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Friday, October 15, 2021

Mr Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, set for manager role

Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda has made it official he won't be coming back next season after submitting his resignation the day after the 2021 Draft. The front office immediately contacted Hall of Famer, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami to lead the team next year. While nothing official has been done yet, it is only a matter of time before contracts are signed and the Dragons have a new manager. 

Manager Tatsunami has been a project in the making since the Dragons great retired in 2009. After Hiromitsu Ochiai stepped down as manager, calls for Tatsunami to come on board to manage the team echoed through Nagoya. When Motonobu Tanishige was sacked mid-season, the same voices came to the front. It has been somewhat of a saga for Tatsunami as he has been kept out of a managerial role with the team due to his relationship with previous owner, Bungo Shirai. "Finally" is a word that comes to mind. The will he, won't he in the media has been tiring with Tatsunami's name raised every single time the Dragons managerial position comes up in passing. Former Dragons players too have been on the campaign warpath for Tatsunami with hopes he can usher back some of the faithful from the golden era of the Dragons as well as reunite the team with some of it's retired players. 

The writing has been on the wall for Yoda this year. The team's poor hitting performance somewhat highlighted due to a restructure of the hitting coaches in the off-season, has really put a dent in Yoda's legacy. Criticism over failing to use younger players as well has been a feature of his tenure this year. I have been a defender of Yoda since he came to the job. What he has said and what he has done should be commended. He came in with a mission of fixing the Dragons pitching which he has done with aplomb. His appointment of Hideyuki Awano in particular should be applauded. Catcher as a position has also been largely resolved with the emergence of Takuya Kinoshita as the team's #1 behind the dish. We can possibly thank Takeshi Nakamura for that too. We've also seen a new team than the one Shigekazu Mori worked with. The line-up has changed and been tweaked. New players have been given chances. The farm has been a good breeding ground for talent under Toru Nimura's watchful eye, and we haven't seen the same merry-go-round of players bouncing between the teams trying to look for form. There has been a plan that Nimura and Yoda have kept to that has largely worked. Perhaps a more active use of younger players that were riding a good wave of form may have been a better plan and a way to win over fans. Personally, I see the value in giving younger players time to work on the farm and build consistency rather than yo-yo and worry about how effective they were in 1-gun or lose confidence because they saw the difference in quality. 

The biggest loss for me however is not so much Yoda the manager, but Yoda the man. In a recent 'behind the scenes' look at draft day, I was just reminded about how charming and kind Yoda comes across as. I think he would have very much been a father figure to many of his players. The way he speaks is caring of the people around him and it's not the gruff "old man" rhetoric that quite often gets trundled about. A very positive figure. In that regard, he will be sorely missed. The positive thing however for Yoda is that Tatsunami is keen to keep him with the Dragons and is working the front office to create a post for him. This however might come at odds with Yoda's wife who recently mentioned in a blog post that she was looking forward to seeing the return of her husband to the home after 6-years away with the Eagles and Dragons.That will be an interesting conversation. Nonetheless, Yoda could still be valuable to the team. This includes as a pitching coach, which would be somewhat unprecedented, or even as a member of the front office recruitment department. Yoda has connections with a number of clubs over his playing and coaching career which could benefit the Dragons when looking for a trade partner. We will see how that plays out. We might see another token role like the one created for Shigekazu Mori who became a 'senior director' after the team hired Yoda.

The timing of the change is somewhat confusing. Yoda was representing the team at the draft the day before he announced he was stepping down. It is naieve to think that there weren't already talks of Yoda stepping away from the position before then. Even if Tatsunami was being coy about the Dragons having not contacted him in articles leading up to his invitation, there was a plan of succession in the works. The timing of the season has surely played a role. The draft usually takes place between the end of the regular season and the start of the Climax Series but due to the Olympics, the season has slid a month which has complicated matters. Announcing Tatsunami as new manager with a month left to go as it is must be awkward for players and staff as it is and it would have been near impossible to get Tatsunami into the role to watch over the draft while Yoda still took care of the team on the field. In any case, COVID-19 has wrecked the transition a bit. I can't help but feel sorry for Yoda and his staff having to play out the remainder of games with literally nothing but pride left to play for. At least this gives the fans a chance to send off Yoda and thank him for his service. I am certainly thankful. 

So what of Tatsunami? What do we know of the manager-to-be? By some very strange twist of fate, a conversation between Tatsunami and Hirokazu Ibata was uploaded by CBC's Dragons' program, Moedora to YouTube the day the club issued their request to appoint Mr Dragons. Surely, there is no better way to get to know your manager than through one of these hypotheticals. People who have listened to Tatsunami over the years will already have a fairly good idea of what his thoughts are. To summarise however, he's very 'old school'. While I agree with much of what he says, there's a lot that makes me grumble. 

Before a dissect the video, there's a few other comments Tatsunami has made in the media about the team I thought worth mentioning. One, he criticized the players for smiling and having fun when they were losing. God forbid with have players with a positive attitude. Two, Tatsunami has been an advocate for more training over rest. Hmm. 

To go into the points made in the video however, there's some interesting infomration. I'll list up the main points Tatsunami makes here:

  1. Shuhei Takahashi should be aiming to be a .300+ 20HR type hitter; use the power he showed as a rookie
  2. Dayan Viciedo is an important player but lacks in certain areas (mainly homeruns) that you'd expect in a foreign corner infielder.
  3. Kyoda's positioning in defence could be better. He's great at fielding and throwing but he positions himself poorly at times when looking to cut-off the ball - a caveat of this was Ibata mentioning he did only defensive drills until he was about 30 before he could focus on his hitting.
  4. Takuya Kinoshita lacks the stamina required to be a full-time first-team catcher and has often been rotated to keep him fresh.
  5. Akira Neo is someone that would be used anywhere on the field if he could hit. 
  6. Vantelin Dome is a large stadium that is a hindrance to hitting homeruns and the team should aim to hit more doubles.
There is more to add, but I think these are the key points. First of all, the thing that sticks out for me is some fairly old ways of thinking about player stamina how good enough is good enough. Criticism of Kinoshita I feel is unfair. The team have a number of talented catchers and they should be aiming to rotate them rather than relying on one to play 120 games a year. Not everyone can be Motonobu Tanishige. The team have Ariel Martinez, Yuya Gunji and Kota Ishibashi that could all be playing behind the plate at other teams in the league, if anything Kinoshita not having the stamina to play all games is a blessing for a team with so much talent. Ibata's comment in particular about focusing on defensive drills at the expense of hitting was quite alarming as well. Tatsunami's criticism of Kyoda, who is probably on second to the Lions' Sosuke Genda as a defensive short-stop is nothing short of a former player of that position harping about the perfections of the trade. Kyoda's defense is invaluable and as he grows older he will naturally find ways to compensate for his lack of nimbleness in the field. But, it must be said that if Tatsunami puts this value on defense over offense like the manager's he's played under, then it will be no wonder the team doesn't hit well again next year. Finally, the main point that sticks to me is the "hit more doubles, boys" philosophy. This is nothing new. Alonzo Powell at Yoda identified this as the best way to get runs in Nagoya, although I kind of find it a defeatist attitude, and it didn't work for them for whatever reason. Knowing what a team should do and actually making them do it are two very different things. 

One of the more interesting take-aways from this however is the closeness between Tatsunami and Ibata adding to rumours that Ibata may well be on his way to join Tatsunami's backroom. What role would Ibata fit into then? If rumours are true about Tatsunami hiring some older heads (similar age to him anyway) to backroom positions, then a head coach position for Ibata seems unlikely. If he were to be an infield defense coach, then that would displace Masahiro Araki who could find himself back on the farm next year if that's the case. So far, Tatsunami has said he wants to recruit outside the Dragons organisation for coaches but also wants to keep some of the existing staff so as to make the transition easier. So far, former PL Gakuen team-mate, Atsushi Kataoka has been strongly linked while 2007 Japan Series MVP, Norhiro Nakamura has also been earmarked for a role as a hitting coach. Otherwise, it has all but been confirmed that former Dragons bullpen master, Eiji Ochiai will be returning to Japan from his role as farm manager with the Samsung Lions in Korea to take the 1-gun pitching coach job. Speculation will now be rife with who may be considered for other positions but Tatsunami has indicated he should have an idea of who he will be working with after two weeks. As with my previous post on a possible backroom for Hirokazu Ibata, I'll try now and theorize something under Tatsunami.

ManagerKazuyoshi Tatsunami
Head CoachShinya Miyamoto
Position Player CoachHirokazu Ibata
Batting CoachKazuhiro Wada
PT Batting CoachKosuke Fukudome
Pitching CoachEiji Ochiai
""Hideyuki Awano
Battery CoachTakeshi Nakamura
IF Defense/Base-RunningMasahiro Araki
OF Defense/Base-RunningHidenori

For the sake of keeping AraIba together, Tatsunami may well create a separate role for Ibata to work on all aspects of position players' game. Ibata was an effective hitter as a player and not much more can be said for his significant contributions as a defender. Given Ibata working with hitters, maybe then Kosuke Fukudome can be a part-time hitting coach as well. Add in someone like Kazuhiro Wada and you have the makings of a pretty interesting batting coach team. Shinya Miyamoto comes in as a former PL Gakuen buddy of Tatsunami's to head coach while much of the rest of the backroom may well just stay as it is. Takeshi Nakamura and Hideyuki Awano have proven themselves very capable and it will only be a matter of whether or not Tatsunami can convince them to stay on. 

ManagerAtsushi Kataoka
Batting CoachMasahiko Morino
""Nori Nakamura
Pitching CoachKazuki Yoshimi
""Takuya Asao
""Takashi Ogasawara
Battery CoachShingo Takeyama
IF Defense/Base-RunningTadaharu Sakai
OF Defense/Base-RunningTakayuki Onishi

The farm team was a bit trickier to work on but rumours are that Masahiko Morino will be back while Nori Nakamura has most recently been working with high school players so his experience might well be very valuable working with younger players on the farm. I've randomly picked Kazuki Yoshimi to be the third pitching coach in this team while I've added in a couple of different OBs for the defensive/base-running coaching roles in Tadaharu Sakai, whom Tatsunami played with and Takayuki Onishi who not only played for the Dragons but also PL Gakuen. I've put Kataoka as the manager but it could quite easily be someone else. Kataoka's reputation precedes him and he might not be a very popular appointment. 

The coming weeks will tell us what we want to know. If I were the team, I'd want to sort our the staff situation as quickly as possible but given the late end of the season, it's unlikely that there will be a fall camp meaning there's not as much of a hurry to get everyone together just yet. 

On a slightly more random note, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami as the third carrier of the Mr Dragons moniker also continues the tradition of those players managing the team. The first, Michio Nishizawa had a short stint (1965-1967) while the second, Morimichi Takagi managed the team on 3 separate occasions (1986 as caretaker, 1992-1995, 2012-2013). A tradition upkept is....something I guess.

What Tatsunami will bring the Dragons will be seen over the coming months in as we head towards Spring training. I'm skeptical that his seemingly hard-headed ways are going to steer the team in any meaningful direction. His rather older ideas about players resting and what their attitude should be strikes me as a way of thinking the team should be steering away from. If nothing else, he will be a popular appointment. This is a marquee manager signing that could bring with it a number of big names as coaches. Tatsunami finally landing the job will also mean that the ship is finally sailing ending some of the media drama. My hopes are for the best, but I am more skeptical about this appointment than I was about Yoda.

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