|Shigekazu Mori is on the hot seat entering his second full season as Chunichi Dragons manager|
In sports, it's always a question mark to wonder who is in danger of losing their position, which we often call the hot seat. Some sports like soccer and hockey are very short-sighted where a firing can happen when a long losing streak takes place. Others will look at the work within the last few years, while different situations draw a reason for this.
In NPB, no manager is "fired" on paper, but there are forced resignations by upstairs management. Manager changes during the season are rare, though it has happened once in each year from 2014-2016 with Haruki Ihara, Hiroshi Moriwaki and Motonobu Tanishige all stepping away. An interesting thing in NPB is how teams will formally announce each manager returning for the following year, even if he isn't on the hot seat/
Thorough this exercise, we'll look at all 12 NPB managers and examine their situation with a ranking from top to bottom. Here are some factors we'll be using to determine the rankings from 1-12 with 1 having the hottest heat, to 12 having the coldest.
What have you done for me lately?: Firing usually happen due to a lack of winning more times than not. Looking at a manger's track record is good, but the window within the last few years is where it matters most when making a bold decision.
Situation: Not all managers are there to win now. How does he do with the talent around him? Is the team supposed to contend or rebuild? Does the manager serve his purpose for a period of time before he's expendable?
Surroundings: Is there Wa/和 among the manager and the players? Does he make the right moves at the right time? Which market are they managing in?
As we rank these managers from 1-2, we'll also throw in an imaginary temperature for the hot seat where anything hotter than boiling water (212 °F, 100 °C) has a better chance of change if there is failure in 2018.
1. Shigekazu Mori (Chunichi Dragons)
Mori was brought in as an interim manager in 2016 when Tanishige was forced out by then-front office leader Hiromitsu Ochiai. After coming in last place (58-82-3, .414) when managing a portion of 2016, Mori's Dragons only took a slight step up going 57-79-5 (.428) in 2017 and they avoided last place due to a historically poor season from the Yakult Swallows
The Dragons admitted to rebuilding when 2017 started as it is a new era with a different front office regime. Unfortunately, they're still feeling the effects of the last decade where they held on to their veterans too long and failed to develop their draft picks under Ochiai. The team is mostly younger entering 2018, but it doesn't help that they have the longest A-class drought in NPB having not been in the postseason since 2012. In the NPB era starting in 1950, the Dragons had never finished in the bottom 3 for four consecutive years until now as they've reached five.
It's likely that Mori is in a no-win situation unless the Dragons win the pennant as he overwatches a rebuild. I personally view Mori as a caretaker serving his purpose to lead the the team for two years before someone else is lined up. Most people believe that farm manager Michihiro "guts" Ogasawara is lined up to be the long term candidate and it makes sense to groom him for two years. Mori is likely to take the fall and be replaced if Chunichi feels he's ready.
This could be a 3-year plan with Mori, but it's also possible that it's for two years. Having a similar record to 2017 can't b good no matter the rebuilding phase the team is in. It could be a lame duck year no matter what happens, but it depends on if Chunichi has a two or three year plan with Mori. Temperature: 500 (°C), 932 (°F)
2. Yoshinobu Takahashi (Yomiuri Giants)
The Yomiuri Giants finished in B-class for the first time since 2006. They suffered a franchise-record 13-game losing streak in the middle of the year as they came up short by only two games. In response, the Giants changed only their front office with Yoshitaka Katori in charge.
Two straight years of Japan's "National Team" in B-class would be an ultimate embarrassment for the nation and it wouldn't look good on Takahashi. If it were to happen, it would only be the second time in franchise history with the first being from 2005-2006. Some say the only way a winning Giants team would fire Takahashi is if Hideki Matsui took the position, but that's still a long shot. Some even view Shinnosuke Abe to be a manager when he retires someday. Temperature: 350 (°C), 662 (°F)
3. Junji Ogawa (Yakult Swallows)
Ogawa returns as Swallows manager for the first time since 2014 as he spent the last three years working in the front office. He had early success from 2011-2012, but injuries piled up and a last place finish came in 2014.
Hiring Ogawa is has indication of a caretaker similar to how Mori is with the Dragons. With a poor offense, the Swallows are admitting they need to rebuild despite having Tetsuto Yamada and Wladimir "Coco" Balentien. Most people see two possible candidates lined up for the long term with head coach Shinya Miyamoto and farm manager Shingo Takatsu with the former having no prior coaching experience.
The Swallows are often viewed as the Mets of Japan. Fittingly, both teams had an awful injury bug where everything went wrong in 2017. Wins and losses will not determine whether Ogawa goes one and done or not. It will be about the on-field progress from better hitting and a more competent bullpen. If progress isn't there, the Swallows could force something earlier. Temperature: 213 (°C), 415 (°F)
4. Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)
The Baystars have done nothing but make progress once they get to the postseason. However, in both seasons under Rami-chan, they've barely clinched A-class by default in 2016 with a losing record and in 2017 benefiting from a Giants 13-game losing streak. It took the final week of the regular season to secure their spot in the postseason for 2017. The Baystars themselves didn't even announce Rami-chan was safe until after the regular season.
Rami-chan is ranked higher despite winning a playoff series in 2016 and going to the Japan Series in 2017 because he is a foreigner. This sounds unfair, but the team has been mediocre until they reach October and in reality, he's the beneficiary of several rebuilding years where the foundation was laid prior to his arrival. The Baystars have solid starting pitching and Rami-chan prepares for all the advantages, but the offense is still inconsistent and home run dependent with a flawed bullpen.
Everything seems find and dandy now, but the Baystars need a better regular season than the last two years before we start saying he's a lock to be safe. Temperature: 110 (°C), 230 (°F)
5. Junichi Fukura (Orix Buffaloes)
The Orix Buffaloes let Moriwaki go in the middle of 2015 and have kept their interim manager Fukura since. Orix had a civil war between two executives fighting for power within themselves, but that ended after 2016 when one guy was kept and the other was dismissed. Most recently, both men from that war are gone as Ryuzo Setoyama is no longer with the organization.
In all of this, Fukura was a yes-man and placeholder during the upstairs war and hasn't left his position since Shigetoshi Hasegawa has been in charge of the front office. Results are not kind since Fukura took over with a last place finish in 2016 and a distant fourth place in 2017. The last place finish in 2016 alone should've been a reason to find someone else, but Orix preferred the status quo with the players liking him.
Fukura should be an assistant and was supposed to be a placeholder, but the longer he's manager, the more it feels like the front office of Orix doesn't care. Front offices are supposed to get their own personnel once they take over, but it hasn't happened yet. Maybe losing will poke the bear, but talent along can get Orix to A-class as well. Only fans would be the ones to run him out. Temperature: 88 (°C), 190 (°F)
6. Hideki Kuriyama (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)
Kuriyama is currently the longest tenured manager in NPB having held his position since 2012. His team won the Japan series in 2016, but had an awful and forgettable 2017. Shohei Ohtani was forced back a little earlier than he should've been, but even with his injury, the team regressed big time.
He has shown to be a smart manager who can get the most out of his player defensively and offensively, but the pitching needs to get better. It's likely another rebuilding year for a young Fighters team, but at least the hot seat won't be from the front office if he leaves his position. Despite the losing, Kuriyama is likely at a point in his career when he can step away on his own terms rather than management forcing the issue. That alone is why he drops from this ranking compared to being near the top. Temperature: 57 (°C), 135 (°F)
7. Koichi Ogata (Hiroshima Carp)
Ogata underachieved in his first season of 2015, but the Carp have won the pennant in back-to-back seasons. Some passive moves in the 2016 Japan Series cost him a possible championship, but fans and management alike have to be on the same page with their recent winning.
Could Ogata be a victim of his own success? It's possible. The Carp pitchers arguably overachieved in 2017 and given the talent they have, expectations will continue to remain high in 2018. With other teams up and coming, the Carp may not keep their position from the last two years and be in a dog fight for A-class this year. Temperature: 52 (°C), 125.6 (°F)
8. Hatsuhiko Tsuji (Saitama Seibu Lions)
The Lions came in second place and the first time in A-class since 2013 in Tsuji's first year. Suddenly, the expectations become larger and like Ogata, he could be a victim of his own success. Was last year a fluke or is this team for real after being in mediocrity from 2014-2016?
Given all the talent that this Lions team has, Tsuji can't be out of danger yet compared to teh rest of the field. However, as long as the defense doesn't break, the Lions management should approve what he does. Temperature: 40 (°C), 104 (°F)
9. Tomoaki Kanemoto (Hanshin Tigers)
Kanemoto took over in 2016 and admitted that this team needs to rebuild. It showed in his first year with a B-class finish, but he got plenty of younger player playing time as a result. The Tigers finished Year 2 with strong progress having a solid second place finish, arguably a year ahead of schedule and doing it without Shintaro Fujinami. Results speak for themselves and fans have to like the sentimental feeling of a now Hall of Famer leading the team he once played for to possible glory.
The second year for a manager with Hanshin has shown it's a make or break season and it appears Kanemoto passed that test. Expectations are always through the roof in the Kansai market and that alone is why he's ranked higher than some others on this list despite coming in second. Besides the Kyojin, the spotlight is always on the Tigers and any wrongdoings will be magnified.
Interestingly enough, our buddy T-Ray has criticized Kanemoto as "Wacky Tomoaki", but his name recognition and results are what has likely drawn good will in Osaka. Temperature: 37 (°C), 99 (°F)
10. Tadahito Iguchi (Chiba Lotte Marines)
Iguchi steps away as a player and becomes the team's manager right away. Some have been waiting for this moment since they won the 2010 Japan Series. On paper, he has all the right leadership skills needed to be the skipper.
For a guy who hasn't managed a game yet, Marines fans should be thrilled with this new era of baseball in Chiba. Expectations aren't sky high, but I would also think they'll be patient with him as he learns the ropes like any green manager. Temperature: 29 (°C), 84 (°F)
11. Masataka Nashida (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)
When Dave Okubo went one and done in 2015, the Eagles went with a retread and experienced manager in Nashida to enter 2016. It was a stark contrast to the young Okubo who was the farm manager and left on bad terms due to the relationship with his players.
Nashida improved the team's offense as he did previously with the Fighters and it's likely to get even better in Year 3. Expectations are high in Sendai, but Nashida has shown enough good will with the team's progress that it's likely he can step away on his own terms as this is likely his final managerial position for his career. The only way they'd be losing is if their bullpen turns into what it was in the second half of 2017. Temperature: 14 (°C), 57 (°F)
12. Kimiyasu Kudo (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)
Kudo stepped in a perfect situation after the 2014 season ended. His Golden Era teammate Koji Akiyama steps away from the game with his wife suffering through an illness (she passed away two months after the 2014 Japan Series).
The Hawks already made historic numbers in 2015 and went on a tear to the Japan Series championship, repeating from 2014. After losing in the Climax Series and a pennant in 2016 to a hot Fighters team, the Hawks established a dynasty by winning it all in 2017 again. Closer Dennis Sarfate was quoted as saying his daughter could manage the Hawks with how they're structured.
Right now, the Hawks have been set since the Softbank era. There is plenty of talent for the now and the future and it's likely none of that changes. Kudo arguably has a fancy car all but set where it drives on auto pilot to do the work. He just has to make sure he doesn't tear it apart. It would be a crazy shortcoming if something bad happened in 2018, but even then, winning two Japan Series titles will earn goodwill with everyone in charge. Temperature: -273 (°C), -460 (°F). This is also known as Sub zero or (°0) Kelvin.
There could be up to four managerial changes by season's end if everything goes wrong, but I personally think only two will happen. Of course 2018 is a new year and we can't base old data off what will happen this season. Disagree on this? Let us know. Enjoy the baseball ahead.
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