Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Seibu Lions 2017 Spring Camp Outlook: Starting Rotation


The Saitama Seibu Lions will be depending on several players to be part of their rotation for 2017. This was a unit that struggled due to a lack of depth and others wearing down as the season ended.

There were signs of mediocrity, but also building blocks towards the long term.  Here is how the starting pitchers shape up for 2017:

Locks:

Yusei Kikuchi: With the loss of Takayuki Kishi, Kikuchi becomes the team's best starting pitcher and the weight of the world will be on his shoulders. He came off a decent 2016 season after being criticized and not living up the hype in the past. Kikuchi still has MLB aspirations for his career and it will be up to how he does in the next two seasons to see if he proves his worth.

Shinsaburo Tawata: Tawata had a slow start recovering from a shoulder injury in 2016, but he settled in after the All-Star break which made him one of the more fun to watch pitchers last season. Does he have a sophomore slump or can he build off last season's second half?

Brian Wolfe: In what what a short audition with the ichi-gun as a mid-season pickup, Wolfe would pass and earn a contract for 2017. He wasn't flashy by any means, but is capable of being a No. 3 starter to eat up innings and be a decent role player. One upside is that he doesn't have the mileage on his arm for a pitcher of his age (36).

Kona Takahashi: The 2013 Koshien Champion has shown flashes as to why the Lions took him with their first round pick in 2014. Last year was his first full season having an ichi-gun work load and he had mixed results, struggling in the second half. He will be 20 this year and there is still plenty of time to grow.

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The Remaining Favorites:

Ken Togame: It was a poor 2016 for Togame, but his track record shows that he can't have two consecutive seasons being good or bad. The trend would mean this could be a rebound year, but can he keep his location in check?

Ryoma Nogami: The Lions tampered with him by having Nogami as a reliever in the middle of the year and it backfired. He wasn't a bad starter for the back end of the rotation, but the FIP metrics didn't help his cause. Nogami can eat up innings if necessary, which can't hurt.

===

Imports:

Frank Garces: Garces played in MLB with the San Diego Padres. He is a side arm lefty pitcher with an outside shot at competing for a rotation spot.

Alexis Candelario: Candelario was a starter for the baseball leagues in Venezuela, Italy, Mexico, Dominican Republic and an Independent League while stateside. Compared to the field, he has an uphill battle at earning starts.


Spot Starters:

Yasuo Sano: Sano had a few decent games as a reliever and he enters his third year with the team. He has an outside shot to compete for the No. 6 role.

Chun-Lin Kuo: After showing promise in 2015, Kuo regressed in 2016 and fell to the bullpen. He won't be training with the team in camp as he prepares for the World Baseball Classic. Could this be his last chance?

Makoto Aiuchi: Aiuchi was a high school pick and earned two spot starts to end the year. He served a suspension in 2015 and could be adequate in a pinch.

Isamu Sato: Sato earned multiple starts in 2016 after a strong showing in ni-gun. He would eventually be overwhelmed and the Lions would bury him after only seven games total.

Keisuke Honda: Honda would earn a spot start to end 2016. After a strong showing at the U23 World Cup in Mexico as well as the ABL in Australia, he upped his stock and might have made a good impression on the Lions coaching staff for his production.

The Farm:

Tatsuya Imai: Imai, the team's first-round draft pick from October, will get his feet wet in 2017 with a handful of ichi-gun starts. He will have to get used to a professional workload in NPB, something he has not experienced up to this point.

Koki Fujita: Fujita was a 9th round draft pick in 2015.

Yusuke Tamamura: Tamamura was a fourth round draft pick in 2014 out of high school. He has been a starter in ni-gun.

Projection: 

It's likely that Kikuchi, Tawata, Wolfe, Takahashi, Nogami and Togame will be the Opening Day rotation barring no injuries. Garces could compete for a starting role, but will likely be a reliever.

Outside of Wolfe, the Lions starting rotation is relatively young with Tawata and Takahashi both being thrust in there. The rotation will make or break this team in 2017 with both players needing to grow up quickly if they want to contend. Not many will take Togame and Nogami seriously, but they aren't the worst pitchers in the world.

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Other positions: 

Catcher

Infield

Bullpen

Outfield

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Friday, January 27, 2017

2017 NPB Four Man Cores

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo was part of a Core-4 ranked dead last in 2016. Where do the Baystars end up this time?
Since I had so much fun doing this post last year and it created a nice little discussion among fans from different NPB teams, I figured it would be a fun thing to do again this year. If you haven't read last year's edition, please do so here so you can get the premise behind this post and also read how wrong I ended up being.

Admittedly, my rankings were absolutely shredded pretty quickly and a lot of the guys I had tabbed ended up letting me down, but that's okay. I'm willing to be wrong.

This year, we'll have a space for each team and I'll show the 2016 core next to the 2017 ones for comparison. I'll explain why I have omitted players and added others. The rankings will follow at the end of the post.

Note: This year's edition has completely avoided using closers or relievers as part of the Core-4. 

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Yomiuri Giants


Kazuto Taguchi makes the cut for the Giants.

2016
C/1B Shinnosuke Abe
SP Tomoyuki Sugano
SP Miles Mikolas
SS Hayato Sakamoto

2017
SS Hayato Sakamoto
SP Tomoyuki Sugano
SP Kazuto Taguchi
SP Miles Mikolas

There is only one change for the Kyojin and that is the omission of Shinnosuke Abe. He still had a decent year when he was on the field for 91 games (mostly as a 1B in cleanup), but after the offensive year that the Giants had, I'd probably be best-served to be including more pitchers.

Sakamoto will probably make this list for the next several years since he seems to be one of the top 5 best players in all of NPB. The new addition to the list is Kazuto Taguchi. At 20 years old, he's already throwing 160+ IP and dominating Central League hitters by striking out 7.00 per 9 innings.

Despite only making 14 starts in 2016, Miles Mikolas retains his place because he's still only 28 and when he was on the field, he was still blowing away more hitters this past year than his incredible 2015 season.

A narrow miss is Shuichi Murata who had a great offensive season for the Giants, but defensively, Murata was more of a field goal kicker than a third baseman as he posted a -11.8 UZR according to 1.02. Murata is also 36 years old, and there are doubts whether he can have another season like this in 2017 as his track record doesn't show he can put two seasons together.


===

Hiroshima Toyo Carp


Yoshihiro Maru is added after a strong 2016
2016
SP Kris Johnson
SP Hiroki Kuroda
2B Ryosuke Kikuchi
1B Brad Eldred

2017
RF Seiya Suzuki
SP Kris Johnson
2B Ryosuke Kikuchi
CF Yoshihiro Maru

The Central League Pennant winners finally realized their offensive potential and as a result, they see two position players added to this list, while Kuroda leaves the list due to retirement. Brad Eldred only played in 95 games last season and though he still performed well when he played, he is now heading into his age 36 season and looks to be more of a role player as time goes on. Seiya Suzuki had a breakout offensive season and he will probably compete with Yamada and Sakamoto for the Central League MVP for the next several years.

Admittedly, I probably missed the mark on leaving out Maru on last year's core, but since he missed 2015 with an injury, it was probably a good idea to leave him out anyway. Maybe Kris Johnson will come back down to earth, but he'll still be 32 and the defending Sawamura Award winner will likely make it again next year as long as he has a halfway decent season. Ryosuke Kikuchi's defense alone will probably make him a lock on this list and his offensive explosion last year makes him an automatic entry. Takahiro Arai, the reigning Central League MVP, will likely not repeat a season like 2016 and father time will eventually take over. However, he should still be a solid role player.

===

Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars


Takayuki Kajitani (left) retains his spot while Kenta Ishida (right) is a new addition)
2016
OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
OF Takayuki Kajitani
CL Yasuaki Yamasaki
1B Jose Lopez

2017
LF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
SP Shota Imanaga
OF Takayuki Kajitani
SP Kenta Ishida

Last year, I ranked the Bay Stars dead last in terms of their core and I got ridiculed for it. I can assure you that they won't be ranked last this year. 

You can make the argument that the Bay Stars now have the best core under 25 in all of NPB. Ishida and Imanaga put up insane numbers last year and you have to wonder how they would do in one of the pitcher's parks of the Pacific League. I've left off Lopez and Yamasaki just simply because I think there's some better and younger talent on this team than those guys. Yamasaki is also a closer as Core-4 groups should not include relievers. Kajitani makes the list again because of his solid stolen base percentage as well as his history as a solid outfielder.

===

Hanshin Tigers

Yuta Iwasada
2016
SP Randy Messenger
SP Shintaro Fujinami
OF Kosuke Fukudome
SS Takashi Toritani

2017
SP Randy Messenger
SP Shintaro Fujinami
SP Yuta Iwasada
OF Yoshio Itoi

A disappointing year for Osaka's (Kansai's) team sees some changes to this list. Takashi Toritani departs after committing defensive malpractice at shortstop with a UZR of -23.5, while at the plate, his numbers weren't much better. Manager Tomoaki Kanemoto would bench him and his iron man innings streak would come to an end.

Yuta Iwasada takes his place as he forms the last of Hanshin's triumvirate of pitchers who each threw 150+ innings. Iwasada made massive strides in 2016 by posting a 2.90 ERA and an 8.9 K/9 after only making 11 starts prior to 2016. Even though the prodigy, Shintaro Fujinami isn't getting the MLB plaudits that he was supposed to get as a teenager at Osaka Toin, he still put up very good numbers that should give the Tigers a real chance at the playoffs in 2017.

Randy Messenger posted another prototypical workhorse season in 2016 so he easily retains his spot. We'll see whether he'll be on here next year as he enters his age 35 season. Kosuke Fukudome would've retained his spot on this list, but the addition of Orix's Yoshio Itoi spells him due to being younger, his wages after signing him in free agency and better numbers.

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Tokyo Yakult Swallows

Tetsuto Yamada
2016
2B Tetsuto Yamada
3B Shingo Kawabata
SP Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa
OF Wladimir "Coco" Balentien

2017
2B Tetsuto Yamada
LF Wladimir "Coco" Balentien
SP Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa
3B Shingo Kawabata

The names don't change, but the perception does. Last year, I boldly (or naively, if you want to be frank) claimed that the Swallows had the best core in all of NPB. Let's just say that the Swallows won't be number one this year.

Tetsuto Yamada had another year just like 2015 (despite being cold in September) and Coco Balentien returned to form by blasting 31 homers. Yamada figures to be an elite player in NPB as long as he wants to stay in Japan, while father time starts to come into question for Balentien. Balentien had his second highest number of a season's strikeouts with 116 and that could be a sign that he isn't catching up to the pitches that he used to. Even at 32, he can still easily produce and make this list next season, especially with no fringe position players that are jumping out on the Swallows.

Ryan Ogawa had a difficult season as he gave up a career-high in home runs with 22, it must be tough pitching at Jingu Stadium. I'm afraid that Ogawa's 2015 season was all but an outlier, but I'm hoping that he'll bounce back in 2017.

Shingo Kawabata had a "good," year but it was nowhere near what he had in 2015 and if we're being totally honest, his batting average makes his season look better than it really was. Kawabata had a wRC+ of 103, with 100 being league average, while he posted a 134 in 2015. Kawabata also saw his line drive percentage and his hard contact % each drop from their heights in 2015. The moral of the story with the Swallows is that Ogawa and Kawabata can easily be replaced in next year's core.

===

Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo makes the list after a decent 2016
2016
SP Yudai Ono

SP Shunta Wakamatsu
OF Ryosuke Hirata
OF Yohei Oshima


2017
OF Ryosuke Hirata
OF Yohei Oshima
SP Yudai Ono
1B Dayan Viciedo

The Dragons are a team where you can have several different four-man cores, and in this case, it's not a good thing. One thing's for sure: Oshima and Hirata are guys you have to have on there and after that, you can get creative.

You can throw Wakamatsu on there and chalk up his rough season to an outlier that he'll bounce back from since he'll only be 22 this year or you can throw in Naomichi Donoue and I'd accept it, though I don't think he'll have this good of an offensive season again and even this season was not great as it ended up being an 89 wRC+.

I went with Ono and his track record. As long as he can stay healthy, he should end up here again next season. Dayan Viciedo makes his debut on this list because when he was healthy and hitting, the Dragons were winning ballgames and were in the heart of the playoff hunt (sometimes known as A-claa). For a team that lacks power hitting like the Dragons, Viciedo is an integral part of their makeup.

===

Orix Buffaloes


Masataka Yoshida has a small sample size, but the offense will hinge on him.
2016
OF Yoshio Itoi
SP Yuki Nishi
SP Chihiro Kaneko
OF Takahiro Okada


2017
SP Yuki Nishi
SS Ryoichi Adachi
OF Takahiro Okada
OF Masataka Yoshida

The departing Yoshio Itoi leaves a spot to fill in Orix's core and definitely makes it a difficult task to find four men to fulfill this exercise. The guys in the rotation that Orix counts on were not at their best this season, so I just went with Nishi based on reputation and simply just chalking up this year due to bad luck, but you can honestly go with Kaneko, Nishi, or Brandon Dickson. I'm not sure if you can pick two of them, but definitely one of them.

Ryoichi Adachi makes his debut on this list simply because of his plus defense at shortstop where he put up a UZR of 14.8 in 2016. Adachi was even better in 2015 where he had a UZR of 26.2 so there's definitely a track record with his defense. Okada put up a better season in 2016 than he had in 2015, so it seems like he's back to doing what he did in 2014. With the talent of Orix, it's hard to imagine a world where Okada doesn't make this list next year. Mastaka Yoshida only played 63 games in 2016, but the 22-year-old first round pick from 2015 definitely made the most of things with a .854 OPS, which certainly makes him one to watch in his second pro season.

===

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

Takayuki Kishi was the biggest addition for Rakuten
2016
SP Takahiro Norimoto
CL Yuki Matsui
IF Ginji Akaminai
3B Toshiaki Imae


2017
SP Takahiro Norimoto
SP Takayuki Kishi
3B/OF Zelous Wheeler
SS Eigoro Mogi

There's only one word to describe Takahiro Norimoto and that word is nasty. If you ever have a chance to watch him pitch, you need to do it because he makes hitters look silly. He struck out 216 batters in 2016 and he's only 26.

Rakuten adds former Seibu Lions ace Takayuki Kishi to their rotation and that automatically makes the team's core shoot up the rankings. On top of that, Zelous Wheeler's second year in Japan went much better than his first year as he led the team in home runs with 27. The next highest home run total was 10, which means their offense is still an issue overall, but at least they'll get a boost in run prevention with the addition of Kishi. It's possible these numbers go up if Carlos Peguero and/or Japhet Amador play an entire full season for 2017.

Eigoro Mogi makes the list after putting up an above average year at the plate and holding his own at shortstop with a -1.6 UZR. Yuki Matsui would probably make this list if they moved him to the rotation, but Rakuten's brass is hellbent on keeping him as a closer so he's left out.

===

Chiba Lotte Marines

Hideaki Wakui showed that 2015 wasn't a fluke. There has been a recent revival in his career
2016
OF Ikuhiro Kiyota
SP Ayumu Ishikawa
CL Yuji Nishino
OF Katsuya Kakunaka


2017
OF Katsuya Kakunaka
SP Hideaki Wakui
SP Ayumu Ishikawa
SS Daichi Suzuki

Yes, I definitely got Chiba's 2016 core wrong. Kiyota fell off the earth in 2016 and looking at his career body of work, it looks like his 2015 season was nothing more than an outlier rather than a breakout season. That didn't matter much to Marines fans as Katsuya Kakunaka had a career season to more than makeup for the drop off from Kiyota. Kakunaka also has probably the best ouenka in all of NPB so even for opposing fans, we probably didn't mind seeing him do well.

On the mound, Hideaki Wakui proved that he can still be a solid pitcher without the high strikeout numbers that he had with the Lions. There's probably a good chance that Wakui makes the 2018 edition as well, as I have full confidence in his ability to put together another good season and be that workhorse for the Marines.

Ayumu Ishikawa retains his spot from last year as he had an even better year in 2016 than he did in 2015 and he did so with less strikeouts than the year before. He's not the most overpowering guy, but he uses his defense and it seems to work quite well for him. Daichi Suzuki makes the core this year, but not because of his faulty defense that has brought questions about why he hasn't moved to third or second base yet. With that said, Suzuki still put up a 118 wRC+ and that was enough to put him on here, especially with the departure of Alfredo Despaigne.

===

Saitama Seibu Lions


Hideto Asamura is now the team's captain, wearing No. 3 and representing as a premier hitter.
2016
3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura
CF Shogo Akiyama
SP Takayuki Kishi
1B Ernesto Mejia


2017
CF Shogo Akiyama
2B Hideto Asamura
SP Yusei Kikuchi
3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura

Kishi's departure has a changing of the guard with Kikuchi taking his place. This might be a bit presumptive and it might be acceptable to put Ernesto Mejia in here for that reason, but I'll go with Kikuchi since I think he's more important to the Lions' success in 2017. Kikuchi will need to throw more than 150 innings next year if he is to retain his spot and that's something he has not done in his career.

Okawari-kun had a down year in 2016 but when he's on the field, he provides solid defense at third and with his body of work, there's no reason to think that he can't bounce back. Another subpar season will likely see his spot on here in jeopardy. Hideto Asamura's complete season last year is likely a sign that he'll be part of this post for years to come along with Shogo Akiyama, who had another good season. It must be said that if any of the Lions young pitchers like Kona Takahashi or Shinsaburo Tawata take the next step in 2017, they can easily jump into the core for 2018.

===

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks


Kodai Senga is already great, can he even be better?
2016
CF Yuki Yanagita

3B Nobuhiro Matsuda
SP Shota Takeda
CL Dennis Sarfate


2017
OF Yuki Yanagita
SP Shota Takeda
SP Kodai Senga
3B Nobuhiro Matsuda

Yuki Yanagita missed the last month of action for the Hawks in 2016 and it might've been the difference between the Hawks going for a 3-peat and getting eliminated. Yanagita was magic once again as he got all sorts of love with a 6.9 WAR despite missing 23 games of action. Barring injury, there's no way he doesn't get penciled in for the Hawks' 2018 core as well.

The two 24-year-old starters for the Hawks join Yanagita and it can't be understated how impressive they were in 2016. The real debate is who's better? It was Senga's first full year as a starter and he probably put up better numbers than the more experienced Takeda. Senga's path to this point in time is even more impressive given the fact that he's a former Ikusei player which provides a nice feather in the cap of the Hawks' development system.

Nobuhiro Matsuda had a good season, but it was nothing like the one in 2015, as always he provided solid defense at third and it just says a lot when he is probably their fourth best player. Akira Nakamura's monster 2016 season almost landed him on the 2017 core. If it was any other team, he probably makes it easily. The Hawks as a whole being loaded makes this exercise even more difficult as Seiichi Uchikawa could be there as well.

===

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

Takuya Nakashima becomes part of the Core-4
2016
SP/DH/OF Shohei Otani
1B Sho Nakata
C/DH Kensuke Kondo

OF/2B Haruki Nishikawa

2017
SP/DH Shohei Otani
LF Haruki Nishikawa
1B Sho Nakata
SS Takuya Nakashima

The defending champions took major steps from their 2015 edition as a lot of their young guys stepped up and raised the team's overall level. In the process, they also made me look pretty bad by calling them overrated the year before on account of their run differential. They were definitely not overrated in 2016 as they earned their way to the title and were quite impressive in the process.

Shohei Otani was a beast on the mound even though he missed a lot of starts due to blister issues. He raised the level of the team's core with his work at the plate and as a result, Otani took home the MVP of the Pacific League. Sho Nakata had a down year by his standards and still took home the Best IX for first base. Nakata will need to draw more walks to get back to the level that we're used to seeing from him.

Nakashima debuts on this list after a tremendous year with his glove at shortstop with a 15.9 UZR. Nishikawa had a complete year with his glove and his bat and with all that he had a 5.8 WAR for the year. Brandon Laird could've easily made the 2017 core, but I decided to leave him out narrowly. Kohei Arihara could've also made it, but I felt it was necessary to compliment the Fighters' tremendous defense by putting Nishikawa and Nakashima on here.

===

2016 Core Rankings

1. Tokyo Yakult Swallows
2. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
3. Saitama Seibu Lions
4. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
5. Yomiuri Giants
6. Hanshin Tigers
7. Hiroshima Toyo Carp
8. Chiba Lotte Marines
9. Orix Buffaloes
10. Chunichi Dragons
11. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
12. Yokohama DeNA BayStars

===

2017 Core Rankings

1. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks ^

2. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters ^

3. Hiroshima Toyo Carp ^

4. Yomiuri Giants ^

5. Chiba Lotte Marines ^

6. Yokohama DeNA BayStars ^

7. Hanshin Tigers |v|

8. Saitama Seibu Lions |v|

9. Tokyo Yakult Swallows |v|

10. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ^

11. Chunichi Dragons |v|

12. Orix Buffaloes |v|

My 2016 rankings look quite awful, but hopefully, my 2017 ones look a lot better. I'll first say that the top 3 teams are ahead of the field by a good amount and from there I felt the rest were quite close together until you got to 11-12, where those two cores are a lot worse than everyone else.

I would've put the BayStars ahead of the Marines if their young pitchers had more of a proven track record outside of the 2016 season, so I went with Chiba instead. A team like the Tigers has a lot of upside in their core and they can just as easily jump into the top-5 next year but I'm going to pump the breaks on them for now. I would've put the Eagles right underneath the Lions at 9, but Tetsuto Yamada to me was just too much for the Swallows to be under the Eagles.

I had to think long and hard about who should get number one between the Fighters and the Hawks, a lot of it had to do with how much weight I put into Otani and whether his value climbed over the two young pitchers for the Hawks. I decided to lean toward the Hawks based on more of a track record, but it wasn't by much.

The Lions drop 5 spots due to the departure of Kishi and a down year from Okawari-kun. On top of that, the teams that jumped them seem to do more to improve their stock than the Lions. The Swallows drop 8 spots because 2016 seemed to show that Kawabata and Ogawa had outlier years in 2015 and shouldn't be valued as highly.

What do you guys think? Give me your rankings in the comments section and tell me where I'm wrong.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Four rookies to join Seibu Lions ichi-gun camp in Miyazaki

Tatsuya Imai is one of four Lions rookies to participate in the ichi-gun camp.
The Saitama Seibu Lions announced who would be attending their ichi-gun and ni-gun camps for 2017. Among the notable additions will be four rookies from the 2016 draft class that will be in Miyazaki at the ichi-gun camp.

For those who don't know, the ichi-gun for the Lions will be in Nango, Miyazaki while the ni-gun camp is in Kochi prefecture. This doesn't mean that all players at ichi-gun camp will receive more playing time on the first time in 2017. New manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji is open to a new era and wants a first hand look at some players in Miyazaki rather than having the ni-gun staff evaluate a few.

Here is the ichi-gun camp list:

Ichi-gun camp (Miyazaki)

Pitchers (21):

Tatsuya Imai*, Tatsushi Masuda, Tatsuya Oishi, Yusei Kikuchi, Kona Takahashi, Shinsaburo Tawata, Ryoma Nogami, Ken Togame, Shogo Noda, Katsunori Hirai*, Hirotaka Koishi, Yasuo Sano, Kazuhisa Makita, Ichiro Tamura*, Keisuke Honda, Brian Schlitter#, Shota Takekuma, Brian Wolfe, Tsubasa Kokuba, Frank Garces#, Alexis Candelario#

Catchers (4):

Ginjiro Sumitani, Masatoshi Okada, Shota Nakata, Tatsuyuki Uemoto

Infielders (8): 

Hideto Asamura, Sosuke Genda*, Kyohei Nagae, Hotaka Yamakawa, Nien Ting Wu, Shuta Tonosaki, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Ernesto Mejia

Outfielders (6): 

Takumi Kuriyama, Yuji Kaneko, Fumikazu Kimura, Shogo Akiyama, Masato Kumashiro, Shotaro Tashiro

* - Denotes Rookie
# - Denotes new foreign player

===

By revealing who will be at the ichi-gun camp, we can draw the conclusion to who will be at ni-gun camp. Some players will be seen on the ichi-gun more than others (like Naoto Watanabe), but it's possible that Tsuji brought some in Miyazaki for a closer look.

Ni-gun camp (Kochi)

Pitchers (14): 

Shunta Nakatsuka*, Makoto Aiuchi, Ryohei Fujiwara, Kentaro Fukukura, Koki Fujita (i), Toshihiro Iwao, Seiji Kawagoe, Naoaki Matsumoto, Tadasuke Minamikawa, Yosuke Okamoto, Isamu Sato, Tomomi Takahashi (i), Yusuke Tamamura, Takuya Toyoda

Catchers (3): 

Komei Fujisawa, Hitoto Komazuki, Tomoya Mori

Infielders (6): 

Kazuki Kaneko, Daichi Mizuguchi, Yuji Onizaki, Naoto Watanabe, Haruka Yamada, Shogo Kimura (i)

Outfielders (6): 

Yutaro Osaki, Aito Otaki, Shogo Saito, Ryo Sakata, Daisuke Togawa, Shohei Suzuki*

(i) - Represents coming off an injury

===

Some other notes on these lists that we can infer:

-Four players from the 2015 draft class (Tawata, Kokuba, Honda and Noda) will be at the ichi-gun camp.  That also includes two (Honda and Noda) from the last Australia trip with the Aces.

-Chun-Lin Kuo will not be in spring camp as he practices with the Chinese Taipei team for the 2017 WBC.

-Veterans Onizaki, Watanabe and Uemoto are in ni-gun camp and all three of them had significant playing time with the ichi-gun in 2016.

-T. Takahashi is coming of Tommy John surgery and most likely won't be seen until August at the earliest. Shogo Kimura is under an ikusei contract and is rehabbing from a torn ACL. Koki Fujita is also recovering from an injury.

-Tomoya Mori has tightness in his right shoulder and will be in ni-gun camp. Uemoto will take his place in ichi-gun camp.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Translation: 2017 Seibu Lions rookies speak at camp

Seibu Lions rookies partake in exercises for rookie camp at Seibu II
All draft picks for the Saitama Seibu Lions moved into their dorms earlier this month to start a mandatory rookie camp at Seibu II. The Lions had six draft picks last October in Tatsuya Imai, Shunta Nakatsuka, Sosuke Genda, Shohei Suzuki, Katsunori Hirai and Ichiro Tamura.

When the rookies move in, its usually common to find out what items they took with them. Nakatsuka in particular brought a cup that said to "beware of metabolic syndrome" or don't get overweight. Imai and Suzuki had a Daruma with them.

As a special, the Lions uploaded a video showing some of the exercises and each rookie spoke about some early experiences. Here is what they said in a statement:

P Tatsuya Imai (今井 達也)

"Until now, I have spent most of the time practicing by myself, but I started working [with others], which was encouraging. Since [Shohei] Suzuki and I are the [high school graduates of the six rookies], I would like to [work hard enough to earn] my position."

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P Ichiro Tamura (田村 伊知郎)

"There [was] a lot more crowd coming to see us practicing, which was [a] first experience and made me realize I have become a professional player."

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IF Sosuke Genda (源田 壮亮)

"I hope I can join Ichi-gun training camp to compete with other shortstop players, so I want to spend January practicing steadily so I will not get injured."

Note: Ichi-gun training camp is located in Miyazaki prefecture while the ni-gun camp, which carries half of the team, is in Kochi prefecture. 

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P Katsunori Hirai (平井 克典)

"My priority is to focus on building my strength without rushing so I can join the Ichi-gun."

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P Shunta Nakatsuka (中塚 駿太)

"I felt really excited to play with the famous players I have seen on TV. I realized that I have become a professional when I was having a meal with [Takumi] Kuriyama-san."

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OF Shohei Suzuki (鈴木 将平)

"I was impressed when I shook hands with other players and found that their hands were thick and tight through hard work. I want to learn from them as much as possible to be a player who is seen in the same way from next year's rookies."

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Special thanks to @shiba_scope for translation help.  

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Lions players enjoy their time in Australia to end 2016

From left to right, trainer Kazuyoshi Ono, Keisuke Honda, Shogo Noda, Hitoto Komazuki and interpreter Machida-san.
Credit: Shogo Noda's Instagram
The Saitama Seibu Lions completed their 6th year of partnership with the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League by sending three players Down Under to work with the team for six weeks through November and December. 

For this season, it would be pitchers Keisuke Honda and Shogo Noda as well as outfielder Hitoto Komazuki making the trip with interpreter Machida-san and trainer Kazuyoshi Ono.  

While this was mostly a business trip for all three players, they entered the ABL season with goals in mind. Honda said he wanted to work on his changeup, while Noda was trying to fix his two-seam fastball for right handed hitters and shuuto for lefties. 

Noda had a blast from the past as two players from the Industrial Leagues were also playing in ABL with the Sydney Blue Sox. Catcher Yuki Yamazaki and left handed pitcher Ryoto Yoshikoshi were two players from a Honda Saitama team that Noda faced while he was with Seino Unyu (Seino Transportation).  He admitted he lost to Honda Saitama during his days in corporate ball. 

While in Australia, Noda saw a difference in how some pitches were more effective than others compared to being in NPB

"I threw more of an inside fast ball," Noda said. "Australians and Americans struggle with more inside pitches."

Noda finished the half-ABL season by going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA through 8.2 innings pitched with eight strikeouts.  

Honda in particular has had a strong offseason. He was part of the Samurai Japan U23 team and won the U23 World Cup in Mexico prior to the trip in Australia. Honda would be a key starter while helping the team en route to a gold medal and championship. 

"It was my first time with the national team for Japan," Honda said. "I felt a big responsibility and was happy to be there. It was a great experience." 

In ABL, Honda dominated all five games he started by going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA through 29.2 innings of work. He would also earn a shutout and two complete games which he benefited from playing the condensed 7-inning game in a given week.  

Honda noticed how there was more power among hitters away from Japan, where he had to be careful to not cough up a home run.  

For Komazuki, it would be the start of a new era in his career. After being an outfielder in the Lions farm team for five years, he has made the switch to catcher. 

"My goal was to practice out of the bullpen as much as I can," Komazuki said through interpreter Machida-san. "I will be a catcher for next season [and] it's a new challenge for me." 

This is Komazuki's first time being a catcher since his days in elementary school. He didn't participate in an ichi-gun game thus far in his NPB career. Komazuki spent time as a catcher for practice games and in the bullpen, but didn't play in an actual game for the Aces. He only appeared in the ABL All-Star game for the World team.  

With Takanori Hoshi no longer a player, Komazuki took his spot as a catcher on the 70-man roster. Hoshi is currently an trainer/ikusei coach for the Lions. 

Australia provided a different scenery for the three players. Hoshi provided some expertise from his time Down Under a year ago. 

"Takanori Hoshi told us to be careful about the weather," Noda said through Machida-san. "Sometimes it's really hot or cold."

All three players admitted they liked warm weather Down Under in what is traditionally a cool month in the Northern Hemisphere. Another fun quirk was eating kangaroo sausage which was a fresh take on food in Australia. 

Like Komazuki, Honda and Noda were allowed to be part of the World All-star team for the ABL All-Star game as it was in Melbourne. Honda didn't fare as well as the regular season, but it was a fun way to end the year and tenure in Australia.  

"It's unfortunate that I could not play as I had expected and did before the All-Star game," Honda said after the All-star game. "But I could find the points I have to improve on, so I would like to work hard to focus on them."

With this being Komazuki's only in-game action while in Australia, he admitted it was a different experience. 

"I was a little nervous as it's been quite a while since I played as a catcher in front of the crowd," Komazuki said. "I want to work hard so I play through the upcoming season playing as a catcher."

Noda allowed multiple base runners in the All-star game and conceded a run by a wild pitch. While disappointed at the game in the moment, he has one particular goal for 2017. 

"I will work hard so I can play with the Ichi-gun by [strengthening myself to pitching against] to lefties," Noda said. "Thank you!"

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To listen to the full interview, click here if the embed doesn't work.  




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Special thanks goes to the Melbourne Aces, Steven Smith, interpreter Machida-san and the Seibu Lions themselves for making this interview and story possible. A special thanks also goes to @shiba_scope for interpreting help. 

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Follow us on twitter @GraveyardBall 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Seibu Lions 2016 Season Review: Final FIP Report


In a year where the Saitama Seibu Lions finished fourth in the Pacific League in ERA, it seemed that the team's pitching was inconsistent as a whole. Now without Takayuki Kishi anchoring the staff as the team's ace, more questions surround the Lions in the pitching department.

Let's see if the FIP has any answers that can provide us with a vision for the 2017 season. For any further information on FIP, please check out my previous posts on the subject.

Note: Only pitchers with a certain sample size will be included in this post.

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Yusei Kikuchi (143.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.27
2016 ERA: 2.58
3 Year FIP: 3.47 (415.2 IP)

Kikuchi was the Lions innings leader for the 2016 season and the pitcher who will be touted as the team's ace when 2017 comes around. He provided his second consecutive good season in his relatively young career thanks to a strikeout rate that was at 8.0 K/9. He still struggles with walks as he posted a 4.2 BB/9 and there are questions to whether or not he'll ever keep his walk rate down below 3, but his talent is second to none on this staff.

Some will call him a bust because he didn't end up being the MLB Posting Baby that he was supposed to be back in high school, but this year proves that last year was not a fluke and he's finally starting to live up to his high ceiling. Another challenge for Kikuchi in 2017 will be staying healthy, as the Lions continue to struggle with finding a real workhorse on their staff. Kikuchi will be the one to most likely fill that need. The problem with that will be that his career high in innings is 143 and that's just simply not enough if the Lions want to play in the postseason next year.

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Takayuki Kishi (130.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.01
2016 ERA: 2.49
3 Year FIP: 3.07 (402.0 IP)

Look at those numbers. Life without Kishi will be difficult and there's no doubt about it. With that said, there is one question surrounding Kishi and that will be whether he can reverse the recent trend of injuries that he's dealt with the past couple seasons.

Kishi has not thrown more than 175 IP since 2014 and this was likely one factor that allowed Rakuten to bring Kishi back home to Sendai. When Kishi is on the field, there aren't a lot of pitchers who are better than him as he has shown a great pitching repertoire to go along with a veteran's knowledge that has allowed him to continue the success into his 30s.

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Kona Takahashi (118.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.98
2016 ERA: 4.42

The former Koshien Champion's first full professional season was one that was like the rest of the team: inconsistent. Things looked promising for the 19 year old, even on August 11th, his FIP stood at a solid 3.29, but then the struggles came and Takahashi finished the year in the bullpen.

It's unclear whether these struggles going into next season will dictate the narrative here, but I'm willing to bet that his struggles can be chalked up to inexperience and a career high in innings pitched. Both his strikeout and walk rates improved from his small sample size rates of 2015 and he already has 3 complete games in his short career for what it's worth. Like with any young pitcher, patience is needed with this young kid heading into his age 20 season.

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Ryoma Nogami (107.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 4.36
2016 ERA: 3.87
3 Year FIP: 4.41 (361.2 IP)

When it comes to FIP, Ryoma Nogami doesn't exactly have the stuff to light up the FIP tallies. He's far from overpowering, walks a good amount, and gives up the long ball which is simply a recipe for disaster in this exercise. When you look at his numbers, it's almost hard to believe that he's been able to keep a place on the ichi-gun, but instead he's found a way to stay up.

It's even more surprising that he was able to have a decent year when it comes to ERA in 2016, especially since he gave up more hits per nine innings than 2015 and had a higher walk rate. Part of this might be because he threw 26.2 less innings than in 2015 so maybe the sample size kept him from a fatter ERA. As a spot starter, there's definitely some value in having Nogami on the ichi-gun but any role more than that will likely be trouble for the Lions in 2017.

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Shinsaburo Tawata (98.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.37
2016 ERA: 4.38

It's not often where you see an FIP that is so far ahead of the ERA, but this can happen with a sample size of 98.2 IP. With that said, Lions scouts must be patting themselves on the back for what they saw out of Tawata in 2016. Once he settled into the season, he seemed dominant and showed that overpowering stuff that prompted the Lions to take him with their first pick last year.

The one game that shows Tawata's great improvement came here when Tawata pitched a 3-hit, complete game shutout at the Sapporo Dome. Tawata led all Lions starters with K/9 with a rate of 8.3 which will raise expectations for Tawata as he goes into his age 24 season.

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Kazuhisa Makita (78.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.28
2016 ERA: 1.72
3 Year FIP: 3.92 (387 IP)

The right-handed submarine pitcher was probably one of the Lions' best stories of 2016 as the man who provided stability for a bullpen that badly needed it. Norio Tanabe followed the trend set by Samurai Japan Manager Hiroki Kokubo (and his predecessor) who used Makita in a relief role and it was brilliant.

Makita barely punched out any batters, but he made sure to master the other elements of FIP as he barely walked anyone and kept the ball from flying out of the ballpark. Makita was used in many roles as a fireman, a long reliever and a setup man. Overall, he proved he could handle all of those roles.

His injury during the middle part of the year was one that really hampered the bullpen to be dysfunctional as a group and as a result, many games just simply couldn't get turned over to the closer Tatsushi Masuda without Makita. Makita will likely have a role on Samurai Japan during the World Baseball Classic and with his unique arm angle, he will definitely be a nice weapon for Kokubo to have in his back pocket. The question for 2017 will be how new manager, Hatsuhiko Tsuji will use him. He could head back to the rotation where he's had some success before, but with these great numbers, it's hard to argue how that would be the right decision.

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Hirotaka Koishi (74.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.84
2016 ERA: 3.74

The Lions' lefty reliever saw his first amount of a significant workload since his winter with the Melbourne Aces in 2012 where he pitched 35.1 innings. With that in mind, I don't think there was anyone out there who thought that Koishi would throw a significant amount of innings for the Lions in 2016 but sure enough, that's what happened.

With the Lions finding so many issues with their starters going deep into games, Koishi was one of the relievers who was asked to carry the low in usually low leverage innings. At times, Koishi would be asked to get a ground ball in a jam but in totality, he pitched relatively well. Whether or not Koishi has the stuff has the stuff to have a significant role with the Lions in 2017 is unlikely, but he'll certainly get an opportunity with his work in 2016. Like most of the Lions relievers, he does a great job of not allowing any home runs but his concerns will involve his walk rate which soared to 4.7 BB/9.

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Ken Togame (71.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 4.04
2016 ERA: 6.31
3 Year FIP: 4.21 (282.1 IP)

It was nothing short of a disastrous season for the three-quarter arm slot, right-hander and the causes for that season were a whole different issue than what we're used to with Togame. Last season, Togame was actually decent and probably was on the lucky side of things according to his FIP, but he gave up a whopping 19 home runs, while this season he only gave up 3.

This year, it was Togame's massive amount of hits given up that gave him all sorts of issues to go along with a career low in K/9 at 5.2, which was down a full point from the previous season. This suggests that Togame's stuff wasn't fooling anyone and he was getting hammered. With all that, Togame was sent to the bullpen where he made 8 appearances. If you look at the trends in Togame's inconsistent career, it would suggest that he will have a good season next year. He has not put two consistent years together, good or bad. If Togame doesn't find starts, it's difficult to see where he fits in with the 2017 Lions.

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Shota Takekuma (61.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.32
2016 ERA: 3.54
3 Year FIP: 3.54 (167 IP)

Probably one of the most underrated players on the Lions is Shota Takekuma. For the last couple seasons he has provided quality innings and probably has earned a bigger role in the Lions' 2017 bullpen.

This year, Takekuma improved his K/9 by two full points with a 7.8 and he also lowered his walk rate to 3.0, which was the lowest of his career. With those kind of numbers, you get to do more than just retire lefties. The only issue he faced this year was the long ball as he gave up a career high with five this season. Otherwise he would've posted even better numbers.

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Tatsushi Masuda (54.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 1.91
2016 ERA: 1.66
3 Year FIP: 2.40 (173 IP)

It's not a good look when your lefty specialist throws more innings than your best reliever. That's what happens when you're a closer on a bad team. Masuda recorded 28 saves and 47 games finished. That means there were 19 games where Masuda finished the game with no save situation and it is incredible. It would've been a good idea if Norio Tanabe had just thrown out the roles and just had Masuda come in earlier, but that wasn't to be.

For a little perspective, as a setup man the year before, Masuda threw 74.0 IP, that's almost 20 IP more than his total in 2016. You can't let Masuda rot in the bullpen during 2017, not with these crazy numbers. He does everything you want as a closer, he keeps the ball in the ballpark, he strikes guys out and doesn't walk anyone. Masuda posted the best K/9 of his career with an 8.8 last season but did see a rise in his walks at 2.5. Masuda should definitely be the closer in 2017, just as long as that role doesn't cut into his usage.

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Conclusion

With the 3 Year FIPs included, I think there's definitely a lot of information in this post. One thing I'll mention is that Kazuhisa Makita's 3 Year FIP is probably useless considering it includes most of the innings where he was pretty much just a starter. It's hard to rely on that information when he's likely going to be a reliever from this day forward.

With my analysis, I've tried my best to use the numbers at the top as a starting point and then look at the more intricate stats to provide answers to those numbers. For some of these guys, it's just impossible to do so without a significant sample size, but we can do our best. All in all, just looking at the weird innings distribution of the 2016 Seibu Lions, the season was definitely a mess.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pianist plays Seibu Lions 2016 Ōendan songs


A Youtube user known as Dwayne27045 plays NPB songs for each season on every team. This person uploaded the 2016 edition and posted a lineup the Saitama Seibu Lions would use for this past year. 


Shown above is the video with Lions Oendan songs showing their projected lineup based on frequent pay. It is in the order as follows:

RF Yuji Kaneko

CF Shogo Akiyama

2B Hideto Asamura

1B Ernesto Mejia

3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura

DH/OF/C Tomoya Mori

LF Takumi Kuriyama

SS Nien Ting Wu (General Purpose Theme)

C Ginjiro Sumitani

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A few things to note about this edition:

-Nien Ting Wu doesn't have his own Ouenka song. There are several "generic" songs used for guys with little ichi-gun experience. An example of this was how Ernesto Mejia had a generic song for 2014 because he was a midseason pickup.  Multiple players have shared the generic purpose theme.  If you listen to the Orix edition, Shuhei Kojima, Kenya Wakatsuki and Masataka Yoshida had the same generic theme. 

-Mejia's theme was not fully played like the 2015 edition.  

-This is the first time Kaneko makes the cut as he became a leadoff hitter at times during the year. The full slow intro is played at the beginning.  

-In the Fighters' edition, the composer added the Fighers Hymn song (the theme the use during Lucky 7) at the end.  

-For the Chiba Lotte Marines edition, the composer inserted "Saburo" Omura's theme at the end as a tribute since he retired from baseball. 

-Listen to all 12 editions and other tidbits/archives here

Lions chance (and scoring) songs can be heard here. 


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