Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Seibu Lions 2016 Position Outlook: Bullpen

The Saitama Seibu Lions bullpen was one of the problems in 2015. Their only strength was on the back end relying on three individuals.  This year hopes to be a different outcome with some additions.


Tatsushi Masuda: Masuda was the best bullpen arm of the Lions and it reflected in his FIP, where he doesn't walk guys, but strikes them out instead. It was only until the last months of the season where he became overworked due to the limited options in the bullpen. He should remain the setup man for 2016.

Shota Takekuma: Takekuma was mostly a lefty specialist, but was capable of coming in for the seventh inning if needed. He was the only reliable middle reliever who could take an inning before the eighth. It's possible that he's a rotation candidate.

Tomomi Takahashi: Takahashi was the closer for 2014 and 2015, but some ugly regression had him demoted in the middle of last season. There was no evidence he was playing through an injury, but there can always be speculation by how poor his velocity was in the second half. He is coming off a separate injury where he hurt his leg fielding a ground ball after a bad step.  Takahashi is penciled in to be the closer, but it's possible someone else can take over.


The Imports: 

Esmerling Vasquez: Vasquez was the only foreign signing from 2015 to return for 2016. He appeared mostly in middle relief in medium leverage situations, but his control was shaky. The only positive is how he never gave up a home run.

C.C. Lee: Lee is the newcomer from the Cleveland Indians organization. It will be his first time playing professional baseball in Asia, as he spent time in the minor leagues for a majority of his career. Lee has a 3/4 deliver and is a possible closer candidate. His numbers have consistently involved strikeouts at any level of baseball.


Spot starters/Long relievers:

Ryohei Fujiwara: Fujiwara had one appearance as a long reliever, but would only see a limited playing time. It's possible he can be seen in middle relief.

Ryoma Nogami: If the Lions don't like Nogami as a starter, he could easily come to the bullpen to fix the depth. Last year, he was involved in split start with Chun-Lin Kuo out of the pen. There is a better chance they make him a starting pitcher to being the season. 

Yosuke Okamoto: Okamoto had a bad start to the year giving up home run after home run, but had a stronger second half where Norio Tanabe even played him during the seventh inning.  The Lions have had him appear for some spot starts if necessary last year.

Yasuo Sano: Sano was a second round draft pick in 2014 who appeared in one spot start last season in Hokkaido. He looks like a bullpen candidate, but with the ichi-gun they could have him for a spot start as another option.


Toshihiro Iwao: Iwao had some interesting FIP numbers due to his strikeout abilities, but had a lack of control to stay with the ichi-gun. While he didn't give up the long ball, he coughed up several gappers that were just short of the fences.

Kazuki Miyata: Miyata appeared in a handful of games last season, but mostly had low leverage innings. He earned a win against the Hanshin Tigers with a decent appearance in middle relief.

Kentaro Fukukura: Fukukura was a seventh round pick in 2013, but remained productive in ni-gun. The Lions brought him up for one low leverage appearance.

Atsushi Okamoto: Okamoto is a veteran who saw medium leverage playing time in the first half of 2015. The Lions kept him buried in ni-gun after interleague play.

Hirotaka Koishi: Koishi appeared out of the bullpen with the ichi-gun last year for a handful of games, but he is a starter while in ni-gun.

Takuya Toyoda: Toyoda appeared last year in only three games. He helped preserve a tie in Nagoya against the Chunichi Dragons during the 12th inning once.


The Draft Busts: 

Yuta Nakazaki: Nakazaki was a first round pick out of high school in 2008. He has only appeared in seven games at the ichi-gun level in 2013.

Tatsuya Oishi: Oishi was highly touted in 2010, but has struggled after injury and has only seen time in the bullpen at the first team level. He appeared in 2015 with three scoreless innings in low leverage.


The Farm: 

Yusuke Tamamura: Tamamura was a fourth round pick out of high school in 2014.

Takayuki Yamaguchi: Yamaguchi was a fifth round draft pick in 2013.

Shogo Noda: Noda was a third round pick in 2015 out of the industrial league.

Seiji Kawagoe: Kawagoe was a second round pick in 2015. Hisanobu Watanabe said he is a setup candidate for the long term.

Tadasuke Minamikawa: Minamikawa was the fifth round draft pick in 2015.

Tsubasa Kokuba: Kokuba was the Lions' eighth round draft pick in 2015.

Naoaki Matsumoto: Matsumoto was the 10th round draft pick in 2015 out of the independent Shikoku Island League.



We expect C.C. Lee to get the nod over Esmerling Vasquez for the last foreign roster spot on opening day. With Kuo, Ernesto Mejia and Andy Van Hekken locked to be on the roster, this is the only spot left among the imports.  This unit hopefully has more depth with some immediate contributions from Noda and Minamikawa with the ichi-gun.

It's possible that moving a few starters to the bullpen can make it easier in middle relief, as the team was too dependent on Takahashi, Masuda and Takekuma to get the job done last year. The closer position will need to be established, because closer by committee is rather a nightmare, which is what was forced to happen in 2015. If the closer can stay in position and the middle relief shows improvement, it will go a long way to a possible playoff spot for 2016.


Other positions in the series: 




Starting Rotation 

Manager Norio Tanabe


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