Tag Archives: sacrifice bunts

Then and now

The sacrifice as religion

When asking why Japanese baseball considers batting the pitcher eighth an egregious mistake, I was confronted with the fact that the practice was once very common before it became eradicated in the 1970s. This happened about the same time as the game’s most unique batting styles were pushed out and the sacrifice bunt became as much a ritual as tactic.

Robert Whiting said he didn’t recall when these changes occurred precisely but pushed back against my assertion that the Yomiuri Giants under manager Tetsuharu Kawakami didn’t bunt THAT much.

He replied in an e-mail:

“Kawakami may not have bunted as much as other managers but he still bunted a lot, 100 times. Leadoff hitter would get on, Shibata Doi would sacrifice him to second.”

My memory is worse than Bob’s even though he’s a few years older than me, but I cheat by having a database. Kawakami once bunted 100 times, in 1966, although that was one of his two best seasons, his team finishing 13 games in front in 1965 and ’66.

During the 5 years of box scores I have for Kawakami’s Giants (1961-1963, 1968 and 1969, his No. 2 hitter bunted in the first inning 22.5 percent of the time when the leadoff man was on first base. The rest of the CL did that 21.5 percent of the time. So he was pretty normal.

Anyway, the point I was making was not that Kawakami didn’t bunt, because he bunted about as often as his contemporaries, but rather that his disciples, Tatsuro Hirooka and Masaaki Mori, spread this lie that the Giants won BECAUSE they executed the sacrifice, and Japanese baseball listened.

In all the other box scores I have since then, since 1999, teams have bunted with the runner on first with no outs in the first inning about 50 percent more often than Kawakami did, and they don’t do it nearly as often as they were doing in the mid 1980s, when Hirooka, Mori and another of Kawakami’s players, Masaichi Kaneda, bunted far more than the league norm in the Pacific League.

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Nishimura’s last sacrifice

Orix Buffaloes manager Norifumi Nishimura announced after Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Seibu Lions that he is stepping down.

The loss left the Buffaloes 12 games out of first place in this year’s 120 game season with a 16-33-4 record.

I haven’t seen a transcript of his resignation announcement yet but it might have gone something like this:

“If only I had ordered more sacrifices, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this predicament. We did our best last year, but leading the league with 101 sacrifice bunts was not enough to escape finishing last,” Nishimura said.

“We tried to redouble our efforts this year. We even bunted as often as we could while trailing in the late innings on the road, but the wins still didn’t come.”

“We lead both leagues now with 47 and that’s quite an achievement for a team in a DH league with no interleague games this year, but for this team to win a championship, I think we need to find a way to bunt in every conceivable situation. That we failed to do this is my responsibility.”

“To win in Japan, you need to pressure your opponent with sacrifice hits. But somehow there are just never enough outs for us in a game to sacrifice as much as we should.”

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.