Friday, January 11, 2019

Takagi and Saito work for goals, visions while in Australia

The Saitama Seibu Lions continued their partnership with the Melbourne Aces of the ABL in Australia for the eighth consecutive season. This year's crew featured two pitchers entering with different stages in their careers in Hayato Takagi and Hiromasa Saito.

Takagi, 29, was the Lions' free agent compensation selection from the Yomiuri Giants after they signed Ryoma Nogami after the 2017 season. Both players nearly had the same upside in this swap, but Takagi had a rough 2018 at the ichi-gun level with only one quality start and being unable to find a role.

"In the Central League, they use a lot of [bunting] and more small ball," Takagi said from an interview in November. "With the Pacific League, the hitters swing harder. I have to throw harder than I was throwing in the Central League."

This trip was a chance for a redemption path for Takagi who is looking to crack either a rotation or bullpen role with the Lions ichi-gun in 2019. In six starts for the Aces, he had a productive stretch, going 3-1 with a 3.74 ERA which included a seven-inning complete game.

With Yusei Kikuchi going to the Seattle Mariners via the posting system, Takagi's window is open for a rotation spot in a mix with Ken Togame, Kona Takahashi and Makoto Aiuchi as well as first-round draft pick Wataru Matsumoto. He will also be reunited with former Giant Tetsuya Utsumi, who was taken as an free agnet compensation for the loss of Ginjiro Sumitani.

Saito, 23, got a brief taste of ichi-gun action in 2018, but didn't get his first call up until June and made only one spot start to end the regular season. He had one win as a reliever and was used as a swing man in middle relief, but couldn't stay up the entire year.

"Personally, I didn't do well in the first season for my professional career, but as a team, the Lions won the Pacific League Pennant, so that's the greatest moment of my professional career," Saito said.

In the six weeks with the Aces, Saito was one of several reliable arms in the bullpen which gave a boost to the team. In 11 games and 16.1 innings of work in relief, he didn't give up a single earned run and had a WHIP of 0.73, giving up only six hits, six walks and two hit batters. Saito also finished five of the games while recording four holds and even a save.

As the team's 2017 first round draft pick, he knows there are some expectations from both fans and the Lions themselves. He said he isn't worried about what his role will be with the team and that he will be ready for any challenge ahead.

"[I'm not concerned] on what role I have to do for the Lions," Saito said. "Whatever the team needs, I can do it."

Both Saito and Takagi enjoyed their trip to Australia bringing up how interesting the food and animal experiences were. They saw koala and kangaroo up close, as well as tasting Vegemite, which is something Takagi thought tasted awful.

While the Lions have been long gone from the Aces since 2019 began, they definitely made an impact in the standings as manager Jon Deeble got the best out of them. Melbourne is currently in a race to try and win the Southwest division and will likely have a playoff spot.

Saito noted he wants to keep an ichi-gun job for the entire 2019 season in some capacity while both players hope to win another championship this year. After a successful business trip in Australia to boost the Aces and work on their game, everything resumes in February.

"Thank you very much for your support, please keep cheering us all over the world," Saito said.


Thank you very much to the Melbourne Aces, Steven Smith, interpreter Kobayashi-san and the Lions themselves for making this story possible. The full exclusive interview can be seen here. This interview took place in Adelaide during the second week of the ABL season. 


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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

NPB posting system: With Kikuchi in Seattle, who's next in line for MLB?

The Seattle Mariners signed Yusei Kikuchi through the posting system to ring in 2019 earlier this month. Now the question remains, who's next?

We'll help answer this question and place different categories on each player. The answers remain more complex given the situation, contract and team.

Some play for a team that doesn't post its players and they must reach nine years of service time to be an international free agent. Others are still very young and it would be foolish for the NPB to post him when there are several years of control left. Unfortunately, a few players were considered by are either old or past their prime to really do damage or have value.

I'll also insert some personal opinions on what I think these guys can end up being in MLB in a rational manner. As fun as some guys are in NPB, it may or may not translate over.

Here's what we currently have penciled in: 

Wait and see: 

There's potential, but also uncertainty. Some guys also have lots of control left in years. 

P Shota Imanaga (Yokohama DeNA Baystars): Imanaga came off a down year in 2018, but still has room to grow as he's 25. By the time he would want to be posted, he'd could be in his late 20s or early 30s and become rotation depth for a team in the future, but this is still looking way ahead.  

P Daichi Osera (Hiroshima Carp): Osera came off a breakout season after being a hyped first round pick many years ago. He's more than two years away from domestic free agent rights, but it's possible the Carp could post him, but no guarantees what he or the team wants. He's also the same Kikuchi's age and by the time he goes, he'll be likely 29 at the youngest. Could be rotation depth a few years from now. 

2B Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp): This is a complex situation. R. Kikuchi is approaching domestic free agent rights after the 2019 season concludes and the free agency system would be better off for the Carp to walk rather than post him. The starting 2B is known for his elite defense, but he's also approaching 30 and won't get any younger, which means he'll lose a step by the time he steps on an MLB field. He also has to prove he can hit after having an ugly 2018 with his bat. 

If the Carp were to post him, they would get almost nothing financially in return because of the market with position players coming from Japan not being in high demand. His bat is also a question mark and on most teams he could be a defensive replacement. The reason he's listed here is because he openly seeks a posting from the Carp. We'll see what happens. 

1B Kotaro Kiyomiya (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): Kiyomiya was one of the most hyped up high school draft picks, where seven teams tried to go for his rights in 2017. With last year being his first in NPB, he has a long way to go to prove himself, but the talent is there for him to be a slugger down the line. This is a long term project where we won't hear conversation about Kiyomiya for about 6-7 years.  

P Katsuki Azuma (Baystars): Azuma came off a strong rookie season and with scouts being in love with left-handed pitchers, he delivered. Only problem? He's 23 and we have no idea what he is. Azuma could be a rotation starter in MLB six to seven years from now if he had interest to be posted, but it's still too early to call. 

P Takahiro Norimoto (Tohoku Rakuten Eagles): Norimoto has been the Eagles' ace since Masahiro Tanaka left for the Yankees. For international play, he's been used as a reliever and it's possible MLB scouts like his pitching in spurts, rather than starts. Norimoto himself said he is putting priority on the 2020 Olympics and not MLB, so he isn't interested in posting at the time being. Logically, he could be posted after the 2020 season for 2021, where he'll be 30 by then. He could be rotation or bullpen depth depending on how the scouts see him.

OF Seiya Suzuki (Carp): Suzuki has been a key piece of the Carp outfield and will likely need to carry them with the team recently losing Yoshihiro Maru in free agency. If the Carp lived up to their penny pinching reputation, they could post before he reaches domestic free agency in 2-3 years, but like R. Kikuchi, it wouldn't make sense with the posting fee so small. It will be a matter of if Suzuki him wants to go or not, but he has potential after three seasons of nearly 30 HRs a piece. 


Free agents: 

These are guys who will be older in age and likely will be past their prime years, but should draw interest once they reach nine years of service team for international free agent rights. 

P Kodai Senga (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks): Senga is arguably the most intriguing pitcher in Japan, but playing for the Hawks will hold him back from any chance at MLB in his peak years. He'll be 26 in January, but he won't have international free agent rights until 2023. Assuming he isn't posted, Senga will be 31 by the time he plays his first MLB game in 2024. Senga has asked to be posted in the past, but the Hawks won't budge.  

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants): Sugano repeated with his second consecutive Sawamura Award and even without it, he was statistically Japan's top pitcher. He can do damage now, but he won't get international free agent rights until after the 2021 or 2022 season at the earliest. He'll be 32 or 33 by the time he plays his first MLB game, but there should be interest. 

OF Shogo Akiyama (Saitama Seibu Lions): Usually an aging veteran wouldn't be here, but Akiyama will be an international free agent after the 2019 season and already turned down an extension beyond that. While he didn't make any comments for what happens in 2020. it could be a hint that he wants to take a shot at MLB. A leadoff hitter in Japan, Akiyama is capable of reading pitches and getting on base, but does it translate to the MLB level? As said before, position players would be cheap and he would take less money for an opportunity.

OF Yuki Yanagita (Hawks): Yanagita came off an MVP caliber season in 2018, but his contract will not end until the 2021 season concludes. He'll have international rights for 2022 when he's 32. It's unclear what kind of interest MLB will have, but there's a good chance he would want a chance to play stateside.

P Kazuto Taguchi (Giants): Taguchi turns 24 in September and had a down season for 2018. Given that he's already had more than three years of service time means he has potential down the line, when he'd either be 30 or 31 by the time he reaches international free agency. He has plenty of time on his hands to turn things around and it's possible 2018 was an anomaly.

P Nick Martinez (Fighters): Martinez has a decent first year in Japan and was a front end rotation starter for the Fighters. He signed a one-year deal to return in 2019, but anything can happen after that if he puts in another decent season. He would be 30 in 2020 and the opportunity is there to go back to MLB like Colby Lewis and Miles Mikolas before him.


Guaranteed to be posted: 

OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Baystars): Tsutsugo openly admitted that he wants to play in the majors last November. He has plenty of raw power, even though the numbers are a little inflated given Yokohama's ballpark. If he were to be posted after 2019, he'll be 28 and making the adjustments to MLB will be tricky given the fastballs he would see. Scouts question his athleticism for a large guy playing in the outfield and it's also a concern if MLB teams see him as a 1B or only a power hitting DH.

Is there potential? Yes, but guarantees for position players are always slimmer given how much they need to transition. There's a very good chance the Baystars let him go if he desires it.

2B Tetsuto Yamada (Tokyo Yakult Swallows): Yamada rebounded in 2018 with a Triple-3 season (.300, 30 HR and 30 SB) after a dismal 2017. He turns 27 this year and is the most intriguing position player in Japan, but the later he leaves, the more of a decline we could see in his play. It's unclear if or when the Swallows will post him, but it's likely he wants an opportunity. He doesn't reach domestic free agency until after 2020, but it's possible the Swallows will let him go if he wants to. The power numbers won't translate to MLB, but he can easily hit gappers and is athletic enough to stay in the majors.



The Chiba Lotte Marines, Hanshin Tigers, Orix Buffaloes and Chunichi Dragons failed to make this list. That of course doesn't mean anyone isn't talented enough for future considerations, but keeping this list tight is necessary to not give false hope. Some guys are either too old or raw and haven't proven themselves enough. In some cases like Shintaro Fujinami, MLB scouts are likely turned off by his control issues which wouldn't stem well across the Pacific Ocean.

Anyone we might have disagreed with? Let us know.


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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Kikuchi gets flexibility, assimilation perks by signing in Seattle

The Seattle Mariners signed Yusei Kikuchi on January 3 to a complicated contract. At minimum, it is a three-year, $43 million deal guaranteed with two special clauses.

When the three years are up, Seattle has the right to extend his contract by four years for $66 million through the 2025 season. If this team option is declined, Kikuchi can make himself a free agent or take a one-year, $13 million player option for 2022.

On paper, this gives flexibility on both ends and lets the process play itself out. The losers in all of this are the Saitama Seibu Lions, who posted him on the market last December. As Jim Allen pointed out, the Mariners will save some money if the four-year team option kicks in by waiting, rather than a signing a straight up 7-year deal. From percentages going down, there's no interest involved and in the short term, the Lions will make less than $10 million from the $43 million guaranteed up front.

There were several takeaways from Yusei Kikuchi's press conference which can be seen below.

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto revealed that Kikuchi will be eased into the rotation for his first year to get acclimated on a traditional 5-day rotation. It's clear this was the top selling point as to why Kikuchi and his agent Scott Boras picked the Mariners over other teams.

As NPB fans know, Japan will have starting pitchers go once a week as opposed to every four or five days. This also means pitch count is significantly higher for a starter with less concern because of the longer break time in NPB.

While Kikuchi will have his starts every five to six days, the Mariners will ease him in for 2019 and it's likely he could function as an opener or be on a pitch count for a select number of games. Dipoto said they wouldn't be conservative in this approach, but it's likely they could set it up for once a month where he partakes in a bullpening game.

The Mariners can afford to do this because they are openly rebuilding with the recent trading of Robinson Cano and James Paxton. Seattle currently has the longest playoff drought in all four major North American Sports Leagues (NHL, MLB, NFL, NBA) as well as NPB combined with their last postseason year being in 2001, the first season of Ichiro Suzuki.

With the recent core showing they couldn't get it done and Felix Hernandez showing signs that he is past his prime, Dipoto made the right call to build for the future and got a decent package in return for Paxton while also dumping an albatross contract with Cano.

Other major league teams reportedly offered Kikuchi seven-year deals, but wanted him to help their rotation right away for every five days. It's likely the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies all had higher financial offers on the table, but Kikuchi and Boras went with long term career over economic gains.

In Seattle, the pressure won't be as extreme as New York or Philadelphia despite the starving fan base waiting for a postseason. Yes, there will be talks about comparisons to his fellow countrymen from Ichiro to Hisashi Iwakuma to Kazuhiro Sasaki and more, but Kikuchi is embracing it. It doesn't hurt that city of Seattle sells itself given its connections to Japan. He'll be right at home.

Kikuchi speaking in English and practicing since high school can also lead to a good impression with his stateside teammates and staff. Sure, it's easy to be in your comfort zone behind an interpreter as any foreigner going to Asia does, but he clearly tried to limit his use of Japanese in his opening presser. Even Boras himself said he never met a player making this kind of effort.

The only drawback and possible catch to Kikuchi is health. He's had plenty of injury prone history from shoulder pain to elbow stiffness. Prior to the 2015 season, he was already viewed by some as a bust for not staying healthy, not showing signs of an ace and beginning the year in ni-gun despite all the hype he received out of high school.

It wasn't until 2017 where Kikuchi put a full season together while being healthy and nearly won the Sawamura Award, which is viewed as one of Japan's top pitching honors. Most recently, he missed one month in 2018 where he played through a shoulder injury.

It's also easy for the talks about Shohei Ohtani being that he's in the same division as the Mariners with the Los Angeles Angels.  The Japanese crowd will get it just as much because of their high school connection to Hanamaki Higashi, where Kikuchi was the predecessor to Ohtani.

They saw each other quite a bit in the Pacific League and most notably, Ohtani outdueled Kikuchi on the final day of the 2016 regular season, where the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters won the pennant thanks to a 1-0 victory over the Lions. 

The tradition of Japanese players in Seattle continues, while Kikuchi will given the best opportunity to adapt to the Major League game. There is nowhere near the same fanfare that Ohtani received nor does he have the same upside or talent, but as a late bloomer who was once viewed as an injury-prone bust, Kikuchi can finally shine and accomplish his dream of MLB and doing it on his terms.

Best of luck, Yusei.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Lions want to Catch the Glory in 2019

The Saitama Seibu Lions enter 2019 with different aspirations and a new slogan. "Catch The Glory" will be the team's new motto as manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji unveiled it on Thursday morning.

Their full slogan is "Catch the Glory, 新時代、熱狂しろ (shinjidai, Nekyo shiro) Which is referring to a new generation of players with a fresh amount of enthusiasm for next year.

Last year's slogan had "栄光をつかみ獲れ" Eiko o Tsukami tore which was Grab the Glory on Japanese written on the bottom. In this case, the Lions will be hoping to reload their roster with plenty of younger players needing to step it up. They lost Ginjiro Sumitani and Hideto Asamura to free agency while Yusei Kikuchi will be playing in MLB next year. This is also a contract year for Shogo Akiyama where he will have international FA rights for 2020.

Tsuji and the Lions management know this will be a new age of Lions players in the coming years while the veterans will have their roles diminished or completely gone within the next 2-3 years. Players like Kazuki Kaneko, Haruka Yamada, Nien Ting Wu, Kakeru Yamanobe and Wataru Matsumoto are hoping to fill some roles left out from last year's team.

The 2018 season was the Lions first Pacific League pennant since 2008 and they're hoping to build off of it. Their odds to repeat this accomplishment is unlikely given there is no ace and Asamura has signed with the Rakuten Eagles.

It will be up to the farm and young players to catch the glory if this team is to succeed in 2019. Tsuji mentioned in the unveiling how the next generation of Lions players have the opportunity to move up and take a role for the upcoming season and beyond.


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Gurazeni exploits darker themes, cruel side of NPB

Professional baseball may look easy on the outside because players make lots of money, but Gurazeni's second season shows otherwise. After a solid introduction to the show and concept in Season 1, the writers are able to go in-depth with character development and show what really happens behind the scenes.

Protagonist Natsunosuke Bonda goes through more adventures through the season, though Season 1 cut off right at the Interleague break. Despite the four month break between both seasons, this show is almost in exact sync with the real life 2018 NPB season as Bonda returns from a four-month injury. It picks up right where we left off wondering how the Jingu Spiders do as they make a run for the Central League Pennant.

Season 2 is less about what happens on the baseball field and more related to what happens from the business and player perspective. There is less action with pitching and games played, but the build up towards the end is exactly the Money Pitch everyone has been waiting for. Fittingly, "pitch" has multiple definitions as it's not always about throwing a baseball.

A good thing is the teasers are minor and we learn more about Yuki-chan, who was introduced in the Season 1 finale. We see some interaction and after seeing her in the credits of Season 1, we're understanding her role beyond just being Bonda's love interest.

Overall, the segments involved with Yuki-chan might end up leading to no direction to a diehard anime fanatic, but it makes plenty of sense given how Japan works. It's full of teases.

Other story lines are not just focused on Bonda's payday or what his salary is, but also the tales of those around him. We learn about Roppa Itsuki, a teammate who has been mostly tearing up the minors, but has issues cracking time at the ichi-gun.

We also see recurring characters seen from Season 1, where broadcaster Toku-san's backstory of post-retirement from his playing days has been a transition to being a color commentator. Tohko-San was the team's 4th catcher and ends up facing the challenge of wanting to still play after being cut by the Spiders.

This season does a good job at mixing up the story arcs without being overly obsessed and focused with Bonda himself. Viewers already know the concept of the show and it does a nice job expanding it when introducing other story lines.

As earlier mentioned, this show as in sync with the 2018 NPB season with events nearly happening at the same time. From Thanks Festa, to senryokugai tryouts Japan Series and salary negotiations.

The 24-episode build up goes to the finale, where Bonda sits face-to-face with Spiders executives and agree on a salary for the next year. After being told that Bonda makes only ¥18 million for the season, he aims to get a raise with his play on the field and using a number of factors to build his value. This is when Bonda gives his money-pitch to the team on why he's worth more instead of just taking the offer they present on the table.

Gurazeni avoids the cliche of a player trying to be the best and covers an angle about survival to stay relevant. Not everything is rosy and easy for a baseball player, because not everyone is as rich as Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, or Hayato Sakamoto. This is about players trying to find relevance and stay productive in their work place, similar to how any shakaijin are at their everyday jobs.

What makes this show great is the slice of life angle where even an average Joe can relate to what Bonda and the others in the baseball business are going through in order to keep their work position. There are plenty of struggles along the way from the business side of NPB and we see that among anyone who isn't a star.

Bonda knows very well how important it is to perform on the big stage, or in this case, the mound. It will setup a possible payday or pay cut later down the line. Whether it's his ERA, innings pitched or number of mound appearances in the season, Bonda knows he has to cling to whatever accomplishments he has in order to get that potential pay raise.

Many stories are told and portrayed in an indirect manner and with Bonda narrating about his past, but it's not predictable and has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting.

Let's hope this show is renewed for another season, but if this one is only going for 24 episodes, it ended on a very strong note to subvert any expectations. This show is built for any diehard baseball fan who follows the concepts of payroll, Moneyball and business. If you're one who follows NPB, this show's themes should enhance your perspective on Pro Yakyu.


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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Lions select Utsumi from Giants as compensation for loss of Sumitani

The Saitama Seibu Lions made their move on Thursday when they selected Tetsuya Utsumi as compensation for Ginjiro Sumitani. By taking the player compensation option, the Lions will also receive ¥44 million in cash.

Utsumi, who will turn 37 in April, has been a long mainstay of the Yomiuri Giants. In his 15 year career, Utsumi has pitched 140 innings in nine of those seasons. Most recently in 2018, he went 5-5 with a 4.17 ERA in 82 innings of work through 15 ichi-gun games.

For his career, he has a total of 133 wins with a 3.21 ERA. He was originally a Jiyu waku draft pick of the Giants in 2003, where teams were able to forego the first round in order to sign a player they really wanted.

By taking an aging veteran, he doesn't come cheap as he'll make ¥100 million in 2019. He is also slated to be a free agent after the 2019 season, but for the Lions, he would require compensation as he's expected to be a Type B free agent based on their payroll among Japanese players.

Utsumi is a short term fix as the Lions have felt the need for left-handed pitching. In 2018 alone, Utsumi becomes the third left-handed pitcher picked up by the Lions from a Central League team, where the first two were Daiki Enokida (via trade) and Ryuya Ogawa (via "trade" of cash considerations).

On paper, Utsumi can help the rotation right away, but being at age 37, he won't have upside or a long career with the Lions. While his role diminished in favor of other pitchers with the Giants, He'll have a full opportunity to win a starting job, as Enokida is the only other LHP from last season penciled in the rotation.

The Lions are also hoping he can serve as an extra mentor to the younger inexperienced pitchers who still need to contribute to the ichi-gun.

We've conducted a poll on Twitter and vote if you're able to. Among Lions fans, it feels like people are expecting Utsumi to only last for one year, then go back to the Giants in free agency. If that happens, we'll be playing this compensation game all over again.


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Friday, December 7, 2018

Gurazeni meets NPB: What is 18 million worth?

Gurazeni is a baseball anime that premiered last spring. You can read our spoiler-free Season 1 review here. A cool trivial fact is how Fukushi Ochiai, the son of legendary Chunichi Dragons player and manager Hiromitsu Ochiai is the voice of the show's protagonist.

For a show that is focused on money, Natsunosuke Bonda, the main protagonist makes only ¥18 million yen in the first season. It's documented how much he wants to make more and make a comfortable living, given that he has a limited time for his playing career.

In reality, it is the cruel side of professional sports for any athlete, how doing well creates a payday while losing can lead to being cut.

Here, we will take a look at the reported salaries of 2018 and see who matched what Bonda made. We'll summarize a brief skinny on each player and see their status for 2019.

As a bonus, we can also compare how closely related each player is to Bonda, as someone striving to stay up at the ichi-gun or not. While not everyone is a left-handed pitching specialist like Bonda, we're looking at the concept of someone hoping to keep their job.

Some guys may be a veteran on his last legs while others could be a prospect making ¥18 million. For the record, Bonda was the last person drafted out of high school and is 26 years old.

We have also rounded up or down if there was a salary that said ¥17.1 or ¥18.9 just to give a little more wiggle room for more players to include in the sample size. To include all 12 teams, a few were rounded down or up even greater.


OF Shota Ishimine (Chiba Lotte Marines)

2018 Salary: ¥18.4 million

2018 Slashline: .283/.389/.326 in 18 ichi-gun games.

Ishimine had a once promising career and was a first round draft pick by the Marines in 2011. Unfortunately, things have fallen out of favor given there is an outfield logjam. A mediocre 2013 and
2014 led him to being benched and is mostly a reserve outfielder.

Relation to Bonda: 25%. Ishimine won't be an ichi-gun regular anytime soon and is just there for depth. Being a first round pick to falling out of favor doesn't compare as easy.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. His role has diminished since 2015 and hasn't played more than 60 ichi-gun games since 2014. Ishimine's salary was reduced to ¥15.4 million.


P Yuki Saito (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

2018 Salary: ¥18.3 million

2018 Stats: (0-1), 7.27 ERA, 8.2 innings pitched, three ichi-gun games.

Saito is likely the most famous player in Japan not named Ichiro Suzuki. He is forever the 2006 Summer Koshien hero, where he outdueled Masahiro Tanaka in 24 innings, spanning two days in the final. There's a good chance even the non-sports fan in Japan knows this name.

Instead of going straight out of high school like Tanaka, he went to University and became a first round pick, where four teams wanted his rights in 2010. Saito's career has gone backwards since, thanks to injuries and being overworked prior to the Fighters.

His first two years were promising, but hasn't been able to recover from shoulder problems. Early on, he had a complete game on opening day in 2012.

Saito is forever a cash cow who can live off what he did in high school as the Fighters can still rake from this today. He will always a loyal following of fans for being a Koshien legend, but it's unsure when his playing career will end. Either way, he's lined up financially for life because of his high school accomplishments.

Today, Saito is mostly a spot starter who might make an appearance out of the bullpen here and there, though he is the punchline of jokes among the English speaking NPB crowd.

Relation to Bonda: 0%. Saito's high school career is beyond unique and while both guys have their struggles, Bonda can't relate to this story of being a first round bust and high school legend.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Saito's salary dropped to ¥15 million for 2019.

OF Yuki Miyazaki (Orix Buffaloes)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Slashline: .238/.325/.335. 3 home runs in 84 at-bats. Played in 33 ichi-gun games.

Miyazaki was a third round shakaijin draft pick by Orix back in 2010, but has mostly seen time as a reserve outfielder. At age 32, he doesn't have as much upside and it's likely Orix would prefer going in a younger direction. The most ichi-gun games he has played in a season is 53 back in 2013.

Relation to Bonda: 60%. Miyazaki is still trying to claw his way and stay at the ichi-gun, but he bounces up and down and can't be a regular. Being a veteran who may not last is the only thing that keeps this percentage from being higher.

Pay cut or pay raise: Neither. Orix kept him at status quo of ¥18 million.


C Shuta Takajo (Orix Buffaloes)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Slashline: .136/.183/.152 in 28 ichi-gun games with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Takajo was traded in the middle of the season from the Baystars to the Buffaloes which saw a swap in catchers. He was the third catcher on the Baystars and had no ichi-gun games with the Buffaloes. He's 25 years old, but Orix likely sees him as just roster depth. Takajo was originally a second round pick by the Baystars out of high school in 2011.

Relation to Bonda: 25%. Takajo is just trying to keep his job and likely won't crack ichi-gun time unless there's an injury. He's a depth catcher at best.

Pay cut or pay raise: Neither. Orix retained his ¥18 million salary for 2019. Once again though, he has a huge uphill battle as a reserve catcher.


IF Hiroyuki Shirasaki (Orix Buffaloes)

2018 Salary: ¥18.5 million

2018 Slashline: .239/.288/.358 in 30 ichi-gun games with Orix

.185/.200/.241 in 34 ichi-gun games with DeNA

Shirasaki was also involved in the trade that saw Takajo go to Orix with him. He was a first round pick by the Baystars out of college in 2012, but never panned out. In 2013. he played 101 games and had an OPS below .600.  A once promising prospect when drafted, it's safe to say he was a bust.

At best, Shirasaki can be a defensive replacement, but earned some starts at the end of the year with Orix's season already over.

Relation to Bonda: 70%. While Shirasaki was a prospect at one point in his career, he's fighting his way for ichi-gun time with Orix. He could be a specialist to come in for defense like how Bonda is designed for left-handed hitters. Only difference is how Shirasaki was a first round pick.

Pay cut or pay raise: Neither. Shirasaki's ichi-gun time at the end of the year prevented any decrease and he will make ¥18.5 million in 2019.

P Shoma Fujihira (Rakuten Eagles)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Stats: (4-7), 4.43 ERA, 1 CG, 81.1 IP, 68 K, 14 ichi-gun games

Fujihira was the Eagles first round draft pick in 2016. He got a decent workload for a kid who was taken out of high school and naturally struggled. While looking good in some innings, he would often hang a pitch or two up for a home run and remain vulnerable for a frame.

The Eagles of course see him as a future ace where there is plenty of room for him to grow at 20 years old.

Relation to Bonda: 0%. Fujihira is one of the top pitching prospects for the Eagles as the team sees him as a future ace. He had his ups and downs, but it's all part of the growing process.

Pay cut or pay raise: Neither. Fujihira's average season in his sophomore year of NPB didn't cause change as he'll make ¥18 million in 2019.


C Yuichi Adachi (Rakuten Eagles)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Slashline: .111/.158/.111 in 18 AB, 20 ichi-gun games.

Adachi was the third catcher for the Eagles behind Motohiro Shima and Ayatsugu Yamashita. At age 29, he doesn't have the upside that younger catchers on the team have and it's likely he's near the end. Surprisingly, he survived the senryokugai roster cuts as Toru Hosokawa was the casualty removed.

Relation to Bonda: 30%. Adachi is not an ichi-gun regular and is a tier below Bonda on the roster. As the third catcher with plenty of competition behind him, it doesn't look as good.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Short time with the ichi-gun reduced his salary to ¥15 million.


OF Fumikazu Kimura (Saitama Seibu Lions)

2018 Salary: ¥18.6 million

2018 Slashline: .260/.330/.413 in 104 AB, 75 ichi-gun games,

Kimura is the top defensive replacement for the Lions when playing in right field. A converted pitcher, the Lions initially drafted in the first round of 2006 before he switched to being a full time position player in 2013. Every once in awhile, he would spell a regular starter if facing a let handed pitcher. He also hit a sayonara HR in 2018.

Relation to Bonda: 75%. Kimura has found a way to survive as a position player after not panning out as a pitcher. Today, he knows what he's supposed to do on defense and that likely defines what he is. A part time position player who can come in as a defensive replacement.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay Raise. Kimura fulfilled his role on defense and had a decent bat as a spell outfielder to earn ¥23.6 million. He'll never be an everyday starter as Hatsuhiko Tsuji saw it didn't work in 2017, but he has duty and did it well in 2018.


P Akira Niho (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

2018 Salary: ¥17 million

2018 Stats: (1-0), 5.34 ERA, 30.1 IP, 17 K, 1 SB in 35 ichi-gun games.

Niho saw ichi-gun action for the first time since 2015 as he came off Tommy John surgery. He played in mostly medium and low leverage outings, but getting work is a good start for him. Niho was originally a second round ikusei pick out of high school for the Hawks in 2008. He could be a middle relief arm and is still useful in his late 20s.

Relation to Bonda: 80%. Niho being an ikusei makes it all but more relate-able to Bonda as someone to had to work his way up. It's likely he gets more middle relief outings in 2019.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay raise. Getting back to the ichi-gun had his wages go up to ¥20 million.


OF Tomoaki Egawa (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

2018 Salary: ¥17 million

2018 Slashline: .600/.600/1.400 in five AB, five ichi-gun games.

Egawa only saw a little bit of ichi-gun time and at age 32, it's likely to stay at a small rate given how many players are in front of him on the depth chart. He has only played more than 50 games in a single season once, back in 2013. As a reserve outfielder, his upside isn't there to do much.

Relation to Bonda: 30%. While Egawa is fighting for playing time, it's likely that other players block him from doing so. He's nothing more than depth behind Yuki Yanagita, Akira Nakamura and more.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Playing only five ichi-gun games dropped his salary to ¥14 million.


P Yoshinori Sato (Tokyo Yakult Swallows) 

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Stats: (1-2), 4.46 ERA, 34.1 IP, 37 K, 7 ichi-gun games

The Swallows are the NPB team Gurazeni is based off of, as the fictional name is Jingu Spiders. However, Sato is far from being Bonda's counterpart in career path.

Sato was a highly touted first round pick for his high school accomplishments back in 2007, where several teams were interested in him. He looked to be a very promising starter in the front end of his career, but several shoulder injuries and problems derailed it.

He had an extended gap of ichi-gun games after the 2011 season and didn't work his way back until 2016. Sato has spent multiple stints as an ikusei as a result, which includes as most recent as the 2018 season. While he has spot started on occasion, the injuries and several surgeries only leave question marks to his career on what could've been.

Sato was recently cut by the team at the end of the year and went through a tryout. He was signed to an ikusei deal by the Rakuten Eagles.

Relation to Bonda: 5%. Like Yuki Saito, Sato had a great high school career and was highly touted. While his comeback from injury was a great story, he has a name brand recognition that Bonda doesn't have. Today, he will be fighting his way to hope for a 70-man roster spot with the Eagles.

Pay cut or Pay raise: Pay cut. Sato made plenty of money in the beginning of his career, but he's going to make less than ¥3.5 million as an ikusei with Rakuten.


IF Yasuhiro Yamamoto (Yomiuri Giants)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Slashline: .255/.340/.314 in 102 AB, 38 ichi-gun games

Yamamoto was a 5th round draft pick out of college by the Giants in 2015. He is a reserve and mostly part-time player for his first three years in the league as this year was a career-high in ichi-gun games. In his rookie year of 2016, he started 18 of his 27 games played.

Relation to Bonda: 40%. Yamamoto is hoping to crack more ichi-gun time, but he also has fringe prospect status.

Pay cut or Pay raise: Slight pay raise. The Giants factored in his ichi-gun progression and his stock took a bump to ¥18.5 million as a result.


IF Taketoshi "Gomez" Goto (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

2018 Salary: ¥18.9 million

2018 Slashline: .000/.000/.000. One strikeout in his lone plate appearance and ichi-gun game for 2018.

Gomez has been a veteran of the league and initially started his career with the Lions back in 2003. With others emerging and while given a starting role in his first year, his playing time diminished and was eventually traded to the Baystars. Gomez never played more than 70 ichi-gun games after he had 101 in his rookie season.

This past year, he had a retirement ceremony and only one at-bat, which resulted in a strikeout last September. He accepted a position to work as the ni-gun hitting coach for the Rakuten Eagles in 2019.

Relation to Bonda: 0%. Gomez came off a retirement season and had a long lengthy career off the bench.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Coaches usually make less than players and he will need to work his way up the hierarchy if he wants to continues his career in baseball.


P Junki Ito (Chunichi Dragons)

2018 Salary: ¥17 million

2018 Stats: (2-0), 3.95 ERA, 13.2 IP, 6 K, 11 ichi-gun games

Ito saw a career-high 39 games in 2017 and has mostly seen time out of the bullpen. His role diminished in 2018 and was part of a bullpen that continued to shuffle players in and out. He was originally a second round draft pick out of high school by the Dragons back in 2008.

Relation to Bonda: 85%. In a lot of ways, he is the closest thing to Bonda if we were recapping the 2017 season given his age and being a HS draft pick. Of course he's right handed and not truly a specialist against right-handed hitters like how Bonda is built for lefties. Ito had his ups and downs like Bonda.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Ito saw less innings in 2018 and his reported salary dropped to ¥14 million.


P Takaya Toda (Hiroshima Carp)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Stats: (0-0), 5.19 ERA, 17.1 IP, 13 K, 7 ichi-gun games

Toda was a frequent reliever for the Carp back in 2014-2015, but switched to being a starter in 2016. He initially came up as a spot starter when Hiroki Kuroda was injured in 2015 and mostly saw long relief innings after that.

An injury accident where he fell in the dormitory resulted in ligament damage and he hasn't recovered since. The Carp have only used him in a soft role out of the bullpen as others jumped him on the depth chart.

At age 25, there is still a chance he can contribute and he's also close to Bonda's age. Toda was originally taken in the third round of the 2011 draft out of high school.

Relation to Bonda: 60%. Toda may have lost his role from a few years ago, but he still has an opportunity to do more.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Seven ichi-gun game appearances didn't help his cause. His reported salary for 2019 dropped to ¥16 million.


P Tsuyoshi Ishizaki (Hanshin Tigers)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Stats: (0-0), 4.20 ERA, 15 IP, 23 K, 12 ichi-gun games

Ishizaki appeared to have had a breakout year in 2017 when part of a loaded Hanshin Tigers bullpen. A 3/4 arm slot pitcher, he helped contribute in middle relief. The wheels started to fall off in 2018, where the bullpen had others emerge and he struggled in the first half of the year and was eventually sent down for it.

For his 2017 season, he was named to Samurai Japan for the exhibitions before the 2018 season. Recently, he had his right elbow cleaned out in June. He's 28 and could still do damage out of the bullpen, but came off a down season. Ishizaki was originally a second round pick out of college in 2014.

Relation to Bonda: 75%. A reliever who hasn't completely established himself yet? Pretty close to Bonda. He has a larger window to do more despite his age being 28. Ishizaki should be part of a bullpen that hopes to recover next year.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay cut. Inability to stay at the ichi-gun when healthy dropped his salary to ¥14.4 million.


P Taiki Ono (Hanshin Tigers)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Stats: (7-7), 4.77 ERA, 126.1 IP, 96 K, 23 ichi-gun games

Ono was a second round draft pick of the Tigers out of college in 2016. He was able to crack ichi-gun games in his rookie year and was a starter for most of 2018 as well. This past year, he struggled with control and had several walks, leading to a high ERA. At age 24, he is still a work in progress for the Tigers and could develop into a mid-rotation starter.

Relation to Bonda: 20%. Ono completed his second year in NPB and still has time to grow.

Pay cut or Pay raise: Pay raise. Ono staying at the ichi-gun level gave his salary a boost to ¥27 million for 2019. Unlike most of the people on this list, Ono still has upside.


OF Hayata Ito (Hanshin Tigers)

2018 Salary: ¥18 million

2018 Slashline: .247/335/.340, 150 AB, 172 PA, 96 ichi-gun games

Ito was a hyped up first round pick of the Tigers back in 2011 and was thought to be a future outfielder. He had some great accomplishments at the college level back in the Tokyo Big6.

At the professional level, Ito struggled to crack ichi-gun time and showed he lacks defense. In the Yutaka Wada era, he never played more than 63 games. When Tomoaki Kanemoto took over in 2016, he found use for Ito as a pinch hitter in 2017 and that has kept him afloat at the ichi-gun level. With a new era in Tigers history coming up, it's unclear what his role will be in 2019 and beyond, because he doesn't have upside at age 29.

Relation to Bonda: 80%. Ito is still trying to stay relevant at the ichi-gun after being a first round bust like the many already listed here. As someone who comes up in a pinch, Ito can indeed relate to Bonda.

Pay cut or Pay raise: Pay raise. The Tiger gave him a bump in salary to ¥22 million for playing more than half the season.



In total we had five players get a raise, eight get a pay cut while five of them remained status quo with the same salary as 2018. Goto would count as a ninth pay cut given he retired and now serves as a coach.

Seven of these players were former first round draft picks and some had quite the hype. In total, we have seven players who are on the fringe of staying as an ichi-gun player while hoping to fight for more playing time. Others are still prospects who have more upside than what Bonda has.

When it comes to a consensus, there are several players who would be considered journeymen if they were stateside ballplayers. Definitely not great, but good enough to be at the ichi-gun. Kimura, J. Ito and H. Ito fit in this category.

The ¥18 million salary is definitely a fun measuring stick and maybe this exercise could be done in future seasons to determine what it really means.


Bonus: Closest resemblance to Bonda

P Ryuya Ogawa (Seibu Lions) 

2018 Salary: ¥12 million

2018 Stats: (1-0), 1.59 ERA, 15 ichi-gun games.

Ogawa was drafted out of high school initially in the second round by the Dragons back in 2009. At age 27, he easily resembles Bonda the most given his side arm abilities and being left-handed.

Ignoring the fact that he's a pitcher and built for lefties, Ogawa has struggled to find a role prior to coming to the Lions. He played 44 ichi-gun games for the Dragons in 2016, but fell out of favor when Shigekazu Mori went with younger pitchers in the bullpen. Ogawa was traded to the Lions in the middle of the 2018 season for cash considerations.

With the Lions, he was eased in through ni-gun and later saw action in middle relief against left-handed hitters. Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji gave him an extended look at put Ogawa in early as a swingman to take up one batter or two, but mostly saw time against lefties.

For a player who is trying to survive like Bonda, there's no question he has the closest resemblance among current NPB players. The Lions bullpen next season will hope he can take middle relief innings and be part of a group that can provide stability if they have the lead.

Pay cut or pay raise: Pay raise. His salary went up to ¥17 million for his role last season.


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