Offseason Report 1 – Player News


There has not yet been much offseason action as far as roster moves, but here are some of the things going on with different players:

Long-time Tiger Takahiro Arai has left the organization and returned to the Hiroshima Carp, where he began his career. He played 7 years with the Tigers, his best coming in 2010 when he hit 19 HR, 112 RBI and batted .311. Lately he has been used primarily as a pinch hitter, and while it is sad for many fans to see him leave, perhaps this was the best timing for the organization.

With talk of Takashi Toritani heading to the majors (more on that later), the Tigers have been toying with the idea of moving centerfielder Yamato to shortstop and third baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka to center field. Yamato played shortstop for many years before being called up to the Tigers big-league team, and in fact played six different positions in the 2011 season. Nishioka, on the other hand, has played second, short and third in his career, and might see the outfield for the first time ever. He is practicing in center at fall camp.

Also in anticipation of losing Toritani, the Tigers have been in heavy negotiations to sign yet another major league returnee, Hiroyuki Nakajima. He was signed two years ago by the Oakland Athletics, but due to injury and a bad stretch of playing, never made a major league appearance in two seasons. He is now a free agent and looks to come back to Japan. Should the Tigers sign him, he could play either second, shortstop or third.

However, there have actually been reports that there is a better-than-50% chance that Toritani will not go to the majors, and may in fact return to the Tigers next season. I was skeptical of his jump to America this late in his career, and wondered if a major league team would take a chance on him. Yes, he is durable and plays good defense. However, he does not have power or speed, and would undoubtedly be left hitting 8th or 9th on a big-league lineup. It may be hard to make adjustments, and he would perhaps be 35 before being fully comfortable playing in North America. By then, his skills, speed and durability could end up in serious decline mode. Either way, I will cheer for Tori-san, and wish him the best!

Finally, another Tiger has mentioned hopes of moving on to the bigs. Closer Seung-hwan Oh has said he also dreams of playing in America, and hopes to find a job there during the 2015 offseason. Interestingly, he also makes interesting requests to the organization. Last year he asked them to get him a special freezer just for kimchi. This season, he has expressed interest in moving into a kitchen-equipped hotel room. Apparently he’s quite a good cook!

Speaking of pitchers, “ace” Atsushi Nohmi has re-signed with the team for three more years. He has cast off the “ace” label though, insisting it belongs to a younger pitcher (namely Fujinami?). Finally, reliever and major league returnee Yoshinori Tateyama has also retired. He appeared in just eight games for the big-league team before being relegated to the farm team.

Murton vs. Messenger – Who wins?

I usually don’t like watching other people play video games. This video, however, is an exception. This is from before the start of the 2014 season, but presents an interesting matchup: if Messenger were to face Murton, who will win? Just as a set-up, Messenger uses himself as starting pitcher, and Murton chooses his favourite Nohmi-san. Perhaps more fun than the results of the video game is the banter between the two as they play the game. They mix Japanese and English fairly well, and it is just fun to see them having fun. Check it out if you have about 5 minutes of free time.

By the Numbers: Why the Tigers Lost

No one likes wallowing in the gloom of a postseason loss. For that reason, I will not dwell too much on the losses themselves, or the potential reality of losing Takashi Toritani to Major League Baseball. Instead, I will look at three striking numbers/factors that brought about Hanshin’s demise quickly in games 2-5. Setting Game 1 aside, the four straight losses were heart-wrenching to watch. What went wrong after the Giants sweep and a dominant victory in Game 1? I argue three things did the team in:

Game 2 starter Atsushi Nohmi held the Hawks to just 2 runs in 6 innings of work, but the first of those came on his fifth pitch of the game.

3) Early-game deficits – The SoftBank Hawks put up at least one run in each of their first three victories. Atsushi Nohmi was the quickest to surrender the lead, giving up a run on just five pitches. Shintaro Fujinami did not fare much better, following Nohmi’s pattern of hit-bunt-hit. Minoru Iwata actually gave up two runs in his first inning in Game 4, however, his took a little longer to manifest itself. More on that in the next section. The hitters did not do themselves any favors, though. In the first inning of games 2-5, they went 1-for-13 (.077) with 3 walks. The Hawks started their games going 8-for-19 (.421) with a walk. Randy Messenger was the lone pitcher to hold the Hawks off the board in the first inning, as he silenced them through at least six innings in each game he started. The bright side is that beyond the first inning, Nohmi and Iwata pitched extremely well. They were definitely not the reason the team lost the games. Another factor contributing to the losses was…


Murton gets caught stealing on a “phantom tag” (?) during the deciding Game 5.

2) Poor decisions on defense and the basepaths – Unfortunately, Yamato‘s excellent fielding throughout the playoffs was overshadowed by the poor decisions made by others. In Game 2 with the team down a run in the bottom of the seventh, Toritani led off with a hit. Perhaps trying to help out Gomez, the team’s RBI King and hero of Game 1, he tried to reach second after SoftBank catcher Hosokawa bobbled a Takeda pitch. The result was a fairly easy out, and instead of giving Gomez a chance to be the hero again, he was left to finish his at bat with the bases empty and one out. Flash forward to Game 3. A Fujinami wild pitch caromed off catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka‘s glove, and the runner on second ran aggressively enough to reach home safely. A quicker reaction to the loose ball could have prevented the run from scoring, or perhaps resulted in a throw-out at home. Game 4 saw a couple of miscues as well. First, in the opening frame, Iwata had given up a leadoff double to Yanagita. When Akashi attempted to bunt him over to third, Iwata fielded the ball, paused, and tried to get the lead runner out. He was late by a long shot. Had he been satisfied with getting the easy out at first base, the Hawks would have only gotten a single run that inning. Later in the game, with runners on first and second and two outs, Kosuke Fukudome slashed the Tigers’ first hit of the game, bringing home the tying run. Instead of stopping at first base, he tried to stretch his hit into a double. The result was an easy out and he was left laying on his back left of second base as the Hawks trotted off the field. Even later in the game, catcher Akihito Fujii tried to nail the lead runner at second on a sacrifice bunt. He was called safe (even though it appeared to be a missed call) and the Hawks had runners on first and second with just one out. Had he thrown to first, there would have been two outs and a runner on second. Instead, two batters later, Akira Nakamura rocked a walk-off home run to right. Finally in Game 5, two straight stolen base failures killed a potential Tiger rally. The first looked like a hit-and-run call that went wrong, and Matt Murton vehemently denied being tagged. Of course the call was not reversed. Uemoto followed that up with a stolen base failure of his own. Two base runners lost. And of course we can’t leave out the series-ending double play, one on which Tsuyoshi Nishioka was called for base runner interference. He has since admitted that he did it on purpose, hoping to keep the inning alive. Not the brightest move, but at least he was thinking. Regardless, the biggest culprit of all was…

Mauro Gomez strikes out in the second inning of Game 2. He hit 1-for-13 (.077) with 4 walks in the team’s 4 losses.

1) Lack of production with runners in scoring position – Unlike the Giants series, when the Tigers were knocking in almost all their base runners, they left too many men on base. The Hawks pitchers gifted them with multiple free passes (15, including 12 in the last two games), but as a team they managed a mere 4 runs in their losses, one of which was scored on a sacrifice fly. This means three men were knocked in on hits (and in one case, the runner was not even “in scoring position”), despite there being 17 at bats with players in scoring position over those four games. When you bat .176 in situations like that, it is no wonder the team lost four straight. The pitchers did their part, particularly in Games 2, 4 and 5. The bats that were strongest against the Giants (Gomez in particular) were silent in crucial situations in these four losses. Consider the data below:

Game Chances Hits Avg.
2 3 0 .000
3 2 1 .500
4 8 2 .250
5 4 0 .000
Total 17 3 .176

It was not an easy series to watch, as I said earlier, but I am still proud of the great showing the Tigers made in this year’s playoffs. No talk about a September slump anymore, no talk about never beating the Giants when it matters. The 2014 Tigers did an incredible job this year of giving their fans hope, excitement and fun. You can’t ask much more of them. Thank you, 2014 Tigers! See you next year! (The blog will continue through the off-season, just at a much slower pace.)


Photo copyright Hanshin Tigers. Taken from Hanshin Tigers Fan page (Facebook)