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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.