Book Review – Hanshin Tigers: Actually Strong

torigoebookThe original title of this book is 本当は強い 阪神タイガース (Honto wa Tsuyoi Hanshin Tigers) and its author is Norio Torigoe. It was published in April 2013, so its contents reflect the team up to the end of the 2012 season. What interested me in this book before I even started reading it was its analysis of the team based on sabermetrics. I wish I had known more about these “new age stats” before I picked up this book, although the author does a good job of explaining most of them in layman’s terms. In fact, he not only explains what they measure, but also why they are important in judging a player’s talent, and how they are calculated as well. The mathematician in me loved that aspect of the book.

Torigoe uses all sorts of data to determine the greatest manager in team history, as well as its best hitter, pitcher and pinch hitter. He then looks at whether or not the team has been successful at training its players. This section includes analyses of drafting strategies and picks, trades, and free agent signings (particular foreigners). The third section examines how the Tigers can become a winning franchise again, It focuses primarily on ideal hitting order (based largely on OBP), defensive placement (using UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating), using Koshien Stadium’s uniqueness to the team’s advantage, and how to win in a stadium where the Tigers have always struggled – Nagoya Dome. The book concludes with a lengthy interview between the author and former Tigers owner Katsuyoshi Nozaki, who is credited with bringing the team out of its “Dark Ages”. While this section dragged on at times, it also was a good eye-opener. Nozaki reveals how teams rate players and determine their salaries, as well as many aspects of the Tigers management and front office that have hindered the team from being successful.

The book was a fairly quick read, despite its meaty content. One thing the author does well is to boldface the main point of each subsection, allowing the reader to focus exactly on what he wants to get across. I enjoyed learning more about sabermetrics and how they are calculated, although I am not sure I will ever calculate these stats on my own. Still, Mr. Torigoe showed empirically that the Hanshin Tigers are not as weak as people have made them out to be, and gives great suggestions on how the team can prosper in the future to truly become strong.

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