Thursday, May 28, 2015

Homemade Analytics: The Seibu Lions Bullpen

When it comes to the world of Analytics, Tatsushi Masuda shines brightest so far in 2015.
With interleague play underway in the land of the Rising Sun, we've come to a point in the season where the Lions bullpen has amassed enough of a sample size for us to take a closer look at their individual performances to date.

If you haven't already, please read the post on the starters' analysis. In that post, I go over the calculations for the metric we're using to analyze pitcher performance (Fielding Independent Pitching) and I go into the process of crunching these numbers. And we then take a look at the Lions rotation and how they're holding up in the world of sabermetrics.

Now for the bullpen, only 7 Lions bullpen pitchers have enough of a sizable sample size to be included in this study. We'll be comparing their FIPs to their ERAs from this year as well as previous seasons. Looking at prior years is a big part of analyzing whether something is a trend or a cold hard fact.

We start with Esmerling Vasquez. The Lions new foreign import, who was just recently deactivated and is eligible to return this Sunday.


FIP: 3.52, ERA: 3.00 (18.0 IP in 16 games)

Early on, Esmerling Vasquez has shown signs of promise, while also flashing signs of head scratching. With all that said, these numbers show just how ridiculous the Lions management decision to deactivate Vasquez was. He's had issues with walks (his BB/9 is at 7.0) but he has a nasty repertoire which has yet to give up the long ball.

In my general opinion, relievers who don't give up the long ball are quite valuable because they rarely give up blow up innings. While pitchers who keep the ball in the part will have their ups and downs but the manager can limit them by recognizing when they're on their game or they're not. It's hard to tell whether or not these numbers will continue for Vasquez, but he'll need to keep his walks down when he returns.

Now onto the lefty reliever, Shota Takekuma.


FIP: 3.93, ERA: 4.83 (started 4 games, made 10 relief appearances in 31.2 IP total)


FIP: 6.45, ERA: 3.29 (started 2 games, made 7 relief appearances in 13.2 IP total)


FIP: 3.34, ERA: 3.70 (started 1 game, while making 46 relief appearances in 48.2 IP total)


FIP: 3.18, ERA: 3.63 (17.1 IP in relief)

Takekuma has really been up and down in his career. At the age of 25, it looks as though the lefty has found a place in the bullpen. He's nothing special, but he's respectable. He has plenty of control issues and that continues once again this year (BB/9 is 4.7 which is higher than his career BB/9 of 4.2). He strikes out a decent amount, but nothing to write home about. Once again, he shows an ability to keep the ball in the ballpark and let his defense decide how he's going to be written up in the headlines the next morning.

Jury is still out on Takekuma long term without a definitive long term sample size, but if I were Norio Tanabe, I would use a combination of Vasquez and Takekuma to get through a sticky situation in the 6th and 7th inning. Tanabe has previously shown this with Takekuma getting more innings when leading. A combination of the two can be effective enough, especially considering the other guys who we've yet to evaluate.

Next up: Toshihiro Iwao


FIP: 6.62, ERA: 9.49 (12.1 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.94, ERA: 1.80 (20.0 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.31, ERA: 7.29 (21.0 IP in relief)

Another pitcher who was recently deactivated, Iwao is an interesting case study. He won't be eligible to return until June 6th, but I believe Iwao needs to stay there longer. The 27 year old has potential, his strikeout rate is tremendous (9.0 K/9 this year, 9.4 last year), but his control is atrocious (6.4 BB/9 this year).

His high strikeout rate, combined with his ability to keep the ball in the park has allowed him to receive more favorable FIP ratings than his ERA would indicate. There is no doubt that he has been a bit unlucky with BABIP but he needs to show better control to earn a move back to a place in the bullpen.

Yosuke Okamoto


FIP: 3.29, ERA: 3.84 (started 6 games, 26 relief appearances, 77.1 IP total)


FIP: 3.93, ERA: 4.06 (started 16 games, 6 relief appearances, 84.1 IP total)


FIP: 5.51, ERA: 6.60 (started 3 games, 7 relief appearances, 30.0 IP total)

The 29 year old former starter has completely lost his way at this level. His walk rate is alright at best (3.3 BB/9) but he's getting beyond tagged and is giving up 2.1 home runs per 9 innings. A ridiculous rate that has no place anywhere above farm.

There's no statistical data that gives any bright spots for this particular player, I'm not sure what the Lions management will do with him in the future. He's eligible to return on June 1st, but I highly doubt he will be back. What exactly is he good for?

Atsushi Okamoto


FIP: 3.57, ERA: 3.09 (43.2 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.16, ERA: 2.11 (55.1 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.57, ERA: 4.11 (57.0 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.46, ERA: 4.50 (18.0 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.58, ERA: 2.75 (39.1 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.79, ERA: 2.60 (17.1 IP in relief)

Here's a great example on how useful FIP can be, especially with lots of long term data. You can see from the elder Okamoto's numbers that his ERA's tend to fluctuate, while his FIP's stay pretty consistent. Fluctuating ERA's can suggest that he's been on the good and bad side of luck, and you have to expect Okamoto's FIP to return to the 3.57 area, his strikeouts are down which could be because of age, but his walk rate is looking very good.

He'll need to keep the home runs down to the level we're used to, but Okamoto looks to be another reliable option looking forward. Tanabe has mostly used him in medium leverage situations for 2015, or when trailing.

Setup Man: Tatsushi Masuda


FIP: 3.64, ERA: 3.76 (started 2 games, made 40 relief appearances in 52.2 IP total)


FIP: 2.51, ERA: 2.82 (44.2 IP in relief)


FIP: 1.40, ERA: 3.04 (23.2 IP in relief)

The 27 year old setup man is having a (current New York Yankees setup man) Dellin Betances type year for the Lions. He's striking everyone out and quite frankly, he's been unlucky to have not performed better in the ERA category. He's been the Lions best relief pitcher, and that's because of his ability to blow guys away, and avoid the long ball.

His walk rate is a tad over 2.5 which will do and is around his normal rate, while his strikeout rate has gone from 7.5 in 2013 to a whopping 10.1. I think Tanabe should consider using Masuda for multiple innings to shorten the bridge, but whether Masuda can pitch well after sitting down is something that has yet to be seen. He has only gone one notable game beyond one inning, which was in Hokkaido where he was asked to get four outs and barely escaped

Closer: Tomomi Takahashi


FIP: 2.91, ERA: 3.38 (18.2 IP in relief)


FIP: 1.70, ERA: 2.01 (62.2 IP in relief)


FIP: 3.24, ERA: 1.35 (20.0 IP in relief)

After a superhuman year in 2014 which was his first season as the closer, 2015 has so far been a solid year, but not nearly the kind of year the Lions closer has been used to having. His career strikeout rate of 10.9 has nearly been cut in half to 6.2 but even with that he still posts a solid 3.24 which any other pitcher would love to have.

All he has to do is just increase his strikeout rate just a little more and he'll be back to having those superhuman numbers. The 26 year old lefty is an impressive specimen and will only get more fascinating as his career goes on. The Lions are in good hands with him at the back end of their rotation for the next several years.

Overall, though the bullpen has been much maligned at times this season, the numbers show that this bullpen is something that is workable. As the season goes on, several strategies to get out of jams will need to be employed. I nominate the usage of pitching Masuda for multiple innings as the best out of all the solutions but in the meantime, using Takekuma and Vasquez in tandem should be a serviceable solution to creating a bridge to get to the back end of the Lions bullpen which is just tremendous. We will revisit these numbers later on in the season to provide further clarity on who these pitchers are as players.

As soon as the return date of Lions ace Takayuki Kishi is confirmed, I will craft up a post that analyzes Kishi in depth to give our fellow Lions fans and anyone else a key of what to expect from him going forward.

Until then, Ganbarre Raionzu 頑張れ /  ライオンズ!

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Hitting gets cold, middle relief fails

Rakuten celebrates a series win against the Lions.
The Lions lost two out of three in the first series against Chiba, where there were some nightmare outings by the pitching.

Game 1 saw a pitcher's duel between Ken Togame and Hideaki Wakui.  Offense started to come alive in the 5th inning, where neither side was able to get a shutdown inning until then Top of the 8th. In the bottom of the 7th, Shogo Akiyama got a leadoff double and advanced to third base on a sacrifice fly from Takumi Kuriyama.

Hideto Asamura, who's had a decent track record against Wakui, found the gap and the go-ahead run came to the plate. Chiba might have left Wakui in an inning too long.

Tatsushi Masuda didn't make it easy on himself in the 8th inning. He had runners on 1st and 2nd with only one out, but was able to get the ground ball for a 6-4-3 double play and end the threat. Closer Tomomi Takahashi shut the door with a 1-2-3 ninth inning and secured the win.

Game 2 wasn't as fortunate for the Lions, as Ryoma Nogami gave up multiple homers in his first start returning from injury. Even though Seibu tied the game in the bottom of the 6th, manager Norio Tanabe made a controversial move.

The bases were loaded with one out and Ginjiro Sumitani was at the plate. Ernesto Mejia was on third base and Tanabe chose to pinch run him, substituting Ryota Wakiya in his place. Wakiya should be in for defense when the Lions are winning, but Tanabe felt Sumitani could get a sac fly and the upgrade of speed would make the difference.

Sumitani would ground out into a 6-4-3 double play, ending any threat. The top of the 7th had an ugly meltdown all with two outs, as Nogami couldn't get a third. Esmerling Vasquez came in as relief, but he also coughed up multiple hits and went back up by three runs.

Even though the Lions answered back with a run in the bottom of the 8th, Yosuke Okamoto gave it right back in the top of the 9th, which was the game losing run. The Lions scored two in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Asamura, as he represented the game-winning run. However, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura grounded into a double play to end it.

Game 3 was a dumpster fire for pitchers, where Wade LeBlanc was tattooed with two home runs, leading to an early 5-0 lead after three innings. He wasn't able to finish the third, where Okamoto came in as the long reliever. In total, the Lions gave up five home runs as Alfredo Despaigne and Shogo Nakamura had two each.

After the first series of the week, the Lions made a swap with their foreigners on the roster. They sent down Esmerling Vasquez and activated Miguel Mejia after Game 2, where he played in the ninth inning of Game 3. They also sent down Wade LeBlanc and Y. Okamoto. As a corresponding move, they activated IF Anthony Seratelli and P Tatsuya Oishi.

In the first outing against Rakuten, it was a pitcher's duel between Kazuhisa Makita and Wataru Karashima with the latter making his 2015 debut.

Makita had several runners on base and was due to allow some runs, both of which happened with two outs. The first run came off a clutch two-out single from Motohiro Shima. After Okawari-kun hit a solo home run, Makita would give up a run in the 5th inning.

With runners on first and second and no outs, a failed bunt attempt by Kazuya Fujita being caught by Sumitani, it led to a 2-6 double play with the runner being doubled up at second base. Immediately after, Ginji Akaminai found the gap on a double and it would be the game winning run.

The Lions had a chance in the eighth inning after Naoto Watanabe reached first base on an error. However, Tanabe called for Sumitani to bunt with one out, giving only one chance to equalize. He called for Seratelli to make his debut with a pinch hit at-bat. Seratelli would line out on a full-count, ending any threat.

While it's common in NPB to concede a second out knowing a tie game can happen on a hit by the next batter, this is a move we disagree with knowing the probability is reduced to one batter. Sure, there is a risk that Sumitani could have grounded into a double play, but the Lions need to score two runs in order to win anyways.

M. Mejia would give up a grand slam in the top of the 9th, ending any chance of a late comeback. It was the second time this week where the 9th inning pitcher would give up runs and putting the game out of reach.

Game 2 vs. Rakuten involved back to back blasts by Kuriyama and Asamura against Kenny Ray. Yusei Kikuchi had some up and down innings, but he allowed only two runs and pulled off a few Houdinis in the process through six.

It took the bottom of the 7th for the 2-2 tie to finally break. After Yuji Kaneko got on base as the leadoff hitter, they called for Akiyama to bunt. We here at Graveyard baseball disagreed with this move knowing that Akiyama is a leadoff hitter, but this move worked out.

Kuriyama would single and then Asamura would be the hero with a two-run double in the gap to take the lead. Masuda and Takahashi made simple work out of the pen and the Lions won only their second game of the week. Seventh-inning reliever Shota Takekuma was credited with his fourth win of the season.

For game three Takahiro Norimoto escaped multiple chances with runners on base. Chun-Lin Kuo had a poor start, allowing 3 runs in three innings and Toshihiro Iwao couldn't help in relief, where the Lions were in an early 5-1 hole.

The Lions had a rally in the fifth inning after Okawari-kun had an RBI double to cut the lead to 5-3. Seratelli had another chance with the bases loaded as Mejia was hit by a pitch and Mori struck out, but he too also K'd and ended the threat.

Seibu couldn't add more, where there was also a rally in the seventh inning as Kuriyama and Asamura were on base with no outs. Okawari-kun grounded into a 5-3 double play and Mejia struck out. After only one runner on base for the eighth, Yuki Matsui closed the door in the ninth, handing the Lions their fourth loss of the week to finish 2-4 heading into Interleague play.

The Lions aren't the worst team, but the hitting was not executing this week with only eight runs combined against Rakuten. They also buried themselves until it was too late against Chiba, where majority of their runs came late in the game when they were down by a huge margin.

We've learned the middle relief is vulnerable and that the Lions wrongfully swapped Vasquez for M. Mejia this week, leading to a poor effort in the pen. Mejia was deactivated quickly after three games for Iwao.

The Pacific League tightened up a tad, with Chiba and Rakuten both on the tail. Interleague play begins this week, starting on Tuesday against the Giants where it will be a tough outing. The good news is, Takayuki Kishi made his first rehab start this week and he could return within the next three weeks.

In the meantime, it was a positive in their last game where Kazuki Miyata, Oishi and Atsushi Okamoto combined for 5.1 scoreless innings, giving the Lions's bats a chance to come back.

It would be good to have a 4-2 week, but realistically, I think 3-3 is the most doable where they will see the Giants and Tigers.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

NPB Interleague Play: Tomoya Mori to start in Right Field?

The Central League cited Travel reasons as a reason to reduce the interleague schedule. Pacific League teams play as far North as Hokkaido and as South as Fukuoka.
The 2015 NPB season is about to take its turn to Interleague play starting on May 26. Before posting about the Seibu Lions, here is a small background to the current Interleague play format.

NPB changed their format to an 18-game interleague schedule with one three game series against each of the six teams in the opposite league. It is very similar to how MLB would format interleague play prior to when the Houston Astros became an American League team and were initially in the National League. Interleague play will be from May 26 to June 14 this year.

Previously, there were 24 games multiple two-game series which would be home and away against each team in the opposite league. This would have four games (two home, two away) against each team for a total of six series. It would also give fans of any team to have the ability to go to see their team at any location at least once during the year.

Now, NPB is on pace to see each opposite league stadium every two years. Today for example, a fan of the Chunichi Dragons living in Hokkaido can see them play in the Sapporo Dome against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters this year, but will not see them locally until 2017 after the series from June 29-July 1.

One fascinating aspect when the leagues crossfire is when the designated hitter is added or subtracted depending on which stadium you are in. Like in MLB, if a game is played in a Central League Stadium, the pitcher must bat. The designated hitter is adopted only in the Pacific League.

The Lions had Tomoya Mori play in right field briefly while in the Eastern League.
Fast forward to the Lions, where their designated hitter is an everyday player traditionally batting sixth in the lineup in Tomoya Mori. Before the year started, some prognosticators thought Mori would cause a catcher controversy with incumbent C Ginjiro Sumitani with his hitting abilities.

With the designated hitter about to be gone for nine interleague games on the road against the Yomiuri Giants (Kyojin), Chunichi Dragons and Yokohama DeNA Baystars, they will need to insert Mori in a different way. 

Kyodo News writer Jim Allen correctly suggested the idea where the Lions needed to put him in the lineup everyday because of his bat and it has paid off. Sumitani is still the catcher for his defense, while Mori can provide protection for Ernesto Mejia batting sixth.

Mori has continued to be on a great pace through 41 games this season, with an OPS of over .900. He is second on the team in home runs with nine, only one behind Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura.

With his power hitting being a factor and a threat on offense, the Lions tried out Mori as a right fielder during a farm game in the Eastern League on Tuesday.

In Japan, no transactions are needed to send a player down to the Ni-gun (second team) as all players are eligible even if they're on the Ichi-gun (first team). There are no waivers or designating a player for assignments, meaning no team can lose a someone if they take him off the 28-man roster for the Ichi-gun. The only way this happens is if a club chooses to terminate his contract, as the Baystars did with Yulieski Gurriel earlier this year.
The Seibu Lions' farm team plays their home games next door (highlighted in green)to their traditional home in the Seibu Dome.
It can be common for an Ichi-gun player to participate in a Ni-gun game in the day time while playing with the top team for the night within a few hours of each other. The Lions ni-gun home stadium is literally right next door to the Seibu Dome, making it even more convenient for a bench player who is seldomly used to get some playing time and prevent rust.

The right fielder position on the Lions has been a revolving door throughout the 2015 season. While centerfield and left field have been consistent with Shogo Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama, respectively, the Lions have started seven different players at right field. This list includes Fumikazu Kimura, Ryo Sakata, Tomohito Yoneno, Hichori Morimoto, Masato Kumashiro, Shogo Saito and mostly recently, Yutaro Osaki.

They could make Mori the eighth person to start in RF when interleague play starts next Tuesday. He was drafted as a catcher out of high school in 2013, but there hasn't been a large emphasis on playing him in the field with Sumitani behind the plate. Mori has played 10 games for the ni-gun as catcher, but he could take the RF void for interleague play.

So far, they've only inserted Mori for one farm game at RF this week, where he was only in for the first half of the game. If the Lions want his bat in the lineup for games in Central League stadiums, don't be surprised if he becomes the right fielder with his defense being unproven.

As an Oakland A's fan, I was used to seeing multiple catchers in one lineup. In 2014, they often had Derek Norris was behind the plate, John Jaso as a designated hitter and Stephen Vogt playing in RF or at 1B. Former catcher Ray Fosse would applaud the Lions if Mori and Sumitani are in the lineup and both on the field in the coming weeks.

This might have been a one-game aberration for Mori, but with the continuous changes in right field, his chances of playing in the outfield can't be written off.

UPDATE 5/22: It appears that Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times has confirmed through a beat writer that Mori will be in right field for all nine interleague games in Central League Stadiums. 

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Homemade Analytics: A Look At the Lions Rotation With FIP

Some of you may be scoffing at the use of math in baseball. And during my short time following NPB, I've been disappointed at the lack of statistical information beyond ERA and the usual counting statistics. In fact, not even specific game logs for the starting pitcher are easy to find.

I've always been fascinated by information, and without massive amounts of information, I feel improper when creating an opinion without the proper use of information. It's impossible to get too complicated with Japanese statistics, the only way that can be done is when Japanese ballparks install the proper "f/x" technology in all their stadiums. F/x technology has been installed in all 30 ballparks in MLB and has allowed for new age tracking of defensive analytics that properly assess defensive performance and makes statistics like errors and fielding percentage completely obsolete. With that, it's still impossible to assess Japanese players defensively.

With the stat FIP, we can assess pitchers' performance with a true assessment of what's in their control. As is explained more on fangraphs, studies have shown that the majority of pitchers have little to no control over what happens on balls in play. He has no control over defense, luck, or anything of that variety. All he can control are walks, hit by pitches, strikeouts and home runs. And that is exactly what Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures.

ERA is a great way of determining how many runs are scored in a 9 inning period, but it doesn't show anything about how lucky or how unlucky the pitcher was during a given time. And that's where FIP comes in, I urge all of you to use these stats next to the ERA of that pitcher to create a good representation in your mind on what kind of pitcher he is.

First a quick demonstration of how to calculate these statistics.

FIP is calculated with the following formula:


*'s are multiplication signs, remember your order of operations.

All that is then divided by IP

You then add the NPB Constant (2.74) which is determined by the run producing environment (in MLB it's usually around 3.2), to the number you just calculated and then you have your FIP.

As you can see from the equation, Home Runs are a severe penalty to a pitcher when measuring FIP, while strikeouts are a good way of lowering the number. The perfect FIP pitcher is one that has tremendous control, is crafty and can throw a lot of strikeouts, while rarely being punished by the long ball. And if anyone finds this pitcher tell Norio Tanabe!

You should read FIP just like you would ERA, a sub 3.00 ERA or close to it is tremendous and anything over 4.00 ERA is not very good. Same goes for FIP.

Now it's time to get to the analytics.

Let's start with Ken Togame.

Here's a look at Togame's previous seasons.

FIP: 3.19, ERA: 2.72 (only started one game this season, 53.0 IP total this season)

FIP: 3.15, ERA: 3.45 (started 26 games and threw 165.1 IP in total)

FIP: 3.94, ERA: 3.66 (made 8 starts in 59.0 IP)

2015 so far
FIP: 3.76, ERA: 2.02

Judgments based on the numbers, there's not a lot of data to base off of his career in total as a starter but judging off of his 2013 season, Togame would've remained in the rotating during the 2014 season. It turns out that 2014 was an injury-ridden season for Togame, a hip injury limited him, with that knowledge in mind, you can throw that season out.

It should be noted that it's still early in the season, and a full season sample size is best when looking at FIP, but it's still fun to be a fan and assess performance at this point in the year. So far in 2015, Togame has seen a small spike in his strikeout rate (he's never had a K per 9 innings higher than 7.0, it's now at 7.7), a level of control that compares to his walk rate in 2013, and while seeing more home runs given up than ever before in his career. Too early to really make any clear judgments, especially with 2014 being almost completely thrown out of the statistical debate. The question is, will his defense continue to allow his ERA to outperform his FIP by such a considerable margin? That's something we will have to monitor as the season goes on.

Next up: Kazuhisa Makita

FIP: 2.46, ERA: 2.61 (Was a closer for much of the year, then was put into the rotation: 127.2 IP)

FIP: 2.58, ERA: 2.43 (Full time starter with 178 IP)

FIP: 3.56, ERA: 2.60 (Full time starter with 166.0 IP)

FIP: 3.55, ERA: 3.74 (Full time starter with 170.2 IP)

2015 so far
FIP: 3.16, ERA: 2.08 (Full time starter, sample size of 52.0 IP)

Not a big strikeout guy, Makita shows impeccable control and controls the long ball quite well. With the lack of strikeouts (his highest K/9 was in 2011 at 6.1), a reliance on his defense is required for his ERA to outperform his FIP. So far in 2015, his ERA has proven to be a great indictment on the Lions defense behind him.

The year 2015 proves to be a make or break year for a true representation of Makita's typical FIP, especially with the past two years being almost identical and his first two years having similar impressive marks. The normal for Makita (who's 30 years old and nearing the end of his prime as a starter) is probably somewhere in between, what to look for going forward is the amount of home runs he gives up, if they spike, he'll probably end with a mark like 2013 or 2014. If it declines or stays the same, look for him to have an FIP close to 3.00.

Next Up: Ryoma Nogami

I skipped the first couple years of his career due to a lack of a sample size that's worthwhile. He was also a bullpen member in his first few years with the team.

FIP: 3.86, ERA: 2.97 (Started 18 games for a grand total of 115.1 IP)

FIP: 3.92, ERA: 3.95 (started 24 games for a grand total of 152.2 IP)

FIP: 4.38, ERA: 4.49 (started 21 games for a grand total of 120.1 IP)

2015 (coming into today's start)
FIP: 3.05, ERA: 1.98 (started 6 games for a sample size of 36.1 IP)

This one is really hard to explain, with marks so ugly in the previous season and with a decent sample size, just when we seemed to have Nogami figured out he has a start to the season like this. At the same time, it is a case of 6 starts and Nogami has all of a sudden become allergic to the home run, which had been a problem in his career in previous years (the past two years, Nogami has finished the year with a HR/9 over 1.0). He's also seen better control come his way, at 2.0 BB/9, this is the lowest of his career.

All in all, the FIP smiles on these trends. Nogami is much like Makita, another guy who strikes out very few, in fact his already meager strikeout numbers are down this year, add that all up and you can see that the Lions defense has dramatically improved from their 2014 edition. I don't expect this to continue, even at the best case scenario, I expect Nogami to come back down to earth and probably finish with an FIP at 3.75 or higher.

Now: Wade LeBlanc

FIP: 5.43, ERA: 3.43 (42.0 IP)

Since there's nothing to compare to, it's really hard to make a judgment off of 42 innings but this is ugly. Watching LeBlanc pitch, I've said to myself, "That the only way teams keep giving him jobs is just because he's a lefty." and sometimes he makes it work even though he seems to have nothing in his stuff at times. A problem early on with LeBlanc has been having trouble putting away hitters, and that shows with his 5.1 K/9. He's never really been much of a strikeout guy, especially when he was pitching in MLB. The one thing that's surprising about LeBlanc is his lack of control, his BB/9 is up to 3.9 and that's just atrocious. Especially since that's never been a problem during his career elsewhere, so you have to expect that this number won't last.

Add that up with a home run rate that is just not going to get the job done (his HR/9 is 0.9) and you have an FIP that is as ugly as this one. With all that said, it appears that once again luck and his defense have allowed LeBlanc to get by so far in his first 7 starts. I don't expect that number to stay that high, but a number around 4.00 will likely be what LeBlanc finishes with in his first season in Saitama.

Lastly: Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo

FIP: 5.34, ERA: 4.91 (25.2 IP, 6 starts)

Another one that's ugly, but with another small sample size, it's once again a difficult call for the 23 year old from Taiwan. A lack of strikeouts, lots of walks, and an affinity for dingers has made this an ugly exercise for Kuo. Once again, the defense makes things look a little better but in the end, Kuo seems to not be doing a whole lot right on the mound for the Lions.

There will be another post on this subject when it comes to the bullpen. We will have to revisit this later on in the season, perhaps at a good midway point and then really we'll see how things are going. We might do a post on Kikuchi if he continues to get starts. And most importantly, once Kishi returns to the rotation, we'll probably have a statistical analysis of Kishi when he returns.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Back to Earth?

In what should be a common format for Graveyard Baseball, there will be collaborating commentary from Wes Mills and Christian Gin each week on the Saitama Seibu Lions' season throughout the year.  This is the first edition of what should be many more to come.

The Seibu Lions concluded the eighth week of the the 2015 NPB season with a 2-3-1 record. This included a series win in Hokkaido, while they went 0-2-1 in Fukuoka against the Hawks.

Overall, they went 3-5-1 on the road trip which included a loss in Chiba last week. Where does this team go from here?

In Hokkaido, the Lions had a brilliant outing from Ken Togame, who has rebounded from a bad first outing going 4-0 since then. As of 5/18, he is 10th in the Pacific League in WHIP at 0.953. While he has allowed runners on base, Togame has shown he isn't scared of threats in scoring position. He kept his location down and has mixed in some off speed pitches to get the ground out or fly out.

The Lions also took Game 2 in what was a spot start from rookie and 2014 second-round pick Yasuo Sano. He went four innings with three earned runs, one unearned due to an error from Hideto Asamura. It was an ugly second game, where the Lions failed to get a shutdown inning.

This included a shaky finish by Esmerling Vasquez, where he walked in a run and loaded the bases all with two outs. Setup man Tatsushi Masuda had a wild pitch in the seventh inning, but got a key strikeout to prevent more damage. He would later concede another run in the eighth inning, but would get a ground out and strikeout to preserve the lead at 8-7.

Tomomi Takahashi would close the 9th inning even though the tying run was on second base. In a game that featured offense, including key hits from SS Yuji Kaneko and a resurgence from the captain Takumi Kuriyama, the Lions escaped as they took the series in what was a spot start replacing the injured Ryoma Nogami.

After securing the series victory in a wild game 2, a date with the Fighters' 20 year old phenom, Shohei Otani was up next. And Otani was as good as advertised, he had everything working and as a result, Lions hitters were swinging wildly at all his pitches and never really got a good read on what he was doing.

Luckily for the Lions,  the American lefty, Wade LeBlanc was good enough (with the help of some sharp defense) to keep the Lions level with the Fighters and keep their hopes alive of a clean sweep.

The critical moment came in the bottom of the 8th, with two on and two out, Jeremy Hermida came up with Wade LeBlanc still in the game. With two strikes on Hermida, LeBlanc threw Hermida a curveball that got too much of the plate and Hermida was able to show enough strength and pull the outside pitch into the gap for extra bases. Hermida ended up all the way at third for a two-run triple to give Otani a 2-0 lead heading to the 9th.

The Lions showed great resiliency in the 9th by chasing Otani from the game, it would be Hideto Asamura who would give the Lions hope of ruining Otani's gem. Otani would make a rare mistake on a hanging slider and Asamura was all over it and lined it to right, the Fighters' right fielder tried to dive for it and came up short and the ball bounced all the way to the wall. Akiyama scored easily from first to make it 2-1 Fighters and Asamura ended up a third.

This forced the Fighters to pull Otani and put in their closer, Hirotoshi Masui. With two outs, Ernesto Mejia came to the plate needing a hit to extend the game. He'd get a pitch to hit and he crushed it to the opposite field, this time, the Fighters' right fielder would make up for his high risk gamble earlier in the inning and he'd make a full extension catch to rob Mejia and salvage game 3 of the series for the Fighters.

The Lions went to Fukuoka with a bullpen that was rested from not playing the last game in Hokkaido, but were sent down to earth. Their bats couldn't execute enough in what was a pitcher's duel in Game 1, where Kazuhisa Makita went seven strong innings.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura had a golden opportunity with the bases loaded, but struck out as did Ernesto Mejia in the eighth inning and the Lions failed to score for the rest of the game. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks had a chance in the 12th after celebrating what would at least be a tie.

They had runners on first and second with only one out and the Lions were down to their last two bullpen members in Yosuke Okamoto and Kazuki Miyata where the latter finished the game. Manager Norio Tanabe gave Miyata a baptism of fire in his 2015 debut with the inherited runners, but was able to get a lineout to shortstop and Kaneko tagged second base to secure a tie game. Replay showed that Kaneko cradled the ball, but it would have been a 6-4-3 had it bounced.

Luck was not on the Lions' side in Game 2, where it was only a one-run game before a meltdown in the sixth inning. After starter Yusei Kikuchi had runners on base, Tanabe had Atsushi Okamoto get one batter out before calling in reinforcements by placing Y. Okamoto after  Miyata, which ultimately backfired. Miyata walked two batters on eight pitches and Y. Okamoto would give up a grand slam to Yuki Yanagita.

Game 3 had a strong outing from Taiwanese rookie Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo, who went seven innings where he allowed only a solo HR to Keizo Kawashima in the fifth inning. The Lions bats couldn't come through against Jason Standridge, who is now 2-1 vs. Seibu this year.

Masuda had a disastrous inning, where he allowed a bases clearing double in the eighth, putting this game out of reach. It was the second time this year that Masuda gave up a three-run double to the Hawks this season. Nakamura had a solo home run for his ninth of the year, but it wasn't enough.

We have learned that the Lions are not the best team in the Pacific League, as it was expected by prognosticators and experts. Their offense is capable of being one of the best with the power hitting from Asamura, Nakamura, Mejia and Tomoya Mori.

However, the biggest surprise has been the pitching, where the starting rotation consisting of Makita, Nogami, Togame and Kikuchi. Even LeBlanc and Kuo have put in a handful of respectable outings as the back end starters.

Fukuoka is the best team in the Pacific League, but the Lions remain an intriguing team for how solid the defense has been combined with the good range in the outfield. They have allowed the fewest amount of triples in the Pacific League as well as near the top in team ERA.

This week, they're facing a Chiba Lotte Marines team who has been a thorn in their side with good pitching from former Lion Hideaki Wakui and Daiki Ishikawa. This could be a challenging week if the bats continue to not execute as they scored a combined eight runs in the three games on the Kyushu Island.

They also host the Rakuten Golden Eagles for the final weekend before interleague play begins on May 26. Things were down this week, but the team is far from out of it after the bats were cold. Nogami is expected to return and is eligible for the 28-man roster on May 20.

A 4-2 record for this homestand would go a long way towards maintaining pace as a top-3 team. It's easy to expect a sweep of Rakuten after going 7-1 against them through eight games, but teams could always be due for a victory here and there. Ganbarre Raionzu!

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Adopting a team: Why I Chose the Lions (Part II)

Wes Mills (who is 1/2 of this blog) explained his side of the story in the introductory post. I figured I should do the same from my perspective on "Why choose the Seibu Lions?".

Before even talking about NPB, I'll have a short introduction on myself. Baseball has been a staple among my family since the 1960s, where both of my parents experienced the early years of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in California.

My father became a Dodgers fan when Maury Wills and Sandy Koufax were playing in Chavez Ravine. He appreciated the speed and pitching that the Dodgers would bring in their first years. It wasn't about power, proximity, nor size, but about the intelligence, defense and fundamental baseball that made things interesting for him.

The Dodgers uniform has remained classic, making it one of the best in baseball for the fact it hasn't changed.
The blue uniforms were also a help, as they have not changed since their late years in Brooklyn with a simple "Dodgers" script on the front. Fast forward to 1968 and the Oakland A's became an adopted team as my father and mother lived were both born in the Bay Area. (For those wondering about 1988, my dad was rooting for the Dodgers and mother wanted the A's to win).

I grew up going to baseball games since being a little kid. What helped every summer was how tickets were a very reasonable price for my family, so I became accustomed to the sport and my first baseball memories where I was old enough to understand everything was in 1998.

As recent as September 2013, I've been studying up on Japanese culture through friends and research. I have built a connection with a good number of people who have roots from Japan. Being in the Bay Area of course helps with a high Asian presence.

From reading up on food to religion to history, I wanted to take the leap of faith in starting to choose an NPB team. When the 2014 World Series ended, my friends and I were beginning to miss baseball already and exercised the idea of adopting an NPB team shortly after.

After watching some tape and highlights of previous years, I became hooked when I found out they have an Ōendan (cheering section) making noise all game. As an Oakland A's fan, I've been known to enjoy chanting all game.

This also goes back to my college days when I would make sure noise would happen in the student section of football games at San Jose State. It was always a pet peeve of mine when people wouldn't know their school fight songs, but I always made sure to sing along rather than just clap. 

Fan spirit has always made games fun and I often appreciate fans who will enjoy chanting or making noise all game long, not worried about what others think of them. From a simple "Let's go" to repetitive clapping, it becomes the norm in my book.

Going back to the conversation with friends, we began doing research on history and looking up all 12 NPB teams. A missionary friend of mine (who is also an A's fan) made this rubric on deciding a team. I applied his rubric to myself for all 12 teams even though his writeup applied to four out of the five Greater Tokyo Area teams.

Two teams were easy to eliminate early without extra details. The Yomiuri Giants aka the "Kyojin" were easy to eliminate for their reputation as the "New York Yankees of Japan". Not only do they win with a high payroll, but they resemble another MLB team I dislike in name and colors in the San Francisco Giants.

The Hanshin Tigers were also an easy removal from consideration because of their relation to a "Boston Red Sox curse". I suppose today, they should be compared to the Cubs for their long title drought, but the fans appear to have a psycho reputation based on this 1985 story. It's also fitting that Hanshin and Yomiuri are the top rivalry in all of NPB, similar to how the Yankees and Red Sox are for MLB.

I eliminated four other teams because I prefer the Designated Hitter over the pitcher batting. This removes the other four Central League teams in the Chunichi Dragons, Yokohama DeNA Baystars, Hiroshima Toyo Carp and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. 

The Dragons were a tempting choice with the obvious connection to the movie Mr. Baseball, where Tom Selleck is a player who goes out to Japan. Had their uniforms stayed the same to what they had in the early 90s, the temptation would be even higher with their resemblance to the Dodgers.

So this leaves six Pacific League teams who remain, as they are similar to the American League with the DH. Another criteria I had was the uniforms, where I'm curious as to how many team company owners force their name on the front of the jersey. I'm sensitive to advertising a company unless it's the sports team and while I understand they need to put their name somewhere on their tops, it shouldn't be forced.

This team, BSC Barcelona (Ecuador) has a beer company on the front as their sponsor. Not into that.
Soccer teams obviously have their sponsor on the front besides the jersey maker. I could go on and on about some companies I'm not into. (I became an Inter supporter because I was ok with advertising Pirelli when I first saw this 2007-2008 design).

I basically don't want to advertise something primarily on the front. While some companies are cool, I feel it's too much to think about that over the team itself.

SoftBank does a good job advertising themselves on the jersey and hat, but that's not what I want.
It was easy to eliminate the Softbank Hawks because their design and logo is all over the hat, sleeves and on the front of each jersey. Too much for me.

Had the Fighters stuck with these jerseys as a full time away top, I might have considered them.

The Nippon-Ham Fighters have a very distinct home jersey that is nice, but the road top's colors don't appeal to me, even though I bet they make good food and products.

Decent look, but not into the piping.
The Orix Buffaloes had a decent rebrand since the team was merged from the Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffaloes, but they also fall in the trap of forcing their company on the road gray tops.

Rakuten has these nice alternate tops to represent the Tohoku region, but it's unfortunate these aren't worn.
The Rakuten Golden Eagles also have a forced look. Rakuten is of course an Amazon type of shopping site of Japan, where I have bought things in the past off of it. Masahiro Tanaka helped put them on the map as they're the only expansion team. 

Only four teams do not have a primary jersey with the company name on the front. It's the Hiroshima Carp (already eliminated), Yomiuri Giants (already eliminated), Chiba Lotte Marines and Saitama Seibu Lions.
Chiba has a very nice alternate, represents the region well.
So in reality, the Marines and Lions became the only two logical choices from the uniform and DH criteria. If you didn't already notice, I like it when the prefecture or city is on the front of the jersey, just like for most MLB teams where we see the city's name on the road.

Represent the location on the road.
Seibu has previously had designs that advertised themselves, but not today. In this case, Seibu represents the train railway which helps many go from Tokyo throughout the Saitama prefecture. The Ikebukuro line prevents people from walking quite the distance.

Today, the Lions have a home uniform where it looks traditional and the logo is on the sleeves with one line saying "Seibu." They also added a sleeve patch on the opposite side for 2015, representing their previous history (13 stars = 13 championships) and colors of black and bright blue. Their road jersey design was previously a gray version of the white one, but they made their alternate blue tops for away games, as it has the prefecture's name "Saitama" on the front. The Prefecture seal is on the right sleeve.

The Chiba Lotte Marines are owned by a confectionery company in Lotte. The best thing is, Lotte only puts themselves on the right sleeve of the jersey, not the front.

Majority of my friends from Japan are from the Chiba area and it always was cool to know that's where the Tokyo Disney park is located. However, one thing in the Lions previous jerseys stood out.


I embraced the previous home jersey design from 2009-2014 where it resembled the Detroit Tigers. The modified olde English font on the hat and "L" was just something I couldn't pass up. I've always enjoyed the Tigers traditional white uniforms and when the Lions went to this navy blue design as a way to resemble their previous history as Nishihetsu Lions (located in Fukuoka), I fell in love with that look.

The Marines resemble the Chicago White Sox and while that has its own traditional look with pinstripes, I still approve far more that the Lions wear "Saitama" on the road today instead of "Lions".

Both teams have won their share of titles with the Lions winning more, but team history did not play a factor in my decision. Players are definitely marketable, but the look was something I couldn't pass up. There was also the factor that they have been competitive even with one of the lowest payrolls in Japan. As an A's fan, that's something I can relate to, giving the feeling of an underdog but still fighting.

I wanted to wear a uniform that can fit me well, make a lot of sense with a clean look. The Lions bring that with their hat and jersey even today.

If I chose a team prior to 2009, it might have been Chiba since Seibu was on the front, but the rebranding design made me choose the Lions. In mid-November of 2014, I made my Decision without a Lebron James line of where I'd "take my [fan] talents" to. Even though the Lions changed their uniforms two weeks after this decision, I still was locked in, waiting for baseball the next spring.

Today's current uniform design is not my favorite, but it's one that I can enjoy as it still has traditional look. There is a perfect identity that fits the prefecture and shows pride within Saitama beyond baseball with these tops. Someday, I hope to visit the Seibu Dome in the future.

The current Saitama Seibu Lions jerseys
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Facing A Phenom: Shohei Otani Gifs and Analysis

Tonight at 2 a.m. PT will be the series finale between the Seibu Lions and the Nippon-Ham Fighters. And the Lions have their work cut out for them with one of the premier young pitchers in the entire world facing off against them. His name is Shohei Otani, and he will surely be the next Japanese superstar pitcher. Like Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda, Hisashi Iwakuma, former Lion: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, and most recently, Masahiro Tanaka, Otani has received loads of hype and fanfare from scouts and media alike.

Out of high school, the belief around Japan was that Otani was going to head straight to MLB, and because of that threat, most NPB clubs were too scared to take a shot on him in the draft. The Fighters on the other hand, decided to take a chance and try to convince him to marinate in Japan for just a little while longer. The Fighters had just been one year removed from seeing their prodigy, Yu Darvish head to the Texas Rangers and once they were able to convince Otani to stay in the Land of the Rising Sun, they gave him Darvish's number 11 and later gave him a 100 million yen contract to keep Otani happy.

The comparisons to Darvish are easy to connect, Otani, like Darvish, stands at 6'4" and has a similar build compared to Darvish. Their pitching styles on the other hand are rather unique, and the biggest difference of them all is that Otani is a much better athlete than Darvish. In fact, Otani is such a great athlete, the Fighters can't resist making him their DH whenever he isn't pitching. He's such a natural hitter with nice and easy power that I guess no coach has found the guts to convince him to just stick to pitching.

Otani is only 20 years old and his stuff is electrifying already at this point in his young career, we'll start by talking about his fastball. His fastball is the fastest the world has seen from a mainland Japanese player, he has been clocked in a regular season game at 161 km/h (101 mph). The GIF seen below shows what that fastball did to a swinging bat in a game last year.

That bat shattered into three pieces, incredible velocity from this young kid. His fastball averaged 155 km/h (96 mph) last season, while we're making comparisons to Yu Darvish, Darvish's fastball has averaged between 92 and 93 mph during his first three years in MLB. We'll talk more about his fastball later on in the report, but the bottom line is, he's going to throw this pitch early and often, sometimes he'll fall in love with his heat too much and as a result makes him less effective but I'm sure that won't be a problem in his start tonight.

Now to talk about one of his secondary pitches, and in my opinion, this is his best secondary pitch and that is his forkball. One thing that you'll notice about each of Otani's four pitches is the variance in velocities. His forkball averages about 144 km/h (89 mph) which is the exact same average speed as Yu Darvish's splitter. Darvish hardly ever throws his splitter while Otani uses his forkball as a fantastic put away pitch that is more reminiscent of Masahiro Tanaka. The gif below shows how Ben Zobrist fared against Otani's forkball in a 2-2 count during last November's All-Star Series.

Absolute filth. When Otani can look to that pitch as a reliable put away, it's usually a long night for the opposition. His next secondary pitch is his slider, and this one is currently right around the caliber of his forkball. It averages 133 km/h (83 mph), and as he matures, it will probably be his bread and butter just like it has been for Yu Darvish in the States (according to fangraphs, Darvish's slider is his highest rated pitch). Otani will throw his slider in the dirt or around the corners which provides solid versatility when coupled with his forkball. The gif below is a slider he threw to the Hanshin Tigers' star import, Matt Murton.

Just beautiful to watch that pitch come out of his hand, looks like a football spiral actually with the way he flicks his wrist. The last pitch in Otani's arsenal is his curveball. And this is where Darvish and Otani really differ in their secondary stuff. On paper, their curveballs seem quite similar and at times, Darvish and Otani seem to come from the same school of thought when it comes to the use of their curveballs. At this point in Otani's career, his curveball is more of a showcase pitch and only has true value in moments of surprise. The fact that Otani hardly ever throws his curveball creates an element of surprise and gives him some moments to throw it. One example was in the All-Star Series against Ben Zobrist, to defeat the possibility of any aggressive first ball hitting, he spun this one in the gif below.

His 112 km/h (70 mph) on that particular curveball matches his average speed on the pitch. Slightly slower than Darvish's average of 73, but as we know, Darvish is very effective changing speeds with his curveball which is exactly why he throws his curveball 10.6% of the time. In my opinion, I don't think Otani will need his curveball to be crazy nasty since he already has three pitches that are already a load to deal with when he's mixing them up.

With all that said, the Lions will need to work counts and try to be patient at the plate with Otani. Otani has had issues at times in his young career with his control, his walk rate in 2013 was 4.8, in 2014 it was 3.3, and early on in 2015 it's currently at 2.4 per 9 innings. If he can continue that sort of pace, there's probably a good chance that he heads to MLB whenever he becomes eligible for the posting system. His strikeout rate in 2014 was 10.4 per 9 innings and to start the year, it's currently at 10.2.

At times, Otani would get into trouble whenever he was taking speed off of his fastball and missing his location up in the zone. This was seen with a 2-0 pitch to Lucas Duda last November, the catcher set up low and away, and he ended up locating the ball belt high and out over the plate, which allowed for Duda to drive to the gap in left-center for a double.

That fastball was clocked at nearly 96 mph, if you can't locate, you're getting hit, just ask Hunter Strickland. One thing to keep an eye on during the game is to see if Otani's fastballs are missing the outside corner against lefties and ending up tailing away. This is usually a sign that his control is off on this given night.

I look for the lefties in the Lions lineup to step up if they are to get the win against the Fighters' phenom. Akiyama and Kuriyama are always the unsung heroes of the Lions offensive production, and tonight they will need to be productive to get the victory. I look for our own young phenom, Tomoya Mori to be the guy who should step up against Otani.

Looking at past results to provide clarity in a game like this, I look at May 2nd's 3-0 win at Rakuten as hope that the Lions can pull it off against Otani. That day the Lions faced Rakuten's ace, Takahiro Norimoto who has a similar skill set in comparison to Otani and that day the Lions scratched out 3 runs despite Norimoto's 12 K's and glided behind the tremendous pitching from Ryoma Nogami.

Let's hope this Graveyard Game is a great one! GANBARRE RAIONZU!

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adopting a Team: Why I Chose The Lions

As a baseball fan, it is my belief that if you truly love baseball, you can't just watch one team. It's just not enough, this game is so stimulating and interesting that just one team's amount of material isn't gonna cut it.

Ever since I first saw the movie, "Mr. Baseball" featuring my mom's favorite actor, Tom Selleck, I always had some curiosity when it came to Japanese baseball culture and NPB. This curiosity expanded as a young boy watching on television the MLB debut of Ichiro Suzuki against the A's on Opening Day 2001. As well as watching the Japanese teams play in the Little League World Series. Such a unique way of playing, so fundamentally sound, it expanded my creativity to look at this great game in a different light.

Then 2013 came around, and the A's were interested in a Japanese shortstop named Hiroyuki Nakajima. I then started watching his highlight tapes that were spread throughout the internet, I don't know what it was that I loved about watching those tapes. Was it the catchy J-Pop? The surprisingly, awesome bat flips? Or even the lively Ōendans (cheering sections) who provided tremendously choreographed player songs? Or was it the crazy announcers? Whatever it was, my interest took hold at that time, but I didn't follow through with it yet, since I didn't think I'd find people who had the same curiosity.

Nakajima didn't even play a single game for the A's but his old team the Seibu Lions seemed to be the team that was calling towards me to adopt them.

I loved the history, great players, great teams, and a tremendous pallet of uniform lineage. And talking with a couple fellow A's fans: Ralliney Marpaung, Christian Gin, and Satoshi Nozaka, I felt it was time to not only officially adopt an NPB team but also begin to regularly follow them. I realized it would be difficult with the time change, but with my insomniac tendencies, I knew it would be the perfect escape to fit my baseball needs.

There was one article in particular that went through a whole process of adopting an NPB team. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of being able to check out the atmosphere at the various stadiums. So I had to go by a comparison of what my teams are like. My main team the Oakland A's are a team with great history, crazy fans, and uniforms that are timeless. They're also known for being one of the more modest teams in MLB with the book/movie "Moneyball" making it famous.

My NL team (second team) is the LA Dodgers, before the A's moved from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968, my grandfather who was from Warren, Ohio, was a longtime Dodgers fan during the Branch Rickey days in Brooklyn. When my mom was born, he passed this fandom along to her and they grew up cheering on Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. With the Dodgers, their uniforms provided a clean, classic look that appealed to me in a much different way, as opposed to the A's. That Dodger blue always appealed to me, and to go along with the great history of the "Dodger Way" of developing transcendent talent provided a great sidearm to my fandom with the A's. With the Dodgers, the larger than life players are something that make Dodgers baseball a joy, whether they're winning or losing.

I decided that the team that I'd decide to adopt would need to have great history, great personalities, while at the same time not being one of the big giants in Japanese Baseball. My ideal NPB team would be a hybrid of the A's and Dodgers, and with the league only being 12 teams deep, it was easy to eliminate several teams from contention.

The Giants were immediately eliminated before the criteria was even laced together. The Giants have the same orange and black colors as their American cousins and they are known as the "Yankees" of NPB. Not my cup of tea, by any means. The Hanshin Tigers were eliminated because of their similarities with the Boston Red Sox, another team I don't care for.

Many other teams were eliminated with the great history and great personalities requirements. I thought about adopting the Chunchi Dragons with their colors being very similar to the Dodgers and with this team being the one Tom Selleck was on in Mr. Baseball. I decided against it, because of their aging roster.

For those who don't know, NPB is broken down into two leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League. The Central League is similar to the National League with the pitcher batting, while the Pacific League is much like the American League with the Designated Hitter. I was always more of an American League guy, so I decided that it needed to be a Pacific League team.

And in the end, the Seibu Lions were the team that always stood standing tall. The Lions, like the A's and Dodgers once had a golden age where they dominated Japanese baseball in the 1980s and 90s. Their classic uniforms that are similar to that of the Detroit Tigers appealed to me as well, and then I found out about their players.

These were their standard uniforms until this season, where they discontinued the jerseys on the right. And made their home uni a white version of the ones on the left.

Their players include a great mix of stereotypical, no-nonsense, fundamentally sound Japanese players to go along with power hitters with tremendous flair. The two players that intrigued me the most were Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Ernesto Mejia.

As you can see, Okawari-kun is a big boy. He's nicknamed Okawari-kun for his chubby appearance. "Okawari" is the Japanese equivalent to asking for seconds at the buffet while "kun" is the respectful way of addressing a young boy. Essentially, Okawari-kun means "big boy." Many of you know that I always enjoyed Bartolo Colon when he was with the Oakland A's, I found myself having a similar affinity toward Nakamura. Especially because he hits lots of home runs and is able to make fun of himself. I find him very similar to Pablo Sandoval, especially since he plays third, but he has more power than Pablo and he's much more of a joy than Sandoval.

Then there's Ernesto Mejia, the big Venezuelan slugger who was tied with Okawari-kun for the NPB home run title last year, has a flash factor that I just love. In the young season of 2015, he finishes every swing with a golf swing follow through which is always entertaining to see. Mejia provides a Latin power-hitter presence that gives you chills every time he steps to the plate. And if any of you know about #TeamWes, this is all too important. He used to be in the Braves organization but he never was able to succeed in the United States, and now he's thriving with the Lions. I find him similar to Jose Abreu, but smaller.

So there you have it, that's why I picked the Seibu Lions. Stay tuned for more commentary from myself and Christian Gin. If you'd ever like to see some Japanese Baseball, please let us know and we'll direct you toward some. Expect to see some great highlights and commentary from this blog.

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