Monday, October 26, 2015

NPB Carousel: Reviewing each manager hire

Alex Ramirez is one of five new managers for next season

In sports, it's always common when head coaches, or managers in baseball terms change. Most of the time it's due to performance and other situations are due to other factors.

As a result, the show must go on and a replacement will have to take over the post. In NPB, there were five managers who stepped down or were not retained.

The process in Japan is a little different, as a common trend for managers is no experience being required in order to get the job. A lot of the time, a great player will become the manager thinking he can replicate the success he did on the field.

This logic is a fallacy for us, because we often believe great players don't guarantee great managers, as both are completely different aspects. Usually it's the mediocre players who've been learning on the bench are the ones who take the effort to learn coaching or managing.

Kimiyasu Kudo's connections brought experienced personnel on his staff and after playing many years, he was a television analyst prior to taking over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The only American example I could think of, was when the Golden State Warriors hired Mark Jackson as he had no coaching experience and was only a TV color commentator analyst.

In my preference, I like taking a bench coach who's been groomed behind a great manager because he would be experienced on the staff. He would also infuse what he learned from his mentor as well as bring his own style. In Japan, they can just throw a guy in the fire and find out how he does as a manager with no experience needed.

Here we will take a look at all the new managers as well as explain why the predecessor is gone.


Rakuten Golden Eagles: 

Out: Hiromoto "Dave" Okubo
In: Masataka Nashida  

Okubo is one of those rare managers who essentially went "one and done" after taking over a last place team in 2014. The Eagles were once again in last place due to several issues where the manager cost his team games. Their biggest problem was how Okubo would be too aggressive trying to steal bases with players who weren't built for it. He also couldn't manage the bullpen properly adding and removing certain guys.

At first, Rakuten was competitive through the first half given the talent they had, but fell off hard to finish in last place in the Pacific League. It was clear there were relationship troubles with Okubo on the team involving the players.  

Rakuten brings in Nashida, who last managed the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2008-2011. His last game was during the 2011 postseason where the Saitama Seibu Lions won their last playoff series, the first round of the Climax Series. It was also Yu Darvish's last games in a Fighters uniform. In the past, Nashida led the Kintetsu Buffaloes to the Japan series once in 2001 and the Fighters in 2009.

This is a retread name for a franchise who needed a fresh face to baseball. Rakuten went the path of experience over someone new. The Eagles needed to rebuild their bullpen, but maybe Nashida's having past accolades can help them get in the right direction.


Orix Buffaloes:

Out: Hiroshi Moriwaki 
In: Junichi Fukura 

Orix forced Moriwaki to step down in the middle of interleague play last June as their nightmare start would only continue. I viewed this as a scapegoat hiring for a decent manager who led them to only their second time in the postseason as Orix Buffaloes in 2014. Their poor start was not the manager's fault with several one-run losses, which gives the idea of bad luck more than bad decisions. 

The Buffaloes hitting wasn't there, but their bullpen was also a disaster to watch. However, they do have a decent rotation where they should be competitive next year. As a result, they promoted their "Head coach" (yes, there is a manager and head coach in Japan) in Junichi Fukura to be the full-time manager in 2016. He was the interim coach who took over for Moriwaki, but we expected more of a different name rather than promoting from within. 

I didn't feel that Fukura was manager material and is more of a caretaker for Orix. They did name So Taguchi their farm team manager in ni-gun. If Orix has another season, Fukura is all but a dead man walking and it appears Taguchi would be in line to manage them. What was awkward was how Alex Ramirez worked as a roving adviser for them, but he wasn't considered.


Hanshin Tigers: 

Out: Yutaka Wada
In: Tomaoki Kanemoto

The Hanshin Tigers went into 2015 with the mindset they had a contending team because they made the Japan Series in the previous year. The roster reflected this and now with the recent death of their general manager Katsuhiro Nakamura (RIP), they needed a new change. 

Even if Nakamura was still in charge, Wada was given a do or die situation and failed as the team was mediocre.  The Tigers let him go and everyone knew that Kanemoto was coming in. He played 21 years as  player with 10 of them being with the Tigers and he was clearly their first target all along. 

On paper, this is a good hire for a proven player, but we'll see how he manages a game when it happens next spring. Wada deserved to go away and he cost his team more games, but the Tigers management cannot enter next season with an arrogance thinking they're a better team than they are. Kanemoto should be an upgrade knowing how Wada became stale.


Yokohama DeNA Baystars:

Out: Kiyoshi Nakahata
In: Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez

Nakahata deserved to go after four seasons with the Baystars. While they were competitive in the first half last year, they fell off hard with a significant losing run during interleague play and were only in first place before the All-Star break due to mediocrity in the Central League. Everything went right for them initially and this run was unsustainable. 

Ramirez is a fresh face to baseball having been a player for 17 years, 13 of them being in NPB. As mentioned above, he spent part of the 2015 season as a roving instructor for Orix and landed a manager job shortly after the season. 

Like Kanemoto on paper, it sounds good that a great player is in charge, but there's too much uncertainty with this. However, the Baystars need a pulse after being the only team in NPB to not be in the playoffs for the 21st Century. They gave him a two year deal which is short term. They can always try again if this doesn't work out.  


Yomiuri Giants:

Out: Tatsunori Hara
In: Yoshinobu Takahashi  

Hara made headlines and attention away from the Yakult Swallows winning the Central League Championship by announcing his resignation shortly after the game. This was a decision made on his own will, not by the Yomiuri Giants management despite the disappointing ended for Japan's most well-known team. He's a crafty manager who was probably tired and needed a break from baseball taking a toll on his life.

The Giants made a fast decision, having former OF Takahashi retire as a player and immediately become the team's manager. They're known to hire from within, always having someone with a Giants connection, but this had the feel of a panic move to choose Takahashi so quickly. There was speculation they could have made longtime catcher and franchise plaeyr Shinnosuke Abe the player/manager like Motonobu Tanishige did for Chunichi in the last two years. 

As a player, Takahashi was a great contact hitter as well as a gold glove outfielder in his prime. He spent the last few seasons as a part time outfielder with others taking his spot. As earlier stated, he will not be a player so he can't "pinch hit himself" for an at bat, as funny as that could sound. We won't find out how Takahashi is as a manager, but the Giants should still be the Giants and remain competitive. Tanishige is officially the longest tenured manager in the Central League as a result of DeNA, Hanshin and Yomiuri making changes.


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