Tag Archives: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo

Alex Ramirez, the flexible manager

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, like pretty much any ballplayer you talk to, has a huge bag of cliches and simple rules to explain how to prepare for and play baseball games in the form of expressions “you always want to…” or “you never…”

But when you get past the superficial sound bites that come from being a former big leaguer, you get a guy who is always on the lookout for the next thing that might work.

On Sunday, Ramirez said he was open to using a reliever to break the first-inning ice for his starting pitchers as “openers.” If so, he would be Japan’s second manager to opt for that kind of a role following Nippon Ham’s Hideki Kuriyama.

Ramirez has long been used to getting flack in Japan. A lot of foreign players took exception to his choreographed home run celebrations that the fans loved, often saying, “If you don’t do that back home, don’t do that here.” To which Ramirez was fond of answering: “In case you hadn’t noticed we’re in Japan, not ‘back home.'”

As a manager, he has been criticized for batting his pitchers eighth, something which makes a ton of sense.

Having a batter who reaches base bat ninth means fewer RBIs from the No. 8 spot in exchange for more no-out, runner-on-base situations for the top of the order — something that will help you score a few extra runs a year.

Last year, when Ramirez had his best hitter, and Japan’s cleanup hitter, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo bat second, the old farts screamed, calling it an insult to Tsutsugo and Japan.

Last year, I tracked how each team’s starting pitchers did before and after facing their 19th batter in a game. Last season, when bullpen games were becoming very common, the BayStars were second-fewest in NPB with only 55 games in which a starter faced 19-plus batters, but it didn’t really help them.

From the 19th batter on in those 55 games, BayStars opponents had a .382 OBP, the 10th worst in NPB, and a .511 slugging average, worst of all 12 teams. The Fighters were the flip side of that. The pitchers who were allowed to go past 18 batters were really good, posting a .250 OBP and .196 SLUG.

Mind you, the Hiroshima Carp had 125 games in which their starters went through the opposing order more than two times while being nearly as good as the Fighters starters in those situations. But the Carp rotation — which led NPB with a .469 quality start percentage, was deep and the Fighters’ wasn’t.

The BayStars young starting corps has the chance to be an elite group, but Ramirez isn’t going to turn a blind eye to the possibility that using openers as part of a well-thought-out plan could help. Like the Fighters, the BayStars have a solid analytics team, and it would be no surprise to see DeNA improve their pitching and defense next season just because of Ramirez’s willingness to fly in the face of ignorant criticism and try the next thing.

Straight talk about NPB hitters

In Japanese, a fastball is called a “straight”, a running fastball a “shoot” and with the exception of a cutter or a two-seam fastball, which are oddly enough called cutters and two-seamers, all other pitches are labeled breaking balls.

Way to Tsutsugo

Of course, pitchers call their deliveries what they will, whether or not the pitches actually behave like others with the same name. When researching Yoshitomo Tsutsugo after he declared his desire to play in the big leagues, it was pointed out to me that he had trouble with fastballs.

There is anecdotal evidence of scouts, who report what they see in limited samples, and now there is pitch tracking data, although that is proprietary and only available to the clubs. Delta Graphs, following in the footsteps of Fan Graphs, has pitch value ratings for hitters effectiveness versus different pitch types.

I’ve combed through the Delta Graph data for players with 300-plus plate appearances since 2014, and compared each of those batters to how much better or worse they are against fastballs, curves and sliders than the average of these regulars.

Frankly, Tsutsugo had a relatively poor 2019 against fastballs, 1.12 runs above the NPB average per 100 fastballs. This ranked him 33rd among the 89 hitters with 300 PAs in NPB in 2019.

The average of regulars relative to the NPB norm since 2014 has been 0.63 runs per 100 fastballs, and Tsutsugo’s 1.12 runs in 2019 was 0.37 standard deviations above that mean. For him it was a terrible year. Since 2014, he’s averaged being 0.90 standard deviations above the mean for NPB regulars. That ranks him 10th in NPB among current players with three years of regular service during that stretch.

Without further adieu, here are the best (according to Delta Graphs) fastball hitters in Japanese baseball based on the unweighted average of how many standard deviations they are above the mean in each 300-PA season since 2018. The one hitter who is head and shoulders above the rest will never make it to MLB following Yuki Yanagita‘s announcement this past week that he will forgo free agency in lieu of a seven-year contract with the SoftBank Hawks.

Japan’s best fastball hitters (3-plus seasons as regulars)

NameTeamFastball Score (SDs above avg)
Yuki YanagitaHawks2.42
Yoshihiro MaruGiants1.38
Tomoya MoriLions1.36
Alfredo DespaigneHawks1.30
Dayan ViciedoDragons1.30
Tetsuto YamadaSwallows1.24
Seiya SuzukiCarp1.20
Wladimir BalentienHawks1.06
Takeya NakamuraLions1.01
Yoshitomo TsutsugoRays0.94
Hideto AsamuraEagles0.90
Ryuhei MatsuyamaCarp0.89
Takahiro OkadaBuffaloes0.86
Alex GuerreroFighters0.73
Hayato SakamotoGiants0.69
Jose LopezBayStars0.59
Shogo AkiyamaLions -> ?0.55

Honorable mentions

If we only include players with two years as regulars, Neftali Soto of the BayStars would rank second (1.78) and Masataka Yoshida of the Buffaloes would be third (1.56).

Of course, there are two big differences between NPB and MLB in terms of the quality of fastballs. These are:

  1. While the tackier NPB ball is easier to spin, it doesn’t appear to run as much — giving less horizontal movement on fastballs, two-seamers, splitters and straight changes.
  2. The average velocity one sees in NPB is a few ticks lower than in MLB for several reasons. Japan imports virtually no international amateur talent, weight training is only beginning to take hold, and the year-round throwing practice and the necessities of pitching game after game in tournament play wipe out many of the nation’s best pitchers before they finish junior high school.

Because of those differences, one expects players — especially those in their prime or past it, to face serious adjustment issues in MLB.

Free agent center fielder Akiyama could have deal this year: Report

Japan’s Nikkan Sports reported Friday the Cincinnati Reds have put a multiyear offer on the table for free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama, and are the top candidate to sign the 31-year-old, citing multiple major league sources.

The Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs have all been tied to the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the two-time defending champions of Japan’s Pacific League. Those teams met with Akiyama at December’s baseball winter meetings in San Diego.

My profile of Akiyama is HERE.

The report says the Rays and Cubs showed the most interest early on. Akiyama broke Japan’s single-season hit records set in 2010 by Matt Murton, who is currently working in the Cubs’ front office.

The Nikkan Sports story, however, said Cincinnati has since upped the ante and a deal with the club could be concluded before the end of the year. If Akiyama moves to the Reds, he will be the storied club’s first Japanese import.

Unlike compatriots Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Shun Yamaguchi and Ryosuke Kikuchi, Akiyama is a free agent and is not bound by a signing deadline. He is represented by agent Casey Close. On Friday, Kikuchi announced he would return to the Hiroshima Carp for 2020.

Other reports, including this one from the Hochi Shimbun, indicate the San Diego Padres have recently entered the bidding for Akiyama.

Tsutsugo, who was also a fixture on Japan’s national team, has concluded a two-year deal with the Rays, while pitcher Yamaguchi has reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Kikuchi, a record-setting glove wizard, has roughly a week to sign before his rights revert to the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League. Yamaguchi, too, has a Jan. 2 deadline to complete his deal.

Akiyama highlights published this year by Pacific League TV.

Although a good comparison to former big league outfielder Norichika Aoki, Akiyama will strike out a little more — everyone does — but drive the ball better to the opposite field.

The kotatsu league: Yamaguchi poised to sign with Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays hit pay dirt on with what appears to be a cost-effective two-year contract for right-hander Shun Yamaguchi. The deal, as reported by Sankei Sports Wednesday morning in Japan, will be for $6 million.

Yamaguchi, who joined the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League three years ago as a free agent from the DeNA BayStars, is the first player ever posted by the Giants, Japan’s oldest pro team.

My profile of Yamaguchi is HERE. He is coming off a career year in 2019 when he tied for the Central League in wins with 15 as the Giants won their first pennant since 2013.

Although pundits are saying Yamaguchi could be effective as a reliever, should know that the reason he became a starter was that he developed a case of the yips as a reliever and became ineffective. The switch back to starter allowed him to develop his other pitches — a development that was accelerated during his time with the Giants.

Part of that metamorphosis was also likely due to his needing a new challenge, something pitching in the majors will provide in any context.

According to the SanSPo story, Yamaguchi will fly directly to Canada from Hawaii, where he had been with the rest of the Giants on their customary “victory vacation.”

Yamaguchi opens posting door for Sugano

The Giants had been staunchly opposed to using the posting system since the days of powerful former owner Tsuneo Watanabe but included a provision to post Yamaguchi as part of the three-year contract that saw him move from Yokohama to Tokyo. Since then, mixed signals have been coming from Yomiuri.

The same week the team’s owner passed off Yamaguchi’s posting as a one-time thing, Team president Tsukasa Imamura admitted the team had accepted the pitcher’s desire to be posted when he joined them as a free agent, saying, “no time was fixed for posting but that it was agreed to” according to a Daily Sports story.

Imamura added that it would now be incumbent on the team to evaluate other players’ wishes to be posted and named two-time Sawamura Award-winner Tomoyuki Sugano as a player who might fit that bill, mentioning that the right-hander had already sacrificed a year of his pro career in order to join the Giants as an amateur.

My profile of Sugano is HERE.

Tigers done with Dolis, close to Edwards deal

Rafael Dolis, the closer for the CL’s Hanshin Tigers until Kyuji Fujikawa‘s ninth-inning resurrection this past summer, is apparently moving on in search of a major league contract according to this story in the Daily Sports, which said the Tigers gave up on contract talks on Tuesday.

After saving 88 games over the previous 2-1/2 seasons, Dolis lost two games in June and was removed from the ninth-inning firing line and replaced by the remarkable Kyuji Fujikawa in July.

Except for a few hiccups, the 31-year-old Dolis was essentially as effective in 2019 as he had been in his three previous seasons.

Dolis’ English language NPB player page is HERE.

Here’s an interview with Fujikawa from this summer.

In related news, the Daily Sports also reported with 31-year-old right-hander Jon Edwards. In 49 major league games as a reliever with the Rangers, Padres and Indians, Edwards is 2-0 with a 3.67 ERA over 41-2/3 innings.

The video says “1st start” but it was Edwards’ first game in relief.

He has a 3.08 ERA over 131-1/3 career Triple-A innings with 30 saves and an 11-4 record. His 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings this year with Columbus was the worst figure of his Triple-A career. Using the lively major league ball introduced this season in Triple-A, Edwards allowed seven of his 10 career home runs over 49 innings.

Tsutsugo introduced by Rays

Here’s an English language wrap of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo‘s introductory presser with the Tampa Bay Rays.

My Tsutsugo profile is HERE.

Akiyama plays it cool in Hawaii

Free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama, in Hawaii with his teammates on the Seibu Lions’ Pacific League championship trip, said there was no point worrying about the market for his services in the major leagues, the Nikkan Sports reported.

According to the story, Akiyama met with four teams last week in San Diego at the baseball winter meetings: the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, and Tampa Bay Rays. On Monday, the Rays made their contract with Akiyama’s Japan international teammate Yoshitomo Tsutsugo official. Akiyama suggested Tsutsugo’s signing had nothing to do with his own opportunities.

“What good would it do to get worked up about things. He (Tsutsugo) and I offer different things.”

My profile of Akiyama is HERE.

Tsutsugoing my way, to Rays

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo” class=”wp-image-5005″ width=”506″ height=”674″/>
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo has his eyes on the future.

After agent Joel Wolfe said the decision was down to three teams, the Dodgers were reported as one, while the Blue Jays had been connected in the media by people who thought he would be a good fit. And though the Rays were not mentioned, in retrospect they seem the best possible fit.

Tampa Bay has a history of committing to players whose value is low because other teams had not committed to them. That isn’t the case with Tsutsugo but it was a valid question considering the tough adjustments ahead of him.

My Tsutsugo profile suggests, according to analytic site Delta Graphs, that Tsutsugo is only a better-than-average fastball hitter in Japan, meaning he definitely has work to do against velocity that is a little higher than what he was accustomed to in Japan.

His outfield defense appears to have plateaued at league average in left field a few years ago and has gotten worse since. Because of who he is, and his attention to detail in everything he does, the most likely guess for this decline is the loss of a few steps and the effect of a couple of small nagging injuries over the past three seasons.

A different kind of cat

But Tsutsugo will give you everything you ask for and more that you didn’t know you needed from a player through his character and team-building skills. Despite being a newcomer to MLB, he will — like Hideki Matsui did with the Yankees — set an example for others about how to handle yourself.

Wolfe said the teams Tsutsugo worked out for this past week were impressed by his soft hands and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to be better. This, Wolfe said, was highlighted by his putting himself in uncomfortable situations, by playing ball in the Dominican Republic and grabbing his infield glove to help his team at third base — a position he hadn’t played at in over seven years.

He is also a rare individual among Japanese ballplayers in his willingness to endure potential controversy by taking a stand. This year, he published a book attacking Japan’s youth baseball culture as wrong-headed and damaging and has been spending his winters working with children, encouraging them to enjoy the game in a system that too often values winning at all costs for even the youngest and least-experienced children and puts their bodies at risk.