For the most part, the Saitama Seibu Lions were decent in the bullpen. While there were some mishaps and blown games, the pitching itself was not the problem.
The Lions were thrust in and one injury would later ruin the entire unit with no bridge to get to the closer. This year, some draft picks hope to make their way somewhere on the team and the bullpen is a good start.
Tatsushi Masuda: Masuda became the team's closer after a strong 2015 as the setup man. His FIP and metrics continued to look amazing, but he still gave up hits. He was still the team's best reliever to finish a game.
Shota Takekuma: Takekuma is likely to be the setup man or could take the 7th inning. Originally a lefty specialist, Takekuma is more than a one trick pony and has proven to be reliable in middle relief. His role could continue to expand from last year.
Kazuhisa Makita: The Lions took a page out of Samurai Japan and had Makita as a middle reliever. It proved to be the right choice as he would take several innings as a "bullpen ace". The change of pace having a submariner out of the bullpen vs being a starter has worked wonders for Makita after having a rough 2015 trying to be the team's closer. He was arguably the team's MVP when it came to pitchers.
Brian Schlitter: Among the new foreign imports, Schlitter is likely to make the ichi-gun to start the year for his power fast ball. It would really help if the Lions can get a pitcher who can blow away batters with velocity.
Tatsuya Oishi: Oishi has been viewed as a bust after being hyped up as one of the best pitchers in the 2010 draft. Last year showed he found a role as a righty specialist and for inherited runners. With the exception of one game where he gave up two home runs, he did a great job at keeping the ball in the park and showed promise out of the bullpen.
Hirotaka Koishi: Koishi is the man to eat up innings and get a ground ball. His unusual pause in his release is different, but he's an up and down reliever as a whole. Last year, he would take up innings in low leverage if the Lions were down by a run or more. He will have to work on some control to not hit batters.
Frank Garces: Garces could be a lefty specialist in the event that he doesn't crack a spot in the rotation. He has a side arm style of pitch and can still contribute in the bullpen.
Shogo Noda: Noda could be a lefty specialist as he got several meaningful innings in the second half of 2016. He has a snappy release for a much shorter pitcher.
Ryohei Fujiwara: Fujiwara can be a long reliever, but is decent at missing some bats in a pinch. If the Lions have significant bullpen injuries, Fujiwara becomes an option.
Kentaro Fukukura: Fukukura had a productive 2015 season in ni-gun, but the Lions didn't give him much of a chance at the ichi-gun level. He was a 7th round pick in 2013.
Toshihiro Iwao: Iwao can strike out batters, but has a lack of control. He often gives up a big hit by trying to attack the batter too much and fails to locate. At best, he can eat up innings in low leverage.
Chun-Lin Kuo: Kuo has had control issues which is why the Lions have been careful to not start him much since 2015 ended. If he doesn't earn a spot in the rotation, he can get low leverage innings out of the bullpen.
Yosuke Okamoto: Okamoto is the one pitcher who has issues striking people out. He is forced to put the ball in play, making him a risky option at the ichi-gun level.
Yasuo Sano: Sano could be a spot starter, but can also eat up more low leverage innings.
Takuya Toyoda: Toyoda is all but roster filler in the event the Lions need a reserve pitcher due to other injuries. This could be his last season with the Lions if he can't earn playing time in 2017.
Naoaki Matsumoto: Matsumoto was one of the oldest rookies in NPB last season at age 25. He would earn two games of playing time in low leverage at the end of the year. A former Shikoku Island pitcher, Matsumoto is one of the ultimate underdog stories for a guy who once played in a Hospital Baesball League.
Seiji Kawagoe: Kawagoe is a converted outfielder who is supposed to develop into a reliever. The Lions may have liked the fact he is a lefty and feel he can be developed. Kawagoe was a 2nd round pick in 2015 and has yet to play an ichi-gun game.
Tsubasa Kokuba: Kokuba is one of three Okinawans on the Lions and was their 8th round pick in 2015. He would pitch in two games last September.
Tadasuke Minamikawa: Minamikawa appeared in only four ichi-gun games last year. He was the 5th round pick in the 2015 NPB Draft.
Shunta Nakatsuka: Nakatsuka could be a starter, but with his high velocity potential, we think it is best that he gets reps out of the bullpen in a short burst. This is his rookie season as he was the team's 2nd round pick in 2016.
Katsunori Hirai: Hirai was drafted out of the industrial leagues and is expected to be a reliever. He has a 3/4 arm slot delivery with a decent breaking ball. Hirai was the team's 5th round draft pick in 2016.
Ichiro Tamura: Tamura is also projected as a reliever among the rookies. After being a starter in college, the Lions like him as a possible setup candidate for the long run. He was drafted in the 6th round last fall.
Recovering from injury:
Tomomi Takahashi: Takahashi was the closer from 2014-2015. After a regression and losing his job as a closer, he would suffer an elbow injury in early 2016. He would get Tommy John surgery and will spend most of this season recovering from it. It's possible he has a chance to play in September.
The Lions have taken a combined 12 pitchers in the last two draft classes and it appears a lot of them can see time out of the bullpen. The opening day bullpen should be all but settled, but it's possible that two spots could be open to anyone who makes a good impression on the coaching staff.
If anything, it's nice to see fresh faces when most of the reserves are rather stale and in need of change.
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