Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ranking NPB's Four Man Cores for 2016

Tetsuto Yamada and Yuki Yanagita are the reigning MVPs. They also boost their team's core to the max.
There are some basic measures in looking at how a team is constructed and who's got the best talent. And one of those is naming a four man core for each team, based on a variety of factors, like upside, age, or simply who the best four players are for THIS particular season.

I'll note that I've stayed away from recently drafted players since they're still unknown. Just remember, just because I rank your team lower, doesn't mean I don't think they're good. Teams like the Chiba Lotte Marines get punished in rankings like these since they're a team built on its depth. I'm just ranking how each four player core ranks against the rest, plain and simple.

This exercise has known to be quite important when measuring a team's championship window and understanding what the team needs going forward.

 I'll give a few examples using MLB clubs to try and get the ball rolling.

The 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers:

SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Zack Greinke
CL Kenley Jansen
1B Adrian Gonzalez

The 2015 Kansas City Royals:

OF Alex Gordon
1B Eric Hosmer
3B Mike Moustakas
CL Wade Davis

Without further ado, here are my rankings with the players I believe fit into each team's core. I try not to put in relievers, unless they're extremely important to the team and really are off the charts. There's a few of those that make sense for a handful of NPB teams.

1. Tokyo Yakult Swallows

2B Tetsuto Yamada
3B Shingo Kawabata
SP Yasuhiro Ogawa
OF Wladimir "Coco" Balentien

2. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

CF Yuki Yanagita
3B Nobuhiro Matsuda
SP Shota Takeda
CL Dennis Sarfate

3. Saitama Seibu Lions

3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura
CF Shogo Akiyama
SP Takayuki Kishi
1B Ernesto Mejia

4. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters

SP/DH/OF Shohei Otani
1B Sho Nakata
C/DH Kensuke Kondo
OF/2B Haruki Nishikawa

5. Yomiuri Giants

C/1B Shinnosuke Abe
SP Tomoyuki Sugano
SP Miles Mikolas
SS Hayato Sakamoto

6. Hanshin Tigers

SP Randy Messenger
SP Shintaro Fujinami
OF Kosuke Fukudome
SS Takashi Toritani

7. Hiroshima Toyo Carp

SP Kris Johnson
SP Hiroki Kuroda
2B Ryosuke Kikuchi
1B Brad Eldred

8. Chiba Lotte Marines

OF Ikuhiro Kiyota
SP Ayumu Ishikawa
CL Yuji Nishino
OF Katsuya Kakunaka

9. Orix Buffaloes

OF Yoshio Itoi
SP Yuki Nishi
SP Chihiro Kaneko
OF/1B Takahiro Okada

10. Chunichi Dragons

SP Yudai Ono
SP Shunta Wakamatsu
OF Ryosuke Hirata
OF Yohei Oshima

11. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
SP Takahiro Norimoto
CL Yuki Matsui
IF Ginji Akaminai
3B Toshiaki Imae

12. Yokohama DeNA Baystars
OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
OF Takayuki Kajitani
CL Yasuaki Yamasaki
1B Jose Lopez

So there you have it. This is where the debate begins. Let me start by addressing some of the surprises to the list. I have the Swallows ahead of the defending champions because of the possible upside of a healthy Wladimir Balentien. I could very well see him falling off a cliff with injuries, but until then, he's included in the four.

When I compare the two groups when it comes to their cores, I went with the Swallows. The Hawks are the better team, especially because of their depth, but they don't have the best core in NPB.

I may seem like a homer by putting the Lions at No. 3, but I believe that they have a core as good as anyone in the league and that's who their team is built around. Sure, they may not have the depth that other teams in the Pacific League have, but when comparing the four players alone with the rest, they deserve to be there.

The Fighters as a team to me are a bit overrated especially when you look at their run differential and the overall upside doesn't compare to the Lions with Akiyama as well as the possibility of a bounce back season from Ernesto Mejia.

For the Marines, they're a depth based-squad and don't have the top line talent to compete in this kind of exercise. I've found that the four man core is especially important for how far a team goes in the postseason, because in those games, depth plays down with the best players playing at all times and the bullpen playing smaller. The top line talent in the Central League lapped Chiba, as a result.

Let me know what I missed. Did I get any of the cores wrong? Am I overvaluing or undervaluing some teams? Let me know in the comments.


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  1. As far as cores go, the BayStars have no business being #12 IMO. They're no worse than 8th but maybe even worthy of top half.

    1. Agree completely. BayStars have a pretty nice young core.

  2. Regarding Balentien's health, I wouldn't be terribly optimistic about that. He looked fat and out of shape when I saw him on Tuesday.

    I'm going to keep my comments mostly to the PL here:

    Fighters' core is much better than Seibu's. You just need to swap out Yoh Daikan and Yoshikawa for Nishikawa and Kondo (who may be great, but can't play the field at his position and has only had one full season). Their core is just about as good as Softbank's, honestly.

    For Seibu, Okawari-kun's great as is Akiyama, but Kishi probably isn't as good as either Kikuchi or Kona going forward, and basically anyone on the roster is more valuable than Mejia, who can only hit homeruns, strike out a lot, and play terrible defense. Asamura or Mori are much much better players.

    Fair for Lotte, though Wakui's gotta be above either Kakunaka or Nishino in importance.

    Orix is a bit of a horror show outside their starting pitching, though Kaneko and Nishi are about as good as it gets. I think Nishino will be very very good going forward and Itoh's a really nice catcher.

    Rakuten's a wasteland outside of Norimoto, especially in their position players.

    So I'd go Hawks -> Fighters -> Chiba -> Seibu -> Orix -> Rakuten.

    1. I love Kikuchi, but I need another good season out of him and regression from Kishi to include him in the Lions core. On Mejia, touché on his defense and strikeouts, but I tend to go with upside, though it's clear that this time next year he likely won't be on this list, especially with Mori posed to breakout.

      Interesting stuff on Balentien, I admit I'm jumping the gun just a hair on him. Bodies like his don't hold up over time, but I'm going out on a limb to hope that he'll have a 900 OPS season.

      As for the Fighters, I'm hesitant to crown any of their young guys yet, though I can see a good majority of them breaking out.