopes his first win is an inspiration to others.

“I don’t want to finish second best to pitchers who are bigger than me,” said Yamamoto. “This is just one win, but it means I faced up to it (the challenge). I think this may mean something to young kids playing ball, and maybe inspire them.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Scoring 1 run for your starter

One thing I love about Orix Buffaloes manager Norifumi Nishimura is his willingness to speak his mind. Of course, as one of Japan’s principle advocates of the sacrifice bunt, that means ascribing all kinds of benefits to the tactic.

Nishimura attributed Orix’s 9-2 loss to the SoftBank Hawks on Sunday to:

  • His starting pitcher repeatedly throwing pitches that were easy to hit
  • His No. 2 hitter failing to sacrifice after his leadoff man reached in the 1st inning.

Mind you, his starting pitcher, rookie Daichi Takeyasu had been fairly sharp in his four previous starts. But still, Nishimura is asserting that getting the runner to scoring position with one out could have prevented the ass-whipping that was to follow.

Is it reasonable to assume that a visiting pitcher would do better if he entered the bottom of the first with the one-run lead Nishimura lives to play for?

Here’s a quick study from the available data including recent starting pitchers, and how they performed on the road in those games when they went to the mound in the first inning of games that were either scoreless or 1-0. Included only those in which I have a record of them with a minimum of 50 innings as a starter in games that were 1-0 after the top of the first.

NameIP 1-0 startsERA 1-0 startsERA 0-0 startsWin Pct 0-0 startsWin Pct 1-0 startsERA Diff .
Randy Messenger664.093.200.5000.3750.89
Kenshin Kawakami54 1/34.143.700.5600.7500.44
Takayuki Kishi107 1/32.932.540.5830.6150.39
Kazuhisa Ishii93 2/34.043.660.3670.4440.38
Hideaki Wakui142 1/34.053.770.4950.4740.28
Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi89 1/34.844.570.4040.3330.27
Atsushi Nomi1504.143.870.4780.4500.27
Tetsuya Utsumi151 1/33.513.540.4420.450-0.03
Kan Otake124 2/33.543.610.3860.625-0.07
Koji Uehara122 2/
Masanori Ishikawa152 2/33.483.680.3880.619-0.20
Shunsuke Watanabe99 2/33.794.040.4260.500-0.25
Kenichi Nakata104 2/33.614.030.3730.692-0.42
Yoshihisa Naruse118 1/33.423.910.3750.571-0.49
Toshiya Sugiuchi196 2/32.613.200.4940.684-0.59
Kenta Maeda1452.112.710.4460.688-0.60
Hisashi Iwakuma742.433.070.5920.625-0.64
Fumiya Nishiguchi1053.604.300.4260.769-0.70
Daisuke Miura1842.843.540.3410.647-0.70
Masahiro Yamamoto1243.824.670.4070.667-0.85
Hiroki Kuroda1202.333.330.4760.786-1.00
Yasutomo Kubo952.564.130.4510.857-1.57
Tsuyoshi Wada188 1/31.963.680.5140.941-1.72
Naoyuki Shimizu86 2/
Pitchers performances in starts as visitors in games started with 1-0 lead or 0-0 lead.

It seems from this data that it might be a good idea to get your pitcher a 1-0 lead in the first inning if you can. Having said that, I think I can see why Randy Messenger‘s teammates have infamously scored so few runs for him: He has done better when they don’t.

So Nishimura’s assertion that one run could have changed everything is probably not as ridiculous as it first sounds. And if your starting pitcher was Tsuyoshi Wada — at least back in the day before he had Tommy John surgery, why the heck wouldn’t you sacrifice in the top of the first if you had a chance?

NPB games, news of July 5, 2019

It’s streaky week in NPB, as the SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants keep winning as if they just might wrap up their pennants before the all-star break, while the Hiroshima Carp are mired in their longest losing streak in years and the Rakuten Eagles lost their seventh straight.

In a departure from the way I’ve been doing this, I’m wheeling out one episode from Friday’s games to give people a taste for Japanese ball.

Old farts and bunts

Sometimes Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara just has to let his inner self out, and we saw that on Friday night in the series opener between the Giants and DeNA BayStars, won by the Giants 8-4 at home run-friendly Tokyo Dome.

With a one-run lead in hand, no outs, runners on first and second, and prize free agent slugger Yoshihiro Maru at the plate, Hara had him bunting. This caused the analyst on the NTV broadcast, Hara’s former teammate Kiyoshi Nakahata, to drool all over himself in praise for the one-run tactic.

Nothing gets Japanese old fart baseball people more excited than having a power hitter sacrifice, and Nakahata stepped up to the plate and showed his mettle.

“That’s really Hara baseball there, trying to get that next run,” Nakahata blubbered. “Just superb managing. He’s always thinking about the greatest way to apply pressure on an opponent.”

“(Young slugger Kazuma) Okamoto is batting fourth, and he’s still looking around, learning his role. Having Maru sacrifice sends a big message to him.”

Announcer: “Last year, this year, Maru has no sacrifices.”

Nakahata: “Coach Motoki at third is giving him the sign. It completely changes your attitude when you are asked to sacrifice. Being diligent in (obeying the bunt sign) teaches everyone what is important in the game.”

Announcer: “Okamoto is on deck. Watching Maru taking this sacrifice bunt really serious.”

Nakahata: “He (Okamoto) is getting the message.”

Announcer: “Hara will bunt with his middle-of-the-order guys.”

Nakahata: “He’ll even sacrifice with two outs.”

Then, when Maru fouled off a second bunt, Nakahata pulled out the old analyst’s favorite line, “Bunting is really hard. Anyone watching will see this. It’s the hardest thing you can do. “

This sentiment is immediately forgotten whenever a batter fails to get a sacrifice down and the broadcasters treat the player as if he is lazy and incompetent.

Maru then put an easy swing on a fastball from lefty Shota Imanaga and belted it over the left field wall for an opposite-field home run.

“This is the Giants’ way of winning, by bunting. Kamei did it with no outs, and now the No. 3 batter, Maru. It really is effective,” Nakahata said.

“By bunting early, Hara was sending a message to his team that this is really an important game. In order to win, you have to teach the players what is important.”

Afterward, Maru said, “I definitely need to work on my bunting. I was doing that because that was the sign they gave me and it was a chance to seize the initiative, so… I think I was able to make up for it (my failure to bunt) in the end.”

The game’s highlights are HERE.

Elsehwere, the Carp managed just four hits in a 3-1 loss to the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium, where two straight bunt singles — on balls misplayed by the Carp infield — opened the door for a tie-breaking two-run sixth inning. Jefry Marte tied it 1-1 for the Tigers with a solo homer in the fifth.

In the Pacific League, the Hawks smacked around one of this season’s most impressive starters, Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto (4-4) in a four-run fourth inning en route to a 6-2 win in Kobe.

The game’s highlights are HERE.

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Seibu Lions starter Tatsuya Imai (5-7) left the mound with one out and two on in the eighth, and three runs scored in the inning with relievers on the mound in a 4-2 loss to the Lotte Marines.

The game’s highlights are HERE.

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Kohei Arihara (9-4) struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings, Sho Nakata hit a two-run homer, and closer Ryo Akiyoshi returned from injury to strike out three batters in the ninth and nail down his 13th save as the Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-2.

The game’s highlights are HERE.


Norimoto takes himself out of major league picture

The Rakuten Eagles revealed Friday that right-hander Takahiro Norimoto, who has been rated highly by major league scouts as much for his aggressive approach as his fastball and splitter, has agreed to a seven-year contract extension that will keep him in Sendai until he turns 35 after the 2025 season.

The deal was reportedly agreed to in March, when Norimoto, who had previously said he’d hoped to be posted after the 2019 season, abruptly said he wanted to remain in Japan in 2020 in order to pitch in next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Stewart throws 1st BP for Hawks ahead of farm debut

New SoftBank Hawks acquisition Carter Stewart on Friday threw his first batting practice since joining the club last month, and is slated to pitch in his first game in Japan next week.

The 19-year-old right-hander, who was the eighth player chosen in MLB’s 2018 June draft, faced veteran outfielder Akira Nakamura, 18-year-old, first-year outfielder Shun Mizutani and three developmental squad players, trying out all his pitches a 30-pitch tuneup at the Hawks farm complex in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture.

The Nikkan Sports story is HERE.

Stewart said it was great facing the 29-year-old Nakamura, a longtime Hawks regular who is currently on a rehab assignment, and said he was able to throw at about 85 to 90 percent of full strength.

“With his high release point it was really hard to hit him,” said Mizutani, who also appeared unfamiliar with American-style curves, which don’t appear to “pop” out of the pitcher’s hand as much as they do in Japan.

Hawks rehabilitation coach Kazumi Saito, a former Sawamura Award winner, said, “I think he hit 140 kph (87 mph) today. His mechanics are loose and powerful, so he’s pretty hard to hit, and his fastball, curve and slider were all on.”

Stewart’s first game is set for next Tuesday at the Hawks’ minor league park, Tamahome Stadium in Chikugo against corporate league side Mitsubishi Motors Kyushu. He is expected to work two innings and throw about 40 pitches.

NPB games of May 19, 2019

Central League

Carp 5, Tigers 1

At Koshien Stadium, Makoto Aduwa (2-1) did not strike out a batter but allowed four hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings in the Carp’s seventh-straight win.

It was the first time in over seven years that a pitcher had thrown seven or more scoreless innings without a strikeout. The last one was a shutout by Seibu’s Kazuhisa Makita on April 23, 2013 at home against Lotte.

Seiya Suzuki, who leads the CL in all three Triple Crown categories, doubled in two runs in the first, while Ryosuke Kikuchi reached safely five times, scored twice and drove in two runs.

Dragons 5, Giants 4

At Nagoya Dome, seventh-year pro and career minor leaguer Hayato Mizowaki had a career year in one game. Entering the game with two hits and two runs scored from 24 career games, the 25-year-old went 3-for-5 with first career triple, a walk and three runs as the Dragons came from behind to beat Yomiuri.

Dayan Viciedo went 3-for-5 with a two-run, fifth-inning single off Shun Yamaguchi (4-2). Closer Hiroshi “Birdman” Suzuki held onto the lead to record his CL-best 13th save despite surrendering a leadoff homer and two one-out singles.

BayStars 7, Swallows 0

At Jingu Stadium, Haruhiro Hamaguchi (2-1) retired 22 straight batters in between his only two jams of the night in a two-hit shutout that completed DeNA’s three-game sweep of Yakult.

Wladimir Balentien looked at a third strike on a full count with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, and Tomo Otosaka, a defensive replacement in left, made a good catch to end the game and preserve the shutout.

Pacific League

Lions 9, Buffaloes 2

At Kyocera Dome, Seibu rookie Wataru Matsumoto (1-0) survived a fifth-inning rally to hold on to the lead and win his debut after the Lions stung Orix starter Tyler Eppler (0-2) for three runs over 3-2/3 innings.

The 26-year-old Eppler located his fastball, but was foiled when the Lions hitters put some really good swings on well-executed pitches and didn’t miss his mistakes. His changeup was problematic, but otherwise it was a start he can build on.

The game was less about poor pitching from the Buffaloes starter than about just how tenacious Seibu’s hitters can be.

Hawks 4, Fighters 2, 5 innings, called

At Kagoshima Stadium, the Hawks beat the Fighters in the rain for the second-straight day behind home runs from Cubans Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne, and Keizo Kawashima.

Ariel Miranda (3-2) pitched four innings for the win, but Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo showed no interest in getting his fourth Cuban, lefty Livan Moinelo, into the action. The skipper instead picked starter Shota Takeda to come in and record his first save.

Eagles 10, Marines 5

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Rakuten came from behind twice after the Marines got home runs from Daichi Suzuki in the first and Brandon Laird in the third and fifth. Former Marine star Toshiaki Imae singled in the tying run in the sixth, against Lotte starter Ayumu Ishikawa, who allowed five runs in six innings.

With the score tied, Lotte lefty Takahiro Matsunaga (1-2) came in, and after getting two outs on 10 pitches surrendered his first runs since April 14 on back-to-back home runs by Hideto Asamura and Zelous Wheeler.

Eagles starter Yuya Fukui repeatedly gave the Marines opportunities, walking four batters in three innings, but Lotte wasn’t taking charity. In the end the Marines bullpen crumpled, while five Rakuten relievers allowed a run on two hits and a walk over the final five innings.

Some may remember my saying that Lotte started the season in a competition with Seibu to see who would be the last NPB team to sacrifice. After seven sacrifices through their first 24 games, the Marines’ two sacrifice bunts on Sunday give them 21 through their last 23.

The Marines are also the only team to have a position player to sacrifice with a position player with one out. Manager Tadahito Iguchi has now done this with his catcher’s three times.

In other news

  • Dragons right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka began throwing batting practice for the first time since hurting his right shoulder performing “fan service” during spring training in Okinawa in February. He threw 35 pitches and got a positive evaluation from farm team pitching coach Ken Kadokura.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma returned to the bullpen at the Giants’ minor league facility for 40 pitches. It was his third session this past week.

Monday musings: Dave’s return

No, Dave Okubo is not back with the Rakuten Eagles, but we wouldn’t know it from the number of outs they’ve made on the bases through their first nine games.

When Hiromoto Okubo managed the Eagles in 2015, the Auduban Society had to disassociate itself from Rakuten because of the number of Eagles who were being slaughtered on Japan’s base paths that season. It’s been four years, but the reckless version of the Eagles have returned with a vengeance.

The Eagles’ offense has actually functioned so far this year. They finished the season’s second weekend with 45 runs, tied with the SoftBank Hawks for second behind the Seibu Lions for both the Pacific League and NPB lead. They’ve 121 runners, excluding home runs, which is second in NPB behind the Lions. The problem is 18 of those have been lost on the bases — which doesn’t count the eight removed on ground ball double plays (tied for second most in NPB

Pct of runners’ outs on bases (through 4/7)

TeamBase running outsTotal BRPct

The Eagles’ outs break down as follows: runners out on bases: 9, caught stealing 7, picked off 2.

No sacrifice is too great

Despite the fact that Pacific League pitchers only bat in nine games a season — when on the road during interleague play against Central League opponents, PL teams typically sacrifice more often. In the past eight seasons since a uniform ball was employed in 2011, the PL has sacrificed more often than the CL.

This year, however, it seems to be the CL’s turn for the ultimate sacrifices again. Last year, the CL also led by sacrificing 2.2 percent of the times a runner was on first base, while the PL was getting the bunt down 2 percent of the time.

Two things appear to be driving the change: 1) an influx of new managers who bunt less, Seibu’s Hatsuhiko Tsuji, Rakuten’s Yosuke Hiraishi and Lotte’s Tadahito Iguchi, and 2) a change of heart in Sapporo. The Nippon Ham Fighters, once one of NPB’s most bunt-happy teams under former university teacher Hideki Kuriyama, have begun to shy away from the sacrifice.

One wonders whether there is any connection between having a general manager who is familiar with sabermetrics in Hiroshi Yoshimura and the Fighters’ more astute look. The Fighters definitely employed an extreme infield shift last week against the Rakuten Eagles, and are also dabbling with the use of an opener.

This spring so far, five of the six PL clubs are among the six least-frequent sacrificing teams. The PL’s Orix Buffaloes, run by old-school skipper Norifumi Nishimura rank sixth, and have been the PL club most likely to bunt.

And while you’re looking at the table, spare some time for a round of applause for Iguchi and the Marines.

Team sacrifice attempt pct (through 4/7)

TeamSHFailed SHRunners on 1BAttempt pct

Speaking of the Marines

Not only has Iguchi’s team not attempted a sacrifice this season, but when you look at how the 2018 season ended, we may be seeing something of a pattern. Having spent much of my life watching Japanese baseball, I thought nine games might be a record of some sort, but it’s not.

Although Iguchi’s team sacrificed once in its season finale, the Mariners did not record a sacrifice hit in any of the preceding 15 games. That gives them a 25-game stretch with one sacrifice.

He told me before the season that his coach’s were not going to go overboard on instructing the unique talents out of the young players but didn’t say anything about sacrifices. He didn’t have a streak anything like that — or like this year’s — during the rest of the 2018 season.

That 15-game streak is pretty remarkable, although Tsuji’s Lions had three nine-game streaks last season, and the Eagles had a 13-game streak.

NPB reality: Japan’s got bunt

Although rookies have taken part in their “collective voluntary” training for a week or so this month — where they are prohibited from wearing uniforms, working with coaches or receiving pay for the work they are expected to do.

During these voluntary workouts, the volunteer laborers wear vests with their names and uniform numbers so that they are easily identifiable. The coaches and managers, who don’t take part, stand on the sidelines in street clothes and observe.

One of this year’s new faces, Akira Neo, an 18-year-old infielder who was the Chunichi Dragons’ first pick in November, suffered a calf strain during his voluntary workout. When paid labor actually begins on Feb. 1, Neo will be with the Dragon’s farm team camp in Okinawa’s isolated Yomitan Stadium.

Sunday’s news, and people get paid to report this, was that Neo practiced 230 bunts off a pitching machine. Why it might seem extreme, consider this: In the most recent ballot for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, the position player who received the second highest vote total was Masahiro Kawai, a decent player who is best known for holding NPB’s career sacrifice hit record.

So laugh if you like, but Neo apparently knows how to get to the top in Japan.

The bunt, bushido and Japanese baseball’s issues with history

Japan’s home run explosion is making the obligatory sacrifice more and more of a stretch for NPB managers.

I love seeing a perfect bunt as much as the next fan, but hate the obligatory, let’s-take-a-bullet-for-the-sake-of-Japanese-winning-baseball-first-inning sacrifice as much as any of you, I’m sure.

Although the sacrifice bunt is celebrated as the epitome of Japanese baseball dogma, it’s popular now like it never was back in the day. Small ball has always been close to the heart of Japanese ball, but the bunt REALLY became popular in the late 1970s when former players of legendary Yomiuri Giants manager Tetsuharu Kawakami began taking over one NPB club after another.

The irony is that the bunt reached its most popular peak in the 1980s, when offense and home runs were at an all-time high and spearheaded by then Seibu Lions manager Tatsuro Hirooka. That’s when “the bunt IS Japanese baseball” was REALLY born. It’s not some age-old doctrine but a revisionist history — an explanation after the fact about how a policy that didn’t exist at the time of a perceived “golden age” was the secret to that era’s quality.

In that respect, Hirooka’s popularization of the bunt is reminiscent of Japan’s belief that bushido was a code warriors of a purer era lived by, when in fact it was a code meant as a wakeup call to men of samurai lineage who were warriors in name and social status only. It was a code that didn’t describe reality but was rather a set of moral ideals for warriors in a society without wars to aspire to.

Japan’s funny about the past. If one glorifies one’s famous predecessors, that goes over really well, whether it’s true or not. In fact, it’s something of a cottage industry that is hard to assail. If I tell you the Giants who won nine-straight Japan Series did so because of the sacrifice bunt, and you say it’s not true, your words can be perceived as criticism of a legend of the game.

The most famous example recent example of this was former BayStars skipper Hiroshi Gondo. The man, who asked his players to call him “Gondo-san” (Mr. Gondo) rather than Manager Gondo, was an iconoclast. He attacked a lot of Japanese pro baseball traditions as being moronic and a waste of time and was tossed out on his ear — despite a very successful run as skipper.

Yet, now, when more objective information is actually available, people will still argue that the first-inning sacrifice is key to winning games when it so obviously isn’t. But those days are numbered. It appears now that the current offensive explosion appears will finally drive the bunt’s arch proponents underground.

Digression aside, there has been a very peculiar relationship between win percentages and first-inning sacrifices.

Prior to the introduction of the deadened standard ball in 2011, see here and here, the relationship between wins and first-inning sacrifices favored visiting teams that bunted with no outs and a runner on first. From 2011 to 2016, home teams have done better bunting in the first inning of scoreless games with no outs and a runner on first.

Although the data this year is limited, in games through June 15, with home runs going through the roof in NPB like balls off Shohei Ohtani’s bat, the first-inning sacrifice by the No. 2 hitter appears to be approaching its final resting place.

In 71 games this season with a runner on first base in the top of the first, No. 2 hitters have had plate appearances ending in a bunt attempt (I have no record of fouled bunts before two strikes).

Yet, now, when more objective information is actually available, people will still argue that the first-inning sacrifice is key to winning games when it so obviously isn’t. But those days are numbered. It appears now that the current offensive explosion appears will finally drive the bunt’s arch proponents underground.

Digression aside, there has been a very peculiar relationship between win percentages and first-inning sacrifices.

Prior to the introduction of the deadened standard ball in 2011, see here and here, the relationship between wins and first-inning sacrifices favored visiting teams that bunted with no outs and a runner on first. From 2011 to 2016, home teams have done better bunting in the first inning of scoreless games with no outs and a runner on first.

Although the data this year is limited, in games through June 15, with home runs going through the roof in NPB like balls off Shohei Ohtani’s bat, the first-inning sacrifice by the No. 2 hitter appears to be approaching its final resting place.

In 71 games this season with a runner on first base in the top of the first, No. 2 hitters have had plate appearances ending in a bunt attempt (I have no record of fouled bunts before two strikes).

Visitors, 1st inning, Runner on 1B
2016: 187 chances, 54 attempts (29%) with a .537 win pct
2017: 57 chances, 14 attempts (25%) with a .357 win pct.

Home teams, 1st inning, Runner on 1B, scoreless game
2016: 194 chances, 77 attempts (40%) with a .622 win pct
2017: 58 chances, 11 attempts (19%) with a .364 win pct.

Bunts and pitchers’ fielding

Beware of trying to bunt on Kenta Maeda.

There was a nice blog post the other day on Baseball Labo about fielding bunts and the huge difference in the record between last year’s Golden Glove Winners, Kenta Maeda of the Hiroshima Carp and Chihiro Kaneko of the Orix Buffaloes. While it didn’t go on to question Kaneko’s award — which it could have, it pointed out that the Buffaloes ace never defeats a sacrifice bunt by getting the lead runner.

In 51 sacrifice situations between 2010 and 2014, Maeda fielded 51 bunts and got one of the lead runners 11 times, for a Japan-best 21.6 percent. Kaneko, on the other hand had fielded 48 such bunts and never prevented the runner on first from reaching second.

Before last year’s Golden Glove voting, I had few tools with which to appraise pitchers — something that was annoying ever since voters handed the Central League’s Golden Glove in 2011 to setup man Takuya Asao, a strikeout pitcher who fielded a grand total of 16 balls that season. But since the sites I scrape to get my play-by-play data have noted bunt attempts since 2012, we can have perhaps a better sense of who the best fielding pitchers in NPB are.

The data set does not have base-out situations, so we are limited to total number of bunts fielded, the number of bunts in which no out is recorded and the number of sacrifices credited.

Since 2010, opponents have been credited with sacrifices on 81 percent of the bunts against Maeda which is among the best. But his teammate, right-hander Yusuke Nomura has allowed a sacrifice rate of 70 percent, the best in NPB. Considering both pitchers have allowed runners to reach safely on bunts (about 5 percent),  one might be tempted to think Nomura and his .985 fielding percentage would give him the edge over Maeda and his .939 fielding percentage.

Hiroshima’s Yusuke Nomura is not known for his fielding, yet.

Yusuke Kikuchi of the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions is also a candidate for NPB’s top fielder, with a no errors over the past four seasons, one bunter reaching safely in 44 attempts and a sacrifice rate of .84.