Monday, January 9, 2017
Seibu Lions 2016 Season Review: Final FIP Report
In a year where the Saitama Seibu Lions finished fourth in the Pacific League in ERA, it seemed that the team's pitching was inconsistent as a whole. Now without Takayuki Kishi anchoring the staff as the team's ace, more questions surround the Lions in the pitching department.
Let's see if the FIP has any answers that can provide us with a vision for the 2017 season. For any further information on FIP, please check out my previous posts on the subject.
Note: Only pitchers with a certain sample size will be included in this post.
Yusei Kikuchi (143.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.27
2016 ERA: 2.58
3 Year FIP: 3.47 (415.2 IP)
Kikuchi was the Lions innings leader for the 2016 season and the pitcher who will be touted as the team's ace when 2017 comes around. He provided his second consecutive good season in his relatively young career thanks to a strikeout rate that was at 8.0 K/9. He still struggles with walks as he posted a 4.2 BB/9 and there are questions to whether or not he'll ever keep his walk rate down below 3, but his talent is second to none on this staff.
Some will call him a bust because he didn't end up being the MLB Posting Baby that he was supposed to be back in high school, but this year proves that last year was not a fluke and he's finally starting to live up to his high ceiling. Another challenge for Kikuchi in 2017 will be staying healthy, as the Lions continue to struggle with finding a real workhorse on their staff. Kikuchi will be the one to most likely fill that need. The problem with that will be that his career high in innings is 143 and that's just simply not enough if the Lions want to play in the postseason next year.
Takayuki Kishi (130.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.01
2016 ERA: 2.49
3 Year FIP: 3.07 (402.0 IP)
Look at those numbers. Life without Kishi will be difficult and there's no doubt about it. With that said, there is one question surrounding Kishi and that will be whether he can reverse the recent trend of injuries that he's dealt with the past couple seasons.
Kishi has not thrown more than 175 IP since 2014 and this was likely one factor that allowed Rakuten to bring Kishi back home to Sendai. When Kishi is on the field, there aren't a lot of pitchers who are better than him as he has shown a great pitching repertoire to go along with a veteran's knowledge that has allowed him to continue the success into his 30s.
Kona Takahashi (118.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.98
2016 ERA: 4.42
The former Koshien Champion's first full professional season was one that was like the rest of the team: inconsistent. Things looked promising for the 19 year old, even on August 11th, his FIP stood at a solid 3.29, but then the struggles came and Takahashi finished the year in the bullpen.
It's unclear whether these struggles going into next season will dictate the narrative here, but I'm willing to bet that his struggles can be chalked up to inexperience and a career high in innings pitched. Both his strikeout and walk rates improved from his small sample size rates of 2015 and he already has 3 complete games in his short career for what it's worth. Like with any young pitcher, patience is needed with this young kid heading into his age 20 season.
Ryoma Nogami (107.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 4.36
2016 ERA: 3.87
3 Year FIP: 4.41 (361.2 IP)
When it comes to FIP, Ryoma Nogami doesn't exactly have the stuff to light up the FIP tallies. He's far from overpowering, walks a good amount, and gives up the long ball which is simply a recipe for disaster in this exercise. When you look at his numbers, it's almost hard to believe that he's been able to keep a place on the ichi-gun, but instead he's found a way to stay up.
It's even more surprising that he was able to have a decent year when it comes to ERA in 2016, especially since he gave up more hits per nine innings than 2015 and had a higher walk rate. Part of this might be because he threw 26.2 less innings than in 2015 so maybe the sample size kept him from a fatter ERA. As a spot starter, there's definitely some value in having Nogami on the ichi-gun but any role more than that will likely be trouble for the Lions in 2017.
Shinsaburo Tawata (98.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.37
2016 ERA: 4.38
It's not often where you see an FIP that is so far ahead of the ERA, but this can happen with a sample size of 98.2 IP. With that said, Lions scouts must be patting themselves on the back for what they saw out of Tawata in 2016. Once he settled into the season, he seemed dominant and showed that overpowering stuff that prompted the Lions to take him with their first pick last year.
The one game that shows Tawata's great improvement came here when Tawata pitched a 3-hit, complete game shutout at the Sapporo Dome. Tawata led all Lions starters with K/9 with a rate of 8.3 which will raise expectations for Tawata as he goes into his age 24 season.
Kazuhisa Makita (78.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.28
2016 ERA: 1.72
3 Year FIP: 3.92 (387 IP)
The right-handed submarine pitcher was probably one of the Lions' best stories of 2016 as the man who provided stability for a bullpen that badly needed it. Norio Tanabe followed the trend set by Samurai Japan Manager Hiroki Kokubo (and his predecessor) who used Makita in a relief role and it was brilliant.
Makita barely punched out any batters, but he made sure to master the other elements of FIP as he barely walked anyone and kept the ball from flying out of the ballpark. Makita was used in many roles as a fireman, a long reliever and a setup man. Overall, he proved he could handle all of those roles.
His injury during the middle part of the year was one that really hampered the bullpen to be dysfunctional as a group and as a result, many games just simply couldn't get turned over to the closer Tatsushi Masuda without Makita. Makita will likely have a role on Samurai Japan during the World Baseball Classic and with his unique arm angle, he will definitely be a nice weapon for Kokubo to have in his back pocket. The question for 2017 will be how new manager, Hatsuhiko Tsuji will use him. He could head back to the rotation where he's had some success before, but with these great numbers, it's hard to argue how that would be the right decision.
Hirotaka Koishi (74.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.84
2016 ERA: 3.74
The Lions' lefty reliever saw his first amount of a significant workload since his winter with the Melbourne Aces in 2012 where he pitched 35.1 innings. With that in mind, I don't think there was anyone out there who thought that Koishi would throw a significant amount of innings for the Lions in 2016 but sure enough, that's what happened.
With the Lions finding so many issues with their starters going deep into games, Koishi was one of the relievers who was asked to carry the low in usually low leverage innings. At times, Koishi would be asked to get a ground ball in a jam but in totality, he pitched relatively well. Whether or not Koishi has the stuff has the stuff to have a significant role with the Lions in 2017 is unlikely, but he'll certainly get an opportunity with his work in 2016. Like most of the Lions relievers, he does a great job of not allowing any home runs but his concerns will involve his walk rate which soared to 4.7 BB/9.
Ken Togame (71.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 4.04
2016 ERA: 6.31
3 Year FIP: 4.21 (282.1 IP)
It was nothing short of a disastrous season for the three-quarter arm slot, right-hander and the causes for that season were a whole different issue than what we're used to with Togame. Last season, Togame was actually decent and probably was on the lucky side of things according to his FIP, but he gave up a whopping 19 home runs, while this season he only gave up 3.
This year, it was Togame's massive amount of hits given up that gave him all sorts of issues to go along with a career low in K/9 at 5.2, which was down a full point from the previous season. This suggests that Togame's stuff wasn't fooling anyone and he was getting hammered. With all that, Togame was sent to the bullpen where he made 8 appearances. If you look at the trends in Togame's inconsistent career, it would suggest that he will have a good season next year. He has not put two consistent years together, good or bad. If Togame doesn't find starts, it's difficult to see where he fits in with the 2017 Lions.
Shota Takekuma (61.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.32
2016 ERA: 3.54
3 Year FIP: 3.54 (167 IP)
Probably one of the most underrated players on the Lions is Shota Takekuma. For the last couple seasons he has provided quality innings and probably has earned a bigger role in the Lions' 2017 bullpen.
This year, Takekuma improved his K/9 by two full points with a 7.8 and he also lowered his walk rate to 3.0, which was the lowest of his career. With those kind of numbers, you get to do more than just retire lefties. The only issue he faced this year was the long ball as he gave up a career high with five this season. Otherwise he would've posted even better numbers.
Tatsushi Masuda (54.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 1.91
2016 ERA: 1.66
3 Year FIP: 2.40 (173 IP)
It's not a good look when your lefty specialist throws more innings than your best reliever. That's what happens when you're a closer on a bad team. Masuda recorded 28 saves and 47 games finished. That means there were 19 games where Masuda finished the game with no save situation and it is incredible. It would've been a good idea if Norio Tanabe had just thrown out the roles and just had Masuda come in earlier, but that wasn't to be.
For a little perspective, as a setup man the year before, Masuda threw 74.0 IP, that's almost 20 IP more than his total in 2016. You can't let Masuda rot in the bullpen during 2017, not with these crazy numbers. He does everything you want as a closer, he keeps the ball in the ballpark, he strikes guys out and doesn't walk anyone. Masuda posted the best K/9 of his career with an 8.8 last season but did see a rise in his walks at 2.5. Masuda should definitely be the closer in 2017, just as long as that role doesn't cut into his usage.
With the 3 Year FIPs included, I think there's definitely a lot of information in this post. One thing I'll mention is that Kazuhisa Makita's 3 Year FIP is probably useless considering it includes most of the innings where he was pretty much just a starter. It's hard to rely on that information when he's likely going to be a reliever from this day forward.
With my analysis, I've tried my best to use the numbers at the top as a starting point and then look at the more intricate stats to provide answers to those numbers. For some of these guys, it's just impossible to do so without a significant sample size, but we can do our best. All in all, just looking at the weird innings distribution of the 2016 Seibu Lions, the season was definitely a mess.