Thursday, December 31, 2015

Seibu Lions hope to "Beast!" in 2016


On Christmas Day of 2015 (which is not a huge holiday in Japan compared to other countries), the Saitama Seibu Lions announced in a press conference their new slogan for 2016. It's simple, to BEAST! the year.


Manager Norio Tanabe explained how the team needed to finish and have a strong season ahead for next year. 

After a good start to 2015, the Lions had a historic 13-game losing streak, which was a new franchise record as it began the second half of the season. The last time they lost 12 games, it was in 1979 during the first 12 games as Seibu Lions in Tokorozawa, which was then Seibu Stadium (it didn't have a dome roof back then). 

The card reads 強く (Tsuyoku) and 猛々しく (Takedakeshiku), which means strong and ferocious. The Lions hope to be "strong and ferocious" like a true Lion for next year. Not only do they need to start strong, but play a full season with the same intensity for all 143 games. The second half just saw a fall from grace, where they fell out of a playoff spot despite the historic season from Shogo Akiyama. 

The "i believe Lions" patch and campaign from last year had a nice tribute to both the past and present with all three colors and 13 stars visible representing their Japan Series Championships. We're not sure if this will disappear for 2016, but it is a new year for all of us.

In many ways this slogan is what we hope to bring for the upcoming year on our blog as it will be our first full season in writing about the Seibu Lions and NPB. For this year, we want to BEAST! and elevate our style of coverage and thoughts on the Lions as well as plenty of other things around NPB. We began watching this team on Opening Day of 2015, but made the commitment to follow them since November of 2014. 

We've come a long way since then, with the study of Japanese to the best of our abilities, along with taking our baseball knowledge to another style of the game. Besides provide thoughts and updates on the Lions, we hope to connect many MLB fans to NPB showing that it's not all about where players aren't cut for the big leagues, but rather give a second chance. 

After watching our first year of NPB, we've enjoyed this fresh perspective on baseball which has opened our eyes. We'll continue to learn about the game and now respect the approach and brand of baseball that Japan has to offer. 

As you are officially reading this in 2016, we want to wish all of you a Happy New Year as we welcome the year of the Monkey. If anyone is eating some awesome Osechi or you have another tradition for the start of the new year, let us know!

EDIT: Norio Tanabe left a Happy New Year greeting for 2016.


Translation, courtesy of @Maple_ash:

"Happy New Year, Lions fans. In the last two years, we couldn't win enough games, but this year we will certainly do it. We will make it to being the top team in the Pacific League and No. 1 in NPB." 

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Follow us on Twitter: @GraveyardBall

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Oakland A's/Seibu Lions Series: John Wasdin



The next part of our series brings in someone who came into his professional career with a lot of promise, but as time went on, he only became really known for just that promise as his career never came close to what it was supposed to be.

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Tenures: 1995-1996 with the Oakland A's, and 2009 with the Seibu Lions

Statistics with the A's: 30 games, 23 starts, 148.2 IP, 5.81 ERA, 5.69 FIP, 1.426 WHIP, 4.9 K/9

Statistics with the Lions: 14 games, 11 starts, 57.2 IP, 5.31 ERA, 1.734 WHIP, 3.7 K/9

A Tallahassee man through and through, John Wasdin went to high school in the state capital of Florida before staying home for college and playing for the Florida State Seminoles. He was a late round pick by the New York Yankees out of high school, but he decided to sign with the Noles. His hype grew as his college career wore on and he was taken with the 25th overall pick in the 1993 MLB Amateur Draft by the Oakland A's.

After dominating the California and Southern Leagues in 1994, Baseball America named him the 56th best prospect going into the 1995 season. And despite struggling in the Pacific Coast League, he was still called up by the A's later in 1995, making his Major League debut. In 1996, he made 21 starts and struggled throughout the year, and was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Jose Canseco.

From there, he never really made it as a starting pitcher, Red Sox even comically nicknamed him, "Way back Wasdin," for the amount of home runs he gave up, and by 1999, he was made a full-time reliever. And he saw limited success in that role. He then spent time with the Colorado Rockies and had his best season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2001, but after that season, he decided to take his first stab at NPB, signing with the Yomiuri Giants in 2002. He made 7 starts for Kyojin and made 10 appearances total, as the Giants would go onto win the Japan Series that season. He wasn't very good in Japan either, and he bounced around the minor leagues, before making sporadic appearances in MLB with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, the Texas Rangers from 2004-2006 and finally with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007.

One interesting tidbit is that in 2003, Wasdin threw a perfect game with the Nashville Sounds in front of an estimated attendance of fewer than 750. Wasdin struck out 15 in this incredible start, in what would end up being the best footnote of his career.

After failing to get a call up in 2008 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Wasdin signed with the Seibu Lions ahead of the 2009 season. The Lions were coming off a Japan Series title and Wasdin looked to provide the club with some depth. Unfortunately, Wasdin had very little success with his second stint in Japan, while the Lions finished 70-70-4 and missed the playoffs. Wasdin would see his career end after his only season with them.

As his playing career wrapped up, Wasdin jumped right into coaching baseball and has since gone right into the A's minor league system. From 2012-2016, he served as the pitching coach with the A's AA affiliate (MLB equivalent of San-Gun), the Midland Rockhounds. In 2014, Wasdin celebrated an AA championship with former Lion, Hiroyuki Nakajima, who was playing for the Rockhounds at that time. Currently, he is the minor league pitching coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles.

Photo Credit: Seibu Lions
Photo Credit: Seibu Lions
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Others from the A's/Lions Series: 

Mateo "Matty" Alou

Jose Ortiz

Ty Van Burkleo

Taylor Duncan

Roger Repoz

Jim Tyrone

Esteban German

Bert Campaneris 

Hiram Bocachica

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Follow us on Twitter: @GraveyardBall

Monday, December 28, 2015

Your guide to adopting an NPB team part 3: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (北海道日本ハムファイターズ)

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (日本ハムファイターズ)



The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham (日本) Fighters have had multiple titles in their 60 years of existence. They were Tokyo Senators in their inaugural season in 1946, as well as having multiple "Flyers" titles from 1947-1973. These names include Tokyu, Kyuei, Toei, and Nittaku.

Nippon-Ham became the owners and 1974, where they became "Fighters" and it hasn't changed since. The Fighters name came from a "name the team" contest when Nippon-Ham took over and the reasoning originated from then-Flyers 1B Katsuo Osugi, who was a hard worker and had a "fighting spirit", making him a Fighter.

The Fighters played second fiddle to the Yomiuri Giants for years in Korakuen Stadium (with other stadium homes prior), but both teams moved to Tokyo Dome in 1988. The Fighters represented the Pacific League while the Kyojin were in charge the Central, being the main attraction. In 2004, the Fighters moved up North to Hokkaido and the region was added to the team's name.

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Ownership: Nipponham

The title translates into "Japan Ham" or "Japanese ham", but they are not "Ham Fighters" as silly as the name could be. Bob Costas has been known to poke fun at the team's name on television.  Nipponham is a food processing company well-known in Japan. Their primary product is a tiny ham sausage which has been marketed in Japan by colorful ads.  Nipponham makes more than just sausages, as their website shows they make cheese, seafood, frozen foods, freeze dried foods, fresh meat and more.

Language note: 日本 (Nippon) is the way to say "Japan" as a country in Japanese. It's pronounced "Knee-Pown" rather than rhyming with Ribbon or "Nippin". Scoreboard graphics will often have 日本 displayed as the abbreviated team name, similar to how MLB has OAK for Oakland or CWS for Chicago White Sox.  All abbreviated Kanji or Katakana team names are in parentheses in the first paragraph of this series.

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League: Pacific

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Payroll rank in 2015: 10

The Fighters are known to be homegrown with their roster, but it wouldn't be surprising if this rank goes up with certain players getting a raise for 2016. They were one of the youngest teams in NPB with several players still under team control.

The Fighters are also the only team who have never participated in the Ikusei draft nor had an Ikusei roster. An explanation of Ikusei can be found here, where it's similar to an NFL practice squad.

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Location/Stadium: Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Hokkaido. 


Hokkaido is the North Island of Japan. Sapporo Dome is located Sapporo, which is the capital of the prefecture and fifth largest city in the country. Yes, it's the same place where Sapporo Brewery was found, but Hokkaido is known for more than beer. Hokkaido is the getaway for cold weather with ski resorts in the winter time while there is an important amount of agriculture around the island. With the cold weather in the North, it would also translate into quality seafood including crab. 

For those of you who've played Pokémon video games, the fourth generation (Diamond/Pearl/Platinum) of Sinnoh is based out of Hokkaido with snow and cold weather representing several cities. (First generation is based out of the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo and more).


Sapporo Dome is a multi-purpose stadium, where it also hosts a Japanese soccer team (J-League). The stadium can slide out its fields, similar to how University of Phoenix Stadium can bring their grass in and out. (Those Centerfield seats are usually off limits and not sold to the public)

Every team in Japan will play home games at remote locations so fans who live in the area don't have to make a lengthy trip to see their team. The Fighters have four different locations they travel to within Hokkaido outside of Sapporo Dome.

They also play a handful of home games in Tokyo Dome, their former home stadium to satisfy fans in the Kanto region. (Last year, eight homes games were in Tokyo Dome). As a result, the Fighters presumably use their home stadium the fewest amount of times among Pacific League teams.

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Primary Uniforms: Made by Mizuno



Home Design
Road Design

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Mascot: Brisky the Bear.


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Cheer song: Faitāzu sanka (ファイターズ讃歌) "Fighters Hymn"




This is the official "music video" of the song, but this is the exact version you'd heard if you were in Sapporo Dome. (Starts at 0:17 of the video)


There is also a version of this song when the Fighters play in Tokyo Dome.  We're going to assume this one below is what they played when the Fighters were in Kanto before 2004, but still use it today for home games in the nation's capital.
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Ōendan Songs:  Intro at 00:00, 2016 Player songs at 00:20, Main Theme Songs at 8:21, Scoring songs at 9:41 (notice how they have different things for away, Tokyo Dome and home in Sapporo). Chance Themes at 11:27, Fighters Hymn at 12:04, Chance songs at 13:20. Victory (Joy) theme song at 17:55, it's the same tune as this Nippon Ham ad.



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MLB Comparison: Kansas City Royals

This comparison is more based on the present team more than history. The Fighters were also a losing team for many years as they were in the shadow of the Giants in Tokyo Dome before their move to Sapporo. With the move into Hokkaido, a completely different region, the team has its own identity rather than being in a huge market of Tokyo. It's similar to how the Royals are typically behind the St. Louis Cardinals in terms of fans (even though the 2015 World Series might have something to say about it).

The big draw that gave me this conclusion is how both teams are currently coached. Manager Hideki Kuriyama has the Fighters being a strong fundamental team with discipline on defense combined with speed. This team has the tools to be fast on the field and the base paths. They've been solid as slap stick hitting, reminding me of the Royals. Recently, they've picked up some pop, but they're not built for home runs the same way as stolen bases.

Coincidentally, Trey Hillman won the team's only Japan Series championship as Fighters in 2006 before taking a manager job with the Royals. 

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Former MiLB and MLB players who played for the Fighters: 

Trey Hillman (as a manager), Brandon Laird, Luis Mendoza, Jeremy Hermida, Brian Sweeney

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Notable Fighters who played in MLB: 

Yu Darvish, Hideki Okajima, Kensuke Tanaka, Yoshinori Tateyama

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The Fighters sold Darvish to the Texas Rangers for $51 million, but couldn't make renovations to their home stadium with it (they don't own it). Sapporo Dome did acquire an extra scoreboard where things are visible from the left and right.


However, the Fighters upgraded their dorm facilities in Kamagaya, which is their farm team location in Chiba Prefecture (East of Tokyo) and far from Sapporo. The main thing they spent their money on that they got for Darvish is the scoreboard at the ni-gun stadium



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The Verdict 

Why you root for them: The North. Hokkaido is its own region and prefecture at the same time. Who doesn't love snow and the snowy type of weather? It's even a great area for when it's the summer to avoid those humid days in Tokyo.  Not only is their identity representing a region, but their uniforms are also unique being asymmetric, the only one out of primary tops in NPB.

You would also like fundamental baseball, because they have tremendous defense on the field and can be pests when batting. Best yet, their stadium looks like a spaceship on the outside. In the short term, they have the best MLB prospect in Japan with Shohei Otani, who has a great amount of upside.

Better yet, their philosophy when drafting is to take the best player available in terms of talent, no matter the cost. Otani scared many teams off with the perception that he was going to MLB, but the Fighters didn't care, as they were the only team to take the risk and go for him.

Why you don't root for them: Success isn't the same compared to other teams. They had a great run to the Japan Series for a handful of times, but only one championship from 1963-2015. Even when they're good, they've been known to take early exits in the postseason, as summed up in 2015 when they lost to the Chiba Lotte Marines.

If you don't like surprises, the Fighters aren't for you. Their front office being unpredictable is a double edge sword where they'll take gambles. An example is when they selected Tomoyuki Sugano with their first round selection because he was viewed as their best player, but he already declared he wanted to play for the Yomiuri Giants because his uncle Tatsunori Hara was the manager. The Fighters won the rights for him, but Sugano didn't sign and waited another year to be drafted by the Kyojin. Lastly, there are too many jokes of "Ham Fighters" when that isn't their full name.

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Other teams in the series: 

Yomiuri Giants (巨人)










Saitama Seibu Lions (西武)

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Oakland A's/Seibu Lions Series: Mateo "Matty" Alou


This is the beginning of my special offseason series. In this exclusive, we'll be looking at a special group of players who've represented both mine and Christian's two favorite baseball teams: The Oakland Athletics (A's) and the Saitama Seibu Lions. 

To be eligible for this list, the player have had to either have played in at least one game for both teams, or play for one and coach for the other, or coach for both. Playing for minor league affiliations don't count (sorry, Hiroyuki Nakajima).

I'll be looking at how these players performed for both clubs and then adding along any footnotes I see necessary. If there were any special moments, I'll be sure to add them. First up, we'll be looking at one of the first Dominican ballplayers to take baseball by storm.

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Mateo "Matty" Alou

Tenures: 1972 with the Oakland A's, and 1974-1976 with the Taiheiyo Club Lions

Statistics with the A's: 32 games, 136 PA, .281/.341/.347 1 HR, 16 RBIs, 0.5 bWAR

Statistics with the Lions: 262 games, 978 PA, .283/.317/.389 14 HRs, 75 RBIs

You don't think of Matty Alou as being a member of the Oakland A's, but the long time San Francisco Giant and Pittsburgh Pirate ended up in Oakland, after being traded by the St. Louis Cardinals in late August of 1972. The trade to a contender provided the 33-year-old with his one and only World Series championship.

Alou split time between first base and right field with the A's and played just about every day. He garnered plenty of at bats in the playoffs and played quite well against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, hitting .381 with 4 doubles. In the World Series, he hit a major slump to the tune of 1 for 24, but he still was able to obtain that elusive ring and that must've felt like a great weight off his shoulders after the way his Giants team lost in the 1962 World Series.

He's more known for his batting title with the Pittsburgh Pirates after he finally was able to get out of the shadows of his brothers, Jesus and Felipe, but he was still a solid role player for the 1972 Oakland A's. His eldest brother Felipe had previously played for the A's between 1970-1971 and then his younger brother Jesus would join the A's the following season in 1973 and would stay there until the 1974 season, getting two rings.

After the 1972 World Series, the A's traded Alou to the Yankees for a Player to be Named Later (PTBNL) and Rob Gardner, that trade allowed him to be reunited with his brother, Felipe, while his other brother, Jesus, took his place in Oakland. His reunion with Felipe would be short-lived as the Cardinals would bring him back to have him finish out the 1973 season with them.

After 1973, Alou would head to the San Diego Padres and spend a half season there, before being released in mid-July. With his Major League options thinning out, Matty Alou made the decision to head to Japan and join what was then known as the Taiheiyo Club Lions of Fukuoka. Unfortunately for Matty, his tenure with the Lions was a fruitless time in franchise history and Alou did not enjoy his time in Japan. 

The Lions in 1974 would go 59-64-7 finishing fourth in the Pacific League. Then in 1975, the team would go 58-62-10, finishing third. Finally in 1976, Alou's Lions would finish 44-76-10 and dead last in the Pacific League in the final year of his baseball career. Alou finished with a lifetime .283 average while in NPB. 

Matty Alou had this to say about his time in Japan, "I didn't like playing there really, I played there because I had to. I had three kids to support. It was hard there. Too much practice, too much traveling, had to travel almost every day."

Complaints like this have become commonplace for foreign players over the years, nevertheless, Matty Alou is a part of the special club among players in our mind.

Matty Alou passed away in 2011 at the age of 72, may we keep him in our memories.

Special thanks to SABR.org and baseball-reference for the numerous factoids.

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Others in the series: 

John Wasdin

Jose Ortiz

Ty Van Burkleo

Taylor Duncan

Roger Repoz

Jim Tyrone

Esteban German

Bert Campaneris

Hiram Bocachica

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Report: Seibu Lions will try out Shogo Kimura, other players in training camp



The Saitama Seibu Lions will bring in IF Shogo Kimura for a tryout in spring training this February, according to a report by Daily Sports. There will be several other players participating, but Kimura is the most notable of the bunch.

Kimura, who will be 36 in April, has been a part time player throughout his career and was last with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp from 2008-2015. He was one of six players to file for free agency in November.

Training camp will take place in Miyazaki prefecture, which is south of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu.

After auditioning in a scheduled tryout, the Lions will have 10 days to decide if they want to sign anyone to their 70-man roster. Currently, they have 68 players on their roster with two spots open. They don't have any players under an ikusei contract.

Kimura hit .269 in just 72 games with the Carp in 2015. He was previously with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars from 2003-2007 before he signed with Hiroshima. Kimura is a lifetime .265 hitter who can play 3B, SS and 1B on the infield. He also has history as an outfielder.

With Kimura being a Type C free agent, there would be no need to pay compensation to the Carp if the Lions pick him up. The Lions signed former Orix Buffaloes OF Naotaka Takehara after he passed his tryout in November.

If the Lions were to sign Kimura, he would be a bench player for depth on the infield. They already Yuji Kaneko, Yuji Onizaki and Shuta Tonosaki for SS while Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Naoto Watanabe can cover 3B.

The Lions were reported to want Okawari-kun's workload reduced at 3B and give him more games at DH. If Norio Tanabe wanted to be outside the box, he could play RF in a similar manner where Ryota Wakiya did.

The Lions lost Wakiya in free agency to the Yomiuri Giants last month.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Your guide to adopting an NPB team part 2: Hiroshima Toyo Carp (広島東洋カープ)

Hiroshima Toyo Carp (広島)


The Hiroshima (広島 will be seen on scoreboard updates) Toyo Carp were established in 1950, five years removed from the historic atomic bomb that rocked the city. While Carp is a generic term for a fish, it's name comes from the Hiroshima castle known as "Rijo."


With their castle mounted on water, there are essentially Carp surrounding it while the fish also represents a symbol of pride and peace for the area. 

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Ownership: Matsuda family and Mazda 

The Matsuda family is a descendant of the founder of the car company known as Mazda. With the family being majority owners over the car company, they have the city and prefecture title of "Hiroshima" in their name first. "Toyo" is the former name of Mazda, which originated in 1927 and had that name until its current title in 1984.  Mazda itself was also found in Hiroshima. 

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League: Central

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Payroll rank in 2015: 7

The Carp are historically known to be broke and not spending a significant amount of money. They were dead last (12th) in payroll for 2014. 

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Location/Stadium: Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium in Minami, Hiroshima



Hiroshima is on the south side of Honshu island (the biggest of the group in Japan). While historically it's remembered for what happened in 70 years ago, today, it is a city of peace and wants to promote it at all times. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (listed above) is a well-known park in the heart of the city which, for its name-sake, promotes peace. The country has not been at war ever since.


Their stadium is the newest in NPB with its first season in 2009. It's the only ballpark with asymmetric dimensions in the outfield as well as having the Ōendan sections elevated instead of being in a traditional bleacher spot. The visitor's section is away from the photo in left field (you can see it in the left side of the corner) while the Carp Ōendan is the box in right field.

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Primary Uniforms: Currently made by both Descente and Mizuno.


Carp Home uniform
Carp Away Uniform



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Mascot: SLYLY, who resembles the Phillie Phanatic



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Cheer Song: Soreike kāpu (それ行けカープ) "Let's Go Carp"


The Carp are one of three Central League teams to have balloons during Lucky 7.  

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Ōendan Songs: Opening at 00:00, 2016 Player songs at 00:57, Special player/cheer songs at 8:40,
Soreike kāpu at 10:33, Chance songs at 11:40, Scoring song at 14:24



(Note: Notice how much standing up and sitting down they do with alternate seats. They're the only Ōendan who does this on a frequent basis. This fanbase travels extremely well for road games too).  

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MLB Comparison: Cincinnati Reds 

Not only are the Carp similar to the Reds in uniform, but also on the field in terms of results. Both teams have not won a World Series or Japan Series in a very long time and both have been perennial losers in the last 30 years. Another close comparison is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have had glory years, but not much recently until their first postseason appearance in 2013. 

Expectations have been higher in recent years for Hiroshima, but there hasn't been much success. They have not won a pennant since 1991 and a Japan Series since 1984.  

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Notable former MiLB and MLB players who've played for the Carp:

Gail HopkinsRichie Scheinblum, Colby Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, Kris Johnson, Brad Eldred, Hiroki Kuroda, Bryan Bullington

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Notable Carp who played in MLB:

Alfonso Soriano, Ken Takahashi, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Lewis, Kenta Maeda
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Yes, that is not a typo. Soriano started his baseball career in the Carp's academy before going to MLB. Kuroda and Lewis are listed twice for going both to and back from MLB and Japan. 

Lewis, in particular, was a dominant strikeout leader during his two years in 2008-2009 and even continued that success with the Texas Rangers in 2010. He is the ultimate success story of being a better pitcher through Japanese coaches.  

Kuroda returned to Japan by choice in 2015 even though he could have played another year or two in MLB. Recently, he signed a deal to return to the team for 2016. 

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The Verdict

Why you root for them: 

Because they have arguably the best looking stadium in NPB for its modern look. Better yet, there's a Costco visible behind it from right-center field! The Carp have one of the most spirited Ōendans in NPB with their noise and they make their presence known at away parks, no matter their record. Their songs and sounds have a nice traditional noise as well.

Why you don't root for them:

Because they have primarily been losers and haven't found postseason success for a long time. With their last Japan Series championship being in 1984, it's the longest drought among all 12 NPB teams. There's even been reports their fans can be potentially psycho despite their passion for the game. 

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Other teams in the Series: 


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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Your guide to adopting an NPB Team Part 1: Yomiuri Giants (読売 巨人)


 With the winter mostly being a dead time for baseball (outside of free agency and players training), it becomes a slow time for fans just craving the sport. Sure, there is always offseason news, but no games (unless you're watching an independent/foreign league like the ABL in Australia).

This will be a 12-part series, covering every team in NPB with facts, information and a possible guide for those looking for a team. Primarily, this is intended for MLB fans in North America wanting to know more about NPB, but those in Japan or if you're already an expert, it should be an easy refresher.

Before mentioning the team itself in this first post, here are some things we'll look at:

Ownership: Every NPB team has a corporate owner and each company is known for something. One team still has a family ownership co-owned with a company.

League: There are only two leagues in NPB with the Central and Pacific. The Central is similar to the National League where the pitcher must bat while the Pacific is like the American League featuring a designated hitter. 

Payroll rank: Because people are curious who can spend money and who can't.  Remember, there are 12 teams.

Location/Stadium: Each team has its own region or city represented in an area of Japan. Some teams have a nicer stadium than others, while a few represent more square miles (or kilometers) than others.

Uniforms: Photos will be projected from their 2016, unless there are no changes from 2015.

Mascots: Every team markets mascots like crazy. There's even prefecture mascots which are at games, but we'll focus on the team ones with a photo.

Cheer song: Seventh inning stretch in MLB is usually a singing of "Take me out to the ballgame" and sometimes adding "God Bless America", but in Japan, they sing their cheer song or "fight song" during this break. Most of the teams feature balloons. If the team is on the road, the visiting crowd will hear their cheer song at the end of the sixth inning.

Ōendan Songs: Thanks to the internet, people film or record the songs fans will sing while their team is batting. Players have their own songs being sung when at the plate, but there are also "chance" songs when there is a chance (aka guys on base). They also have scoring and victory songs.  An Ōendan roughly translates into cheer section. Like college football, there are visitor's sections which allow fans who root for the road team to be together and sing the songs.

MLB Comparison: This is an estimated equivalent of what the NPB team could be viewed as for an MLB fan. Nothing can be exact, but based on history, coaching philosophy and fundamentals, I will compare to the best that I can.

Notable former MiLB and MLB players: This will show players who came to their NPB team on the ichi-gun and made a career from North America. My listing will be incomplete, but a handful of names will be shown. There will be some overlapping with Japanese players who have come back from MLB to NPB.

Notable players who played in MLB: These are players who came from their NPB team to MLB and at least played a game in the big leagues. (Hiroyuki Nakajima will not be listed due to being only in the minors). Legendary players like Sadaharu Oh will also not be written, because the average MLB fan will not know who that is.

Verdict: We give reasons why to like and dislike the given team. There will always be pros and cons. 



Yomiuri Giants (巨人):

Yoshinobu Takahashi became the Yomiuri Giants manager, but why?
The Yomiuri Giants are better known as the Kyojin (巨人) which is the direct way of saying "Giants" in Japanese. They were originally founded  in 1934 as "The Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club" and were the first professional baseball team in the country. Amateur baseball at the high school and university level began 20 years before a professional team existed.

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Ownership: Yomiuri

Yomiuri is the largest media conglomerate of Japan. It's the equivalent of what the USA would consider the New York Times. As a result, they have power and the media controls them. The Yomiuri Shimbun is the paper well-known in Tokyo and essentially, the power the Giants have on the country due to the media owning them (not the other way around) cannot be overstated.

With Yomiuri owning the Giants, they have an elitist feel to them where nothing can be said negatively about the team (at least not by Yomiuri themselves). An example is how they hire managers from within as no one (except the first in team history) has managed the Giants unless they played their entire career with them. While recently three players were banned from baseball after being caught for gambling, it was most likely reported by someone else, meaning the Kyojin couldn't sweep this story under a rug or ignore it.

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League: Central

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Payroll rank in 2015: 2

The Kyojin had the second highest payroll last season, but traditionally they're the top spending team. Typically, they can throw money around at players if they want to. It would not be surprising if this ranking drops for 2016 with several veterans taking a significant paycut due to a poor season last year.

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Location/Stadium: Tokyo Dome (The Big Egg) in Bunkyō, Tokyo.


Tokyo Dome is in the heart of Tokyo in Bunkyo Ward. Sometimes it's called "The Big Egg" for it's white roof on top, but it's been their home since 1988. This stadium has hosted several events, including multiple Major League baseball games which have counted towards the regular season.


The park is prone to home runs being indoors, but the dimensions can at least fit MLB standards to host some games. It's arguably a more corporate crowd compared to the rest due to the high priced tickets. Tokyo Dome is also home to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Primary Uniforms: Currently made by Under Armour



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Mascot: Giabbits


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Cheer Song: Tōkonkomete (闘魂こめて) "Fighting Spirit"



(Note: Tokyo Dome is one of two stadiums in Japan that doesn't allow balloons when Lucky 7 happens. So essentially this song plays and fans will hold up scarves/towels instead.

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Ōendan Songs: (2015 player songs at 00:00, Tōkonkomete at 9:06, Player chants at 10:18, and chance songs at 14:03)


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MLB Comparison:  New York Yankees

The Kyojin are not like the San Francisco Giants despite the uniform resemblance (which was inspired in connection to well-known New York Giants LF Lefty O'Doul). They are Japan's team, as they have won 22 Japan Series championships at 36 Central League Pennants (which in Japan is regular season championships).

Because they're the team of Japan and well-known throughout the country, they're either loved or hated by baseball fans. Essentially, all 11 over teams will not like the Kyojin with their power over the media and elitist background. There aren't many rivalries in Japan except one as the Giants see the Hanshin Tigers as the main rival. Everyone else views the Giants as a rival, even though the Pacific League does not see them much.

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Notable former MiLB and MLB players who've played for the Kyojin:

Miles Mikolas, Aaron Poreda, Davey Johnson, Warren Cromartie, Gabe Kapler.

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Notable Giants who played in MLB: 

Koji Uehara, Hideki Matsui, Hideki Okajima 

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The Verdict

Why you root for them: 

Because you want to win and have a contending team every year. The Kyojin rarely miss the postseason and get plenty of coverage. Even for Americans, they can see them through ONE World Sports. Access will be easy because the Giants control everything media-wise.


Why you don't root for them: 

Because they're the "Yankees of Japan". Tokyo is the largest market in the country and they'll always get coverage. Some teams have fans that travel for road games, but the Giants are such a national team over Japan that they are everywhere.

Due to their national recognition, they get the inside track on acquiring players via the draft. There's been history of them bullying other teams to make sure they get their way in the first round.


The other problem with the Giants is how the Central League hasn't taken the next step in promoting their brand of NPB baseball. The Pacific League has made a service known as @PacificLeagueTV to watch games. However, chairman Tsuneo Watanabe is responsible for less coverage internationally because he sees baseball being "traditional" with no need for changes. The Giants (and Central League) are basically waiting for him to croak in order for a more progressive approach to come.

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Other Teams in Series:











 

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Kenta Maeda: The Film Study; What to Expect From Him In MLB

Maeken gets his wish to pitch in the States, but how will he do?

The bombshell that has rocked Japanese baseball finally came about as the Hiroshima Carp posted their ace Kenta Maeda, thus starting the bidding to negotiate with the right hander, who will be 28 in April. Now into December, the winning team will presumably pay the maximum $20 million posting fee to get the services of the man known as "Maeken" in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I've been scouring Youtube looking for footage on this guy, and quite honestly, the stuff I found was nothing short of pitching porn. You have a guy with a nice five-pitch delivery: four seam fastball, two seam fastball, changeup, slider and a curveball. And all these pitches come out of a three quarter arm slot, and for those who don't understand that lingo, his pitches come over his deltoid rather than over his shoulder, which is similar to Max Scherzer.

You know this wouldn't be a good film study without some gifs to wet your whistle so without further ado, let's get right into those.

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Fastball (4 seam and 2 seam)

Unlike my previous study on Shohei Otani which you can read here, Maeken does not blow people away. He lives on the corners and hits his catcher's glove with impressive accuracy. Here's an example with the four seam fastball.


Impeccable control. And this wasn't a random moment, I found many moments like this. The good ole number one isn't overpowering, in fact, the fastball in this gif registers at 93.84 using the km/h-mph converter. His fastball usually sits in the low 90s but it's this accuracy that makes him so impressive. Whether it's right handers or left handers, Maeken makes you pull your hands in to have a chance at hitting his fastball.


There are some examples of Maeda relying on the benefit of the umpire's call, and as many have said before, the strike zone in NPB is notoriously wider than MLB. However, I'll shoot back and say that the the current MLB strike zone is larger than its ever been. So I'm not sure that Maeda's advantages in Japan will be taken away in MLB, I think it's probably closer to a push. Here's a look at his two-seamer.


This pitch right here made the reigning Central League MVP, Tetsuto Yamada (who will be posted in the future), look extra silly. Just another pitch that's added to his repertoire.

I have questions about whether Maeda can rely on his fastball consistently in the States. He's not a guy who relies on his fastball anyway, but he needs them hitting the corners consistently to make all of his pitches effective. 

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Changeup


I only found three instances of this pitch through all the video I went through. All were of the similar variety, all thrown early in the count to left handers on the opposite side of the plate (right handed batter box, outside corner to lefties). The pitch is for the most part kind of unremarkable and that's probably a reason why Maeda doesn't throw it very often. With Maeken being a real thinking pitcher, he uses this pitch as one to keep hitters honest more than anything. It's probably slightly below average among MLB standards.

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Slider

Now for his best pitch. I'll let the the gifs say what needs to be said.





Hope you all enjoyed these. Just about all of these were right on the dime of his catcher's glove. And they produce not only swings and misses, but they also produce called strikes. You have to foul this pitch off to have any success against Maeken. It's his best pitch and the way he works the corners, the pitch becomes even more lethal.

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Curveball


This pitch is one that is improving for Maeda, most of Maeda's 2014 footage featured occasional flat curveballs but in 2015, they seemed to have improved. These previous two gifs show a great wipe out pitch against lefties that just looks lethal. Maybe this pitch has a chance to be a difference maker, but he'll have to continue to make it happen. With most of his sliders making right handers look foolish, lefties look foolish on this pitch and it seems he's also got a power version of his curveball seen in the next gif.


For all I know this is a slider, but it comes in at 76 mph which seems slower than his slider which clocks in at a low 80s pace. That pitch looks nasty, it just proves more and more how smart Maeda is as a pitcher.

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Overall

Other things to consider, Maeda has had seasons of tossing 200 IPs four times in his career. And that's something that's a lot harder to do in Japan where there's almost 20 games less during the seasons compared to MLB, and also because starting pitchers pitch once a week compared to once every five days in the States. That shows real durability and a workhorse who can give you a lot of innings, which is something that's valued quite highly in MLB. He's also a guy who has a great reputation for being a pitcher who fields his position well. Maeken has won 3 NPB Golden Gloves.

Maeda is a guy who doesn't get rocked with the long ball, and that's something that's been a constant his whole entire career. He will get challenged at the big league level, but there's no doubt that he's a workhorse who will hit his spots.

I see him being quite similar to Hisashi Iwakuma because he doesn't have the long ball and command issues of a Kei Igawa, but he's not at the level of a Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish. He's someone who can still be a No. 3 pitcher with an upside of a No. 2.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Houstros Astros, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees are reportedly interested in Maeken. I think a contract of 5 years, $95 million is a fair one, considering the value that arms are being placed on today's current market, especially when Maeken doesn't require the loss of a draft pick.

EDIT: Maeda has reached an eight year agreement with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's an estimated $25 million inguaranteed money, which is a low risk bargain for the Dodgers. 

One last thing, prepare to be mesmerized by Maeken's stretching routine.




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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Translation: C.C. Lee introduced in Taiwan


C.C. Lee was formally introduced as a Saitama Seibu Lion in Taipei City, Taiwan on November 29th.  The Taiwanese pitcher spent his entire professional career in the Cleveland Indians organization before the Lions purchased his contract and reached an agreement last month.

Hisanobu Watanabe (Nabe-Q) was there to represent the Lions organization, as he currently works in the front office as a senior director. For the Americans who aren't familiar with him, he was a well-known player with the team before he became a coach and later manager. He won the Lions' last Japan Series title in 2008 and stepped down from the managing role in 2013. Nabe-Q has also been the Lions representative to pull the draft name out of the box in the event of lottery, notably Yusei Kikuchi as seen here.

This newscast from Taiwan provided a few soundbites in Mandarin with Nabe-Q being subtitled as he was speaking Japanese. Here's a translation of what they said. Thanks again to Vivien Wong for the translation help. 

C.C. Lee: 

"Since beginning of the year, there were already been thoughts to go play somewhere else to learn different techniques. Of course family considerations is one of the reasons and also the chance to be playing in [big] games is a pretty big reason."

"[I hope to be] learning [the Japanese language and learning] the keywords for training. Then [I hope to know] how to order from a menu like what I did [in the USA]. Then [I'll learn] how to communicate with others. Those will be the starting points."

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Hisanobu Watanabe: 

"If possible, we hope that he can take over the role of closer. [We] also hope that he will maintain good health for the whole year and help the team obtain winning [and] success."

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While these quotes are pretty minor, the big takeaway is that Nabe-Q said C.C. Lee has a chance to be a closer for the Lions. The bullpen last year was uncertain when Tomoni Takahashi lost his touch. A full FIP study can be found here.

The Lions tried to replace Takahashi with Kazuhisa Makita, a role he once held in 2011. Eventually, Tatsushi Masuda was the closer at the end of the year, but there weren't many opportunities as the Lions would either be trailing or up by a lot of runs in the ninth.

Nabe-Q's words might have been said to butter up the Taiwanese media and crowd, but if we took this literally, it means the competition in the bullpen is wide open. Masuda is no doubt a lock to be part of the back end and Shota Takekuma is the useful lefty specialist, but everything else is up in the air.

Lee is capable of striking out batters, but has control issues with a higher walk rate as shown at any level of baseball he's played at. If Takahashi and Masuda take the ninth and eighth, we feel that Lee can be inserted in for the sixth and seventh innings. He will compete with Esmerling Vasquez for a roster spot among the foreigners.

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Other notes: 

-The Lions officially reached an agreement with Andy Van Hekken, who should be a middle of the rotation starter in 2016. He will make an estimated $1.1 million for the upcoming season.

-Yasuhiro Tanaka signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines. Previously, he was the mop up duty pitcher with a 1.35 ERA and a closer in ni-gun. 

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