Friday, February 15, 2019

NPB 2019 Hot Seat: Who needs to win now?

The 2019 NPB Season is about a month away from beginning. While training camp is nearly done and preseason starts soon, there are plenty of questions regarding every team.

For any sport, there is always the thought of which authoritative figure could be gone after the year if there is a poor performance ahead, or as stateside fans say, the hot seat. Some sports like hockey and soccer will go by current results and fire someone if losing is extreme in the middle of the season.

Manager in NPB aren't necessarily "fired", but could have a forced resignation if things go south. Last year, we thought up to four managerial changes would happen, but five took place instead with our #11 ranked manager resigning midseason.

Here are the factors we'll look at and analyze on each team's manager which determines our rankings, with the warmest seat listed first:

What have you done for me lately?: Firings usually happen due to a lack of winning more times than not. Looking at a manger's track record is good, but the window within the last few years is where it matters most when making a bold decision.

Situation: Not all managers are there to win now. How does he do with the talent around him? Is the team supposed to contend or rebuild? Does the manager serve his purpose for a period of time before he's expendable?

Surroundings/Scenery: Is there Wa/和 among the manager and the players? Does he make the right moves at the right time? Which market are they managing in?

As we rank these managers from 1-2, we'll also throw in an imaginary temperature for the hot seat where anything hotter than boiling water (212 °F, 100 °C) has a better chance of change if there is failure in 2019.


1. Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

For a team that went to the Japan Series in 2017, the Baystars took a plunge and resembled a B-class group in 2018. While there were spurts of wins, they couldn't string consistency together and regression took place as a whole. Pitching had injuries, offense was dependent on a few individuals and they couldn't beat the last-place Hanshin Tigers.

To his credit, Rami-chan did not throw any players under the bus and generalized why this team was coming short. However, the pressure is on for 2019 and he can't afford to repeat a similar season to last year. The Baystars have had a losing record in two of the last three years and were only close last season due to some poor competition in the Central League. For now, this is only a group that has shown they can play well in October, but not before it. Temperature: 500 (°C), 932 (°F) 


2. Tadahito Iguchi (Chiba Lotte Marines)

The Marines looked to be competitive through the first half of 2018, but a poor second half which had the worst record from the All-Star Break at 19-44-1. Injuries hurt them, but Ayumu Ishikawa's regression in the second half had a trickle down effect on the bullpen collapsing with the rest of the team. It didn't help to have Takashi Ogino hurt through an accident, but last year's record was unacceptable regardless.

More terrace seats to move the fences in should help the team's power numbers as both Brandon Laird and Kennys Vargas look to bolster the lineup. Offense needs to improve, but the bullpen is the largest concern of the bunch. Chiba was only good for one half until reality sunk in and the team arguably quit when they lost 14 in a row at home to end the season. Temperature: 200 (°C), 392 (°F) 


3. Yosuke Hiraishi (Rakuten Eagles)

Hiraishi was the interim manager after Masataka Nashida resigned when the Eagles were 20 games under .500 in June of 2018. The Eagles removed the interim tag and named him the full time manager for 2019, but there are still concerns over what could happen ahead. There was an early response and competitive baseball in the summer, but it all faded in August and September. Question marks continue with this team if 2017 was a fluke or if 2018 is what the team really is. As long as the team competes, he's likely safe, but some failure could lead to a change. Temperature: 80 (°C), 158 (°F)


4. Akihiro Yano (Hanshin Tigers)

Yano lead the Tigers to a farm championship last year as the ni-gun manager and was promoted to the ichi-gun position following the dismissal of Tomoaki Kanemoto. By default of being in the Kansai market and ruthless media/fans alike, Yano's head is automatically turned on no matter what in Year 1. 

Expectations remain high for a market starving for a championship. That being said, one and done is very unlikely unless there is a major disruption from within. There is pressure, but his job should be safe after 2019 no matter what. Temperature: 45 (°C), 113 (°F)


5. Hideki Kuriyama (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

Kuriyama lead his team to A-class without Shohei Ohtani while the team showed they can reload. While they could fall to B-class given a tough competition ahead, it's unlikely he'd be forced out by management. Kuriyama is in a position where he can retire when he wants to without question. Temperature: 30 (°C), 86 (°F)


6. Tsuyoshi Yoda (Chunichi Dragons)

The Dragons underwent a minor shift as Shigekazu Mori is now in the front office. Their collective front office management got their man in Yoda, who was once a rookie of the year for the Dragons in 1990. Yoda's previous title in 2018 was farm pitching coach for the Rakuten Eagles. 

Despite the lack of coaching experience, Yoda is a fresh face for a team that has needed a face lift from the previous regime. The only pressure is how the Dragons have the longest A-class drought, being stuck on 2012. At six years, this is the longest B-class stretch in franchise history. It's doubtful he goes one and done. Temperature: 23 (°C), 74.3 (°F)


7. Norifumi Nishimura (Orix Buffaloes)

The Buffaloes promoted Nishimura from within after Junichi Fukura stepped down under his own will. Nishimura's last managing gig was with the Chiba Lotte Marines and he led them to a Japan Series title in 2010. However, his success remained minimal after 2010 with consecutive B-class finishes afterwards. 

Nishimura can manage anonymously given this is the Orix Buffaloes unlike their Kansai Central League counterparts. As said before, one and done is highly unlikely for any manager. Temperature: 20 (°C), 68 (°F)


8. Hatsuhiko Tsuji (Saitama Seibu Lions)

Tsuji is coming off a pennant season and hasn't had a losing record as manager. However, the team is expected to regress in 2018 after a historic offensive year. The Lions already gave him a vote of confidence with his contract running through 2020, as opposed to year by year. 

A few out there think the Lions won last year in spite of Tsuji, not because of him. This year should be an interesting test one way or another. Temperature: 17 (°C), 62.6 (°F)


9. Koichi Ogata (Hiroshima Carp)

Ogata won the pennant for the third consecutive year and made the Japan Series in two of the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he hasn't won the big championship yet as it eludes him, like the Central League for most of the 21st Century. 

While the team had its share of losses, the Carp are still expecting to be a strong force with their current core. A step backwards could happen, but a downward plummet? Doubtful. Temperature: 15 (°C), 59 (°F)


10. Tatsunori Hara (Yomiuri Giants)

Hara returns to managing the Giants for the third time and first seasons since 2015. Lots of things have changed in the game since he left, but the Giants will be expecting Hara to lead them back to relevance after the last two mediocre seasons under Yoshinobu Takahashi. 

in 2018, he was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager while barely coming up short as a player. Given his past seniority accomplishments, the Giants won't do anything unless a scandal happens. Underachieving will have backlash from fans, but nothing from management should force the hand here. Temperature: 10 (°C), 50 (°F)


11. Junji Ogawa (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

Ogawa returned as manager from the front office as a caretaker for the Swallows and led them to a second place finish in 2018. This is likely to be the transitional year where Shinya Miyamoto or someone else from within takes the reins after the season and Ogawa moves back to the front office. 

With the team competing while rebuilding, there shouldn't be heat for Ogawa as he is there to take the bullet. Even if the Swallows fall to B-class, he will have served his purpose and won't have a forced resignation. Ogawa will just move back to the front office when his time is done. Temperature: 2 (°C), 35.6 (°F)


12. Kimiyasu Kudo (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

Kudo has won a Japan Series in three of his four years managing the team and they're currently back-to-back defending champions. He is chasing to be the all-time leader in Japan Series rings, currently at 14 as the record is held by Masaaki Mori at 17. Mori was Kudo's manager during the Golden Era with the Lions. With all this success, hangovers will happen, but it's unlikely he'll be going anywhere anytime soon. Temperature: -273 (°C), -460 (°F). This is also known as Sub zero or (°0) Kelvin.  



We could see as many as three managerial changes if the worst case scenario plays out for the top three listed squads. Everyone else is unlikely to leave unless health or another issue arises. Of course extreme losing could poke the bear for any forced change in staff. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it's clear cut who has the most pressure in 2019.


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Friday, February 8, 2019

Seibu Lions 2019 Spring Training Outlook: Manager

The Saitama Seibu Lions have their share of expectations since Hatsuhiko Tsuji took the reigns as manager. After spending three straight years in B-class, the Lions finished in second and first place in the Pacific League under Tsuji's leadership.

There are counter arguments that the Lions won in spite of Tsuji and not because of him. It's easy to give him all the credit in the world when he is the manager, but to fault him and say he's only there because of his roster is misleading. 

Tsuji's defensive mindset helped solve one of the larger issues with the 2016 Lions, where fielding was abysmal. While the Chunichi Dragons had other problems, defensive efficiency was not one of them with Tsuji as one of the coaches. He was an opposite to what Norio Tanabe brought with a hitting-only mindset.

This year's expectations will be lower than the past, but the Lions already gave Tsuji a vote of confidence when his contract extension runs through 2020. There are some staff changes, with Toshifumi Baba being the new head (bench) coach while Kazuyoshi Ono returns as a pitching coach.

At the farm level, Kazuo Matsui will get his first chance managing as he is the new ni-gun manager. Tsuji doesn't have a major hot seat after two strong years, but he could be a victim of his own success like many who have a winning track record.

This season won't necessarily be about winning a pennant as selfish as fans and spectators want, but if the team shows a pulse and continues to compete, that's all we can ask for. There will be challenges with new personnel on the infield and the pitching staff, but the collective coaching staff will be making all the key decisions moving forward.


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Monday, February 4, 2019

Seibu Lions 2019 Spring Training Outlook: Bullpen

The Saitama Seibu Lions had a struggling bullpen for most of 2018, where the closer position wasn't settled until late. Their middle relief was just as sketchy with no reliever avoiding deactivation outside of a midseason pickup.

Here's how the bullpen looks:


Deunte Heath: Heath returned to Japan for the first time since 2015 and his gamble to seek an NPB position by playing in an independent league paid off. It didn't happen overnight, but with the closer struggles, he was able to take the reins and become the pitcher to take the 9th inning.

Kyle Martin: Martin was a late pickup right before the deadline, but did well enough to stay up at the ichi-gun in middle relief. His changeup will be key if he wants another deal. Martin struggled in the postseason, but it was overshadowed by the rest of the team faltering too. For now, he'll be part of a mix to take the 7th or 8th inning.

Ryuya Ogawa: Ogawa was also a midseason addition before the trade deadline when the Lions purchased him from the Chunichi Dragons. After never finding a role in Nagoya, was a solid lefty option out the bullpen as a side arm pitcher. He'll be looking to build on his decent time last year and become a regular setup man.

Katsunori Hirai: Hirai was very inconsistent last season, but showed he can also be useful against right handed pitchers. He'll need to limit the home runs allowed to stay at the ichi-gun.



Tatsushi Masuda: Masuda took a large step backwards after being the team's closer from 2016-2017. He'll need to show his location and control are better to earn ichi-gun innings again.

Shota Takekuma: Takekuma came off his worst career season to date and only took mop up innings by the end of the year. He can be a decent left-handed specialist, but his 2018 was forgettable.

Yasuo Sano: Sano is another left-handed option out of the bullpen and saw time last year after coming off a leg injury. His location is inconsistent, but as a spot starter, he was decent in 2017 before he was hurt.

Tatsuya Oishi: One of the biggest busts in Lions history, Oishi has shown he can be a decent relief pitcher against righties. However, his time is running out and he is on the outside struggling to stay healthy and find ichi-gun innings.

Makoto Aiuchi: Aiuchi began earning mop up innings in 2018 after mostly seeing spot starts in his career. His lone spot start last season was solid. He'll be looking to find ichi-gun time any way he can for 2019.

Shogo Noda: Noda struggled like the rest of the bullpen where he can look good one game, but awful the next. He often hung up pitches and paid the price in the boxscore. His slider can be a difference maker when on.

Hiromasa Saito: Saito didn't make his ichi-gun debut until the second half and didn't make a start until the last regular season game. He was used as a utility swingman and was inconsistent with location, but control was decent. Saito came off a strong season in Australia and hopes to build momentum through that trip. He didn't allow a single run and was dominant in middle relief for the Melbourne Aces.

Ichiro Tamura: Tamura has seen mostly mop up duties, but is too prone to giving up the home run. He enters his third season in professional baseball and hopes to crack ichi-gun time, because time could be running out soon.

Sho Ito: Ito was a decent arm out of the bullpen for the Lions in a limited role. Being one of the youngest of the bunch, he could surprise and take another step forward as he turns 21 this year. There is plenty of upside for the long run and he could even be a future starter.

Naoaki Matsumoto: Matsumoto saw mop up innings for a fraction of 2018, but was deactivated shortly. He will turn 29 at the end of the year and his time could be running out if he doesn't do anything soon.

Hirotaka Koishi: Koishi can eat up some low leverage innings and induce the ground ball. He's also in danger of being cut after 2019 as he turns 32 this year.

Shunta Nakatsuka: Nakatsuka is a hard thrower, but has lacked control to make ichi-gun games. A former second round pick, his expectations could be lowered the longer he stays in ni-gun.

Tadasuke Minamikawa: Minamikawa has only seen ichi-gun time in a pinch, but he hasn't made the most of his few opportunities. He could be cut after 2019 if he fails to play ichi-gun games.

Tsubasa Kokuba: Kokuba hasn't played an ichi-gun game since 2016. The 2019 season could be his last chance with the Lions, or else he is in danger of being cut.

Kaito Awatsu: The Lions fourth round draft pick could go either in the rotation or bullpen, but it would help if he was part of the latter for 2019. He has a sinker that could be useful.

Ryosuke Moriwaki: The Lions 5th round draft pick out of the shakaijin leagues should be able to help sooner than later. Scouting reports say he has good control and has a huge arsenal of pitches. At age 26, he doesn't have upside, but neither did Kazuhisa Makita or Hirai when they were drafted.



Tomomi Takahashi: Once an All-Star, Takahashi has not been the same since July of 2015. He had Tommy John surgery and missed most of 2017 as a result, but also looked poor in his short outing in 2018. Injuries have derailed his career and now he is on the outside with an ikusei contract.

Kaito Yoza: Yoza had elbow surgery in October and failed to play a game at either level last season. The Lions are taking the cautious approach by bringing him back on an ikusei contract. He was originally a 5th round draft pick in 2017 and was known for being a submarine pitcher.

Jen-Lei Liao: Liao was the only domestic free agent signing by the Lions in the offseason after he was cut by the Yomiuri Giants. He has a massive size and can throw hard, but his control is lacking, similar to Nakatsuka. The Lions hope their connections to Taiwan can help Liao get his career turned around with Ming-Chieh Hsu and Kento Sugiyama as the pitching coaches in ni-gun.

Aoi Tono: The Lions first ikusei pick last fall had decent strikeout numbers in college, but he also lacked control, making him an unfinished project. He will aim for a promotion to the 70-man roster.



This unit looks like a complete mess. There is depth and plenty of bodies available, but no proven arms who can consistently stay at the ichi-gun. Heath was the savior of this team, pun intended given that he was the closer. Competition is wide open and if things don't pan out in April, we could be seeing a large revolving door of relievers going up and down.

Despite having an awful season as a whole unit, there is a chance someone can step it up. It's only a matter of who can.


We conducted this poll on the relief. 


Other positions in Series:






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