Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lions will keep Norio Tanabe, a decision we approve of

Earlier this month, the Saitama Seibu Lions announced that Norio Tanabe would be returning for the 2016 season despite the failure of coming up short.

The Lions finished with a .500 record and came in fourth place, finishing in the bottom 3 for the second consecutive year. It was a first in team history since 1980-1981, which was their second and third seasons as Seibu Lions in Tokorozawa.

While it's easy for a manager to receive the blame for a season without the playoffs, we believe Tanabe was not the reason for this shortcoming. Last year, manager Haruki Ihara resigned two months into the year with the Lions being in the cellar.

Seibu needed leadership and Tanabe has shown he can put his footprints on the team when managing in-game. Initially, he had the top of the order follow with Shogo Akiyama, Takumi Kuriyama, Hideto Asamura, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Ernesto Mejia and Tomoya Mori batting 1-6.

The right field position was a flexible spot, where 11 different players had at least one start in RF. After Yuji Kaneko started the season as the everyday shortstop, the SS position also became flexed when Shuta Tonosaki and Yuji Onizaki would step in.

Ginjiro Sumitani was there for defense behind the plate and would always bat in the bottom three with the RF and SS positions. When Mejia was struggling, Tanabe made the bold move to bench him and give Ryota Wakiya more playing time, which worked out well. He would later insert Wakiya in right field and despite all the slumps on the team, he was the lone bright spot.

It was rough when Kuriyama was benched, but it was the right decision after the captain and left fielder had his own struggles. He was demoted to the sixth spot and even batted as low as seventh.

Asamura also found a way to get cold in the second half, so Tanabe had him bunt more often and demoted him in the lineup. In total, he did the right things from a manager standpoint to put the players in a position to succeed.

It's easy to knee jerk and react to a bad season asking for a manager and everyone else to be fired (or in this case, a forced resignation). Fans of any team here in the States will have these thoughts too. However, we have to look at all options and see how a coach/manager did in perspective rather than look at wins and losses alone.

By our unofficial count, Tanabe cost the Lions 5-6 games at most when he made a mistake. In those losses, he would stretch the starter in too long or put the wrong guy in the bullpen for a tough situation. The biggest gripe we have with him is when Akiyama would be called to bunt when he was a great leadoff hitter.

He would also attempt more hit-and-runs as well as steal automatically when certain players were on base. Tanabe wasn't as aggressive as "Dave" Okubo, but there were times it would cost him.

Despite all those mistakes to criticize, he has "won" games by taking the starter out at the correct moment more times than not. In the late innings, he would put in his "all-defense" lineup for Tatsushi Masuda and Tomomi Takahashi in order to preserve the win. From Kyohei Nagae at SS, Naoto Watanabe at 1B, SS or 3B, to Shogo Saito in LF, Masato Kumashiro in RF and even Wakiya playing 1B, it would help. Kumashiro saved a win with a sliding catch in the outfield.

It's not his fault that Takahashi found ways to struggle in the second half. It's not on Tanabe when the starter has a bad outing and there aren't resources. It's also not Tanabe's fault when the hitting just isn't consistent. Majority of the losses were on the players not executing.

Tanabe is an unorthodox manager when going outside the box and putting faith in Wakiya, but the move worked. He made sure he took his own approach to the games and didn't try worrying about what someone upstairs might have thought.

This decision to keep Tanabe by the Lions' management is something we support. Good luck Tanabe, we look forward to seeing you in 2016.


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