Yet another shakeup to the Lions bullpen has been executed by Norio Tanabe and the Lions front office. This time the move comes off more as a logical move rather than a panic move.
When Kazuhisa Makita was sent to the bullpen, the move appeared to be more of an overreaction to the bad stretch of form from the bullpen, rather than a move that needed to be made. I tried to look at the positives, the rotation seemed to be keeping the Lions in games but the lack of faith in the Lions middle relief proved to cost them some games at a frustrating rate, then the back end guys like Tomomi Takahashi and Tatsushi Masuda started to struggle at an alarming rate. As a result, the Lions front office did not feel comfortable just letting thing play out, as the long 13 game losing streak ensued.
The logic of the move was simple, the rotation has been solid all year, why not take out some of the best parts of the rotation and add it to the bullpen to form a potentially solid 7-8-9?
It seemed all well and good, only if you pretend that Makita was the same pitcher he was in 2011 when he actually was the Lions closer as a 26 year old rookie. At that time, Makita was striking out 6.1 per 9 innings and walking 1.1 per 9. As opposed to this season, where he's striking out 4.3 and walking 2.8. It's not exactly the numbers of a closer anywhere in the world.
Takahashi and Masuda have the stuff to both be closers. They strikeout batters and don't pitch to contact, which can give way to possible bloop singles. On the flip side, Makita has given up plenty on several occasions during his short time as the closer this season.
I said this to Christian in private many times, I thought the move was of the panic variety, but the thought behind it wasn't that far off. In fact, moving Makita to the bullpen could've been a smart strategical move, but making him the closer was not.
Makita's profile as a submarine pitcher makes him a difficult matchup for just about anyone especially if the opposing team has been facing a traditional over the top or 3 quarter arm slot starter the entire game, but just imagine if you brought Makita in for the 6th inning as a change of pace. We've seen it before, Lions pitchers end up having to pitch longer than they are capable of and in the end, they get hit around.
With Makita in this role which we call the "bullpen ace", that is no longer a worry going forward. Makita could pitch two innings, or 3 innings and whenever he faces trouble, you can then look to Masuda and Takahashi to really shorten the game and take your middle relief from an apparent weakness to an apparent strength.
This was all my dream, sadly. I'm not sure whether or not this role has been used by Japanese teams or not, but from my instinct, it seems that a move like that wouldn't of seemed to be a move that saved face, since making Makita the closer seemed like the Lions had fixed a problem with a solution, when in reality, they actually had not.
Now, Makita is moving back to the rotation, and seemingly, Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo will be sent to the bullpen where I think he'd be more effective anyway, considering how solid he looks early on his starts but then waivers during just the second time through the order. Takahashi will retain his role as closer, and Masuda will retain his role as the setup man.
And as it stands right now, the Lions rotation looks at times very solid and the bullpen is back to looking fantastic in the 8th and 9th, but a huge question mark is in the 6th and 7th. Though hopefully, Kaku Kuo can contribute enough in middle relief. When Makita was the closer, the 7th and 8th wasn't anything to worry about while the 9th was always a roller coaster but you knew he could get the job done. With Makita out of the rotation, it was having trouble going deeper into games.
If I had to pick between the two, I'd pick having Makita in the rotation, because with that, the Lions have a team that is capable of capturing lightning in a bottle and making noise in the postseason (if they get there of course, cross your fingers).
Looking ahead to this weekend's pivotal series with Chiba, we got what we wanted! A Lions sweep of lowly Rakuten coinciding with a Fighters sweep of the Marines sets up a 3 game set at the Seibu Prince Dome where they're only a half game out of the 3rd and final playoff spot. These 3 games may decide almost everything for the Lions in 2015, especially since they seem to be on a roll while Chiba is seemingly coming back down to earth.
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