Monday, June 26, 2017

Three Lions voted into 2017 All Star Series

The fan vote for the 2017 NPB All-Star Series concluded and it resulted in three Saitama Seibu Lions voted in.

Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita were voted in by the fans as the OF, 2B and setup man positions, respectively. Without question, all three players have earned their spots.

Akiyama, 29, has already been known for his 2015 record-breaking season, but has quietly shown more pop in 2017. Through 66 games, he has already tied a career high 14 HRs at the ichi-gun level. He is currently hitting with a slashline of .333/.436/.562 and has spent most of the season as the Lions' leadoff hitter.

Asamura has 17 doubles with 49 RBIs, hitting a slashline of .301/.346/.449. Most of these numbers reflect a red hot April and May, where hovered near the .400 mark. This is his first season being the team's captain and wearing the premier No. 3.

Makita has become a 7th inning reliever for the Lions after being a swingman for any role last season. He currently has an 0.55 ERA in 33 innings pitched. What has made him effective is having minimal pitch count through one inning and forcing weak contact.

Here is our reaction to the rest of the Pacific and Central League players voted in:

Pacific League:

Catcher: Motohiro Shima (Eagles) .223/.379/.306

This is more of a name recognition vote than anything else. Shima has spent a portion of the season injured, but when looking at the rest of the Pacific League, there weren't many options with other teams going with multiple catchers. Ginjiro Sumitani hits in bunches as he got his average up, but everyone knows he's only known for his defense and isn't as well-rounded like Shima.


First Baseman: Sho Nakata (Fighters) .238/.347/.433

Like Shima, this is a name recognition type of vote. The objective one should go to Seiichi Uchikawa of the Softbank Hawks who actually has more home runs (11) than Nakata (10). Uchikawa's slashline is currently .330/.416/.557 and has been an important part of the Hawks' offense.


Third Baseman: Nobuhiro Matsuda (Hawks) .258/.322/.422

Matsuda is pretty popular given his past, but there is a better case for Brandon Laird, who has recovered well from a slow start and has more home runs (16) than Matsuda (11). Zelous Wheeler is quietly playing well after an awful April, as his slashline is .281/.351/.504. Wheeler also has 14 HRs.

Shortstop: Kenta Imamiya (Hawks) .267/.330/.370

Imamiya is the ultimate shortstop of Japan and his popularity won't die as his defense is legit. It is interesting how the defensive metrics currently favor Sosuke Genda, but the better SS right now is Eigoro Mogi of the Eagles. Mogi is hitting .319/.390/.558 with 12 HRs and usually bats leadoff for Rakuten.



Yuki Yanagita (Hawks) .307/.423/.593

Seiji Uebayashi (Hawks) .300/.326/.495

Yanagita could get another Triple-3 season with 18 HRs ans 12 stolen bases. Uebayashi has come from the Hawks farm, but has been the everyday starting outfielder to earn a spot on the team. An argument can be made for Kensuke Kondo, but it appears he could be out for the entire season with a herniated disc injury.


Starting pitcher: Kodai Senga (Hawks) (6-2), 2.93 ERA, 0.960 WHIP,  (10.0 SO/9)

There's no question Senga deserves to be an All-star when he dominates on the field. Unfortunately, he's been injured recently, but it looks like he'll be healthy in time for the game itself. Yusei Kikuchi barely missed this spot, but with plenty of pitchers on the roster, someone had to be snubbed in votes.


Closer: Yuki Matsui (Eagles) (3-1), 0.28 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 21 SV, (9.8 SO/9)

Matsui has been dominant when the ball is handed to him to close the games. This vote was a no brainer even though Dennis Sarfate has a case given his strikeout numbers.


Designated Hitter: Shohei Otani (Fighters) .407/.469/.807

Talk about bias. Otani has only appeared in eight games (seven when the voting ended) and fans voted him in anyways. He's been battling and injury and hasn't appeared on the mound in 2017 yet, but this wouldn't be worthy enough for our vote with a small sample size. Alfredo Despaigne should have the vote here with 18 HRs and he's even picked up his average to .281 since being with the Hawks.


Central League

Catcher: Ryutaro Umeno (Tigers) .195/.277/.268

The catcher position in the Central is one we don't have a lot of expertise on and won't pretend to know. At the time of the voting, many catchers weren't hitting, but it would have been tempting to take Yuhei Nakamura of the Swallows had he been healthy.


First Baseman: Takahiro Arai (Carp) .273/.387/.446

This is a name recognition vote given Arai's history. What's amazing is how Jose Lopez finished in dead last as he's hitting .321/.343/.571 with 15 HRs, leading his team in that category. Lopez's back is against the wall as he's in a contract year.


Second Baseman: Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp) .277/.315/.395

This one is a no-doubter thanks to Tetsuto Yamada having an ugly season. Kikuchi doesn't have the highest batting average among 2Bs, but everyone knows his defense is important for the middle of the infield.


Third Baseman: Takashi Toritani (Tigers) .304/.401/.374

After being benched a year ago and no longer being the team's SS, Toritani has put in a respectable season at the plate. The high on-base percentage puts him over the top, though Casey McGehee has been a decent surprise for the Yomiuri Giants when we expected him to flop.


Shortstop: Hayato Sakamoto (Giants) .327/.398/.490

Sakamoto is popular nationwide when playing for Japan's national team. However, he backs up his reputation this year continue to be effective and the only Giant to truly carry his team on offense. Sakamoto has some of the best defense for a shortstop as well in NPB.



Seiya Suzuki (Carp) .305/.371/.554

Yoshio Itoi (Tigers) .275/.388/.399

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Baystars) .275/.394/.450

Suzuki is showing last year was no fluke as he already has 15 home runs and could easily hit 30 by the time 2017 is over. Itoi is not the greatest option, but is the most accomplished of the bunch based on the past. Yoshihiro Maru would've served as the better choice among OFs. Tsutsugo is remembered for his pop, but teams have pitched around him, which explains his high walk rate. He is still a threat as everyone saw from the 2017 World Baseball Classic.


Starting pitcher: Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants) (7-3), 2.38 ERA, 1.004 WHIP, (7.7 SO/9)

Sugano had three consecutive games which resulted in a shutout and remains the ace of the Giants. Raul Valdes and Randy Messenger both have an argument, but Sugano deserves to be at the top.


Middle Relief pitcher: Marcos Mateo (Tigers) (5-2), 1.80 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, (9.6 SO/9), 20 H

Mateo has been part of an amazing Hanshin Tigers bullpen. You can even make an argument that his fellow teammate Kentaro Kuwahara should get the nod, but if anything, the Tigers as a team have been solid when giving the ball to their relievers. Scott Mathieson of the Giants should also get recognition.


Closer: Yasuaki Yamasaki (Baystars) (1-1), 1.20 ERA, 0.933 WHIP, (11.3 SO.9), 8 SV

Yamasaki has been decent as a middle reliever. However, I don't agree with this vote since he doesn't close all the time as he has split with Spencer Patton through the first half. Rafael Dolis of the Hanshin Tigers has more saves and strikeouts to get the nod in my book.


At the end of the day, the All-star Series will always be the fan's game and nothing more. It's a fun party atmosphere of everyone enjoying Oendan songs no matter which league you prefer. The first All-star game will be on July 14 from Nagoya Dome while the second one will be at Zozotown Marine Field on July 15.

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