After more than two months into the NPB season, we have been observing differences and trends on what the identity of the Seibu Lions is.
We've been looking at manager moves and other decisions that Norio Tanabe has done, which we've seen agreement and disagreement with them.
Here, we will take a look at each position player who has come in off the bench and how Tanabe has utilized them throughout the year up to this point. Christian and Wes will both have a take on each player and move.
Note: With Right field being a consistent revolving door, every player in the outfield not named Takumi Kuriyama and Shogo Akiyama are eligible for discussion.
1B/2B/3B Ryota Wakiya: Wakiya has been a frequent substitute at 1B for Ernesto Mejia late in a game. Earlier in the season, he is a defensive substitute for the 8th or 9th inning when Tatsushi Masuda or Tomomi Takahashi is pitching with the lead.
Most recently, Wakiya has come in as a pinch runner for Mejia if he gets on base as early as the sixth inning. If Mejia gets on base in the 8th or 9th inning, Wakiya is automatically inserted in. Every once in awhile, he could be a pinch hitter.
Christian's take: I prefer him coming in only for the 8th or 9th inning with the lead. Putting him for defense in place of Mejia at 1B makes sense, but he shouldn't be getting any at bats minus the few days off for the starters.
I dislike it when he is put in for a tie game or as early as the 6th inning, which can show a sign of arrogance that the Lions have already won. Sometimes, I am wondering if Wakiya is placed in for Mejia as punishment for the latter not producing enough this season.
Wes' Take: Like Christian, I don't understand why Tanabe is chomping at the bit to try and get him in as early as possible. My take is simple, isn't Ernesto Mejia one of the premier power hitters in all of NPB? The answer is a definitive yes, so why are you taking at bats away from him? I don't see that Mejia as a liability at first, and quite frankly with his production at the plate, he merely has to be adequate to be worth playing the entire game.
Chances are at first base, there aren't a lot of differences between Wakiya and Mejia in terms of defensive ability at first base. Sure, maybe Wakiya is more sure-handed on ground balls and scoop catches but to me the drop-off is far from dramatic between Mejia and Wakiya.
If the Lions have a lead of two or more runs and Mejia has batted for what will likely be his last at bat of the night, I'm okay with Wakiya finishing the game at first, but in any other instances, Wakiya should stay on the bench.
2B/3B/SS Naoto Watanabe: A veteran acquired by a trade with the DeNA Baystars, Watanabe has been an infield substitute on occasion for Takeya "Okwari-kun" Nakamura. Most recently, Tanabe has made him the starting shortstop in place of the struggling Yuji Kaneko since June 2 against the Chunichi Dragons.
Christian's Take: He's a decent spell infielder if anyone needs an off day. With Tanabe playing the hot hand at SS, I wouldn't be surprised if he plays more frequently with 50-50 time shared with Kaneko. I don't want him playing everyday though.
Wes' Take: Has some similarities to the Dodgers' Justin Turner, though he appears to have more range than Turner (which is surprising given that Watanabe is 34), and a lot less power than the SoCal redhead.
It's clear that the Lions front office wanted Kaneko to take the starting shortstop job and run with it. And on the defensive side, he can definitely say he has done that, but he needs to pull himself into a league average hitter for Kaneko to really be the club's starting shortstop.
With all that currently happening, to go along with a Lions bottom of the order that has really struggled, Tanabe has to try to use Watanabe and try to get lightning in a bottle from him. I say give Watanabe a bit of a run, and if he starts slumping, Kaneko can come in and hopefully will have found his stride at the plate.
All in all, it's nice to have two + gloves at shortstop.
OF Fumikazu Kimura: He was the opening day starter in RF, but he batted around the Mendoza Line of .200 to begin the year and was deactivated. He came up on May 4th and had a decent series against Orix, but after a bad weekend series against the Chiba a few days later, he was benched. Now it appears he's a bench outfielder to come in as a defensive substitute for the 9th inning when the Lions are ahead.
Christian's Take: I'm going to assume that the Lions liked the matchup against certain pitchers when facing Orix. Right field has been done by committee throughout the year, but I feel Kimura shouldn't be starting anymore in right field. Would prefer him to only appear in garbage time.
Wes' Take: Nothing special, right field has been a mess, but it's not that big of a deal. If the starting pitcher for the Lions on a particular day is a fly ball guy, he should be considered, definitely not a guy I'm counting on.
OF Masato Kumashiro: Kumashiro was called up briefly in the month of May and even earned a few starts. However, he became only a defensive substitute in his short stint while activated appearing in only 10 games.
Christian's Take: He might be a better defensive substitute than a few other outfielders with his range and arm. However, he's a 5th or 6th outfielder at best and has no business taking at bats. He could also be a useful pinch runner.
Wes' Take: Like Kimura, he should only be considered for starting if the Lions have a fly ball pitcher starting for them. I know defense is valued extremely high in Japan, but I'm tired of wanting to tune out whenever the Lions bottom of the order is up, so no thanks.
OF Hichori Morimoto: Morimoto started the 2015 season on the Lions Ichi-gun team. However, he became expendable for a younger OF as Morimoto is 34. The Lions marketed him as part of the "Players Gourmet" series for food in the Seibu Dome. He had one start and appeared in seven games total mostly as a defensive substitute.
Christian's Take: Unless he goes on a run streak with the ni-gun team, I don't see a reason to bring him back.
Wes' Take: Concur with Christian, I see no value in playing him, unless injuries occur.
OF Yutaro Osaki: The Lions used Osaki as the starting RF against Hokkaido from May 12-15. He had a decent series where he had four hits on eight at bats, including a home run to go with two walks. However, they kept him on the bench after the series and he has only seen time as a late inning substitute for pinch running or pinch hitting.
Christian's Take: I'm willing to give him another shot, but the Lions appear to only like him matching up against the Fighters. He should get another opportunity when interleague play ends.
Wes' Take: I don't understand why the Lions believe one player matches up well against another team. After that Hokkaido series, Tanabe should've given him a run to see what happens. What do you have to lose at the RF position at this point?
OF Shogo Saito: Saito had a brief run as the starting right fielder at the end of April, but has remained on the bench since. He usually appears as a pinch runner for Kuriyama in late innings or as a defensive substitute in the eighth or ninth.
Christian's take: I like his range and arm to keep him on the first team. He fits the bill of a fourth outfielder and could get a few starts in my eyes, but is not starter material. His speed is useful off the bench.
Wes' Take: He's a Japanese Sam Fuld, which is a handy reserve outfielder. The team is horrible when it comes to stealing bases, in tight ball games, he should be used as a weapon in pinch running.
Utility: Anthony "Terry" Seratelli: With Wade LeBlanc struggling, it left the door open for Seratelli to be called up in his place and satisfying the gaijin rule as the fourth foreigner on the 28-man roster. His first at bat came with the bases loaded in a pinch hit situation, where he fought for several pitches before a weak line out on May 22 against Rakuten.
Seratelli briefly started in right field prior to interleague play and it wouldn't be surprising if he gets more starts in the future. Tanabe has used him as a pinch runner and pinch hitter off the bench through two weeks. He can play any infield or outfield position and he is also a switch hitter.
Christian's Take: It would be nice if he could win himself a job in right field so we have stability at that position. He has decent speed and can get on base. If anything, he should be the Lions' best pinch-hit option off the bench compared to everyone else.
Wes' Take: The Lions haven't exactly needed to have a bench full of great pinch-hitters especially since their middle of the order is so potent, but it became an issue when playing in Central League parks. The team has been exposed in grueling games where the middle of the order has underperformed. And because of that, it's seemed like the Lions have been playing for a draw (see the draw against Chunichi).
Closing Statement on Substitutions:
Christian: It appears the Lions have a pinch hitter in Seratelli and the defensive replacements are there. The question is, how do the Lions use right field? Will it still be by committee or will there be an everyday/primary player at that position?
I like Saito as the fourth outfielder, but not starting. If I was deciding this, I would have given Osaki some more starts and if he fails, then Seratelli would get an opportunity. The Lions should keep Wakiya on the bench rather than at the 6th or 7th inning. Lastly, I'd like to have Kumashiro up in place of Kimura if I was in charge of management.
Wes: Seratelli and Osaki should be given opportunities. I'd call for a platoon with Seratelli and Osaki. Though I have no idea what Seratelli or Osaki's splits are (I haven't located information like that), Seratelli is a switch hitter, and Osaki is a lefty, the first pre-requisite is there for it to work.
The overuse of defensive substitutions that take away from Ernesto Mejia irk me to no end, and taking at bats away from him is just unacceptable. During the draw in Nagoya, it felt like they were playing for the draw rather than playing to win because Tanabe pulled Mejia and Mori to a lesser extent. I like defensive subs, but not when they take at bats away from your pivotal hitters.
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