Great Tiger Moments 3: April 17, 1985

Other than winning the championship in 1985, this is probably the most talked about moment in Hanshin Tigers history. At this point, the team had a 50 year history and still no championship to speak of. However, it boasted one of its finest hitting lineups ever.

Having started the season on the road, the Tigers were in game two of their first homestand. The opponents: their arch nemesis Yomiuri Giants. Game one featured an interesting come-from-behind victory by the Tigers, but its drama paled in comparison to this one. Down by two runs in the seventh, the team managed to get a two runners aboard for first baseman Randy Bass.

Bass, who had a decent first two years with the team, but who started the season quite cold, was 0-for-2 in this one to this point. Journalists report that before the game, he didn’t even take batting practice. Instead, he watched video footage of his batting stance. And apparently, something clicked, because…

This would be Bass’ first homerun of the season, one in which he hit 54 and went on to win the Triple Crown. Kakefu was already hitting well and obviously took advantage of a shaken pitcher who had just surrendered a late lead. Okada’s blast sent the crowd into hysterics. As the announcers said, “Koshien wa matsuri desu!” Koshien is in festival mode!

As we all know, the team won its first and only championship that October. This day can be said to be the one that sparked the Tigers’ magical ride to glory.

Book Review – Nishioka’s Autobiography

Tsuyoshi NishiokaZenryoku Shisso- (Sprint)

NishiokaAutobio

It seems odd for an athlete to write an autobiography mid-career. Can he really have anything of worth to say before his legacy has been established? Is he that full of himself, that he thinks people will want to read his ramblings on various topics? Is there wisdom in his words? Is his story compelling enough to capture hearts? Why should I read the words of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, oft-injured, occasionally brilliant, but mostly known in the west as the Minnesota Twins’ failed second base experiment?

The fact is, Nishioka is not the most educated man. He says so himself in his writing, admitting he never studied in high school and spent the vast majority of his childhood practicing baseball religiously. Let’s not kid ourselves – he will never become an author after his playing days are over. He does, however, articulate himself reasonably well and comes across as someone who spends a lot of time in reflection.

To summarize briefly, the autobiography focuses on four major “turning points” in Nishioka’s life: his failure to get into PL Gakuen (renowned baseball high school), his time with the Chiba Lotte Marines (including three nominations to national teams), his short stint in the major leagues, and his return to Japan to play with the Tigers. Each stage of the journey comes with successes and failures, as well as the lessons he learned through them. Most surprising of all was his troubled 2009 season, during which he struggled mightily at the plate and in his personal life. He even admits to having had an addiction to sleeping medication and major bouts with depression. As fans of the man know, he turned things around in an incredible way in 2010, posting career highs in almost every category, and leading his club to its second national title during his tenure there.

The greatest thing I got out of this book is that Tsuyoshi Nishioka the athlete and Tsuyoshi Nishioka the man are quite different. He is quite fragile, quite humble, and above all feels a strong desire to be needed. The phrase comes up time and again in the book, as each major rejection was a result of “not being wanted” (by PL, the Twins, etc.) and “feeling needed” (by Osaka Toin, the Hanshin Tigers, etc.).

I started the book somewhat skeptical, but ended it more of a fan of the man. Though written before his injury-shortened 2014 season, he definitely exudes a strong desire for greatness — not personal accolades, but team glory. Here’s to hoping the words he wrote in this book will come to fruition in 2015 for the Hanshin Tigers. While not the most intelligently written book I’ve ever read, even by an athlete, it was a quick, fairly easy and enjoyable read.

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2014 Tigers Data Analysis – Hitters

I’ve decided to go ahead and post this one without any requests for it. I love seeing what the Japanese data analysts have to say! This one comes with a few comments from yours truly as well. I’m going to limit it to the “typical top 6” batters in the order from last season. With all due respect to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Ryota Arai, Ryota Imanari, Ryutaro Umeno and Kentaro Sekimoto (whose data analysis is also in the magazine), I think it’s best to keep things a little more concise. Here they are, from 1-6 in the lineup:

uemotoHiroki Uemoto

Uemoto started the season on fire, but cooled off quickly as the weather heated up. Still, the fact that he averaged over four pitches per plate appearance (showing patience and selection) gives promise for better results in the future.

Month AB H HR AVG PPAB
March/April 108 36 1 .333 4.69
May 43 15 0 .349 3.98
June 73 17 0 .233 4.30
July 87 23 5 .264 4.76
August 104 26 1 .250 4.64
September 96 25 0 .260 3.86
October 4 0 0 .000 4.40

YamatoYamato

Yamato led the league in sacrifice bunts, but his ability to advance the runner went beyond laying down the sacrifice. He topped the team in “advanced runner rate” — a number that does not factor in his incredible bunting success.

Year Attempts Success Success %
2010 3 1 .333
2011 5 5 1.000
2012 22 19 .864
2013 45 36 .800
2014 55 52 .945
Rank Batter Chances Hits Grounders Advance AVG
1 Yamato 66 16 15 .470
2 Matt Murton 112 41 9 .446
3 Toritani 149 44 20 .430

ToritaniTakashi Toritani

Two seasons ago he set the pace with a high average in his first at bat of the game. This past season, however, he had much greater success in his second at bat and beyond, averaging over .300 AFTER his first plate appearance.

AB # (2014) AB H AVG AB # (2013) AB H AVG
1 126 34 .270 1 120 42 .350
2 125 38 .304 2 121 31 .256
3 128 45 .352 3 118 32 .271
4~ 171 55 .322 4~ 173 45 .260

GomezMauro Gomez

What can be said except, WOW. What a first-year for the big Dominican. He absolutely crushed the Swallows (who didn’t, mind you?) and the Giants. He also showed the consistent ability to produce the team’s tying or leading runs in games, as evidenced by his “clutch hit” numbers.

Opponent AB H HR RBI AVG RiSP AVG Clutch Hits
Swallows 85 32 4 24 .376 .538 5
Giants 88 28 6 19 .318 .280 6
Dragons 91 28 2 13 .308 .391 7
Baystars 92 24 4 15 .261 .269 6
Carp 91 21 5 18 .231 .257 2
Interleague 90 21 5 20 .233 .242 6

MurtonMatt Murton

Just when you thought the man couldn’t improve, he went ahead and produced a career best .355 average against breaking pitches (curves, sliders, etc.). If Murton is aware of these numbers, I am sure he will work on getting that “sinking pitch” average a little higher in 2015.

Year Pitch Type AVG HR RBI
2010 Straight .383 14 19
Breaking .349 3 20
Sinking .275 0 31
2011 Straight .357 8 22
Breaking .292 4 30
Sinking .246 1 24
2012 Straight .267 3 16
Breaking .264 1 23
Sinking .242 1 17
2013 Straight .394 11 23
Breaking .293 7 32
Sinking .185 1 26
2014 Straight .366 8 22
Breaking .355 2 21
Sinking .240 4 21

FukudomeKosuke Fukudome

His overall numbers were not impressive, but he continues to give opposing pitchers fits with his keen eye. A little better wood on the pitches in the zone and “Dome-san” will be right back where he belongs in the upper echelon.

Year Rank Batter Balls Thrown Balls Left Good Eye %
2014 1 Toritani 1263 1076 .852
2 Uemoto 1266 1065 .841
3 Fukudome 818 621 .759
4 Yamato 895 632 .706
5 Imanari 708 483 .682
2013 1 Toritani 1357 1176 .867
2 Fukudome 524 405 .773
3 T. Arai 1206 911 .755
4 Nishioka 1115 828 .743
5 R. Arai 889 647 .728

Monthly Hanshin Tigers – February Edition

IMG_3911It’s here! I just got my hands on the newest Monthly Hanshin Tigers magazine. Yamato’s the cover boy and this issue features a lengthy interview with him. Here is a brief table of contents.

  • Close up Interview – Yamato
  • Another side view – Yamato
  • Current observations – The 2015 Race
  • Introducing… Kentaro Kuwahara
  • Players’ Note – Koya Shimamoto’s 5th Year
  • Memories of 1985 – Katsuo Hirata
  • Tigers’ Farm Report
  • According to His Teammates – Yuta Iwasada
  • Tigers’ Data Analysis – Hitters
  • The Truth About… Sen’ichi Hoshino
  • Wada Manager Room

Want to get an English version (full or abbreviated) of any of this? Let me know in the comment section!

2014 Tigers Data Analysis – Pitchers

IMG_3777As a numbers guy, statistics fascinate me to no end. The January “Monthly Tigers” Magazine (not the fan club one, but the one below – it sells at bookstores for ¥410) had a piece on the Tigers’ main pitchers and their numbers in 2014. Some interesting things came out of them and I thought I would share. It’s too much to share it all, but here is the interesting stuff.

NohmiAtsushi Nohmi

How hitters fared against his different pitches

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How hitters fared against him based on the number of strikes against

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MessengerRandy Messenger

How hitters fared against his different pitches

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Day game vs. night game records

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.01.59 PM

fujinamiShintaro Fujinami

How hitters fared against his different pitches

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Runs allowed by inning

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.02.30 PM

IwataMinoru Iwata

How hitters fared against his different pitches

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.02.42 PM

Run support ranking (starters)

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.02.52 PM

OhSeung-hwan Oh

How Batters fared against the fastball: NPB Rankings

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T-Magazine Interview Translation: Umeno & Matsuda

The first edition of the 2015 magazine is now in the hands of fan club members. Over 90% of its content is devoted to ticket purchase information (who knew it was this complicated!) but the first few pages feature a nice interview with young catcher Ryutaro Umeno and young pitcher Ryoma Matsuda. Here is my translation of the interview in its entirety.

TMagazine2015a

— You’ve had lots of opportunity to stand in front of fans at different events this offseason. Have you gotten more comfortable with public speaking?

U: Yeah, I have. Speaking is no problem. I feel a lot more comfortable speaking about baseball than about my private life, though.

M: I don’t feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable. But I think my third year was better than my second, and my second better than my first.

— You guys are both from Kyushu – Fukuoka and Nagasaki – do you feel like you have a lot of similarities?

U: Hmmm… if I had to pick something, it would be our way of speaking. It’s way different from people in Kansai.

M: I don’t speak Kyushu dialect much, but Umeno does. I’m younger than he is, so I have to use respectful language when speaking.

— What is your impression of Matsuda, your junior?

U: Heh, his head is huge. Jokes aside, he is really good at setting a boundary between baseball and his private life. He jokes around a lot, communicates well and is easy to get along with. This makes him popular among the veterans on the team.

— What is your impression of Umeno, your senior?

M: He’s like a big brother I can always count on for anything…

U: Shut up you liar!

M: He really looks after the younger players, talks to all the pitchers… as a catcher he makes a wonderful wife.

UmenoMatsuda

— As pitcher and catcher, how do you see each other?

U: Ryoma only throws towards the end of games… his strength is the power pitch that he brings. The hitter knows what’s coming and still can’t hit it. He’s mentally strong and a warrior.

M: I want to throw that power pitch all night, and Umeno is the kind of catcher that will go with it, telling me to “bring it.” It’s so easy to throw to him because he understands that I want to beat them with my fastball. We’re close together in age so he’s easy to talk to – not that the other catchers are hard to talk to! But with Umeno, we often eat out together so we can talk about the game a lot more.

— Umeno, you were a rookie this year but still managed to stay with the team all season. Did the season feel long or short?

U: It was long. Every day kind has the same feel to it, so the longest part of the season was the end of the first half and start of the second half. When it was over, it was like, “Finally!”

— It looked like you lost a lot of weight during the season, too. Were you not able to eat?

U: At the time, yeah. I thought I was eating enough, but obviously I was burning it all up pretty fast through all the moving around. I was mentally exhausted, because I was learning a lot of things for the first time, and I guess it contributed to my weight loss.

— Matsuda, you hurt your elbow and left camp. You didn’t make it up to the big team until mid-September. Would you say that pretty much sums up your year?

M: Yeah. Last year (2013) I got hurt, and I really wanted to avoid injury this season, but then I got hurt again…

— Your rehab was quite lengthy. What goes through your mind as you’re getting back into game shape?

M: I got a little depressed at first, but I know that doesn’t help any, so I just got to work, training hard. I wanted to show the team a completely different me when I came back. As I trained, trainers, coaches and others kept encouraging me to do my best. It felt good to retire the side in my first game back.

— The crowd really made a lot of noise for you when your name was called at that game (Sept.19 at Koshien). Did you notice that?

M: Yeah, I heard them. I was so happy to hear them cheering for me. It pushed me to work even harder.

— You were able to make some appearances during the Climax Series and Nippon Series. How did you feel about that?

M: In a short series everything gets amplified, but pitching is still pitching so I tried not to think about it too hard.

— Umeno, you were only able to make one playoff appearance. I’m sure you feel a little choked about that, but was the experience important to you?

U: It was huge. Of course I was bummed but getting to the Nippon Series in my rookie season and playing a little was a good experience. It was a special atmosphere.

— What would you say you got out of this season?

U: The fact that I finished the season with zero passed balls to my name. I practiced one-hoppers with Coach Yamada before games all season. I was also able to learn what data is important to keep in mind throughout the entire season.

M: I was told by Coach Nakanishi and (Shinobu) Fukuhara things like, with a one-run lead, “It’s OK to give up a walk in this case,” or with a three-run lead, “Throw strikes and avoid walking the guy” – changing my strategy based on the score. I only made 6 appearances this season but I played in some close games, so I was able to think about those things as I threw. I’m not sure if I was able to pull it off, but it gives me something to build on for next season.

— What kind of training are you planning on doing to prepare for camp this February?

U: Mainly lifting weights. Getting bigger and tighter. At the same time, I want to see how flexible I can get, because I’m pretty stiff. With all the movement I will have to do during the season, I want to make myself flexible now so that it is easier to maintain during the year. Flexibility is key.

M: I first and foremost just don’t want to get injured. I’m going to lift weights and build up my strength.

— Lots of people are joining the fan club. Tell the people your goals for the upcoming season.

U: I can’t say too much about what’s ahead but I want to focus on the games before us, not the numbers. I want to be in the opening game. I played 92 games last year and started 60, but I want to be in games right until the end of the season this time. I want to improve my numbers, of course, but not just for the sake of doing so. I want to do better with the pitchers and show the team who I can really be.

M: First, I won’t get hurt this coming year! Sounds simple but I really want to make this happen. I’ve blown it two years in a row so this year I want to be on the big team all season. I want to be used in a lot of crucial situations and close games, and of course win the pennant and Nippon Series.