Friday, November 27, 2015

Seibu Lions 2015 Season Review: Final FIP bullpen report

Tatsushi Masuda has been tabbed the Lions most impressive reliever in 2015.
This is an interesting project to look at when it comes to the Saitama Seibu Lions, but it's finally come to a close. It's time to address the findings and trends in the data going forward. Before I start, I must say that I'm trying to find the best ways to judge relievers and their performance without contact rates like LD% (Line Drive percentage) and BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) at your disposal. One baseball mind who I've been really interested in is Joe Sheehan, formerly of Baseball Prospectus and now a contributor for Sports Illustrated.

For all who are reading who would like a fresh opinion to MLB, please check out the Joe Sheehan Newsletter (trust me, it's worth the money). What Joe Sheehan has used to judge relievers are things like K/UIBB (strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio) which is a good way at measuring control and a barebones measure of missing bats. Strikeout clips are the same as saying strikeouts per nine innings. So in this post, I'll be trying to incorporate these numbers with my FIP and ERA measures.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Pacific League's average K/UIBB was 2.15.

For those who need an FIP explanation: Click here

Yasuhiro Tanaka

ERA: 1.35
FIP: 3.05

Tanaka was thrown into a lot of mop up duty at the end of the year and fared decently in his role. The Lions needed someone to eat innings with a lot of their guys reaching career highs in innings pitched and Tanaka did what he could. The 28 year old had one particular lowlight where he gave up an extra innings home run to Yuki Yanagita, who's now the Pacific League MVP. Unfortunately for Tanaka, he was given his outright release by the Lions after the 2015 season.

Tanaka finished out with a K/UIBB of 1.86 (13/7) in only 26.2 IP. Which is a far cry from where he was in previous seasons where he had more walks than strikeouts in 2014. I wish him well in his future endeavors and it's good to see that he had a positive wave in his career.

Kazuki Miyata

ERA: 5.21
FIP: 5.58

Yikes. Ugly. Miyata was another leverage guy and unfortunately these numbers really are as bad as they look. He had a K/UIBB of 1.00 as well, with a decent strikeout clip of 7.1, but his strikeouts per nine innings was matched by his walk clip and that just killed him. There's a reason why the Lions drafted so many pitchers and Miyata is one of them.

He only threw 19 innings and quite frankly, with how he performed, he just couldn't be thrown out there anymore. The Lions at the very least will have new, fresh arms at their disposal thanks to the players they drafted, so we'll see what happens with Miyata's future.

Atsushi Okamoto

ERA: 3.05
FIP: 3.83

Some of these pitchers have just some of the most odd statistics to examine, and I'm just gonna have to say what I see from these statistics. In the 20.2 IP thrown by Okamoto, he didn't really walk (0.9 BB/9) anyone or strikeout (3.5 K/9) anyone, just about all the outs that were recorded were from balls put in play.

That just doesn't happen anymore and maybe at the age of 34, it's time for Okamoto to hang reinvent himself or think about hanging it up. Because before this season, he was posting strikeout clips of at least 6.0 or higher. For all I know, Okamoto was injured this season and that would explain everything we need to know as he only appeared in the first half.

Yosuke Okamoto

Yosuke Okamoto did just about everything for the Lions in 2015: he had a couple soft starts, he finished a few mop up games and by the end of the year, Okamoto even earned some meaningful innings. This is why we have FIP, as ERA fluctuates around the peaks and valleys of luck, FIP stays relatively consistent. Okamoto is not a great pitcher by any means as he's no better than league average.

However, he is one of the few guys with a large enough sample size (68.1) and finished with an average K/UIBB of 2.15. That's right at the Pacific League's league average. Which is certainly good enough for the Lions, since they were dead last as a team when it came to the K/UIBB ratio.

Okamoto had such a rough start to the year that I'm willing to say that he gets a little bit of a pass for the way he fought down the stretch. He spent a few weeks in ni-gun before being called up in the second half and I think you'll see more of him in the bullpen next year, depending on how he looks. At the very least, he's certainly a useful guy who can eat up innings.

Shota Takekuma

Designated the left-handed specialist of the Lions bullpen, Shota Takekuma had a very good season for the most part in 2015. The 25-year old saw a career high in innings with 57.1 IP and he also posted good numbers in the ERA and FIP categories. He outperformed his FIP by nearly a full point, showing that he was a bit lucky towards the end of the year especially, as it appears he started to wear down.

FIP likes guys who post numbers similar to Takekuma because he first and foremost keeps the ball in the ballpark. His awful walk rate cost him from having better numbers and that will have to improve as we move into 2016. His K/UIBB ended up at 1.00 which worries me that he won't be as lucky in 2016.

Esmerling Vasquez

This Lions foreign signing had his struggles with command in 2015, which has been par for the course during his entire career. He posted a 1.00 K/UIBB, striking out the same number of guys he walked. He was mainly used as a 6th and 7th inning guy with Takekuma, and like him, Vasquez kept the ball in the ballpark by not giving up a single home run this year. This is the main reason why his FIP was so solid and also why the FIP shines on him brighter than his ERA.

The Lions decided to bring back Vasquez for 2016, and with his velocity, it's not surprising, how they will use him going forward will be something to watch and I will be watching closely to see if the Lions can finally figure out his control issues. Vasquez was the only foreign signing from North America to be retained for next year as the Lions parted ways with Miguel Mejia, Wade LeBlanc and Anthony Seratelli. 

Toshihiro Iwao

ERA: 6.52
FIP: 3.25

Here's the most interesting statistical reliever in the Lions pen. Iwao is a guy with an out of whack ERA in 29 IP, but a guy with a tremendous strikeout clip that's been proven throughout his entire career.

In short, Iwao is a nasty pitcher as long as he doesn't give up any hits. His walk rate of 5.6 gives him no margin for error, and that's especially true since Iwao didn't give up any home runs this season. Iwao threw 20 IP in 2014 for the Lions, and had an ERA of 1.80, mostly because he had a walk rate of 1.8 and an H/9 of 6.8. In 2015, Iwao's H/9 jumped to 10.6, and with the previously mentioned walk rate, his ERA naturally ballooned.

It's clear that Iwao has some tremendous talent and potential, but if he can't find the control he had in 2014, he won't be of much use.

Tatsushi Masuda

Among Lions pitchers who had didn't start a game in 2015, Tatsushi Masuda led the team in innings with 74.0. This was a career high for Masuda who's previous record was 52.2 IP in 2013. Masuda continued the same exact strikeout rate as his seasons in 2013 and 2014, posting a 7.5 K/9 in 2015 to stay as consistent as can be. His rate was well above 9 for much of the year, but it looks like this increased workload limited his effectiveness.

What was also consistent for Masuda was his control, as he posted a walk rate of 1.8. This allowed him to post an impressive K/UIBB of 4.13 to almost double the league average in that category. He also did a tremendous job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, as he only gave up one home run in 2015.

All in all, Masuda was the Lions best relief pitcher this season and this didn't go unnoticed as Norio Tanabe probably overworked him this season. He even closed a handful of games at the end of the year after Tanabe demoted Makita and Tomoni Takahashi. That could be problematic going forward, but as of now, he should be well-utilized in 2016 and is a key figure of the Lions 2016 squad.

Tomomi Takahashi

The Lions left-handed closer saw a tremendous start to the season that wasn't as good as his super-human season of 2014, but still impressive. With that being said, it was eventually going to even out as the season went on. Especially with his not so impressive walk rate of 3.8, Takahashi's strikeouts did stay up as the season went on and I think that came because he had previously pitched over 60 innings in 2014, so the workload was no stranger to him. '

Takahashi had one of the worst stretches a relief pitcher could have during that awful July losing streak the Lions had. He lost his closer role and finished the season injured after a foot accident in late September. I still think he's a solid option for the Lions, but I'm not sure whether he should be the closer or not. I think Masuda should be the guy you use the most as a reliever, whether that's as a closer or whatever role works, but Takahashi's repertoire of being a solid lefty makes him a strong option for Tanabe in 2016.


The Lions bullpen was tough to watch in 2015 during many stretches of the season. The limited amount of strong options forced Tanabe to overwork some guys that saw career highs in work rate. Seibu's front office addressed this issue in the NPB Draft this year, so we'll see where this unit heads towards in 2016. 

There could be a potential shakeup, especially in middle relief. One great thing about this unit was that it wasn't one to blow it all up by giving up a bomb. If anything they'd walk or give up hits that would allow Tanabe to make a move to counteract what was happening on the field.


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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Translation: Introductory press conference of C.C. Lee

The Saitama Seibu Lions introduced C.C. Lee on November 27th with their introductory presser. After entering the room and saying his name, he couldn't complete the phrase when trying to say "Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu", a well-known phrase to say when you meet new people in Japanese.

While there isn't a direct translation, it is essentially a way of saying "please treat me well" in a formal aspect. There are many meanings, but here's a full definition here for those who can't speak Japanese.

He went in the hotel in Tokyo to answer some questions. Thanks again to Vivien Wong for translating his words from Mandarin. Here is a paraphrasing of what he said.

*UPDATE, Pacific League TV uploaded the full version of his press conference.  Here's the full transcript.

How do you feel right now?

"Very happy, but there is also an additional feeling of responsibilities."

Can you clarify the process of your transfer from the US to this team? 

"I think it's quite complicated, most of the time it was the representing agency that assisted with the process."

 What is your best talent or specialty?

"I think it will have to be the 'Slice Ball' (Slider), it makes me stand out from others."

Until now you've been playing in the Major Leagues in the USA, what are your plans here for this team? 

"[My plans are to] do my best and seeing what the team will assign me to, and then do my best to complete my given duties." 

From 2013 until now you've been playing in major leagues, what would your style be here?  

"The playing style and culture are different, so there are lots to learn here, so I will try my best."

What is most memorable in MLB for the 3 years you were there? "
"Uh... getting teased and joked around with."

Can you explain further? 
"For example, my English is not that good and I'm Taiwanese. They'll put [a cup] on my head."

(Here's a clip of him being pranked by his Indians teammates.)

They have other Taiwanese players in the league, do you look forward in playing against them?
"Yes, I look forward to it."

What would you like to be called?
"Can call me Lee or CC. I'm used to both equally."

This is your 2nd day in Japan, what can you say in Japanese?
"I'm sorry, but I only know how to say 'my name is'. But I will learn."

You didn't have a microphone earlier, can you introduce yourself again with the microphone?
*Speaks introduction in Japanese*

What are your goals this year?
"Hope the team will win and I can assist them to win."

"I'm Lee, Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu. I'm the new member that joined the team this year, please help to cheer us on." 

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Translation: Takayuki Kishi reacts to new contract for next season

Takayuki Kishi signed a new deal for 2016, which is good for 225 million yen, an estimated $1.8 million in dollars. Here is a summary of his short press conference, with the help of translation from @maple_ash and @shiba_scope.

On reflections from the 2015 season: 
Kishi said he regrets being injured three times in training camp, the start of the year and at the end of 2015. He thought his injuries were not due to lack of preparation. He hopes to be ready for next year.

On offseason plans:
Kishi is looking forward to winter training with 2014 first round draft pick Kona Takahashi. After finishing his rookie season, Takahashi asked to train with Kishi and with Fumiya Nishiguchi now retired, the veteran ace feels he has responsibility as the leader in the rotation.

On goals for 2016: 
Kishi hopes to not be injured and doesn't plan to change his pitching style for next year. His goal is to win a team championship and believes they can as long as they're healthy.


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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Report: Seibu Lions purchase contract of Andy Van Hekken

Andy Van Hekken is the newest Lion

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced they reached an agreement with P Andy Van Hekken from the KBO (Korea Baseball Organization League). He had an option to opt out, according to @MyKBO, forcing his KBO team to sell him rather than lose him for nothing.

Van Hekken, 36, was a starting pitcher for the Nexen Heroes in the KBO from 2012-2015. His best year came in 2014, where he went 20-6 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.316 WHIP.

In four seasons as a starter with Nexen, he went 58-32 with a 3.54 ERA. Last season in 2015, he had 193 strikeouts. He was also teammates with Byung-Ho Park, who recently was posted and the Minnesota Twins won the bid for him. 

From 2003-2011, he bounced around four different MLB organizations while only being the minors at AA and AAA. He has five game of MLB experience as a September callup with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. He went 1-3 with a .300 ERA in the major leagues.

This signing takes Wade LeBlanc's spot on the roster as room for a starting pitcher. Last year, several Lions pitchers ran out of gas at the end and saw only innings in the bullpen. Van Hekken reached a career high 196.2 innings pitched, which is the most at any level of baseball he played.

Van Hekken will compete with Ken Togame, Kazuhisa Makita, Ryoma Nogami, and Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo for a spot in the Lions rotation. Kuo, C.C. Lee, Esmerling Vasquez, Ernesto Mejia and now Van Hekken are the foreign players under contract with the Lions.

Here is a highlight reel of his 20-win 2014 season.


Other notes: 

-OF Shogo Akiyama, C Ginjiro Sumitani and 3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura were named as the Pacific League's "Best IX" for their respective positions. Okawari-kun beat out Nobuhiro Matsuda of the Softbank Hawks for the award. Sumitani and Akiyama also received golden gloves for catcher and outfielder, respectively.

-The Lions also reached an agreement with Takayuki Kishi for 2016. He will make an estimated  $1.8 million in the second of his three-year deal.


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Friday, November 20, 2015

Report: Seibu Lions purchase C.C. Lee from Cleveland Indians

C.C. Lee became one of the newest Seibu Lions
The Saitama Seibu Lions made their first new addition of the offseason by purchasing the contract Taiwanese pitcher Chen-Chang (CC) Lee on Saturday morning from the Cleveland Indians, who sold his rights.

Lee, 29, spent his entire career with the Indians organization after being an amateur for the Chinese Taipei team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also played for his country during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

He made his MLB debut with the Indians in July of 2013 and appeared in eight games total, mostly as a September callup out of the bullpen. Lee contributed the most for Cleveland in 2014 where he appeared in 37 games as a middle reliever with a 1-1 record and 4.50 ERA.

Last year, he fell out of favor with the Indians and remained in AAA (Cleveland's ni-gun) for most of the season. In 48 games for the AAA Columbus Clippers, he went 4-3 with a 3.39 ERA and five saves. He was only with the Indians for two games in 2015, appearing in low leverage once in July and September.

In 34 career innings, Lee registered a 4.50 ERA and an FIP of 4.09.  He played in 47 MLB games for the last three years combined.

The Lions' bullpen has been unreliable and the team hopes he can find his niche in Japan. He should be part of a mix with Esmerling Vasquez, Kazuki Miyata, Toshihiro Iwao, Yosuke Okamoto and Yasuo Sano for a roster spot with the ichi-gun.

Lee is the second Taiwanese player on the Lions roster with the other being Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo. With the latter being demoted to the bullpen at the end of last year, both guys will be competing in training camp.

Here is a clip of his MLB debut.


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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Japan upset by South Korea in Premier 12 due to Kokubo's mistake

Korea celebrates their win in Tokyo Dome
Samurai Japan was the consensus favorite to win the inaugural WBSC Premier12 tournament with a loaded roster. However, it was one call that cost the team a first place finish.

Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters was dominating in Tokyo Dome, having no hits allowed through six innings while also facing the minimum number of batters (18). This included striking out six consecutive batters and 11 for the game.

After allowing his first hit in the seventh, he was able to get out of the inning unscathed and it was the right call for manager Hiroki Kokubo to pull him knowing it was the third time through the order for the South Korean national team. It appeared that Japan was on cruise control with a 3-0 lead the entire time.

Takahiro Norimoto worked a perfect eighth inning, but that was the downfall which gave Kokubo the idea to make him go two innings. Sure, in theory a starter who's the best on the his team in the Rakuten Golden Eagles should be able to get three more outs.

However, the closer role today takes a special edge to finish a game. Being a closer can't be done on paper as a pitcher needs to have the right mentality to end it.

Kokubo had four different pitchers on his roster who were closers in 2015 with Kazuhisa Makita being an unofficial fifth when he temporarily took over for the Saitama Seibu Lions. He used none of them and stuck with Norimoto as a setup man throughout the tournament.

Norimoto would face four batters allowing three hits and hitting the fourth to load the bases with no outs trying to protect what was now a 3-1 lead.

Yuki Matsui came in when the bases were already loaded and he was arguably squeezed by the umpire when walking his only batter. However, it shouldn't come down to that at-bat when the manager was greedy enough to leave Norimoto in for multiple batters as he couldn't get an out.

He could have gone with Matsui to being the 9th, as he was nearly automatic with Rakuten, even though he will be part of their rotation in 2016. Even former Eagles manager Hiromoto "Dave" Okubo would have a closer take the ninth inning.

There was also Hirokazu Sawamura from the Yomiuri Giants, but he faltered in a closer situation earlier in the tournament during the pool play. Yasuaki Yamasaki of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars was the wildcard candidate, but Kokubo only used him for the 7th and 8th inning in two games.

Hirotoshi Masui, the Fighters' closer, would have been the logical choice to bring in for the ninth inning at the start. He struggled in garbage time against the Puerto Rico giving up a three run homer, but it was all academic. Kokubo might have been discouraged from using him as a result of the out.

Regardless, Kokubo had Matsui only face one batter before putting in Masui with the bases loaded and no outs only ahead by one run, Well-known Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 1B Lee Dae-Ho did damage again with the pivotal two-run single down the left field line and Korea took its only lead of the night after showing no signs of offense the entire game having only two base runners prior to the 9th.

Masui was allowing some hard hit balls, but great defense from Hayato Sakamoto and Shogo Akiyama prevented Korea from breaking this game open.

Japan had one redemption chance in the ninth, but Tetsuto Yamada struck out and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo grounded out with Sho Nakata being the last hope. He got on base with a single and Takeya "Okawari-kun" came in as a pinch hitter for Nobuhiro Matsuda, who was hitless on the night.

It was too late, as Okawari-kun grounded out and Korea pulled off the shocker in the ninth inning. It's easy to point the finger at Norimoto for not recording an out in the ninth against Korea's pinch hitters, but that situation should have have come up when Kokubo had an arsenal of closers on his bench.

Japan deserved to lose this game due to one basic mistake and the manager took responsibility for his decision. They can only look back at what Kokubo did, having a No. 1 starting pitcher take a role he's not familiar with in closing while also coming out of the bullpen.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Report: Seibu Lions reach agreement with Chun-Lin Kuo and Ernesto Mejia for 2016

The Saitama Seibu Lions officially announced they reached agreement with Ernesto Mejia and Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo for 2016.

Mejia, who will be 30 in December, had a down season in 2015 where he was hitting mostly .220 for the year. He had a strong second half and still was able to amass 25 home runs after being the one half of the reigning Pacific League home run kings for 2014.

The problem for Mejia was how often he would strike out or hit ground balls. He's capable of providing pop to the lineup, but needs to improve his average so that he won't be subbed early and gain trust of Norio Tanabe. The Lions would often sub him out as early as the sixth inning for a pinch runner because his bat wasn't reliable. He will make an estimated $2.4 million in US Dollars, according to Nikkan.

Kuo took this selfie with Mejia on his Instagram
Kuo, who will turn 24 in February had a rough first season in NPB. After being a top amateur for the U23 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) national team, he struggled as the sixth starter. He had a 3-7 record with a 5.31 ERA in 2015. Kuo was sent to the bullpen after the Lions moved Kazuhisa Makita back to the rotation and only saw a handful of mop up innings.

He has the ability to be a decent ground ball pitcher, but his control can be off. It was his first season playing professional baseball at any level as he only played in international competitions. The good news is, he had two quality starts during the WSBC Premier 12 where he allowed two runs over 15 innings pitched. This included going eight innings with one run allowed in a do or die game.

If Kuo can fix his control, he ceiling could be as a no. 3 starter. If not, the Lions should try using him in middle relief. He will make about $250,000 in dollars.

Both of these signings are not surprises as the Lions all but said Mejia would return for the next year. Kuo is also young, where they hope to develop him after investing a handful of yen.

The league appeared to have adjusted to Mejia after tearing it up in 2014. We can only hope things go up from here after he had a rough season of striking out.


Other note: 

-The Lions promoted OF Daisuke Togawa from ikusei to the 70-man roster and he was assigned No. 71. Currently, they have no ikusei players under contract and didn't draft anyone for it last month.

-With the signing of Mejia and Kuo, they currently have 62 players under contract with four more draft picks to sign. P Shogo Noda, OF Aito Otaki, P Tadasuke Minamikawa and P Keisuke Honda are still waiting on their contract.  


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Report: Seibu Lions re-sign Esmerling Vasquez for 2016

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Wednesday that Esmerling Vasquez will return to the team for 2016. They also wrote that his number will change from 26 to No. 42, which is what Miguel Mejia wore last season.

Vasquez, 32, was previously an MLB pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins. He also had stints in the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues.

He initially made the opening day roster in 2015 as a middle relief pitcher. Manager Norio Tanabe would use him for the seventh inning and in medium leverage.

Vasquez did not give up a home run for 2015, but struggled with control as he was wild with pitches and walking batters. He was demoted in August and never saw time with the ichi-gun again. In 34 games, he went 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA and nine holds.

This is a reasonable signing as he was valuable in the bullpen, but could not be consistent enough to remain with the top team. If Vasquez can fix his control and command, he could work as a seventh inning reliever.

He is the only Non-Asian foreigner out of the 2015 free agent signings to return with the team for next year. The Lions already parted ways with IF Anthony Seratelli, P Wade LeBlanc and P Miguel Mejia at the end of 2015.


Other note: 

-1B/RF Ryota Wakiya filed his option to be a domestic free agent. He was the only Lion to do so out of the eligible players for domestic and international free agency. Wakiya is most likely to return to the Yomiuri Giants and is a type C free agent with no compensation for Seibu if he signs elsewhere.


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Friday, November 13, 2015

Report: Lions sign OF Naotaka Takehara

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Friday that they signed OF Naotaka Takehara to a contract. He was previously cut from the Orix Buffaloes roster.

Takehara, who will be 36 in April, was originally a fourth round pick by the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004, Takehara was only a part time player throughout his career. His best season with Chiba was in 2007 where he hit .246 as a bench OF.

He was eventually traded to Orix for cash in 2011 where he played in 145 games in the last five seasons combined. Recently, he appeared in 62 games from 2014-2015 for Orix, hitting .271 in only 114 at bats. This is essentially a minor signing for the Lions where he could see time at right field.

Last year, the Lions used 11 different players to start in right field, treating it like a flex position. They would see the matchup they liked depending on the opposing pitcher.

With the Lions parting ways with Tomohito Yoneno and Hichori Morimoto retiring, this created space for a free agent signing in the outfield. Takehara will join the mix featuring Yutaro Osaki, Shogo Saito, Fumikazu Kimura and Masato Kumashiro in the outfield.

Currently, the Lions have 57 players under contract with five draft picks yet to be signed. Assuming all 10 draft picks are added to the 70-man roster, the Lions would have 62 with five pending free agents. Ryota Wakiya is most likely to sign elsewhere and Seibu should return the other four listed.  This would total 66 players with room for a possible ikusei signing to be left open as well as two or three foreign pickups at most. 


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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Seibu Lions 2015 Season Review: Position players

The Saitama Seibu Lions can only blame themselves for their shortcomings in 2015. Here we will grade each position player for his performance in 2015. The FIP study is saved for the pitchers where you can see the rotation examined here.

For stats, we will post the slashline of Batting Average / On base Percentage / Slugging. Some players will not be included if they were only playing a handful of games and Anthony Seratelli is featured in the foreign signings article here.


Ginjiro Sumitani: .211/.247/.281

"Gin-Chan" is there for his defense and his slashline doesn't tell the story. Of course he is a hole in the lineup and was initially batting around .180 until he had a decent September. Defense was fine, but his hitting is still a liability. Grade: C-

Masatoshi Okada:  .240/.283/.300

Norio Tanabe had the nerve to play him in the middle of the year when Sumitani was hitting poorly. He did well at first and then he got hurt sliding into a base. Okada is everything you want in a backup catcher with respectable defense and can get hits every now and then. He was also a good pinch hitter. Grade: B-



1B Ernesto Mejia: .235/.307/.471

Mejia battled the classic sophomore slump, where teams adjusted after his solid rookie year in Japan as the co-home run king of the Pacific League. His biggest problem was striking out too often and having a lot of ground balls. 

He was still hitting doubles and had a better second half, but the first half of hovering around .210 was brutal. We can only hope he have a stronger 2016, where it is reported he will return. Mejia finished the season with 27 home runs.  Grade: C-

2B Hideto Asamura: .270/.362/.385

Asamura had a great first half hitting as a doubles machine. However, he fell off hard in the second half where his average dipped from .326 to .270.  After having a down year in 2014 playing multiple positions on the infield, Asamura fell back to earth with a rough stretch and was batting as low as sixth in the lineup. While he may not repeat his 2013 season again, there needs to be more doubles from him and it was a disappointing finish.  His defense at 2B was top notch. Grade: C+

SS Yuji Kaneko: .224/.271/.308

Kaneko was the starting SS at the beginning of the year, but battled an injury in the middle of the season and didn't return until late September. He's a slick fielder there for his defense, but his bat was a liability which cut his playing time. Grade: D

SS Yuji Onizaki: .196/.263/.243

Like Kaneko, Onizaki is there for his defense at shortstop. Unfortunately, his hitting wasn't timely and was unreliable when batting ninth. Grade: D-

SS Shuta Tonosaki: .186/.240/.247

Tonosaki was promoted from ni-gun to the ichi-gun as a rookie. He was a third round draft pick in 2014, being the first of his class to make the ichi-gun. He provided speed like Kaneko, but was raw with the bat. Tonosaki could be a solid pinch runner, but was prone to fielding mistakes as a first year player. Grade: D

UTIL Naoto Watanabe: .272/.348/.329

Watanabe was reliable with his glove and versatility on the infield. His defense was great for 3B or SS whenever there was a breather and I wish Tanabe would have played the veteran for a few more starts. He was one of several decent pinch hitters off the bench. Watanabe is a free agent and I hope they bring him back. Grade: B-

1B/RF Ryota Wakiya: .294/.367/.396

For someone who is usually a part-time player, Wakiya was given the spot in right field after the position struggled to get production. It was an unorthodox move, but it worked and he was the only spark during the Lions 13 game losing streak. He's considered to be only a defensive replacement, but Tanabe was rewarded for his confidence in him. Wakiya is a free agent and will most likely be with another team.  Grade: A-

3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: .278/.367/.559

Okawari-kun had an MVP caliber season with the Lions after having 37 home runs on the year, which made him the Pacific League home run king. He had a cold two weeks to make him short of 40, but he hit several gappers and reliable doubles. In the past he would be known as a home run or bust player, but this year he was good with making contact. Sure, he hit a career record of 172 strikeouts, but that is part of his game. The Lions wouldn't be where they were without him. One of his more underrated assets is his defense at 3B.  Grade: A

SS Kyohei Nagae: .182/.280/.273

Nagae came in midseason and Tanabe liked him as a defensive replacement player. This role would prove to be handy for the eighth and ninth innings as he would only start a handful of games. Defense was clearly his strength.  Grade: B



CF Shogo Akiyama: .359/.419/.522

Akiyama had a historic season as the leadoff hitter. In 2012, he was thought to be the breakout player for the Lions outfield and after batting sixth in the past, he lived up to the hype. He had a 31 game hitting streak in the middle of the year while also having career highs in home runs (14) and stolen bases (17). His goal was simple: To get on base and help his team. We commend him for getting the NPB single season hits record (216), beating the previous high from Matt Murton (214).  Grade: A+

LF Takumi Kuriyama: .268/.358/.371

The captain had a down year by his standards where he usually hits around the .280 mark. It was marred by a cold first month, where he was hitting well below .200. Late in the season, he was benched for a game by Tanabe, snapping a significantly long streak of consecutive games played. He was batting as low as seventh in the lineup and while he is 32, he shouldn't regress as heavy.  Grade: C+

OF Fumikazu Kimura: .195/.250/.451

Kimura is a fifth outfielder at best, but had one week of magic where he hit several home runs including a grand slam. It was a brief spark for a long season, but he was mostly on the bench only starting when the Lions saw a matchup they liked.  Grade: D-

OF Masato Kumashiro: .111/.175/.111

Kumashiro was a late inning defensive sub most of the time. Tanabe recognized this and his range saved the Lions for a few plays.  He was fine in the field. Grade: C

OF Yutaro Osaki: .219/.277/.301

Don't let the stats fool you, Osaki was a solid pinch hitter when he was called upon. After a good series in Hokkaido, the Lions buried him in ni-gin with minimal chances after that. He's good off the bench, but not an everyday starter.  Grade: C

OF Shogo Saito: .260/.324/.375

By default, Saito was the fourth outfielder who was good for his defense. Great range and a solid arm saved some runs, but the staff knew not to make him the everyday starter in RF, which was the flex position. He had good speed on the base paths. Grade: B-

Designated Hitter:  

Tomoya Mori: .287/.357/.468

Mori had a great first half showing pop, but only had three home runs in the second half where he should have had at least 20 on the season. He was a fun player to watch for someone who just turned 20 in August. Some were saying he could mash and we saw plenty of it this season despite his cold second half. There's plenty of upside to go and it will be only more interesting when he becomes mature and understanding of the game. Grade: B+  


Final Analysis:

The Lions could not get production from the catcher or shortstop position all year. While they did fine in right field, the bottom of the order remained a problem as a whole. They can only hope Shuta Tonosaki can develop into a hitter at SS for the long run. Otherwise, the catcher position will be a hole as expected assuming that Sumitani returns as he is a pending free agent. 

The lineup was just too top heavy and if one guy faltered, the rest of the team could. Asamura and Mori couldn't hide the deficiencies in the bottom of the order once they struggled and the bats weren't there. It would be nice to sign a foreign outfielder who can at least bat .260 or even .250 just to keep opposing teams honest. We are expecting better seasons from Mori, Asamura and Mejia next year. 


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Friday, November 6, 2015

NPB Posting System: Who takes the next jump to MLB?

Shohei Otani has the most upside of all players in Japan, but when can he come over?
Most MLB fans will pay attention to NPB and Japanese baseball when a player comes over through the posting system. If anything, picking up a new acquisition will give some the urge to watch film on the player even though they won't track the team he once played for.

Obviously Daisuke Matsuzaka received the most hype in 2007 when the Boston Red Sox made an excessive bid for negotiating rights and paid more than $100 million for his services in fee and contract combined. Other players to come through the posting system include Yu Darvish, Ichiro Suzuki, Nori Aoki, Kei Igawa and Masahiro Tanaka (Ma-kun) and, to a lesser extent, Tsuyoshi Nishioka as well as Akinori Iwamura. 

The question remains is who's next?  Currently, there isn't a Ma-kun that will come in the immediate future, but there are players with some talent and upside that can be posted eventually.

With the current agreement between NPB and MLB, Major League teams get all the leverage by only paying a maximum of $20 million as a fee to the NPB team as compensation. Rather than negotiating rights being exclusive, teams can negotiate with the player like he is a free agent and give him a larger contract than before with the fee being paltry.

As a result, the Rakuten Golden Eagles became the biggest losers of the new agreement as they had to post Ma-kun with no choice, receiving almost nothing in return in compared to what the Seibu Lions got for Matsuzaka ($51.1 million) or the Fighters selling Darvish ($51.7 million).

Teams will want to keep their best player for a longer period of time, giving the person less time to adjust to MLB if he does make the leap to North America. For a position player, the compensation becomes less than $20 million because the value is not the same to MLB team in comparison to a pitcher.

Here, we will take a look at who should come from Nippon and should be in MLB soon. Some are just projections and longshots, but others will make the leap.

Free Agents: 

There is no posting fee for these players because they will be free agents. Similar to how the Oakland A's had Hiroyuki Nakajima for a two-year, $6.5 million contract because he was an international free agent.  

P Seung-Hwan Oh (Hanshin Tigers): Oh spent several years in the KBO before joining the Tigers in 2014. He proved to be a great closer in his first season and still was decent last year. Oh had one rough month, but is most likely to pursue an MLB job. Problem is, he was part of a recent gambling scandal. While this won't affect his eligibility for MLB, it is a character concern.  
Miles Mikolas (Yomiuri Giants):  Mikolas signed a two-year deal to remain with the Giants. Looks like he won't return until 2018 at the earliest. He did garner interest from several teams, but the Kyojin have paid up, giving him $5 million through 2017. Mikolas will be 29 when that contract is up.

3B Nobuhiro Matsuda (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks): Reports indicated that the San Diego Padres were interested in the star 3B of the Hawks. With the recent "porch" added, he had a career high in home runs with 35. The 32-year-old has been a consistent hitter with the Hawks and has done most of his damage in the last five years. UPDATE: Matsuda will return to the Softbank Hawks on a four-year deal with $20-25 million, per Jerry Crasnick.

1B/DH Dae-Ho Lee (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks): After being dominant in the Korean league (KBO), he initially started his NPB career with the Orix Buffaloes. The last two seasons were in Fukuoka where he displayed tremendous pop. He's a good contact hitter who can even hit doubles. He's 33 and will test the MLB market this offseason.  


Too Old / Doubtful: 

These are some players who were thought to have potential, but their projection doesn't look good or they are past their prime to be adjusting into the majors. Some of these guys had a chance, but now it looks bleak on the possibility of playing in MLB. 

P Yusei Kikuchi (Saitama Seibu Lions): Kikuchi was hyped up out of high school at Hanamaki Higashi, the same place Otani went to school in Iwate prefecture. Like Otani, there was an outside shot he could have gone to MLB a year after Junichi Tazawa. After injuring himself previously, the once touted pitcher has not shown signs of being an ace, but just a No. 2 at best. He is still 24, but the ceiling could be caving in.  

P Chihiro Kaneko (Orix Buffaloes):  Kaneko has been the longtime ace of the Orix Buffaloes. He could be a free agent soon and not go through posting system, but he will be 32 this November. A team can take a chance on him as a veteran without a posting fee, but wouldn't be sought as an ace if he made the jump. 

P Takayuki Kishi (Saitama Seibu Lions): Kishi will be 31 this December and while he has been the team's ace, he would be a No. 4 starter at best in MLB. It doesn't appear he'd be leaving NPB anytime soon unless he is an international free agent. 

OF Yuki Yanagita (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks): Yanagita hit the 30-30 club for the first time in his career last season. Only problem is that the Hawks do not post players and even if he was on another team, he is already 27. Despite all the all-star accolades he's had, Yanagita is not coming to MLB unless he's a free agent. 

OF Shogo Akiyama (Saitama Seibu Lions):  Akiyama set a new hits record in NPB with 216 in a single season. According to John Gibson of ONE World Sports, he said one executive likes his plate discipline and getting on base. The 2015 season might be a fluke, but if he repeated similar success, he could draw consideration. Unfortunately, he is also 27 it wouldn't make much sense to enter MLB as a 30-year old rookie. 

OF Yoshio Itoi (Orix Buffaloes): Itoi had the potential as a hitter and was a batting champion in 2014. However, he is 34 and that window closed a few years ago. His MLB potential put the Fighters in a bind and made them trade him to Orix in a rare blockbuster deal.  


Still Young / Maybe?

These players are still building their portfolio of work. The jury will be out on them as they are older, but right now, it's too early to judge if they have MLB potential. There's a few older players listed here where there is a possibility, but not guaranteed. 

C/OF/DH Tomoya Mori (Saitama Seibu Lions):  Mori is only 20 and drafted straight out of high school from Osaka Toin by the Lions. He's able to mash and has home run potential. But like anything, it's too early after having one full season in NPB, but he has been a doubles machine for the Lions. At the earliest, he'd be in MLB by 2022 if he continued his pace from 2015. 

P Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers):  Fujinami was the battery teammate of Mori while in high school and was the safer pick in the 2012 NPB Draft compared to Shohei Otani at the time. There was worry that Otani would sign with MLB and most teams backed off from trying to take him. He's on pace to be the ace o the Hanshin Tigers after being a solid strikeout pitcher. Like Mori, he wouldn't be anywhere near MLB until 2020 at the earliest.  

P Takahiro Norimoto (Rakuten Golden Eagles):  When Ma-kun left for the Yankees, Norimoto became the team's ace and proved to be a good pick from the 2012 NPB draft class. Only problem is that he was taken out of college and is older than most. At 25, he can still build his resume and if there are some dominant seasons, he could be posted before free agency and in MLB by 2021 at the earliest. 

P Yuki Matsui (Rakuten Golden Eagles): Matsui was one of two top consensus picks in the 2013 NPB Draft. After losing Ma-kun, Rakuten won the lottery and ended up with Matsui as a parting gift for their ace leaving to the New York Yankees. After struggling as a starter initially, Rakuten made him their closer after an injury to their initial choice. His WHIP was dominant as a closer and nearly automatic for the Eagles. However, it's been reported he will be a starting pitcher in 2016 and needs to prove he can be good for more than one or two innings. If he has a strong run, he'd be in MLB by 2021 at the earliest. 

P Yuji Nishino (Chiba Lotte Marines): Nishino was initially a starter for Chiba before they made him their closer. This move worked out well, because he has an effective splitter and fastball to compete. He wouldn't be eligible for free agency in seven years and he would need to dominate in order to come to MLB by 2021 at the earliest. Problem is, he's 24.

P Tomohiro Anraku (Rakuten Golden Eagles): Anraku had a lot of hype while still being a high school student, but his value decreased due to concerns about his arm and injury. He has a tremendous fastball, but wasn't ready for the ichi-gun until the end of the 2015 season, where he made his debut. The Eagles played it safe with the elbow concerns and didn't want to risk any long term injuries as he threw nearly 1,000 in a short span while in high school. He will be 19 this November and the earliest he'd be in MLB is around 2023. 


Guaranteed to be Posted:

On this list, these are players who will be posted in the near future. Some players are eligible for free agency earlier than others, but teams will milk their control of someone rather than sell high with a small posting fee that would come their way. 

Tony Barnette (Yakult Swallows): The Swallows officially posted Barnette (per his request) to see if there is any MLB interest. Barnette is far from young as he recently turned 32. However, the Swallows closer came off his best career season in NPB in his sixth year in Japan.  He was a career minor leaguer in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm where he only made it to AAA. 

UPDATE: Barnette did not reach agreement after the posting fee, but struck a two-year deal with the Texas Rangers.  

P Kenta Maeda (Hiroshima Carp):  The Carp ace has been linked for a long time, but the team wants him to end on good terms in Japan. They were hoping for a dominant season from him in 2015, combined with the team success of making a run through the playoffs. 

However, the Carp have posted Maeda and he is on the open market.   Maeda won the Sawamura award (NPB Cy Young equivalent) for 2015 which increased his value. He is 27 and projects to be a No. 3 rotation starter in North America. We wrote a full scouting report on him here.

Here is tape of Maeda from the 2014 season:

P Shohei Otani (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): Otani has been hyped up since he came out of high school and some thought he could go the path of Red Sox Tazawa by foregoing NPB and signing with a major league team working his way up. The Fighters were the only team to draft him and convinced Otani to sign a contract with them and stay in his home country two months after the 2012 draft. 

Otani is only 21 and has several years of control remaining, meaning it will take some time before he comes to MLB. We did a breakdown of Otani which you can read here. The Fighters will hold onto him for some time, but if Darvish was posted at age 25, they can do the same for Otani. The earliest he would be in MLB would be 2018. He has the highest upside of any prospect in Japan and is intriguing for several teams watching him. I project he could be posted somewhere between 2017-2020, meaning he would be with an MLB team by 2018-2021.  

You can watch all strikeout pitches from Otani's 196 K's on the 2015 season here.

2B Tetsuto Yamada (Yakult Swallows): Yamada is in the 30-30 club with good athleticism and has the potential of five-tools. He's only 23 and is still building his resume, but if he continues to be in the 30-30 club range, teams will be interested in his athletic abilities and his bat. Defensively, he's good, but not great in comparison to Ryosuke Kikuchi of the Carp. With Yamada still being young, the Swallows can still wait to post him, but his intrigue to be versatile with his bat is something an MLB team can't pass up. The earliest he'd be in MLB is most likely in 2019, where he would be 27.  

Here is a video showing 28 of his 38 regular season home runs from 2015 (Video starts at 0:20). 


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Monday, November 2, 2015

Seibu Lions 2015 Season Review: Foreign Signings

The Seibu Lions let all foreign players go to Miyazaki for a trip during spring training. They were given a tour which included Ernesto Mejia, as he was a midseason signing

Foreign imports play a factor of it own in NPB when they come from another country. In MLB, there are plenty of people from all over the world, but others going to Japan has its own special rules and limitations.

Last year, the Saitama Seibu Lions dumped all foreign players minus Ernesto Mejia, hoping to find some fresh faces to contribute to the 2015 team.

Here, we will evaluate each new foreign signing pickup for 2015 and give a letter grade on him.  (Ernesto Mejia does not count since he was signed in 2014).

RHP Chun-Lin Kuo: (3-7), 5.31 ERA, 1.682 WHIP

Kuo was an amateur signing as he played with the Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) U21 team prior to the Lions. He excelled in the 2014 Asia games and the team picked him up. The Lions faith would be rewarded in the U21 Baseball World Cup where Kuo would be the winning pitcher for Taiwan. Unfortunately for Kuo, he would struggle in his first season playing professional baseball. 

Control was his biggest issue and he would be easily rattled by a bad pitch. He won his NPB debut and even had multiple quality starts against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, but overall he would be the sixth starter in the rotation after some high and lows. The Lions moved him to the bullpen where he saw four appearances off the bench, but all were low leverage situations.
The jury is still out on Kuo, who will be 24 next year, but his contribution to 2015 was minimal. He might not be built as a starter, but Kuo is still young and next season is where we hope he makes improvements. 

Grade: D+


LHP Wade LeBlanc: (2-5), 4.23 ERA, 1.366 WHIP

LeBlanc had a good September in 2014 after being a fringe player for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and even bounced to the New York Yankees for one game. He would play with the ichi-gun in April and May, but fell off hard and was only given eight starts. LeBlanc won his debut against Rakuten, but had to ask his defense to win games. 

He even had a complete game later in the season vs. the Eagles and had a quality start in a tough loss against Shohei Otani and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Unfortunately, LeBlanc might have played through an injury all season and made his last appearance with the ni-gun team in June. 

He wasn't able to strike players out and he would benefit from some strong infield defense when producing a ground ball. There was no velocity and would be seen with floating curve pitches where the opposition could crush it. LeBlanc was released two weeks before the 2015 season ended.

Grade: D


RHP Miguel Mejia: (0-0), 14.73 ERA, 3.545 WHIP

Mejia is a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican who never made it past High Single-A (A+) in the minor leagues. He was given a chance in May and wouldn't have a clean outing. After giving up a run in low leverage during his debut game, he would give a grand slam against Rakuten after the Lions were initially trailing by one run in the ninth inning. 

The Lions gave him another chance after the All-Star break and allowed two runs in one outing and zero in another. Allowing the grand slam was all she wrote for Mejia, but he was a closer in ni-gun.  Mejia was released at the end of the year.

Grade: F


UTIL Anthony Seratelli: .183/.329/.233

Seratelli was a career minor leaguer mostly with the Kansas City Royals organization before spending 2014 with the New York Mets in AAA. He injured himself during the spring training in Miyazaki and was sidelined until late May, where he got his opportunity against Rakuten in a bases loaded situation. 

He initially provided a good spark off the bench as a pinch hitter and had a big hit against the Yomiuri Giants in interleague play, but became expendable as Naoto Watanabe and Ryota Wakiya were better options off the bench. The Lions gave him a chance to start in right field for multiple outings, but several 0-fers gave him the writing on the wall. Like Mejia and LeBlanc, he was released at the end of the year as he posted this farewell photo on Instagram

Grade D-


RHP Esmerling Vasquez: (3-1), 3.63 ERA, 1.760 WHIP

Vasquez was with both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins organizations as well as in Taiwan for 2014. The problem with Vasquez was his control issues, where he would walk a batter easily. He didn't give up a home run, which was valuable in some sense, but he couldn't have a clean inning to save his life. 

Compared to the other foreigners listed above, Vasquez did help a few games out of the bullpen and even preserved some ties or leads. He did well in the first half as a seventh inning and middle relief person, but was too wild as a whole. If the Lions bring him back for next year, he needs to fix his control with his inconsistency when facing batters. He could be a decent middle reliever otherwise, but the Lions didn't trust him in the second half and benched him. 

There is no word on whether he was released or is returning for 2016.  If there is any updates on Vasquez, please let us know.  

Grade: C-



This group of players turned out to be a failed wave of signings with three of them already gone. While it's bad to depend on foreign imports like Rakuten or the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, it wouldn't hurt to bring immediate help for any unit with holes. Foreigners can provide a good band aid somewhere in the short term as we saw with Kris Johnson for the Hiroshima Carp as well as Miles Mikolas and Aaron Poreda for the Yomiuri Giants. 

Before the season started, the Lions were expected to be a team without pitching and required to hit several "home runs" with these foreign signings in order to make the postseason. Despite striking out on all the pickups, the team was still competitive playing meaningful baseball in September and they were just short of the playoffs. 

The Lions could use a bullpen arm, starting pitcher for the back end of the rotation or an outfielder who can play right away. I don't expect a large wave to come in, but they should sign two players at the minimum and three at the most for 2016.  Grade: D-   

If anything, we're thankful that LeBlanc, M. Mejia and Seratelli got to do something we have wanted to do: Visit Japan. Seratelli, in particular, gave us a view of the country on his Instagram and Twitter of things you won't find on TV. Good luck in your future endeavors everyone. 


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