Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ins, Outs and Roundabouts: Staff Appointments, Senryokugai's and the Lash

Well, now that the draft is out of the way it's time for more news.

The team is starting to shape up for next season and there have been a few developments on the playing staff and to the backroom staff.

Backroom shuffle

While there have been no announcements as to who's leaving at the end of the year, there have been some new appointments made by Mori to his new stuff. 

Masahiro Doi

Doi is a 72 year old, 15 time NPB all-star, Seibu Lions legend who has been coaching on and off for the best part of 3 decades. He was brought in as special help toward the end of the 2016 season to help with our batting ills and now he has been given the job full time. He was reportedly recommended by Ochiai to teach the Chunichi batters "the old way" of hitting. It's another Lions connection through Mori but this one kind of make sense given his involvement in the shadows before. Doi has been appointed our new head batting coach.

Doi oversaw the development of Kazhiro Kiyohara (525 career HRs) at the Lions and Takeya Nakamura (330 career HRs) as well among others.  

Hiroshi Moriwaki

This is an interesting appointment. Moriwaki was the manager of the Orix Buffaloes between 2013 and 2015. Since then he's been out of a job, but he's now been appointed the infield and base running coach for the first team. I don't really know what to make of the appointment but he lead the Buffloes to second in the Pacific League in 2014 so he can't be completely terrible. Should be another experienced head to help lead the team.

Fujio Tamura

Tamura is an interesting one as he coached the Dragons as part of Ochiai's staff between 2007 and 2011. Not surprisingly, this is a guy that Mori has worked with closely before. He has been working with the Softbank Hawks as battery coach but has now been appointed to work closely with our catchers. 

Hiroshi Narahara

Another brought back from the depths. Narahara had been working with the Lions until he was released from his contract. Mori asked him to come to the Dragons and he'll be starting his second stint with the team following his last term between 2007-2011. Seeing a pattern here?
He's going to be our infield defensive coach.

Looks like Mori's getting the band back together that was so successful under Ochiai's reign as coach. I guess familiar faces are what he's hoping will get the Dragons back to challenging again.

Foreign Legion Disbanded

Our foreign band has been sent back home for the most part with Ricardo Nanita, Drew Naylor, Anderson Hernandez, Juan Jaime and Leyson Septimo all being told to pack their bags, see you later, thanks for all the fish.
Nanita spent 2 years with the Dragons and really shone at times but at 35 with average defense and a history of injuries, he was never a great option to keep. Drew Naylor is cut after getting injured early in the season and never recovering despite showing signs of being a good pitcher here and there (he was dubbed the "Swallows Killer" due to his good performances against Yakult) while Anderson Hernandez, the longest serving of the 5, just has too much competition for his spot now. Jaime never played in the first team and was perhaps unfortunate to fall victim to a season ending injury in March while Leyson Septimo was perhaps the biggest pretender of the bunch starting one game, doing nothing and being promptly never seen again. 

Dayan Viciedo, Jordan Norberto and Raul Valdes remain as the only foreigners still wanted by the Dragons and it is probably likely all three will stay but that will depend on what Mori finds on his scouting missions. 

Senryokugai'd and you're to blame

Along with the foreign legion, a further 4 Japanese players have been told that their contract won't be renewed. Tomohiro Hamada, Seiya Nakagawa, Tatsuro Hamada and Masashi Yamamoto were all told they weren't worthy of the paper their contract was printed on. Nakagawa leaves after being drafted on a trainee contract last year while the remaining 3 will resign trainee contract in order to get back into first team thinking. Tatsuro Hamada is perhaps the biggest fall from grace having been the 2nd pick for the Dragons at the 2012 draft and lauded as part of the "Big 3" high school pitchers of the year alongside Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami. Tatsu will also be undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season with a hope to getting his career back on track next year. 

In other news however, Takuya Mitsuma is all but assured of being registered for the first team following his good performances in the farm this year and in the Phoenix League. 

FA Market: We're waaaaiting....

It is official. Hometown hero, Yohei Oshima is staying with the Dragons! After being given a multi-year deal at the third time of asking, the centre-fielder who was second in the league in hits this year has decided home is where the heart is and will be showing his handsome face at the Nagoya dome for the majority of the season once more. This is a great capture for the team as there was clearly no one else that could jump in and fill the void. Hopefully this will spur Oshima on to do even better things with the bat next year. 

Ryosuke Hirata is still undecided and while it was reported that the result of his negotiations would be made public at the same time as Oshima's, it appears that
talks have hit a snag. Another meeting was due on the 2nd of November, but it is unclear as to how well that will go just yet. The FA market is open now so we'll just have to wait and see.

Update: As of the 6th of November, Hirata has confirmed he will be staying with the Dragons after signing a multi-year deal with a significant 70 million yen (roughly $670,000 USD) pay bump. He was apparently convinced to stay after hearing Club Spokesman Nishiyama discuss how they were going to strengthen the team going forward. 

In other news, the Dragons are looking to add more firepower to the bullpen as Mori flies overseas to chase a closer in the Dominican Republic or Cuba. There have however been discussions with the owner that the pitching is "lacking" and we will be looking at options on the FA market. Baystar's starter and talisman Shun Yamaguchi has been a name floated about as well as Takayuki Kishi from the Seibu Lions. Both would command fairly good salaries, but it is said that money would be available for the right signings. I think a more realistic option would be Hawks reliever Masahiko Morifuku who hasn't been pitching as much in the first team lately and is from Toyohashi in Aichi. He'd also provide a senior head in the bullpen which is probably what Mori is after. 

Team News

The fruits of the off season so far has been a cartilage injury to Shinnosuke Ogasawara who nage-komied over 200 pitches in one day. I wonder if they have put 1 and 1 together? It appears that he young pitcher will be out until possibly opening day as he goes under the knife soon. 

Otherwise Mori has taken a group of pitchers down to Okinawa for a fall training session. 

Koji Fukutani and Katsuki Matayoshi may be converted to starting pitchers with the way they're going. They're throwing down bigger loads at the moment supposedly to gain more strength to pitch longer. We'll see what ends up happening. Matayoshi was previously a starter with the Kagawa Olive Guyners before joining the Dragons in 2013 and making his name as a reliever. 

List of pitchers participating:
Yu Sato, Katsuki Matayoshi, Shota Suzuki, Ryosuke Nomura, Koji Fukutani, Takuma Achira, Hiroto Fuku, Ryuya Ogawa, Shunta Wakamatsu, Ryosuke Oguma, Junki Ito, Takuya Mitsuma

The 2016 NPB Draft: What have we been served?

On the 22nd of October one of the most exciting days of the Japanese baseball calendar was held. That's right, the draft. The Draft is an almost romantic experience quite a bit unlike the MLB component. The Japanese draft hosts the hopes and dreams of high school, university and industrial league players a like to make their mark on professional baseball. Unlike the MLB system where one needs to go through all levels of minor league baseball before hitting the big time, teams can go into the draft and usually pick up one or two guys that will play straight away in most cases. Last year all but one of our 7 draftees saw some time in the first team and the only one that didn't played very well in the 2-gun team after coming back from injury.

I think there is a sense of romance about the NPB draft. A fresh behind the ears 18 year old high school kid that just played a big role in putting his high school team in the national spotlight at the Koshien can then be selected to show what he can do playing full time. And if he's good enough, he might well just slot right in.

Anyway, enough of my sentimental drivel, lets get to know the players that Manager Mori, GM Ochiai, Head Scout Tanaka and the other senior heads put together.

The 2016 Draft

As with every year, the first round is the spectacle. Often only the first round will be broadcast on radio and TV with the diehards, like me, struggling to find a feed for the rest of the picks. Last year our first pick off the rank was Jumpei Takahashi but that pick was also shared by the Fighters and Hawks and it was the Hawks that claimed him. We went to battle with Fighters in the second chance saloon for Shinnosuke Ogasawara and it was Motonobu Tanishige who pulled out the winning ticket.

This year, there had been much confusion as to who we would pick. Soka University's Seigi Tanaka was an early favourite but that was replaced my ever persistent rumours about Meiji University's Yuya Yanagi. On the day before the draft Sakushin High School's Tatsuya Imai was the front runner and out of 6 of the major newspapers on the day of the draft, 5 had Chunichi selecting Imai in the draft.


Ah, but things never go that smoothly. Mori, upon hearing that the Lions were going after Imai (through the grapevine I'm sure), decided to lean toward what he thought would be an uncontested pick: Yuya Yanagi. He was however proven wrong as the Yokohama Baystars selected the Meiji Uni starter for their first pick as well. Given the 5 team fight for Seigi Tanaka, the Baystars and Dragons were given the instructions to dance first and it was our man Mori with his best Yakuza impression that secured our first pick, Yuya Yanagi.

Not a far removal from Meiji colours, Yanagi poses with Doara doll.
1. Yuya Yanagi, Meiji University, Starting Pitcher


The man that has gathered so much attention in the media from the Dragons press as the guy we were going after is the guy we ended up getting. Very highly rated, Yanagi captained the Meiji University team to victory in this Fall's Big6 Tokyo League where he went 5-0 in decisions with a 1.64 ERA. Overall in his university career he sits with a 22-8 record and a 1.87 ERA. Very nice reading. 

Meji University and the Dragons have a very strong connection when it comes to the pitching department. Both Senichi Hoshino and Kenshin Kawakami, Sawamura Award winners with the Dragons are former Meiji alumni. Not much to say about either apart from the two being among the best pitchers in their respective eras, but that is a little insight into the kind of pedigree that Yanagi comes with. Not only that but Yanagi actually has a higher strikeout total at Meiji than Kawakami did ranking in the top 10 in team history with over 326 strikeouts. 

Chief Scout Muneo Tanaka is very impressed with his man praising his control and velocity as well as his strength of heart. Feels he is a very clever pitcher that presses when he needs to press and holds off when necessary. He fully believes that Yanagi will be in the starting rotation next year. 

In an interview with Yanagi himself expressing himself as feeling a heavy responsibility as being selected as number one by the team but of course wants to do the best he can to fulfill that expecatation. He feels that the Dragons are a team with great history and tradition and hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of his Meiji university antecedents. 

In terms of what he's got in his locker, I explained this a little in an earlier post but he's got a nice fastball that sits in the mid 140s, a killer curveball, a slider, cutter and a change-up. His curveball is the highest rated of his pitches and has been pointed out in a few different scout reports. 

Yota Kyoda congratulated by his Nihon Uni teammates.
2. Yota Kyoda, Nihon University, Short-stop


Naoki Yoshikawa from Chukyo Gakuin University was supposed to be the Dragons second pick but due to the Giants failing to nab Seigi Tanaka or Chihaya Sasaki, they selected the Gifu born middle infielder as their first pick. With the Chunichi team staff shrugging their collective shoulders, they turned attention to the next best thing, Nihon University's Yota Kyoda.

Kyoda and Yoshikawa were team-mates for the Japanese university team with Kyoda mostly at short-stop while Yoshikawa played second base. Safe to say that he is one of the best middle infielder prospects in his age group at the draft and needless to say I'm happy we snagged him. 

The kid however has a mouth. And I mean this in a nice way. He has big aspirations. Upon being selected by the team he singled out none other than Mr Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami as the man he wanted to emulate. Having read Tatsunami's book Makenki (Hating to lose) Kyoda was inspired to be like the Dragons legend. Kyoda says he wants to be the guy on the team that people can count on to get a hit. 

Kyoda's biggest weapon is his speed. He can run 50 meters in 5.9 seconds and has very assured defensive skills. We can expect he'll be battling with Naomichi Donoue for a spot in the starting line-up in the near future. Kyoda played with Yanagi in the Japan national university team and apparently got along rather well with him which will hopefully help both settle in. The two apparently even had an encouraging chat following the draft.

He seems like a good lad and could well be the long-term solution to Araki/Kamezawa at second base. For the time being, he's likely to be an option at short stop who can offer a few different dimensions over Donoue. 

Hip, hip hooray for Masami Ishigaki
3. Masami Ishigaki, Sakata South High School, Power Hitter

Like most draft picks beyond number 2, Ishigaki was an unknown to me before the draft, but the youngster certainly has power that excites the scouting team. Most recently an infielder but also has played outfield, Ishigaki has been rated by our head scout as someone with a similar power rating to Nobumasa Fukuda. Not too shabby. 

Ishigaki himself is pretty chuffed and coming out of the frigid north in Yamagata prefecture, he has set himself a map to success that sees him taking out triple three honours in 10 years time. He can hit for power and can run around the bases surprisingly quickly. It's no wonder he idolises Yakult Swallows' double-triple-three man, Tetsuto Yamada. 

He has 37 homeruns in his high school career and hit 3 homers in 4 games in the Yamagata prefectural high school tournament this year. He has a big arm, and can throw over 100 metres and, not unlike Kyoda, can cover ground very quickly cracking 5.9 seconds to run 50 metres. 
He says he wants to play short-stop but I think we'll end up playing him in the outfield. He has the skills to do so and we have a few different options for the middle infield positions at the moment in any case. Either way, this is the first sign of a power bat I've seen us go after in the draft for a long time. It won't address our immediate issues with the line-up but hopefully Ishigaki will be one for the future. 

Shotaro Kasahara is congratulated.
4. Shotaro Kasahara, Niigata University of Health and Welfare, Southpaw Pitcher

Kasahara is someone that the more I think about the less I remember about. He has represented his country and has otherwise put up some fairly good stats at university level. 

Kasahara actually entered university in order to become a physical therapist and took the test like all the other shmos without special consideration of his baseballing talents. He had absolutely no delusions about going pro but worked on his body while playing ball with his university. He was able to gain about 10kg, get his velocity up from around 130km/ph to a much more impressive 147 km/ph.

In this years university league he posted 6-0 in decisions with a 0.72 ERA which lead him to selection as a train on member with the national team. A southpaw, Kasahara adds more depth to our options. 

Head scout rates him as a pitcher that really gets up batters noses and throws in pitches that cramp them up. He's seen as someone that can be either deployed in relief or as a starter. He's been likened to former bullpen master, Akifumi Takahashi now of the Hanshin Tigers. 

Kasahara throws several pitches including a fastball, cutter, slider and curveball. 

It's yet to be seen whether or not Kasahara has the potential to make an impact in 2017, but that's all up to him and how he develops.

The hometown boy, Kento Fujishima is sure to win fans hearts.
5. Kento Fujishima, Toho Senior High, Mentally tough pitcher

Fujishima's story is one of the more heartwarming of this years's draft. He made a name for himself for his displays of passion at the Koshien tournament this year putting everything he had into his pitching. It was not only his pitching that caught the eye however, as he batted cleanup for his team and and one point even hit for the cycle. A mini Otani perhaps, but it was Fujishima's pure desire to do his best to overcome his challenges that won him a lot of fans. 

Fujishima is from Toyohashi. He's a hometown boy. He was a Dragons fan growing up and attended a fair share of games. He can sing the team songs and he was more than delighted to be picked up by the team. Scouts had already mentioned in the lead-up that they saw Fujishima as a #5 pick, and that's where they got him.

He is a guy that wants to win at all costs that shows off a variety of different pitches. He clocks out in the mid-140s but it is said his mental toughness could well bring him some wins and bring smiles to the faces of the Chunichi faithful. Though a canny batter, he is rated by the Dragons staff as a pitcher. He can throw a few different pitches including a knuckle curve ball, a slider a cutter and a splitter. I don't think there are any Dragons pitchers that can throw a knuckle anything and Tajima in the only one I know of with a splitter so if nothing else, he brings with him a bit more "stuff we don't have."

With a bit of training and some experience under his belt, I'm hoping we can see Fujishima push his velocity up and really get into some games. He seems like a great kid and I want nothing more than his pro career to work out for him. 

Taisuke Maruyama read to fight.
6. Taisuke Maruyama, Tokai University, Power Pitcher

I use the term "power pitcher" a bit loosely here, but that is how Maruyama has been described. He would have been a higher pick had it not been for an injury that kept him away from pitching particularly well in the fall, but he is highly rated by scouts and is seen to have a lot of potential.

Like Fujishima, Maruyama is a local having been born in Tokoname in Aichi prefecture and is a sempai of Fujishima's having played for Toho High School before moving to university. He wanted to join the Dragons most of all, and like Fujishima, is very happy to call Nagoya home. 

He impressed scouts apparently with his speed and ability to really push batters in pressure situations. He tops out at 151km/ph but possesses a fairly stock standard variety of offspeed stuff with a curve, fork and slider. 

He is the same age as Tatsuro Hamada who was drafted straight out of high school and is said to be looking forward to seeing the man he used to face up against in the Aichi prefectural tournaments as a youngster. 



Trainee Draft: 1. Yusuke Kinoshita, Tokushima Indigo Socks, Pitcher

Kinoshita was the only development player contracted at the draft this year and he's a guy that apparently the scouts were pretty happy with. He dropped out of Komazawa University and decided to follow his baseball dreams in the independent Shikoku Island League Plus with the Tokushima Indigo Socks.

He has expressed his pleasure at being given the opportunity to turn pro and wants to make it to the first team roster as soon as possible. His main weapon is a 150km/ph fastball launched from his 183cm frame. He says he wants to do battle with his fastball and he might well be an interesting pitcher to watch.

He has seemingly played mostly a relief role in the independent leagues this year with a 3.45 ERA in 28 games and 44 innings pitched. His 34 strikeouts don't look too bad but I'm not quite sure what the fuss is about. We'll see what kind of impact he makes on the farm next year!

Verdict

I think we had a very good draft this year. We got our first choice pitcher who can slot right in and we picked a few position players that I think we're going to need going forward. There's a lot of talent here that excites me and I think that's the wonder of the draft. We'll see how these players go, should they sign contracts, over Spring training and see who might pop up in the starting day roster. I think we have a very good chance of seeing Kyoda and Yanagi there.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ding-dong the season's dead


143 games, 58 wins, 82 losses.

Well, the Dragons have failed to see October for the 4th year straight as we bow out in our worst position in the league in 19 years. A 4 straight years of "B-Class" (wins under 50%) results is the worst in club history since the 2-league system was introduced. We're going through some dark times and to be honest it doesn't look like it's going to get much better in the near future.

I'm going to take this opportunity to do a bit of a season wrap-up with some broad strokes while I'll take another look at the 2015 draft class in another post in a similar vein to what I did at the all-star break. I'll then give a run down of the most recent news regarding free agencies, the draft and staff movements in my next post.

Right, well, where to begin. At the beginning of the season, I like many others had my expectations relatively low for the Dragons and I predicted them to finish second last. My expectation were raised slightly however in the opening quarter of the season as the Dragons managed to keep pace with the league leaders due to a bit of sparkling form from Shuhei Takahashi, Ricardo Nanita and Dayan Viciedo as well as a bit of luck running into some teams that hadn't sorted their stuff out. As we progressed to the middle of the season there were some hopeful moments where we were still in play-off contention and the optimist in me thought this team in reconstruction might just have enough in the tank to get into the final play-off spot. However after a bit of dip and then the acrimonious sacking of manager Motonobu Tanishige, the team never looked like going anywhere but the bottom two places. The Dragons were somewhat lucky that the Tigers at times made us look good, but in the end we crawled to a very poor end to the season capped off by two extra innings losses to the Giants in Tokyo, one a grand slam given up by probably our best player of  the season, Shinji Tajima and another, final inning goodbye see you later loss tossed up by Daisuke Sobue.

Bullpen

Let's first talk a little about the heroes of this season. Shinji Tajima with his 31 scoreless innings from opening day probably tops the lot. He created a new NPB record for doing so, and equalled a club record set by Akifumi Takahashi (now of the Tigers) for consecutive scoreless innings/games pitched. Tajima probably would have even more impressive stats if he hadn't been called up to become the team's closing pitcher. Despite being brought into the piece fairly late he still earned 17 saves to go along with his 21 hold points. He ends the season with a 3-4 record and a 2.44 ERA. Certainly another great successor to the line of bullpen pitchers the Dragons have produced over the years. He was recognised for his efforts as he collected the "Crown Award" from Chunichi which is a gift of a new model Toyota Crown to the player considered to the best during the season.

Our bullpen pitchers are just about the only thing I can't complain about. Toshiya Okada, Katsuki Matayoshi and Ryuya Ogawa all did magnificently well in my opinion. Ogawa had a bit of a breakout season this year and his 0.947 WHIP really impressed me. Okada has been a mainstay in the bullpen along with Matayoshi and I think we have a lot of depth in this area. Hiroto Fuku and Yu Sato, the rookies this year took part in relief sessions here and there and did their jobs without being spectacular. Also kudos to Daisuke Sobue who started the season as the second team closer and ended up being the late innings reliever in the first team; a 1.087 WHIP rating for him.

Starting Rotation

As for starting pitchers, most have been terribly unlucky with getting wins due to a terrible Kazuki Yoshimi came back into the team after surgery last season and held down his spot in the rotation. He went 6-7 this year but certainly deserved better. There was one game against the Tigers this year that he had to win by himself as he hit the winning RBI in a 1-0 win. He pitched 131 innings this year which is the most work he's done since 2012 which is a good sign going forward. Still only 31, he'll be a mainstay for a few more years to come. A 3.08 ERA is still a little bit high considering his early career stats, but still, the veteran did extremely well this year in difficult circumstances.
offense, but

Jordan Norberto, the first year Dominican, was another bright light in the rotation and his ability to keep opposing batters off foot with his ability to hurry through pitches was very effective particularly in the opening half of the season. As the season progressed however I got a feeling that batters got a better read on him and he started leaking more runs. He ended the season with a 6-6 record and a fairly high ERA of 4.24. His 108 strikeouts for the season was a team high.

Yudai Ono worked his socks off as the season's proclaimed ace this year and on the second game he played when he returned from injury he pitched a very solid shut out which I thought was going to be the start of a rebirth. Not so apparently. In decisions this year Ono was 7-10 and 5th in total strikeouts for the Dragons. He wasn't particularly bad but not particularly outstanding. He was however one of the hardest workers with 3 completed games and over 120 innings pitched.

Raul Valdes the Cuban veteran showed his usefulness and was the second best starter behind Jordan in terms of strikeouts per 9 innings. A 6-7 record is certainly respectable given his age and the ability of the team but he also gave up the most homeruns of the pitchers with 17 of his pitches clearing the fences.

I would last of all like to talk in detail about Ryosuke Oguma who has impressed me a lot. He
went out injured in the first third of the season and it took him a long while to get back but his stats are the best of the starters. He had a 5-2 record in 8 starts, the best winning percentage of any starter aside from Yu Sato who only started and won one game. An ERA of 2.80 also doesn't look too bad when you assess his contribution overall and I would dare say he may well have won 10 games this year had he been fit. In his first start of the year he shut down the Baystars with a 93 ball, 1 hit shutout in Nagoya. He was the only Chunichi to get a shut-out this year apart from Ono. I think we can grow to expect a bit more from the man whose name translates to "little bear."

I could go on forever about our starters, but these are the main guys I felt worthy of mention. I will of course talk about the trials and tribulations of our 2015 #1 draft pick Shinnosuke Ogasawara in another post as his story is a nice one to tell.

Batting

This is where the stories get a bit dark, but the main thing to come out of it was Yohei "Even Year" Oshima who came out to play this year cracking a .298 BA and hitting for the cycle in the process. He finished second in the central league charts for hits behind Ryosuke Kikuchi of the Carp with 174 and 3rd in stolen bases behind Tetsuto Yamada and Kikuchi with 26 (although he was caught stealing 12 times. If my SABR thinking is right, that's a really poor success rate). As our lead-off hitter he really did his job this season after being fairly bang average last year. A bright to slightly dimmed light in a very dark season.

For most improved bat of the season I have it as a two way tie between Shuhei Takahashi and Nobumasa Fukuda, both coincidentally guys that played the majority of the season at 3rd base. Takahashi went ham in his first 20 or so games averaging over .400 with a few homers and all the rest. That of course quietened down a bit but he still was performing well until he broke a bone in his hand to enforce an extended break on the sidelines.  In that time, the Dragons tried all manners of stop-gap solutions at 3rd base with Tetsuya Tani, Naomichi Donoue and Masahiko Morino among others brought in to try and make the position their own. It wasn't however until Fukuda was given the green light that we started seeing more production at that position. Fukuda went on to hit a personal best 10 homeruns this year with a .744 OPS and a .265 average. He finished the season in left field to accommodate the return of Takahashi who showed some of his early season prowess and ended with a .251/.319/.369 slash line.

Both I think had outbreak seasons this year and if Ricardo Nanita isn't retained, we might see Fukuda out the left pocket to add a bit more pop to the line-up if Viciedo and Takahashi remain the incumbents at 1st and 3rd respectively. Masahiko Morino also made a bit of a statement when Viciedo was injured claiming the highest OBP of any of the Dragons batter this season. It might well be a headache for selection next year.

Dayan Viciedo of course is the man that has probably attracted the most attention and his 22 homers helped the Dragons about as much as could be hoped. He hit fairly well for average at .272 and was third in the team for most walks behind Hirata and Oshima. He was also third in hits for team behind Oshima and Naomichi Donoue. Injuries cut short his season, but the Dragons are in talks to keep him on and there's a good chance he could be producing even better next year.

Lastly a couple of mentions for Donoue and Hirata. Donoue became the starting short-stop this year after an injury to Issei Endo and his defense has been nothing short of fantastic. He only hit .257 this year but put wood on ball enough times to tally 116 hits for the season.

Hirata too had a good season when fit going over the fence 14 times in a personal best season. A .248 BA  is pretty disappointing however but he was the most walked player on the team taking the short jog to first base 72 times.

I could go on about others, like Nanita, but I don't want to make this entry any more encylopedic than it has to be.

Catchers

Just a little appendage here about the catchers. We started the season with Iori Katsura and Shota Sugiyama  battling it out to be everyday catcher and I think we finished with Takuya Kinoshita and Sugiyama as the two most likely candidates going forward. Sugiyama started the majority of games this season but Kinoshita showed very good promise with the bat in the limited time he was given. I was expecting at the beginning of the season for there to be a 3 way battle for the catcher's mitt this year and there has been. Sugiyama hit a .260/.340/.357 slash line in probably one of the best batting performances from a Chunichi catcher in some time.

I feel sorry for Katsura in a way who is a very talented catcher in his own right, but he'll be either put to work on the farm or maybe looked at as a trade chip. But who am I kidding, nobody trades anyone in the NPB.


Against the others

We had a terrible record against Hiroshima (7-17)  and Yakult (9-16) this year. No surprise that both teams have two of the best batting line-ups in the league either as most of the time we were well out gunned.

The only team we had a winning record against was the Giants (13-11) which is a welcome surprise. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we got away the most hits against the Giants out of all Central league opponents with 227 hits. ERA as well was the best at 2.91 second to DeNA with 2.99. Given that the Giants finished 2nd this year,  I think this is one of the positives we can take away from the year. At least we were a nuisance for Yomiuri. That is satisfying.


Conclusion

Honestly, it has been a terrible season. With all the back office drama to go with the results it's just awful. I've experienced a very similar thing with the Twins in the MLB this year so needless to say that uh, baseball hasn't been nice to me this year.

The Dragons still really haven't overcome the losses of their veterans but I am confident with the pitching side of things. If we can get in one more quality starter in the draft this year, the rotation will be pretty set for the next 3 or 4 years. We have quite a few young guys that can come in and do things in the bullpen (although Mori wants to bring in foreign help, probably a closer) and there are others that given a bit of luck could develop into really good starting arms in the future.

Our batting however worried me. With Oshima and Hirata looking at the free agent market, we would be dead without them at the current time. There is no one in the Dragons system that can do what these two do and losing them would kill our hopes of winning anything in the near future or getting into A-Rank season territory. There is the potential in this team, even in the bats, to produce some really solid hitting but it hasn't come about yet. I  do however think that we discovered a lot this year about who can do what and I think that is important. Next year production at short-stop will be I think a key point of interest and it will be on Donoue and possibly Endo to get their batting up to a good standard. Left-field will also be another interesting position going forward given Nanita's injuries and age and Fukuda's recent experience there. We'll see what happens.

For the time being. All I can say was, well, at least that's over now.


Monday, October 3, 2016

It's October! Post-season Fallout

There is so much stuff that's going on in the fallout from this season that I'm still trying to figure out the best way to parse it all out into different blog posts. For the time being I've decided I'm going to use this post to put up news and we'll go from there. I have another post that will come later regarding my thoughts about the season passed. 

Let's get into it:


Manager Hunt

Well, the Japanese media had forever pointed at Michihiro Ogasawara to be getting a big promotion to lead the Dragons first team at the end of the season. So incessant were the rumours, that I didn't even think of the possibility of another very obvious choice. Keep the interim manager on. This is in the end the option that the Owner Mr Shirai has gone with as Shigekazu Mori, the former head coach and interim manager, was given the reigns for the 2017 season. 
Mori looks like he'd be more at home in a Yakuza flick.
The former Seibu Lions closer has been with the Dragons for a good long while now having two stints with the team as coach between 2004-2011 under Ochiai, and 2013-2016 under Tanishige. He was originally brought back into the team to help Tanishige while he was transitioning from player-manager to full-time manager but after being given the interim job, it seems that he has showed enough to be kept on full-time. The key reasons given for his hiring has been mainly down to experience needed to rebuild an under performing team which is why he was given the position over Ogasawara. 
After there being rumours that Tanishige didn't have the best of relationships with upper management, including Ochiai, it is possible that Mori is the yes man that will smooth over a lot of these formerly rocky situations allowing those ahead of him to make decisions without getting in the way. That's perhaps too cynical an interpretation, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

This then brings the question regarding Ochiai's continuation as general manager. His contract is up in January and while he'll be taking care of the draft picks for the October 22nd meeting, he may well not be here next year. President Shirai has left the decision up to Ochiai as to whether or not he'll stay on, but the appointment of Mori makes me think there might be a little more life in Ochiai's reign just yet. We'll see though. He was reportedly not present when negotiations started with Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata over extending their stays with the team but that may be more a face saving issue rather than a operational one. Ochiai's abrasive attitude may not be the best mix for the negotiation table for two key pieces of a team that finished last. 

Free Agents/Retirements/Releases

As mentioned, Hirata and Oshima have finally started talks with the team as club spokesman Senor Nishiyama has told the press he has started talks with them. He will be conducted the talks alone. Mori has declared his that both players are important to the future of the team and we might even see the Dragons dig into their wallets to keep them both in Nagoya. A wise choice if you ask me. 

Our foreign legion has yet to receive word of anything going forward, but Dayan Viciedo has voiced his desire to stay and the Dragons still want him. He, Juan Jaime and Anderson Hernandez all headed home for the off-season last week.


We have had some retirements toward the end of the season with Yudai "Sunday" Kawai, a multi-pennant winner with the Dragons and a record setter with 11 consecutive wins from starting day, as well as 29 year old Shinji Iwata whose no-spin fork ball was somewhat of a legend. Kawai and Iwata had been playing on the farm but it was becoming more and more clear that neither had a future with the team with the development of other players around them. Yudai was particularly average on the farm and Iwata had control issues. Both had send off matches against the Hanshin Tigers at the Nagoya dome where Iwata showed off his trademark forkball and Yudai threw down consecutive fastballs to finish off his illustrious career. 

Hitoshi Tamura, the former Baystars and Hawks slugger that came to the Dragons famously as the oldest man to sign a development/trainee contract, also signaled his retirement after he was told by management that they would not be renewing his contract. Tamura played mostly as a DH on the farm and batted .279 with 8 RBIs in 43 at bats. He had his issues with injury to begin the season, but it was clear that his playing days were coming to a close with younger players like Takeru Furumoto showing much better proficiency with the bat. His leadership with the team will however be missed as I'm sure a lot of the young players learned a lot from him.

Shota Oba, a cash-for-player signing from the Softbank Hawks in the 2015 off season has been told to find another club after barely featuring in the farm team. A starter cum reliever, Oba was a top prospect at the 2007 draft being chased by 6 teams at the time. He ended the farm team year having played 9 games pitching 22 innings for a 5.73ERA. Not exactly awe inspiring. Oba has yet to decide whether or not he will attempt to continue playing or retire. 

A 4th pitcher to join the pitching scrap heap is Kentaro Nishikawa who was the Dragons second draft pick in 2011. Given his time on the farm, he, uh, may have deserved to be cut. In 10.2 innings pitched he gave up 13 earned runs to give him the unflattering ERA of 10.97. Nishikawa never really excelled at this level. He pitched 12 games in the first team in 2013 with a 6.26 ERA and 6 games in 2015 for a 3.68 ERA. I think we have much better players than him in the team at the moment, and it was perhaps no surprise given his lack of improvement that he was told to seek greener pastures. 

Other releases include 3 development/trainee players; Takahiro Kawasaki, Kodai Ishigaki and Kaito Goya. Kawasaki has been with the Dragons since 2012 and has most recently played on loan with the Fukushima Hopes in the independent Baseball Challenge League. He was drafted on a professional contract at the 2011 Draft but was deemed unworthy of the status in 2014 where he resigned on a trainee contract. Second time around hasn't been successful for the young lad however. Goya was drafted last year and apparently lost his desire to play the game after seeing Ogasawara in the first-team at the same age. He's returning home to work at his father's courier business. Ishigaki had a case of the Ips and couldn't get his form back after some shoulder pain completely threw him off causing him to throw far too many walks. He apparently did get back to some version of his old self but the Dragons had seen enough.

Wish all these players the best in their future endeavours but that means now there's a few holes we can fill in the draft. Only one outfielder out of the 9 players leaving us this year, so expect pitching in the 2016 draft. (I do pray for a couple of sluggers though)


The Phoenix League


I love the name of this tournament and it makes it sound more glorious than it probably should be but the Dragons farm team will be taking off to Miyazaki prefecture to compete in the Phoenix League and annual tournament held for the best part of a month to help the development of younger players. All Western and Eastern League teams will be entered while they will also be joined by teams from the Doosan Bears, LG Twins and the Hanwha Eagles from the KBO and a selection from the Shikoku Island League Plus. Umpires from the NPB, KBO, Shikoku Island League Plus and Baseball Challenge league will be taking part. It starts today (October 3rd) and will run until the 24th. 

The Dragons have sent out a fairly competitive team this year with a few first team regulars scattered around. Shinnosuke Ogasawara is the main man not in the squad, but he will be taking time off to work on building strength in his lower body moving toward next season. 

Here's the roster:
*Bolded players took part in the first team this year

Pitchers: Shota Suzuki, Ryosuke Nomura, Koji Fukutani, Yuya Muto, Takuma Achira, Hiroto Fuku, Takeshi Kaneko, Junki Ito, Junki Kishimoto, Seiya Nakagawa, Shu Yoshida, Takuya Mitsuma


Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Takuma Kato, Shota Sugiyama

Infielders: Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Shun Ishikawa, Ryota Ishioka, Taiki Mitsumata, Hayato Mizowaki

Outfielders: Shota Tomonaga, Masataka Iryo, Takeru Furumoto, Hiroki Kondo, Masaru Watanabe

Takuya Mitsuma has been named as opening day pitcher, the first trainee player to do so for the Dragons. He'll be pitching against the Giants to start the tournament.
Koji Fukutani is set for a long relief role that he was so successful in in 2014 before his ill-fated stint as a closer. It will be interesting to see who will be the closer in this team however with most filling starting or mid-relief roles in the past. 

I'll try to keep up with the league and give a bit of analysis once it finished up at the end of the month. 

NB: The game for the 3rd has actually been called off (I'm guessing weather), Dragons play Yakult on the 4th.

Other News

In other more random news, Mori wants to bring in Masahiro Doi in as a full-time coach on his staff. The former Kintetsu Buffloes and Seibu Lions hitter worked with Shuhei Takahashi among others last off season. A well respected figure in Japanese baseball, it would perhaps be a good move to get him in to the team. 

Yudai Ono is working to add a curveball to his arsenal next season as he looks to diversify what he can deliver over the plate. Generally uses 3 or 4 pitches; a slider, forkball, fastball and a 2-seamer but a curve would be a good addition. 

Yuya Yanagi, the man likely to receive the Dragon first pick at the 2016 Draft notched his 20th win of the Tokyo University Big6 season with a 1 hitter in a dominant performance registering 13 strikeouts against Keio University.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August: News and Musings

Hi all, time for an update of sorts with a bit of news about what's going on.

First of all the talking point:


  • FA Risks; who's staying and who's going?
  • Manager search update
  • The good, the bad and the fugly - Results and Records
  • 2016 Draft Information and possible targets
FA News

Alright, well, I'll start off with what I've heard regarding possible free agent moves. First of all, Yohei Oshima, probably our best bat this year (averaging around .300) has elected to browse the market. He is eligible for domestic free agency this year and has taken his right to do so. However it is worth noting that just because he has elected to be a free agent doesn't mean he won't resign with Chunichi. I think it would be an absolute travesty to lose him particularly after the season he's having and we really have no one else in the organisation notable enough to fill in for his offensive and defensive production. He steals bases, hits for average and has one the Golden Glove for center-field 2 years in a row. The other outfield options in the organisation don't fill me with confidence. Shota Tomonaga would be a like for like replacement, but he's just a speedster with bang average numbers on the farm. We might see a stop-gap replacement of some sort in the future if he leaves. 

The other major piece at risk this year is Ryosuke Hirata, el captiano. While he's had a pretty rough year with injuries and being moved up down and sideways through the line-up (he's batted at pretty much every spot from 3-7 at some point) hasn't helped things at all. At the start of the season he was well on track for around ..280 and 20 homers, but his production has really slowed up of late. That however doesn't change the fact that he is still a very good player and very important to the Dragons. The poor season we're having and the mismanagement of Tanishige might well sway him to look elsewhere. He hasn't as yet elected for free agency but the team would take a massive hit if he left. I said our outfield options aren't hot and there's no one that can replace what Hirata offers. I wouldn't be surprised if someone like the Giants was hovering around waiting for him. I honestly believe that if we lost Hirata, morale would completely nose dive. We need to keep him. 

Otherwise some of the veterans are available as international FAs this year with Araki, Morino and Iwase open to sign for teams overseas. Given the stature of all of them as club legends though they won't be going anywhere and they're already being reported to be making moves to remain for next season. 

Staying

The future of our foreign legion however is much more uncertain as the 7 players on the books may well be culled quite significantly. The good new however is that Viciedo has signaled that he wants to stay in Japan and play with us so he appears to be undergoing contract negotiations with a view to stay. I am very happy with that. His production has been off the second half of the season, but so has the whole team. 

Undecided/Should Stay

While I have not hear solid new about the others, Raul Valdes has mentioned a desire to stay and I can't see why not given he's been fairly solid this year despite his age. Ricardo Nanita had a blistering start to the season only to get injured (not unlike last year) and I suppose there are possibly doubts over whether he'll stay given that injury history, his age, and the emergence of Hiroki Kondo. Jordan Norberto is probably the only other of the group that deserves to stay based on his performances so far and I personally hope we hold on to him.

Probably Gone 

Drew Naylor, Juan Jaime and Leyson Septimo I would think would be on the way out. I really don't want Drew to leave as he shows a real desire to play well at this level. He's shown a desire to adapt to the Japanese way of playing/coaching and I would hope they'd keep him on even as a relief option. Jaime has been a victim of a season ending injury at the beginning of the season and we've barely seen any of him. Septimo had one start and hasn't been seen since so it's likely he'll get the chop too. Anderson Hernandez always seems to do something for the team and his willingness to drop in and out of the firsts freely is quite an asset but given the local options we have for middle infield spots (Endo, Donoue, Kamezawa, Araki, et al), I can see him possibly leaving. 

I am yet to hear about us moving for any FA players from other teams, but I have heard we will be looking at the market. The weirdest rumour I have heard however is that we are in for Hawks outfielder Ryuma Kidokoro who, despite his career .200 average, was the MVP of the interleague series hitting .415.


Manager Search Update

There's really not much to add but the noise is still Michihiro Ogasawara, our farm team coach. He's got the credentials really and the owner seems to like him. I can't see the management thinking outside the box for this one and I completely believe he'll get the job. The farm team are second in the Western League at the moment and Ogasawara has done well with his charges. Whether or not that will translate to the big leagues is another thing entirely. I personally think he'll be a good coach but whether or not he'll get the support he needs is another thing entirely.

The good, the bad and the fugly - Results and Records

We suck. Currently we're the whipping boys of the NPB and we don't even look like upsetting anyone. Mori has not done anything that Tanishige couldn't have done and we're just seeing so much crap it's ridiculous. Mori even had Shuhei at 2nd base for some reason in the past few games and that makes about as much sense as eating 5 bars of chocolate a day to stay in shape. Viciedo has been out injured which has not helped things but the batting line-up is just woeful. We recently went on a 15 game run of scoring 3 runs or less. The worst in 48 years. For real. Our bats don't produce frequently enough. 

Also to add to all the doom and gloom, our number one pitching prospect, Shinnosuke Ogasawara is 0-5 this year which is the second worst high school rookie year in NPB history and the absolute worst in the Central League. He has not pitched badly at all. He should be more around 3-2 or so. The batting line-up has not helped him in any of his games and two of the occasions he looked like getting a win (on his debut and then the following game) the bullpen didn't hold on for him. Fukutani gave up 4 runs in relief on Ogasawara's debut and Tajima gave up an equalising run against..someone I can't quite remember in the 9th inning to rob him of his win. I feel sorry for the lad. He's really improved a lot. He's putting his secondary stuff in the zone a lot more often now and his most recent start was a fantastic 8 strikeouts in 7 innings where he only conceded 3 hits including a 2-run homer. Makes me sick that this team can't help a young guy out. 

For the good thing however, we have actually had two good wins in the last two games. While we lost the series against the rampant Carp on the weekend, Naomichi Donoue struck his first career grand-slam in the third game to give us the win. Shota Sugiyama then went on to get his first career slam against the Tigers yesterday against an errant Shintaro Fujinami. 2 grand slam games in a row is a first for the Dragons in 10 years. Donoue was also on fire against the Tigers as he hit 4 to contribute to the team's win. 

Kazuki Yoshimi also strung together two wins in a row recently which is the first for him in a while too which is good to see. 

2016 Draft Information and possible targets

Well, unless you follow university/high school/industrial league baseball you're probably not going to have heard of either of these guys, but that's why I'm here.

Meiji University stater, Yuya Yanagi has been suggested by Chunichi Sports as the number one target for the Dragons at the draft.  He's a former graduate of lauded Yokohama Senior High baseball club (where Nobumasa Fukuda among others is an alum of) and was the team ace at the Spring Koshien in 2012 where he pitched 26.1 innings in 3 games taking 22 strikeouts for a 1.72 ERA. 

He's been posting good numbers in the Big6 University League in Tokyo. He posted 5-2 from 60 innings with 73 strikeouts for a 1.95 ERA (2nd best in the league) in fall last year and he has posted an even more impressive 6-1 from 72 innings with 87 strikeouts for a 0.87 ERA in the spring league this year. He was selected in the Best 9 for both league seasons

He has played for the Japanese national university team and took an astonishing 8 straight Ks against the US in a 1-0 shut-out win. 

He can throw a 150 km/h fastball, slider, a killer curveball, change-up, two-seamer and a cutter. A pretty diverse arsenal. 

We desperately need better starters and Yanagi could provide that but he is apparently being chased by Rakuten and the Giants as well as apparently 10 Major League teams if you can believe it. Although, I must admit, given our batting woes a good solid hitter wouldn't go amiss either....

The other target that has been mentioned is someone that is probably going to be the most sought after pitcher in the draft for a long while. Soka University's Seigi Tanaka. I've heard some reports that as many as...well...all of the teams are interested in having him. He may well be the most sought after player at the draft since Hideo Nomo. 

He played his high school ball with Soka Senior High but his team didn't make it as far as Koshien. He has however been tearing through the university leagues in both the fall and spring leagues last year, he posted 6-0 with an era of 0.40 and 0.00 respectively. No one can hit this guy and he strikes out just over one batter per inning on average. He also took part in the Haarlem Baseball Week with the Japanese national university team and ended up with 16 wins from 22 games for a 0.47 ERA including striking out 11 in 9 innings for one run in the semi-finals. 

His biggest weapon is his 154 km/h fastball which, well, is fast. He regularly clocks speeds around over the 150 mark and his strikeout numbers speak for themselves. 72% of his pitches in the Haarlem tournament were straight deliveries. He also has a slider, fork, curve and a cutter in his kit bag that appear to be used sparingly. He's a big lad at 186cm and 90km, but the extra weight helps with his power.

I don't like our chances of snagging Tanaka, we never do well in the contested lotteries, but we might get Yanagi if we go in for him from the off. Have a feeling that Yanagi might be the better fit for the team.


Anyway that'll be all from me for now. Just thought I'd throw a bit of news out there and do a bit of research on my won. Already looking forward to the post-season! 

Peace