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Thursday, June 16, 2022

DragonSoulCast #2 - Who is Neo? The oufielder-come-short-stop now a pitcher (16th June 2022)

 Hi all, another podcast of sorts today which is a half-rant/analysis about Neo being converted to a pitcher by Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. I make a few comparisons and largely throw my arms up in despair. 

DragonSoulCast #2 - Who is Neo? The outfielder-come-short-stop now a pitcher (16th June 2022)

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Curious Case of Shuhei Takahashi

 

Tatsunami's monstrous attempt to play Shuhei Takahashi at short-stop against the Lions last night is telling of a few things, most of which is there isn't a place for Takahashi in this team. Shuhei missed out on a number of months with an injury to start the season but now it seems there are better options at his two preferred positions of third-base and second-base. 

There's a number of issues that are preventing the former regular's use and here I would like to run through a few of them.

1. The form of Toshiki Abe

Abe had a pretty bad year last year, but this year, the Iwate-born infielder has been one of the Dragons' hottest bats. He's currently hitting a .275/.344/.450 slash which is one of the best among Dragons hitters. His splits are also a bit strange for a right-handed hitter as he's only hitting .238 against lefties but in a small sample size of 21 plate appearances. He's otherwise striking .281 against right handers. Shuhei has traditionally been a good hitter against righties and last year he was abysmal against lefties. A platoon situation therefore is off the table somewhat at second base. Plus, let's face it, Abe is slugging at a level that is beyond what Shuhei normally musters and in a team that lacks big hits, taking out Abe would be suicidal. 

2. The development of Takaya Ishikawa

Out of all the position players in the Dragons organisation, Ishikawa has by far the highest ceiling. A third-baseman that hits for power and is an above average defender is a prized commodity and seeing him develop and ensure he can be that superstar the teams needs in future is important and in particular a mission of Tatsunami's this year. Ishikawa has been typically inconsistent for a young hitter this year and has been slashing a modest .228/.269/.423 this year. While the slugging potential is certainly there, the on-base ability hasn't come along just yet. Only 7 walks in 135 plate appearances is somewhat telling of where Ishikawa is at with his plate discipline, but he doesn't strike-out and awful lot either (26 this year) which means he's getting contact but perhaps just not on the right kinds of pitches. 

When we look at his splits however, he is only hitting .215 against right-handers in 107 PA while, in a much smaller sample size, hits .313 over 16 PA against lefties. Ishikawa is a potential platoon candidate with Shuhei based on these numbers but we must take into account two things. Firstly, there just don't seem to be a lot of PAs against lefty pitchers in the Central this year compared to the inverse. Secondly, you want Ishikawa at this stage in his development to face everything and everybody so that he can adjust and get the experience so he can be better at hitting right-handers; this is a tack I think the Dragons are definitely taking. So in this respect too, finding time for Shuhei, who offers little power but probably better on-base skills, is not really a prime candidate. 

3. Positional inflexibility

Shuhei has shown a willingness to move around the diamond throughout his career to get opportunities. First coming up under Morimichi Takagi, there were attempts to play him at short-stop to replace the departing Hirokazu Ibata. Shuhei was a bit exposed at short and ended up being billed as a third-baseman, trapped behind Hector Luna. Once Luna left the organisation however, Nobumasa Fukuda started providing power from the hot corner, and Shuhei was then given an opportunity at second-base where he was competent but still looked like a WWI-era tank turning double plays.  We all know that he has an elite glove at third-base. The diving catches and neat footwork have been somewhat of a trademark, but at the moment team need is not at third, it is probably at short-stop if anywhere. Unfortunately, Shuhei is built like a power-hitter and is not the kind of guy you want at short-stop long-term. That being said there's really no-one banging on the door to be the team's next short-stop. 

Takahashi is essentially the odd-man out at the moment. He can't play short, but is probably capable at just about every other position across the diamond. However, what does Shuhei bring to the team? Good corner infield defense and on-base skills. Given Ishikawa is a competent third-baseman that can bring in extra bases, this limits Shuhei to play third. Second base is currently occupied by the team's hottest hitter and another that is more skilled at getting extra base-hits. The question is, what do you do with Shuhei? If this were the MLB, there'd bit a strong case to trade Shuhei to maybe bring in a potential short-stop but I don't think the Dragons would part with one of their team faces so easily. 

What is the solution? Well, it might just sort itself out. Patience with Ishikawa may dwindle and that might force Tatsunami's hand to play Shuhei at third more often. Abe could get injured or drop-off, and that too would allow for Shuhei to be first-up at second-base. At the current point in the season there just doesn't seem to be a proper space for him unless you are using him as cover to give Abe and Ishikawa rest-days which again, seems kinda unlikely for the Dragons or an NPB team to do. 

Let's all agree, that no matter what happens he should never appear at short ever again.


Other news: Yakyu Cosmopolitan on YouTube and I collaborated on a video. They have used a bit of my analysis for their video on the rise and fall of the Chunichi Dragons. Please give it a watch.



Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Dragons Top 10 Best Offensive Seasons: Individual & Positional

With the severe lack of runs over the past few seasons, it's hard not to get a little skeptical as to whether the Dragons ever scored runs with an proclivity whatsoever. I often find myself looking back into the Dragons' history for the greatest that have played the game for the team. And while those celebrated by fans quite commonly come up with a scour through the data and statistics, I'm always excited to find cases that challenge those conceptions or that highlight the careers of players long since forgotten. I am also keen here to find out if the Dome era has really been such a negative for Dragons hitters over the past 25 years. 

In this post, I'm using data on wRAA (weighted runs above average) and WRC+ (weighted runs created plus) to give you an idea of some of the most productive seasons by players in a Dragons shirt. 

Here's some definitions before we move on:

wRAA measures how many runs a hitter contributes, compared with an average player -- so a player with a 0 wRAA would be considered league average, offensively. It's calculated by finding the difference in the number of runs contributed between a player and the league average (which is determined by the league average wOBA). 

 wRC+ takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for important external factors -- like ballpark or era. It's adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.

mlb.com

First, as WRC+ is a statistic that is based on wRAA plus a few bits and bobs, I will present to you the greatest career years for Dragons based on position and wRAA. This will be followed but a top 10 list not constricted to position.

PositionNamewRAAYear
CTatsuhiko Kimata37.71970
1BTyrone Woods60.62006
2BMorimichi Takagi29.71966
3BHiromitsu Ochiai41.61987
SSKiyoshi Sugiura30.71950
RFKōsuke Fukudome70.02006
CFToshio Naka31.91966
LFShinichi Etō59.71965

I quite enjoyed the results I got here. The majority aren't huge surprises, but there are a few standouts that piqued my interest. First of all, we must all just marvel at Kosuke Fukudome's 2006. Historically, it's the highest wRAA for any Dragons player in history followed up by Tyrone Woods' effort in the same year. Somewhat surprising in the lack of a clear standout at second-base. While Takagi pips the next best by a few points, I thought Takagi was going to be a clear winner. Some of the more interesting pick-ups here is Kiyoshi Sugiura's 1950 season. Masaru Uno and Hirokazu Ibata are the most commonly cited best players in Dragons history at this position, but Sugiura's inclusion is an interesting one. His production at short-stop was very good for someone playing in a time guys that could hit 25+ homers a year were at a premium. Sugiura had a career best .929 OPS in 1950 which contributes highly to his presence on this list. Overall, we're still seeing a lot of what we'd appreciate as the established greats of the team. Sugiura and perhaps Woods are the only real outliers here.

Next, the all-time highest wRAA in a season list:

Team NPBPositionNamewRAAYear
118RF/CFKosuke Fukudome70.02006
2371BTyrone Woods60.62006
339LFKazuhiro Wada60.52010
444LFShinichi Etō59.71965
585RFKōsuke Fukudome53.22005
6891BHiromitsu Ochiai52.81991
7-1BMichio Nishizawa48.61952
8-1BDayan Viciedo47.72018
9-3B/1BHiromitsu Ochiai45.81989
10-LFSatoshi Sugiyama45.31952

A lot of familiar names here. Apart from Fukudome, most our players here have positions that are usually reserved for bigger hitters and this shows. Topping the list of course is Fukudome and Woods while Kazuhiro Wada's 2010 MVP winning season manages to slip into the top 3. Shinichi Etō once again appears for his 1965 season while two seasons from Hiromitsu Ochiai show his value as a hitter for the Dragons. Michio Nishizawa, the first "Mr Dragons" comes in at #7 while his team-mate, Satoshi Sugiyama rounds out the top 10. The big surprise here is perhaps Dayan Viciedo's 2018 season clocking in. Among all these great seasons, it's quite a surprise to see such a modern hitter make the list in the Nagoya Dome and uniform ball era. Perhaps more credit is due to El Tanke than I first thought.

Now, let's weigh these statistics down with some ballpark measurements, history and all the rest. What does our line-up now look like with WRC+. Once again, I will follow-up with the top 10 regardless of position.

PositionNameWRC+Year
CTatsuhiko Kimata1821970
1BHiromitsu Ochiai2061991
2BMorimichi Takagi1651966
3BHiroji Okajima1691958
SSAkiteru Kawano1501963
RFKōsuke Fukudome2122006
CFAlonzo Powell1681993
LFShinichi Etō2331965

Well, with the weighting of this run production, there has been a bit of a shake-up. Woods, Naka and Sugiura have been replaced while Hiromitsu Ochiai changes positions with more weight given to his 1991 season. First of all, the eyes pop now at Shinichi Etō's 1965. Etō lead the league in average (.336) and has an OPS of 1.032. A massive 233 wRC+ puts him in touching distance of the legendary Sadaharu Oh who led the league in wRC+ in the same year with 266, his career best until 1973. Kōsuke Fukudome's 2006 continues to earn the respect it deserves, while we must continue to marvel at the kind of destruction that Hiromitsu Ochiai was capable of, this coming after his consecutive triple-crowns seasons with the Lotte Orions in his age 37 season.

The big surprises here are the two men that appear at third base and short-stop. That being Hiroji Okajima and Akiteru Kawano. If you've never heard of either of these players, you are not alone. I wasn't aware of their existence until doing this list. Leo Gomez of the late 90s Dragons had the highest career wRC+ for a Dragons third baseman, but he somehow doesn't make it onto this list as his best season was a 147. Okajima stole 47 bases and hit 16 homeruns in 1958 where the ball just didn't fly as much as it did in the modern game. Who then fits into the top 10 seasons of all Dragons hitters if we're not restricted by position?

ChunichiNPBPositionNameWRC+Year
114LFShinichi Etō2331965
240RFKōsuke Fukudome2122006
3481BHiromitsu Ochiai2061991
452LFShinichi Eto2041966
561LFSatoshi Sugiyama2011952
6911BMichio Nishizawa1921952
7971BTyrone Woods1912006
8-LFKazuhiro Wada1902010
9-1BKenichi Yazawa1831980
10-CTatsuhiko Kimata1821970

There are 5 players that have cracked 200+ wRC+  points in a season and two of those seasons belong to Shinichi Eto. That's quite an achievement. Eto here fully shows how much of a star he was in the mid-1960s. Alongside Morimichi Takagi and Toshio Naka, Etō was one of the modern day stars of the day. Eto had 11 all-star appearances to go along with 5 selections in the Best 9 during his career. There's more to go into, but we might leave that for another day. Alongside the usual suspects, it is perhaps Kimata's 1970 season that sticks out where he hit 30 homeruns for a .283 average, the best production of any Dragons catcher ever. Kenichi Yazawa's 1980 also needs to be appreciated as he hit a league leading .369 average with 27 homeruns despite his team finishing dead last and overall underperforming horribly.

Now we have an idea of the individuals, what about some of the teams? Out of the Dragons top 5 run producing teams, unsurprisingly, only one of them has occurred in the Dome era that started in 1997. You'd also be unsurprised to learn that this was the pennant winning 2006 Dragons that had Fukudome and Woods firing on all cylinders. Alex Ochoa and Kazuki Inoue also showed off above average offensive capabilities in this season, this however only clocks in at #2 in wRC+ although it does top the list in wRAA with 103.5. I'll add in some key contributors for each season but limit them at requiring 200+ plate appearances.

RankYearwRC+wRAAKey ContributorsPlace
1196212290.6S. Etō (171), D. Newcombe (161), M. Maeda (143)3rd
22006117103.5K. Fukudome (212), T. Woods (191), K. Inoue (130)1st
3196611565.3S. Etō (204), T. Naka (168), M. Takagi (165)2nd
4199611481.8T. Yamasaki (167), T. Chen (149), A. Powell (141)2nd
5199111474.9H. Ochiai (206), T. Chen (140), K. Tatsunami (121)2nd

For what it's worth, when the Dragons have a good hitting team, they don't tend to win the league. In each of these seasons outside of 2006, the Dragons still finished in the top 3 but often a step or two off the top teams. In most of these seasons, the Dragons had the best offense in the league based on wRC+. Some interesting stories here and some names popping up that we haven't seen before. Tai-feng Chen, the Taiwanese power-hitter comes up twice on this list as a key contributor, while Kazuyoshi Tatsunami finally shows his name. Don Newcombe is an interesting name on this list. The American trail blazer played right-field in his one season in Japan where he hit 12 homers and 43 RBIs in his age 36 season. What is perhaps the sad part, is the best team offensive season was a season where the Dragons finished third behind the Hanshin Tigers and the Taiyo Whales in 1962.

In a way, I was hoping to see more to defend the ideas that Dragons hitting teams can still win, but this is apparently not the case. 1991 is a particularly interesting season given the team has a wonderful offence and some big names in the rotation. On parsing through the pitching statistics, it's apparent that the ilk of Shinji Imanaka, Masa Yamamoto and Tatsuo Komatsu did not have particularly good years. Unfortunately, apart from 2006, there are no other seasons in the top 10 for wRC+ for the Dragons that have occurred in the Dome era.

From this brief overview, we must really just marvel at the 2006 season where the prodigious talents of Kōsuke Fukudome and Tyrone Woods made the difference in making the walls of the Dome seem a little smaller. Should we give up on ever seeing a highly productive Dragons team in the current condition of the Vantelin Dome? The statistics are unfortunately quite damning. Kōsuke Fukudome and Kazuhiro Wada are the only two to have seasons of note since the move. Both of these players were hitting before the uniform ball was introduced across the NPB as well. Knowing this, it's quite hard to feel optimistic about the team going forward. That being said, as I have mentioned previously on the blog, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Dragons drafting over the past 10-15 years has reflected a focus on players that are more suited to defensive kinds of baseball. The team hasn't really gone after many power-hitters in the drafts. Takaya Ishikawa and to a lesser extent, Kōsuke Ukai could mark a significant derivation from this former philosophy and with Norihiro Nakamura on board as hitting coach, it's hard not to want to feel optimistic. 

The weight of history is on the 2022 Dragons to turn their offensive woes around. While the days of glamourous hitters like Shinichi Etō, Takeshi Yamasaki and Hiromitsu Ochiai may be gone with the Nagoya Stadium era, there is still a chance to overturn what has come before to create a new kind of team with a dangerous pointy end to it.

* I would like to thank the curator at the 日本プロ野球RCAA&PitchingRunまとめblog for the data used in this analysis. This is the go-to for any advanced historical data I need on Japanese baseball teams.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Dragons Den: News around the dome; Fall Camp wraps up, 3 Golden Gloves and more

Fall camp has wrapped up now with Tatsunami and co. holding the reigns for the first time. There were a few interesting stories to come our of camp, but the overall theme seems to be "aim high" and instill players with confidence. Case in point being the encouragement to Yota Kyoda that he could be a "triple 3" player. Much encouragement was given to Takaya Ishikawa as well as someone who could hit 40 homers in a season. Overall, the messages have been very positive and some of the new techniques passed on by the new coaching staff seem to have been a hit. Dayan Viciedo was also on the receiving end of some tips to change his approach to hit for more power.

Missing from the camp however were new 1-gun pitching coaches, Eiji Ochiai and Akinori Otsuka. 2-gun coach, Takashi Ogasawara needed to step in as the "on the ground" coach, but Ochiai had sent on instructions from Korea. Ochiai's KBO team, the Samsung Lions had playoff commitments this year which has delayed Ochiai's arrival. Otsuka meanwhile has been sent to the Dominical Republic to scout new players. Possible international signings however have been put on the back burner while the world sorts out the severity of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

In awards news, the Golden Gloves were announced on Thursday with the Dragons capturing three different positions. Dayan Viciedo (1st Base), Yuya Yanagi (Pitcher) and Yohei Oshima (Outfield) all picked up ther 2nd, 1st and 9th awards respectively. Oshima's 9th golden glove is a club record. 

Without further ado however, let's skip to some of the pick-up points of the past few weeks: 

Much of the buzz at fall-camp has been about Takaya Ishikawa's potential and his sessions with Norihiro Nakamura. A few adjustments seems to have increased his power slightly which is exciting and a number of Dragons former players, coaches and players have commented on his prodigious talent. 

Aside from Fall Camp, the contract situation continues. There are still a number of players that haven't renewed their contract, most notably Yota Kyoda and Yuya Yanagi. Otherwise there are a number of players that have been released and offered development contract deals such as Shota Fukushima, Sho Ishikawa and Tatsuro Hamada. This now leaves 7 positions open on the roster with two likely to be filled by a new international bat and pitcher while Matayoshi may also return. 

Lastly, it looks like the gathering of rookies for their official induction to the team will occur on the 22nd of December. An online event is planned for Fan Club members.  What numbers will go to which players is part of the excitement here. I'm a bit unsure of who will wear what but I could imagine: Bright #4, Ukai #23, Ishimori #29, Miya #56, Hoshino #61 and Fukumoto #43. I actually have no idea although I think the first three are reasonable guesses.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Chunichi's Greatest Pitching Seasons: Gondo to Ono

 I have been playing around with a statistics database and decided to put together a little retrospective on the Dragons pitching staff over the years. The Dragons have been blessef with any number of excellent pitchers in their history, and it is here that I'd like to examine some of the best seasons, as calculated by wins-above-replacement (WAR). While not the definitive statistic, WAR can go a long way to help us understand how good a player was relative to his peers. 

I have capped the dates at 1960 as data before then for WAR is incomplete. I've also not included any pitcher with a score of 4.5 WAR or lower to include. Firstly, I will list each "leader" of each decade since the 1960s. Baseball has changed and I think it only fair to judge players in each era. I have also put together a more definitive list of single-season WAR leaders into a small list to show you what some of the best pitching years in Dragons baseball have been. 

First, the 1960s: 

Hiroshi Gondo entered folk-lore with the saying "Rain, Gondo, Rain, Gondo, Gondo" as the only thing that stopped him pitching was the rain. In 1961, Gondo's rookie year, he threw a painful, 429.1 innings over 44 starts which included 32 complete games, 12 of them shutouts. Gondo went on to win the Sawamura Award and the Rookie of the Year award for his mammoth efforts. The load took it's toll however as Gondo only pitched for 3 more seasons before converting to the field as his arm all but fell off.

The 1970's: 

There's a few interesting candidates here, but it's Mitsuo Inaba who claims the top spot. In 1972, Inaba started in 35 games, pitching 261.1 innings for a 2.76 ERA with 14 complete games including 8 shutouts. A 20-11 mark in decisions would prove to be a career high for the righty who would move to the Hankyu Braves in 1977 and have further success.


The 1980's: 

This one surprised me a bit, but Tatsuo Komatsu in 1985, his Sawamura Award winning year, was to be the best of this era. Over a relatively modest 25 games started, Komatsu pitched 210.1 innings for a 2.65 ER, 17-8 record and 172 strikeouts. Komatsu actually played a further 8 games as a reliever appearing in 33 games in all. Alongside Genji Kaku, the 1985 Dragons team had a pretty formidable 1-2 at the top of the rotation. Komatsu would play for a further 9 years with Chunichi having another excellent year in 1987.


The 1990's:

I knew this one as he's one of my favourites. Shinji Imanaka pitched a peach of a season in 1993 where he captured the Sawamura Award. Masa Yamamoto was his rotation mate that similarly had a career year in WAR. Imanaka dazzled his contemporaries with his slow-curve and 148 km/h fastball. Imanaka started 30 games with 14 complete games including 3 shutouts. What's perhaps the most impressive is an 8.9 SO/9 as he fanned 247 batters over 249 innings. One of the best of the best, Imanaka was an amazing pitcher to watch. Unfortunately, much like Gondo, his longevity would be affected and while he still put up a further four 10+ win seasons, he ultimately succumbed to injury at age 30. 


The 2000's: 

Again, another surprise but this one is edged out by former Major Leaguer, Wei-Yin Chen. Alongside Kazuki Yoshimi, Chen showed himself to be the MLB calibre talent he was with a remarkable 2009 season. Chen pitched in 24 games, hurling down 164.0 innings. He would show amazing control to strikeout 146 batters for a miniscule, 0.933 WHIP. While only claiming an 8-4 record, Chen would put himself in the shop window for a move to the Orioles in 2012. 


The 2010's:

Chen's partner in crime, Kazuki Yoshimi in 2011 put up the best WAR during the lull that was the 2010s for the team as a whole. Yoshimi would have an 18-3 record with a 1.65 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 190.2 innings. If it weren't for a certain Masahiro Tanaka, Yoshimi may well have been the Sawamura Award winner in this year. A career best season for the then staff ace, it's perhaps not a surprise he's on this list. After a good 2012, injuries got the best of Yoshimi but he still pitched 100+ innings for the Dragons in 2016 and 2018 before retiring in 2020.


The 2020's

We've really only just started this decade, but Yudai Ono's 2020 Sawamura Award winning year was pretty good. In a shortened season, Ono threw down 148.2 innings over 20 starts. His 6 shutouts and 10 complete games rang among the best conversion of a CG to SHO out of any of these pitchers. Striking out more or less a batter per inning, Ono also has one of the best SO/9 out of any of the luminaries on the below list.

The List

Here the top 15 pitchers by WAR in Dragons history based on their best season:

NameWARYearWLERAGGSCGSHOIPSO
1Hiroshi Gondo11.6196135191.7069443212429.1310
2Minoru Kakimoto7.3196321131.70482812326083
3Kentaro Ogawa7.3196729122.515527163279.2178
4Tatsuo Komatsu7.119851782.653325141210.1172
5Shinji Imanaka6.719931772.203130143249247
6Mitsuo Inaba6.0197220112.763835148261.1140
7Wei-Yin Chen5.82009841.54242354164146
8Masa Yamamoto5.519931752.052724105188.1132
9Genji Kaku5.3198511113.483429151230.1157
10Yudai Ono5.320201161.8220 106148.2148
11Shigeki Noguchi5.119991972.65292974203.2145
12Kazuki Yoshimi5.120091672.00272554189.1147
13Senichi Hoshino4.8197718133.524230133245.1125
14Yujiro Miyako4.819821653.13432982221.1141
15Kenshin Kawakami4.820021262.35272733187.2149

You can now see why I decided to group these seasons by decade. You can definitely see that the 1960s were still dominated by pitchers that could throw a lot of innings. If you take away the top 3 however, you have a fairly decent list of pitchers that still did things in largely fairly recent times. Hiroshi Gondo's season may well be one of the highest WAR seasons by a pitcher in NPB history. Tatsuo Komatsu ranking so high surprised me while Kenshin Kawakami similarly ranking so low was also a surprise. A few new names came to my attention from this list in Minoru Kakimoto a side-armer, who looks like the ultimate ground-baller based on his statistics, and Mitsuo Inaba who was a regular contributor to the  rotation through the 1970s. 

I hope you enjoyed this little delve into the past.