Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fighters win 2016 Japan Series, continuing Pacific League dominance

The 2016 Nippon Series ended with a 10-4 victory by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters over the Hiroshima Toyo Carp on Saturday night. In what was a dramatic series, it would be the Pacific League once again getting it done for the fourth straight year.

Coming into this matchup, it was considered to be even with the talented Carp entering their first Japan Series since 1991. They had some of the best offensive numbers and the greatest run differential in 2016. The Fighters also had a strong year winning the Pacific League pennant after trailing the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks by as many as 11.5 games.

After going up 2-0 in the series, the Carp were initially cruising and led Game 3 in Sapporo through seven innings with Hiroki Kuroda leading the way. The Fighters were able to claw back in the 8th inning off Jay Jackson with a double by Sho Nakata that just fell and gave them the lead. While the Carp tied it in the top of the 9th, it would be Shohei Otani who delievered a walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th off Daichi Osera.

Game 4 was also a close battle with both teams tied 1-1 after seven innings. Jackson once again was the culprit to blow it with a two-run home run by Brandon Laird in the bottom of the 8th. To make matters worse with the bases loaded, Naoki Miyanishi struck out Yoshihiro Maru with a slider outside to end the game.

It would be a rinse and repeat performance by the Carp bullpen in games 5 and 6, where the relievers coughed up the runs. Shota Nakazaki gave up a sayonara grand slam to Haruki Nishikawa in Game 5 and a crooked six-run inning in Game 6 off Jackson sealed the deal.

What made the Fighters become the champions for 2016? Defense and next man up. Coming into the series, it was all about how Shohei Otani would be through both his pitching and hitting. He only pitched in Game 1 and wasn't even needed in Game 6 where they could have pinch hit him for Anthony Bass.

The defense for the Fighters has always been good due to the range from the infield and outfield. Speed has always been their specialty. Not only that, but the second half had the Fighters not pitch Otani for majority of it as the team stuck with a rotation by committee.

Hirotoshi Masui switching from being a closer to a starter was huge. Chris Martin took over the closer role for the regular season and helped take innings in the bullpen before he left with injury.

In the Japan Series, it was all about their foreign imports making waves. Anthony Bass, a pitcher who spent time in the rotation and bullpen throughout the season came in some high leverage situations in a tie game. He would earn three wins in the postseason with 6.2 scoreless innings and even had an RBI single in Game 6 with the bases loaded.

Brandon Laird literally proved to be a home run signing from 2015, where he was the Pacific League Home Run King in 2016 and hit three home runs in the Japan Series. He would win the Japan Series MVP title where he hit a grand slam in Game 6 and a game winning HR from Game 4.

The most unsung hero of the bunch was Luis Mendoza, who will be remembered for Game 5. He didn't appear in the Fighters rotation in September, but it was the game of his life on Thursday. After Hideki Kuriyama pulled the quick hook on starter Takayuki Kato in the 2nd inning, Mendoza took over and only allowed one hit and one walk through 5.2 innings.

Call it some terrible logic, but the Fighters were also battle tested unlike the Carp throughout the entire regular season. Facing talented lineups from the Hawks, Chiba Lotte Marines and Saitama Seibu Lions has made the rest of the competition stronger in the big picture. For the Carp, they would dominate the bottom class teams, but the Yomiuri Giants could have given them fits in a series.

In the 21st Century, the Pacific League has won the Japan Series 11 of a possible 16 times. They only years where the Central League won was 2001 (Swallows), 2002 (Giants), 2007 (Dragons), 2009 (Giants) and 2012 (Giants). With Central League teams going through a transition, it wouldn't be surprising if this trend continues in the next 2-3 years.

For MLB fans, this could be the start of something big as we could be on Shohei Otani watch sooner rather than later. It took a recruiting process to convince Otani to sign with the Fighters after he initially had intentions to go straight to North America from high school.

There were many promises left behind closed doors which drew Otani to the Fighters after he was drafted. One of the goals was most likely a Japan Series title, which the team now has. If there was a strict agreement to have him posted after a Japan Series championship, then there is a chance he could come to MLB in 2017.

However, this is still an unlikely scenario with how many years of control Otani has left. When the 2017 NPB season ends, the Fighters decision on Otani will be very interesting and it will be the most probable year he gets posted.

At the end of the day, the Fighters are champions for the first time since 2006, when Trey Hillman was managing and Yu Darvish was part of their rotation. Lots of questions remain on Daikan Yoh for next year, but in the meantime, they should enjoy the party and parades to come.


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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Translation: Lions' office speaks on each 2016 NPB draft pick

The 2016 NPB Draft concluded with the Saitama Seibu Lions taking six players. They selected no one in the ikusei round.

With the draft being over, the Lions released information on each pick through their website. This page also includes a quote from a Lions scout on every player taken.

Senior Director Hisanobu Watanabe (Nabe-Q) also spoke about the Lions' first round pick immediately after they landed the rights to Tatsuya Imai. He was asked prior to the second round of the draft. Here is what they had to say:

Nabe-Q's Transcript:

On the odds of successfully winning Imai in the first round: 

"We were expecting some other teams to also pick him, which luckily did not happen and I feel great." 


What is your evaluation of Tatsuya Imai?

"Even though he is a high school player, I see him close to contributing immediately. Overall, there are quite a few players with potential this year. He may play with the ichi-gun team earlier than we expect. In many ways, we evaluate him as a No.1 pitcher."


What is your hope on how Imai will be developed? 

"I hope he will be a pitcher representing the Lions in the future and I believe he has the talent to be the one."


What are your thoughts of second round and beyond? (The interview was right after the first round) 

"We are hoping to take players with a focus on being well-balanced, but for now, I feel great to take a very good pitcher in the first round." 


Are you satisfied with how the draft started? 



Nabe-Q spoke after the draft saying that it was a "unanimous" decision to take Imai without hesitation. He also thinks Sosuke Genda can compete immediately.  

Scout's take on each Lions draft pick:

P Tatsuya Imai: 

"He has strong instantaneous velocity. This includes a great fastball with high spin thrown by well-snapped arm. He's expected to be a future ace."


P Shunta Nakatsuka:

"His strong point is his fastball (maximum of 157km/h) with a large difference in size compared to the rest, he can take advantage of his of height. He's a pitcher with great physical potential." 


IF Sosuke Genda:

"He's the best infielder in the industrial league with great defense and base running. [He can be an] immediate contributor by taking advantage of his defense capability."


OF Shohei Suzuki:

"Suzuki is a well balanced [speed, hitting and defense] for a highschool player, with potential to be a regular player. He's expected to be a future leadoff hitter."


P Katsunori Hirai:

"Hirai is an aggressive pitcher with a spinning fastball and slider. He can contribute as a reliever."


P Ichiro Tamura: 

"He's a power pitcher with an appealing presence. Has a powerful fastball and has a strong mentality too."


Special thanks goes to @Shiba_scope and Mizuho Miyazaki for translation help.  


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Friday, October 21, 2016

2016 NPB Draft: A summary of each Lions pick

The Saitama Seibu Lions ended up taking six players from the 2016 NPB Draft. This will be the main summary of each draft pick for the year. Wes is expected to put a more in-depth film study for two of the team's draft picks.


P Tatsuya Imai (今井 達也)

High school: Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi Prefecture)

Date of Birth: May 9, 1998

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 70 kg (154.3 lbs)

Throws/bats: Right/Right

Imai was the 2016 Summer Koshien champion as he carried his high school pitching every single inning during the tournament. He upped his stock where several teams were considering him, but it was only the Lions who nominated him with their initial first round pick and went unopposed. Lions senior director and former manager Hisanobu Watanabe said it was a "unanimous" decision to take Imai with no hesitation.

The Lions front office sees Imai as a future ace within three to five years. On our draft board, we rated him as the highest high school pitcher in terms of upside. A more indepth summary of his arsenal and abilities will be seen later. Imai joins Kona Takahashi as the second Koshien ace to win the tournament on the Lions roster as the latter did this in 2013 as a second year student.

Imai is a very intriguing option for the long term, as he can hit 152 KPH (94 mph) on the gun already. He will have to work on his control as with every young pitcher, but with some years of training with a professional regimen, Imai has a chance to be the team's ace going forward. Personally, I'd like him to get his baptism by fire with the ichi-gun in June after interleague play for 2017. It will take time, but the upside is there by having two plus pitches and not being dependent on the fastball at a young age.


P Shunta Nakatsuka (中塚 駿太)

College: Hakuoh University (Tochigi Prefecture)

High School: Tsukuba Shuei (Ibaraki Prefecture)

Date of Birth: December 26, 1994

Height: 191 cm (6' 3")

Weight: 105 kg (235 lbs)

Throws/bats: Right/Right

At 6-5, 235 pounds, Shunta Nakatsuka is one of the largest players in the entire draft class. He's already the second tallest player on the Lions only behind Ernesto Mejia. With his body and size, Nakatsuka can already hit 157 kph (97mph) on the gun and has a tremendous fastball. His slider and fork ball will be a work in progress, but with his velocity, there is quite some upside and the front office of the Lions agreed in a statement.

If his control is decent, I would like Nakatsuka to play in the bullpen for 2017 to get the most out of him. It won't hurt to have a guy blow away opposing batters with a strong fast ball late in the game. Here is a video of Nakatsuka from a TV show. He won't be an Okawari anytime soon, but he can definitely eat and mostly says the word a lot.


IF Sosuke Genda (源田 壮亮)

Industrial League Team: Toyota Motors (Aichi Prefecture)

College: Aichi Gakuin University (Aichi Prefecture)

High School: Oita Shogyo (Oita Prefecture)

Date of Birth: February 16, 1993

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 73 kg (161 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Genda can play shortstop and with his experience, it's possible he can be an immediate contributor for the Lions. His scouting report shows that he was a gold glove winner multiple times in his career and has also won the stolen base title in the past. The Lions liked his leadership as well and by working with manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji, his defense could be even better.

For 2017, he should compete for the starting shortstop position with Shuta Tonosaki and Nien Ting Wu. With his speed already being strong, they can make him a pinch runner or defensive replacement at minimum.

On a fun trivial note, his nickname is "Ponyo" from his teammates at Toyota Motors due to his first name "Sosuke" being the main character from the Studio Ghibli film known as Ponyo.


OF Shohei Suzuki (鈴木 将平)

High school: Shizuoka (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Date of Birth: May 20, 1998

Height: 175 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 75 kg (165 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Most scouting websites like his upside, seeing him hit for average with decent range and speed for his age. He was the No. 3 hitter for the U18 Samurai Japan. The Lions like him as a triple threat with hitting, speed and defense, which is will be a work in progress for the long term.

Most likely, we won't see him in 2017 like Aito Otaki from last year. This could be the heir to Takumi Kuriyama in the future in terms of being an outfielder, but it will take time.

Suzuki also has a fallback option to be a pitcher, where he was capable of playing both positions in high school.


P Katsunori Hirai (平井 克典)

Industrial League team: Honda Suzuka (Mie Prefecture)

College: Aichi Sangyo University (Aichi Prefecture)

High School: Hiryu High School (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Date of Birth: December 20, 1991

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 83 kg (183 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Hirai is a three-quarter arm slot pitcher and the oldest player in the Lions class. However, he wasn't the oldest player taken in the entire 2016 NPB Draft. He tops out at 146 kph (91 mph) and was a starter in both college and with Honda Suzuka.

The Lions think his fastball and slider could be good for the bullpen. He should compete for a reliever role with the Lions. This is the second straight year the Lions take a player who will be 25 on Opening Day. Last year, they took Naoaki Matsumoto out of the Shikoku Island League thinking he can help the bullpen.


P Ichiro Tamura (田村 伊知郎)

College: Rikkyo University (Tokyo)

High School: Hotoku Gakuin (Hyogo Prefecture)

Date of Birth: September 19, 1994

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

The Lions have an Ichiro we can root for! Tamura is a potential sleeper who can top 150 kph (93 mph) on the gun. He was a starter at Rikkyo University but also saw time out of the bullpen for some games. His senior year saw a rise in his stock where he was an important pitcher for them.

The Lions liked his fastball and think he has some upside with his fork ball and splitter. He will go through control issues most likely, but he has already drawn comparisons to Yokohama DeNA Baystars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki. While we don't expect him to be a closer, he has a chance to earn a job in the bullpen for the ichi-gun in 2017.



Unlike last year's 10 man class, the Lions took several players who can help for the present, but also found value in the upside to taking Imai in the first round. The 2015 class should be better with another year under their belt even though they were all projects.

It's possible that Tamura, Genda, Nakatsuka and Hirai can all see ichi-gun playing time in 2017 while Imai is expected to go through short term growing pains. I personally wanted seven players, but with four guys who can contribute immediately, it's good that the Lions made an effort for any concerns.

Some will argue the Lions were a shortstop away from competing last year with the errors and hitting issues at the position. Genda should bring a fresh face and if he won the starting role with great defense and adequate hitting, we would take that right away.

The Lions also needed rotation and/or bullpen help and it appears Tamura, Hirai and Nakatsuka can come in if they earn the roles. Depth is always key and it doesn't hurt to replenish some pitchers in what was a thin unit by the middle of last year.

There should be a few foreign pitcher signings to go along with this class, but it's very clear that the Lions see Shinsaburo Tawata, Kona Takahashi and Tatsuya Imai as the potential "big 3" of the future with Yusei Kikuchi leading the way. We hope they can bring back Takayuki Kishi as he enters free agency soon.


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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Seibu Lions land Koshien champion Tatsuya Imai in 2016 NPB Draft

The Saitama Seibu Lions chose to go with probability over talent in the first round, selecting Tatsuya Imai with their draft pick. There was no opposition, leading to no lottery for the fourth consecutive draft.

Imai was the 2016 Koshien champion with Sakushin Gakuin going the whole way. Traditionally, Sakushin Gakuin players do not go to the pros immediately after high school baseball, but Imai bucked the trend and declared after being a champion and upping his stock.

Seigi Tanaka, the consensus "best player available" was selected by five teams, where the Softbank Hawks landed him with the help of Kimiyasu Kudo taking the draw. The Lions played it safe and went with a player they had a better chance of landing instead.

We here at Graveyard Baseball had him as the No. 3 pitcher on our draft board and felt he was the best high school arm of the bunch. There will be plenty of things to dissect with more film study, but we're both satisfied with this pick.

The Lions also took a pitcher in Shunta Nakatsuka who can play immediately as he was a college arm. In the third round, they took an infielder named Sosuke Genda, who is billed as a speedy shortstop with adequate defense. If both Genda and Nakatsuka can contribute in 2017, the Lions would be in good shape for both the long and short term.

Imai is a pick we will have to be patient on, but it makes sense based on the film study we saw. In total, the Lions took four pitchers, one outfielder and one infielder to complete their 2016 draft class.

Here is the full list of players taken:

RHP Tatsuya Imai (Sakushin Gakuin)

RHP Shunta Nakatsuka (Hakuo University)

IF Sosuke Genda (Toyota Motors)

OF Shohei Suzuki (Shizuoka HS)

RHP Katsunori Hirai (Honda Motors)

RHP Ichiro Tamura (Rikkyo University)


We will have plenty of studying to do, but this is what will be the future of Lions baseball. Until then, further analysis will come soon.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Japan Series: One drought is guaranteed to break

The Japan Series begins on October 22 where the Hiroshima Carp will face the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Both teams won the pennant in their respective leagues and were able to use the one-game advantage to propel them to where they are.

We will break down both teams and give you our picks for the seven-game series to end the year.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Fighters needed the one-game advantage more than anyone else among the six teams who made the postseason. They were able to secure the pennant on the final week of the regular season and play in the comforting home of Sapporo Dome. It wasn't an easy path, but they were able to get the job done with both hitting and enough pitching to move on.

Sho Nakata was the MVP of the Climax Series against the Fukuoka Softbnak Hawks and it was their offense which carried them when their pitching behind Kohei Arihara and Shohei Otani wasn't the greatest. Brandon Laird would hit an important three-run home run in the third game to give them a 3-1 advantage while Game 6 saw the team overcome an early 4-0 deficit.

Hirotoshi Masui's revival as a starting pitcher helped the team in the second half, but it was their band-aid rotation/bullpen as a whole with guys like Hirotoshi Takanashi and Anthony Bass who contributed. Speed and defense has been their specialty with Haruki Nishikawa, Daikan Yoh and Takuya Nakashima leading the way.

It doesn't hurt to have pop in the middle of the lineup behind Nakata, Laird and even Otani to balance things out. There's question marks about their bullpen, but their unorthodox managing and strict commitment to bunting has given them the result of wins.

This is the first time the Fighters have been in the Japan Series since 2012. Their last Japan Series championship was in 2006 under Trey Hillman and a very young Yu Darvish in their rotation.


Hiroshima Carp

The Carp steamrolled through the Climax Series where their pitching behind Yusuke Nomura and Kris Johnson took the first two games with shutouts. It was an insurmountable lead for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars as they only mustered up one win against Hiroki Kuroda in the third game. Despite having a close 8-7 affair in the clinching Game 5, the bullpen of Takeru Imamura, Jay Jackson and Shota Nakazaki shut the door and the Carp were sent to their first Japan Series since 1991.

Kosuke Tanaka was the MVP of the series getting on base and even hitting a home run to seal the deal. There is plenty of depth from Ryosuke Kikuchi, Yoshihiro Maru and Seiya Suzuki in their lineup.

The question mark is, have they been tested? The Yomiuri Giants were the only threat in the Central League and they failed to make it to the final stage.

One thing that's overshadowed is that the Carp have the longest Japan Series championship drought, stuck on 1984. Maybe there's no Colonel involved to make a curse story, but they also had the longest Japan Series appearance drought until now.


The Picks

Christian: The Carp are the more talented team based on numbers and their lineup. However, I like what the Fighters have gone through, which is slay the rest of the Pacific League and dealing with stronger competition throughout the course of the 143 game season. While I'm not impressed with the Fighters pitching depth behind Otani and Arihara, I still think they will be able to hit on the Carp rotation which also has its question marks with Kuroda and others.

This should be a classic series that will go down to the wire and I think the Fighters bats will wake up and make it tough on the Carp pitchers, both rotation and bullpen.

Fighters in 7


Wes: To take a line from my favorite baseball analyst Joe Sheehan, "the least important words in a playoff preview are the last ones," and that explains my thoughts on how even this matchup on paper seems to be. And just going through all the statistical categories, there aren't any that are glaring.

Here's what we know, the Carp and Fighters have similar contact rates see below.

NPB Playoff Teams:
Carp: 80.9%
Fighters: 80.6%
Hawks: 82.7%
Marines: 82.4%
Bay Stars: 80.4%
Giants: 82.0%

And on the pitching side, they Carp have a 10.2 K-BB ratio while the Fighters check in at 10.3. And on defense, they're both quite solid with both teams being up there in team UZR and defensive efficiency. And even baserunning-wise, both teams led their respective leagues with stolen bases. Where are the differences? The Carp hit more home runs than any team in NPB with 153, while the Fighters finished with 121.

With all that noise up above, it's time to look at x-factors and here's why I like the Carp, their bullpen trio of "IJN," is one that is a push button bullpen that makes it quite difficult for Carp manager, Koichi Ogata can screw up. The Fighters are having their own issues with their closer, Chris Martin who's not the guy from Coldplay. As a result, they responded by doing a little "bullpenning". As much as I like bullpenning as a strategy, it can also lead to unpredictable results because you just don't know which relievers just don't have it on that night.

I also like the Carp because "ball go far, team go far," and they still advanced to the Japan Series without a long ball explosion which could be on its way. All of this, of course, can be a moot point if Hideki Kuriyama rides Shohei Otani hard and Otani looks as unhittable as he did as a closer, but I still got the Carp ending the drought.

Carp in 6


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Monday, October 17, 2016

2016 NPB Draft: Top pitching prospects the Lions could go for

It's mid-October and that means it's draft season. Here are my breakdowns of the top pitching prospects that you should pay attention to in this upcoming draft. One explanation for my grading system is that it's a system on a 20-80 scale with 20 being the lowest and 80 being the highest, it's a common scout's way of grading someone's talent.

I'll preface this by saying that I can only grade what these prospects' skills are right now, I'm not the one to project anything, but I sometimes do it anyway, so don't hold me to it (but I'll be doing it to myself, so go right ahead). A video of each pitcher is attached to his name for reference.

Seigi Tanaka (College)

Known Pitches:

Fastball: 65
Slider: 60
Curveball: 50
Control: 55

The 6-1, 194 lb right-hander out of Soka University is the most hyped pitcher going into this draft and when you watch tape on him, you can certainly see why. He reportedly tops out with the fastball at 156 km/h, but I have no visual evidence of that taking place. What I have seen though is that he can hit as high as 153 while hovering around 150 and most importantly, he's able to spot his fastball wherever he wants to.

He burst onto the scene last year playing for the collegiate Samurai Japan team and impressing in the Universiade Tournament, while also impressing against NPB ni-gun players here. What separates Tanaka from the rest of class is that he has two plus pitches as opposed to only having one which is the case for just about everyone else. His slider continually produces weak contact and whiffs where he throws it often as the put-away pitch.

His curveball is his weakest pitch and as a result, he'll only throw it once in awhile just to show it. At times it can be an acceptable pitch and over time it can definitely develop into an above average pitch since it has some 12-6 drop, but it needs consistency. When it came to his control, Tanaka threw very few errant pitches and it seems to hardly be a concern going into his pro career. One possible concern going into his pro career is possibly his durability since he's not a physically imposing presence like Yu Darvish or Shohei Otani. This question will automatically come up, but I think even if he had a built frame it would be a concern because that goes the same for any young pitcher. Overall, Tanaka will be atop just about every NPB team's draft board and will likely be selected through a drawing.


Tatsuya Imai (High School)

Known Pitches:

Fastball: 60
Forkball: 50
Slider: 45
Curveball: 40
Control: 45

The 2016 Summer Koshien champions (Sakushin Gakuin) saw their ace join the conversation among the NPB Draft discussion and is now a likely first round pick. Before the tournament, he was not circled by the Lions as one of the names to consider, but that quickly changed when his team leaned on Imai hard and he responded by pitching tremendously and put himself into a long list of Koshien heroes with Yuki Saito, Masahiro Tanaka, and Kona Takahashi.

Imai was there to start every game, unlike other high school pitchers in this post who saw their coaches attempt to protect their aces, but likely cost themselves a chance of advancing. So with all that known, there are definite concerns about stress on the arm with Imai and with his size being a slender 5-11, 159 lbs. There's going to have to be hope that a professional training regimen can allow him to starve off the injury concerns.

Stuff-wise, Imai has a repertoire that is better than any high school pitcher in this class. While most high schoolers with high-upside velocities rely on their big number ones, Imai shows great maturity by mixing up his pitches that are quite unconventional and vary in different speeds. When rested, Imai flashed the gun at Koshien at 151 with a touch of glove side movement on his fastball. He would only rarely reach back and hit 150 on the gun, but when he did, hitters were baffled with his difference in velocity, which is a credit to his pitch mix. His forkball looks more like a slider at times, but it was the secondary pitch that he would go to most often when he needed the hitters to see another pitch. Whether or not this pitch will play up against professional hitters remains to be seen as most of the time that pitch resided in the 130s, which could possibly be too slow and may see hitters lay off of it, but professional refinement and training regiments may mitigate this.

His slider looks more like a curveball just thrown harder as it has more break than a slider usually has, but not enough break to have a 12-6 and it resides at around 120 km/h which is usually too slow to be a slider. It's not a great pitch and I can see professional coaches tweaking it or flat out eliminating it, but its speed differential is what made it a good pitch for him in Koshien. The curveball is one that he rarely throws and is a show-me pitch at this point in time.

Where Imai runs into trouble is when he starts missing with his fastball. When that happens, hitters are able to sit on it since his other pitches aren't trusted enough to throw when behind in the count. He would often throw away to left-handed hitters and the ones that were trying to go the other way would often find success. Other concerns about him lie with whether or not he can maintain his velocity as a starter, given the state of his slender stature. Whether or not this is proven over time will decide whether his career lies in a rotation or in the bullpen as a closer/middle reliever.

An interesting note is that he works exclusively out of the stretch, which will likely be changed as a professional. Like any high school pitcher, Imai will need plenty of time to develop and plenty of coaching to reach his max potential.


Shoma Fujihira (High School)

Known Pitches:

Fastball: 55
Slider: 45
Curveball: 40
Control: 45

For Yokohama High School, Fujihira was one of the reasons why they were one of the pre-tournament favorites and watching their team, you could certainly see why with how great their offense was in the Kanagawa prefecture Summer Tournament. Instead, Yokohama would get the unfortunate draw of having to face another pre-tournament favorite in Riseisha and they were promptly sent home in their second game at Koshien.

Yokohama's coaching staff seemed to want to protect Fujihira by making him start one game and then pitch in relief in the next, so there are hopefully are less questions about Fujihira being overworked in high school. Fujihira also has a solid frame at 6-1, 183 lbs and just from the eye test, he appears physically bigger than Imai. Where Fujihira falls behind in this class is with his consistency and a lack of a developed pitching repertoire. He would throw his fastball the majority of the time and then go to the slider when he needed to show another look and that pitch would show inconsistent results. There's some credit that needs to be given for being willing to throw his slider and it looks like it could be a plus pitch at some point, but during the tournament he would hang some and give up a few hits.

His curveball is one of those pitches he'll throw once in awhile and isn't there yet to be thrown more often. I think there will be plenty of scouts that will be interested in Fujihira because of his frame and the belief will be that if they can change his mechanics that maybe he'll be able to improve over time but there's definitely a long way to go in his development.

One thing I did notice about Fujihira is that he would throw in the high 140s in the early part of his starts but then later in the game his velocity would go down to the low 140s and high 130s. That's a little bit of a concern, but I'd imagine that's something that probably can be fixed with a professional training regimen. I expect another NPB team with a more set rotation on the ichi-gun roster to take Fujihira and let him get his seasoning in ni-gun before maybe working him in the bullpen later on in the year.


Naruki Terashima (High School)

Known Pitches:

Fastball: 50
Forkball: 50
Changeup: 55
Curveball: 50
Control: 55

Another big prospect comes from this year's Koshien tournament features the ace from Riseisha, Naruki Terashima. Unlike the previous guys in this post, Terashima's a lefty so whichever teams believe they need a left-handed pitcher, they will likely look at him first and foremost.

Terashima doesn't have the have the high upside velocity that other guys in this class possess, but it helps that he's a lefty and can therefore, get away with less velocity. He also has great placement on his fastball and likes to live around the corners and spot the fastball. Watching action from two different appearances he made, it's clear that he seems to pick whichever secondary pitch he has a feel for in that start and go with it. Usually, it's his changeup that does just that and it proves to be a pitch that can be quite nasty.

His curveball is one that can be another good pitch for him in the future just as long as he stays consistent, he has that 12"6" drop that really is quite impressive. If the Lions want a left-hander, this will likely be the guy they go with.

Taisuke Yamaoka (Industrial League)

Known Pitches:

Fastball: 55
Changeup: 60
Slider: 50
Curveball: 50
Control: 60

The smallest pitching target in this draft comes from the industrial league where Yamaoka pitches for Tokyo Gas. At 5'7", 145 lbs, he doesn't look all that impressive when he's just warming up, but that quickly changes when he's missing plenty of bats with his steady diet of breaking balls.

Yamaoka probably averages two offspeed pitches per at bat, which is quite a change from the rest of this class that for the most part rely on their overpowering stuff. Instead, Yamaoka tries to make his fastball seem even faster than it really is by throwing so many off-speed pitches. It's quite impressive that at his height, he's able to reach the high 140s with his fastball and with an above average changeup, there's certainly plenty of potential for Yamaoka to become a contributor in the NPB.

I have many doubts about whether or not he can become a frontline starter since he hangs too many breaking balls when he simply can't afford to do so. With that said, Yamaoka has the best control out of all the prospects in this post.


Chihaya Sasaki (College)

Known Pitches:

Fastball: 55
Shuuto: 55
Changeup: 60
Slider: 55
Control: 50

As my fondness for Sasaki has gone up, so has his draft stock and as you can see from my grades, he's got pretty good stuff across the board. Sasaki stands at 5-11, 183 lbs and throws from a three quarter arm slot, a la Max Scherzer and Ken Togame. For that reason, it's quite hard for me to pick up some of the pitches he throws. If that's the case for someone with the ability to rewind tape, just imagine how hard it is for an opposing hitter to try and pick up the baseball when he's on the mound.

Against American college hitters, he seemed to be quite tactical in the way he attacks hitters by sticking with one secondary pitch for the first time he sees a hitter, while Sasaki attacks him with another secondary pitch the second time through, which is the mark of real maturity. His changeup has some amazing run which easily brings up Scherzer comparisons. This begs the question whether or not a three quarter arm slot helps create a solid changeup.

His slider isn't as consistent as his changeup. but at times it's just as nasty and at times its even nastier which is a good sign for the future. He also has a shuuto which he likes to throw to the outside corner against left-handed hitters. We'll see if the Lions decide to pull the trigger on Sasaki in the first round.


My Rankings:

1. Seigi Tanaka
2. Chihaya Sasaki
3. Tatsuya Imai
4. Taisuke Yamaoka
5. Naruki Terashima
6. Shoma Fujihira

There are plenty of other names that you need to keep an eye out for like Koya Takahashi, Yuya Yanagi (not on the Lions radar, but you get the point), Yuto Furuya, or Haruhiko Hamaguchi, but I feel like the guys listed above are the ones that you need to pay attention to the most.

My recommendation to Haruhiko Suzuki, Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe and the Lions front office is to take your chances and go after Seigi Tanaka. Chances are it will be a big lottery since he's the only pitcher in this class that has the potential to become an ace.

Hopefully, the teams with better records will shy away from the lottery and take the opportunity to take a non-lottery player. If they lose out, there's plenty of solid options that the Lions could end up with, it all depends on what their preferences are with their needs. With the way the draft seems to be shaping up, Yamaoka might be the one who makes the most sense for an alternate, but anything cam happen. I don't expect the Lions to take any position players with their first round pick. but you never know how the draft can go.


Where do the Lions go from here? 


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Friday, October 14, 2016

2016 NPB Draft: Where do the Lions go from here?

The 2016 NPB Draft will happen on October 20, right when the Climax Series ends and the Japan Series will soon commence. All 12 teams will have a table to themselves selecting players with some going to a drawing. 

For those who need a reminder, the first round is a free for all where everyone selects who they want and if anyone wants the same player, they draw for his rights with a winning ticket out of a box. Teams that miss on their player will go again until all 12 teams have their first round selection.  The record for most teams wanting one player is eight.  

Hideo Nomo was one of the two instances where this happened.  A video of the first round in 1989 is here below. 

Most recently, you can view the entire first round of the 2015 draft here. 

(If anyone wants to see a draft gaffe, go to 11:18, where Mitsuru Manaka thought he won the rights to Shun Takayama) 

From the second round and on, the draft order is like a traditional one where the worst team of one league goes first, then it reverses to the worst of the opposite league then flops back to the second worst of the original etc.

In this case, the draft order after the first round was decided by the head-to-head interleague play record, where the Pacific League won. Rather than the worst team going first in the next round, it's a snake draft so the best team will go back-to-back by selecting first in the third round.

Here is how the draft order will look in the second round, while the odd rounds will be this list in reverse:

1. Orix Buffaloes (Pacific League, 6th place)
2. Chunichi Dragons (Central League, 6th place)
3. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (PL, 5th)
4. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (CL, 5th)
5. Saitama Seibu Lions (PL, 4th)
6. Hanshin Tigers (CL, 4th)
7. Chiba Lotte Marines (PL, 3rd)
8. Yokohama DeNA Baystars (CL, 3rd)
9. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (PL, 2nd)
10. Yomiuri Giants (CL, 2nd)
11. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL, 1st)
12. Hiroshima Carp (PL, 1st)


This draft is done for the convenience of students, where high school baseball players who declare, but go undrafted, can go to University while undrafted university players can go to an Industrial League etc.

This year, a total of 216 high school (105) and University (111) players are eligible for the draft. This number does not include Industrial and Independent League players. Those from the Industrial League become eligible automatically after three years removed from high school or two years removed from University. They do not need to file or declare for the draft and remain eligible once they cross the threshold. (Kazuhisa Makita turned 26 when he was selected by the Lions)


There will be two posts as we cover the 2016 NPB Draft. This one will cover the basic needs and other thoughts on the Lions. Here is a breakdown of each position:


The Lions have shown in recent years that you can never have enough pitchers. When Takayuki Kishi and Yusei Kikuchi went down, the rotation depth took a major hit that they couldn't recover from. Kishi is also scheduled to be a free agent, so it becomes uncertain if he comes back or not. 

While the rotation was flawed, the bullpen was also average and could be decent with an addition or two. The Lions have multiple pitchers they are linked to including the consensus "best player" Seigi Tanaka and Chihaya Sasaki out of University. Taisuke Yamaoka is also an intriguing industrial league pitcher who can help right away. 

There are also high school projects available including 2016 Koshien champion Tatsuya Imai, Shoma Fujihira and Naruki Terashima. With the Lions having pitching as a priority, they will most likely go for a pitcher with their first round pick and are all but guaranteed to take someone for the mound in this draft. 



Shortstop was a glaring problem last year with a revolving door, however, the Lions drafted multiple infielders in the past to compete for the now. Shuta Tonosaki and Nien Ting Wu both succeeded in ni-gun and could get a shot for 2017. It always won't hurt to take another infielder with versatility as Yota Kyoda is a a possible fall back choice out of University. Problem is, can he help right away? That becomes the question. There should be a long term high school pick or depth selection in the later rounds.
Other infielders that they are linked to includes Kazunari Ishii out of Waseda University and Momotaro Matsumoto out of Sendai University.



The Lions initially had a revolving door in the outfield as the right field job was done by committee. That all changed when Yuji Kaneko took over due to poor defense on the infield and his speed was a threat at the top of the lineup. Of course it won't hurt to take more depth with an aging Takumi Kuriyama and Shogo Akiyama won't be with the team forever. 

However, they can afford to take a high school project like how the team did last year with Aito Otaki. Majority of the Lions outfielders are either pinch runners or defensive substitutes. There shouldn't be an outfielder selected until the mid rounds.  



The Lions released Takanori Hoshi, who is now an Ikusei coach as he used to work with the ni-gun pitchers. One spot is now void, but the Lions have multiple catching options at the ichi-gun level. Ginjiro Sumitani can still play defense, Masatoshi Okada is a decent spell backup, Tatsuyuki Uemoto (a pending free agent) is a good pinch hitter and Tomoya Mori looks to be getting more time behind the plate due to his bat. 

If the Lions have no plans to keep Uemoto, then they will most likely take one catcher to put in the farm and develop. They're linked to a high school catcher named Ryuhei Kuki and University catcher Yuya Ikuta. It's possible the Lions are just high on both players that it's worth stashing this talent in the organization, but it wouldn't be surprising if either of them are selected.  



The Lions need to take multiple pitchers like last year and fill up the depth chart replacing the guys they just released. There are currently seven roster spots available with six players released and Atsushi Okamoto retiring. The team can always make more corresponding cut moves like last season and create more space. 

I would personally go for Tanaka and take the risk knowing he can help the team right away. Even if the odds are tight, it's worth trying to go for the most talented player of the bunch. I'd also be happy if Sasaki or Yamaoka were taken with the first round pick. If the Lions want to compete in 2017, they need a pitcher taken within the first three rounds who can either help their bullpen or rotation immediately.

It would be good to add position depth as well both at the infield and outfield, but I'm expecting more infielders and a catcher to be selected. The minimum of this class could be a small as five players, but I want to see a class with at least seven players taken with four pitchers, one infielder, one outfielder and a catcher. If they take more than seven, I'd be thrilled because the team needs to expand themselves as much as possible.  

In a dream scenario, it would be nice if the Lions took an entire ikusei roster and organized a san-gun like the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants do. However, that's easier said than done to put it together and have a coaching staff to work with them. It would be good to a least take one ikusei project, just so Hoshi's name isn't just an empty title.  

The future of every team will be decided through the draft, which begins promptly at 17:00 JT on 10/20.  This should be entertaining.  

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Transcript: Introductory press conference of Hatsuhiko Tsuji

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced Hatsuhiko Tsuji as their manager earlier this week. They would introduce him in a press conference in front of general manager Haruhiko Suzuki (standing off camera).

Here is the translated transcript of what he said:

Opening Statement:

"As accepting the post of [Seibu Lions] professional baseball manager, a first for me, there are a large number of concerns. As long as I am in a Lion uniform, I will do my best to win a championship."


What were your thoughts when you were offered the Lions manager position?

"I was surprised that I was offered the position. I've never thought of receiving an offer to be the manager of Lions. As I was scouted by team, I came into the professional baseball world and worked for 12 years as a [player] of Lions, which is what made me who I am today. I am grateful [for the offer.] I hope I can make any contribution to the team to show my appreciation to my home team.


Have you seen the Lions from your time away? 

Honestly, I have been caring about Lions since I left and I have thought why the team, which is supposed to keep winning, has not been in a good shape in recent years. I never believe the capability of the team is less than others, but there must be some reasons for their current position in the league. My belief is that defense (with a strong pitcher in the middle) would come first to go through a whole season, so I want to focus first on defense."


How did you see the Lions from the outside ?

"Up until five years ago I had seen the Lions from a commentator's perspective. I believed they had potential, but when it comes to a game, the point is the balance between batting and defense. And in that point my perception is that Lions are not well- balanced. I thought they had enough strength, but weren't well-balanced between the pitchers and the fielders."


What is your view of a manager in professional baseball?

"I don't know well. Luckily, I have worked with so many managers who were called as a great managers and I learned a lot from them. So I hope the things I learned will help when I myself work as a manager."


What do you think of  the 101 errors, which were the worst in the Pacific League?

"I don't know the detail of those errors, but in the autumn camp, I would like to judge plays' capability and give advice where it is necessary. Errors are inevitable in baseball, so the stance should be, as often said. It's ok as long as it is a result of aggressive trial, otherwise the number will increase. For sure a player who doesn't express his aggressiveness makes errors, so I hope they try aggressively."


Closing statement for fans:

"Our goal is to win the championship and i will try my very best to establish a strong team. Come and continue to support us."


Special thanks goes to our friends "Shiba Scope", Mizuho Miyazaki and "Maple Ash" for translation help.  


For those who can speak Japanese, the condensed video can be seen here


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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Seibu Lions announce five new coaching additions to the 2017 staff

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced multiple coaching additions after several resigned at the end of the year. They were also given an introductory press conference on Tuesday.

For those who are unfamiliar, coaching staffs are a lot larger in Japan with several at the ichi-gun and ni-gun level.

Here are the new coaches and members of the Lions staff:

#83 Toshifumi Baba (first team base running and infield defense)

Baba has no prior connection to the Lions as he played for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, Orix Blue Wave and Yakult Swallows in the 90s. He last worked with the Hanwha Eagles in KBO this season. Previously he spent several years as a coach with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. Most likely, he will be seen as the new 3B coach.


#74 Fumiya Nishiguchi (farm team pitching coach)

Nishiguchi should already be a famous name for Lions fans. He spent his entire playing career with the team from 1995-2015 and is remembered for nearly throwing no hitters, but coming up short each time. He also came close to a perfect game. Nishiguchi is a legend and was a solid starter throughout his time as a player. Last year, he did some coaching in Taiwan in spring training with the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions.


#82 Kosuke Noda (farm team battery coach)

Noda was a reserve catcher for the Lions from 2002-2010. His most notable moment came from the 2008 Japan Series, where he appeared as a pinch hitter despite playing in nine regular season games that year. With two outs, Noda would walk, moving the winning run to second base and it eventually led to a Japan Series title with a base hit coming from Hiroshi Hirao. You can see the full at-bat here.


#81 Takanori Hoshi (farm team trainer / Ikusei coach) 

Hoshi spent majority of his career in the farm with the Yomiuri Giants. The Lions would purchase him from the Kyojin in 2011 and he saw 120 ichi-gun games from 2011-2014. He spent the last two years in the Lions ni-gun working with the young pitchers downstairs. Last week, Hoshi was announced as one of the Senryokugai players not returning with a player contract for 2017.

Last year, the Lions had no players under an ikusei contract. While his title involves ikusei in it, this would only be an empty word if the Lions don't draft any players in the ikusei round next week.


#96 Kenta Kudo (farm team trainer)

Based on the resume seen, Kudo has no experience in coaching or playing baseball at the professional level. He has plenty of education through graduate school, med school and working with several hospitals to be a trainer. He also spent time as an announcer in Oita prefecture.


While a lot of these new staff members won't be seen on the ichi-gun except Baba, it is still important to know the staff members. Some guys could be promoted or taking a role in development of players down in ni-gun. Nishiguchi is the most notable name among the coaches hired, but it's great that the Lions have him work his way up as a coach. If things become different in the next few years, he could earn a promotion to the ichi-gun staff and even be a manager with time.


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Monday, October 10, 2016

2016 Climax Series Preview: Final Stage

The first stage of the Climax series concluded with two teams moving on and two of them going home.

Both teams who won the pennant for their respective leagues are now given a one game advantage and play all their games in their home stadium. As a result, predicting something like "Softbank Hawks in 5" would mean the Hawks would win four straight games.

Here are our thoughts and predictions on both the Central and Pacific League:

Pacific League: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks vs Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Fighters won the pennant for the first time since 2012 and earned it over the Hawks to get the one game advantage. They would also get the right to play all the games on the North side of Japan in Sapporo Dome.

Despite not playing Shohei Otani as a pitcher for majority of the second half, the Fighters were able to go with next man up in their rotation and pick up the slack. One of the biggest heroes was Hirotoshi Masui, who initially lost his closer job in the middle of the year, but became a solid piece in the rotation.

Otani continued to hit and carry the team with his bat, but the supporting cast of Kohei Arihara and a solid bullpen made sure they would take the pennant and not second place. The question becomes more about Chris Martin's health as he earned the closer position, but got injured with less than a month to go.

Hokkaido's hitting is good and their speed is an ultimate strength, but they also sacrifice bunt more than they should given their personnel. There is also unorthodox style managing with different pitchers switching between starting and being relievers.


For the Hawks, they took out the Chiba Lotte Marines in a two game sweep. It took some late hits by Kenta Imamiya in the 8th inning to secure the deal in both games. Their pitching has been great with plenty of options.

Even with Yuki Yanagita returning, they didn't need him with their lineup being reliable from top to bottom in the postseason. Players like Yuichi Honda and Kenji Akashi can just step up if needed. The best part? Their lock down bullpen duo of Roberto Suarez and Dennis Sarfate, or as we call it, "Suarfate" to take the 8th and 9th innings. Even before the 8th, Kimiyasu Kudo has plenty of options for one out or even one inning.

The Picks:

Christian: The Fighters have a one game advantage, but the Hawks passed the test of winning a two out of three series after having a demoralizing second half to let an 11.5 game lead slip. Softbank has shown they do better on the road and I believe they will benefit from Sapporo Dome's pitcher dimensions as much as the Fighters compared to the Yafuoku! Dome, where it's easier to hit a home run.

There is one thing on the Fighters I don't completely trust despite Otani being there and that is their rotation and bullpen depth. I like what Arihara has done and Martin does well in a closing role, but who can step up for them? I'm not sure I trust the Fighters even with that one game advantage.  The Hawks pitching and depth is just too hard to pick against after I already tried in the first round.

Hawks in 7


Wes: Even with the advantage, I don't see a scenario where the Fighters get it done and advance to the Japan Series. The only one I can create is one where the Hawks go cold on offense and the Fighters go for it all and stretch out Otani as much as possible. They might have to do that to beat the Hawks, as Softbank will have the advantage in every game they play, with the exception of the games that Otani pitches in.

And now that Yanagita is back, the Hawks have their straw that stirs the drink back in the lineup, though we'll see how fast he can regain his timing. There's just too many advantages that the Hawks have over the Fighters and that's why I'm picking them as well.

Hawks in 6


Central League: Hiroshima Carp vs Yokohama DeNA Baystars 

The Carp won the pennant with everything going right for them. Last year, the Carp hitting was inconsistent after being rock solid in 2014. After losing Kenta Maeda, the pitching was supposed to take a hit. However, it was their hitting and bullpen which cost them games in 2015.

Their bats turned it up with Ryosuke Kikuchi and Yoshihiro Maru having rebound seasons. It was also about the breakthrough season for Seiya Suzuki, who carried them witha mix of power and clutch hits as Brad Eldred was out with an injury. But like their bats being a problem, the bullpen also improved with Jay Jackson being one of the best foreign import pickups of the season.

Yusuke Nomura brought great production with the loss of Maeda and Kris Johnson had a year worthy of a potential Sawamura award. Throw in a solid Hiroki Kuroda and the rotation would be decent with plenty of hitting to go everywhere. People knew this team was talented, it was just a matter of things coming together, which it did.


The Baystars had a new skipper in Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez taking the reigns. Things were rocky at first with a 9-18-1 March/April to begin the year, but the boys from Yokohama would bounce back doing well in odd-numbered months and having cold even-numbered months.

Rami-chan was arguably more prepared to look at numbers and stats in his first year as manager. He put in a rookie to start at catcher in Yasutaka Tobashira as he worked with the rotation. For a team that usually doesn't pitch, it became their strength through the first half with Kenta Ishida and rookie Shota Imanaga carrying a load. Yasutomo Kubo put in respectable starts along with Shoichi Ino and Shun Yamaguchi when healthy.

It was their hitting that was an Achilles heel, where the struggles to string hits together were a problem. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo was the home run king of NPB and Jose Lopez had a rough start to the year being a one dimensional home run hitter. However, the team weathered a sophomore slump from closer Yasuaki Yamasaki with a combination of respectable pitching (for a hitter's ballpark) and a mix of inflated pop numbers to secure third place. At one point, they were only leading the Hanshin Tigers by 1/2 game with more than a month to go.

In the first round of the Climax Series, the Baystars advanced in extra innings for what would be a thriller elimination game. A few clutch hits and hanging tough gave them just enough grit to get through with an 11th inning hit by Hiroki Minei.

The Picks:

Christian: The Baystars did a great job getting through to the next round, but I feel they run into a buzzsaw here with the talent gap being too huge. There's a nice foundation in Yokohama, but I like the talent and lineup of the Carp. One of the coolest facts is one significant Japan Series drought will end.

Carp in 5


Wes: You never know what can happen, but I don't see the Baystars continuing their magical run. Sure, they were able to walk by a Giants team without Sugano, but now they'll be facing a deadly lineup with a good rotation and a backend of the bullpen that rivals the Hawks' duo of Suarfate. Granted, beyond Kris Johnson, the Carp rotation won't blow your socks off but the Carp defense has positive UZRs at every position except third base and LF, and because of this, Nomura and Kuroda will get away with not blowing guys away.

The only pitcher who stacks up well against the Carp is young, Shota Imanaga, so if the Baystars have any chance, it will likely go through him. If you're a Baystars fan, I'd hope for some cold weather in Hiroshima which will lend itself to pitchers duels and the possibility of one blast winning the game.

Carp in 4


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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 12

This is the 12th episode of our Saitama Seibu Lions podcast, where things come full circle. The season ended for the team at the end of the September with plenty of things to breakdown.

Christian and Wes discuss the direction of the team and breakdown what went wrong and right for 2016. They bid farewell to Norio Tanabe and welcome Hatsuhiko Tsuji as the next manager. There is also discussion about the 2016 NPB Draft and a final prediction for the first round of the Climax Series. If anyone missed our postseason discussion, click here.

Click here if the embed doesn't work. Click here to download.


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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions hire Hatsuhiko Tsuji to be the next manager

In a move that was anticipated for days, the Saitama Seibu Lions made their move to fill the last manager void in NPB. On Monday, General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki announced that Hatsuhiko Tsuji would be the new skipper for the baseball team in Tokorozawa.

Tsuji, who will be 58 at the end of this month, was previously the Chunichi Dragons strategy coach. He spent two different stints with the Dragons and was also a coach with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from 2000-2001 and Yokohama Baystars from 2002-2003.

As a player, he was the 2B during the Lions golden era from 1984-1995 and spent some final playing years with the Swallows from 1996-1999. He never was employed by the Lions after leaving in 1995.

While we hinted on our podcast of a possible "I'm coming home moment", this isn't exactly what we anticipated. The Lions interviewed multiple candidates and in reality, there were four names in our mind. From head (bench) coach Tetsuya Shiozaki, Shinya Miyamoto and the legendary Koji Akiyama, it would come down to a decision by the front office.

The Lions spoke to all of them and it was reported that team president Takashi Goto wanted Miyamoto for being a fresh face among possible coaches. However, the Lions management chose the path of experience and age rather than going young. It's possible that Akiyama was their first choice, but things fell through where it's most likely he turned the team's offer down.

Shiozaki likely would have been a fallback option after initially thinking he was in line to succeed Norio Tanabe. However, a drastic turn of losing events in the middle of the season had the Lions go outside the box.

Tsuji bucks a trend of the Lions hiring from within or having a deeper connection to the team. Haruki Ihara was hired for a second time in 2014 when not working with the Lions in 2013, but he was a long time coach from 1981-1999. Tsutomu Ito was also hired in 2004 after being a player/coach in his final years as a player, succeeding Ihara in his first stint as manager. Tsuji becomes the first manager hire by the Lions with no recent coaching/playing connection for the first time since 1982.

Who was that manager in 1982? It was Tatsuro Hirooka, who oversaw the early years of the Golden Era. Hirooka previously played for the Yomiuri Giants and managed the Swallows for one Japan series.

This name is somewhat outside the box, but with Tsuji having more than a decade of experience coaching games under his belt, he has been groomed to manager. Suzuki said he brings leadership and felt Tsuji was most qualified for the role. The Lions hope that he can fix the defense on the infield, which is his area of expertise.

The Lions lead the Pacific League in errors and the shortstop position was a revolving door. From Yuji Kaneko, Nien Ting Wu, Shuta Tonosaki and Yuji Onizaki, shortstop saw several guys start for a period of time. Even defensive specialist Kyohei Nagae would get some starts when Tanabe put an emphasis on defense.


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