Hanshin Tigers Season Guide
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Welcome to my Guide to the Hanshin Tigers 2009! This guide will incorporate knowledge from a number of sources, and is intended as a guide for beginners getting into Japanese baseball. It will also include a few season predictions.
Less than a year ago I knew next to nothing about baseball. Yet a year into my stay in Japan I discovered the Hanshin Tigers, and they’ve been my baseball team ever since, catapulting the sport up to my second favourite, narrowly behind football (soccer).
While American baseball is based around a “big game” of big hitters and home runs, Japanese baseball plays a “slow game”, relying on tactical acuteness, stolen bases, bunts and narrow victories- as well as the occasional big hit. Japanese baseball is divided into two leagues- the Central League and the Pacific League. Of the two the Central, or Ce-League is arguably the more glamarous, while the Pacific, or Pa-League is arguably the more skilled. The only difference rule-wise is the use of designated hitters in the Pacific League, as with American baseball.
The Central League is my league so I’ll stick to that. It’s made up of six teams- the Yomiri Giants (boo!), the Hanshin Tigers (yay!!), the Chunichi Dragons (err, boo I guess), the Hiroshima Carp (yay!), the Yakult Swallows (do they? hee hee), and the Yokohama Baystars (nothing to say about them). Of these the former three are the big spenders, and the main competitors for the League Championship, or Pennant Race (although Hiroshima came close to breaking that monopoly last season before falling away).
Hanshin Tigers Star Players 2009
Lets look at Hanshin’s players in three sections- infield, outfield, and pitchers.
Infield- lots of stars here. We’ll take a look at Toritani, Sekimoto and Arai.
Takahiro Arai was Hanshin’s big purchase of 2008. A native of Hiroshima, he crossed the Chugoku region to join the Tigers on the back of a there-or-there-abouts 0.3 average and an impressive 96 home runs in 3 seasons. Unfortunately Arai was injured over the summer and late-season period last year, which ultimately played a significant role in Hanshin’s demise. In his 94 games he still managed a career best 0.306 average, but only 8 home runs. If he can stay injury free expect him to play a key role in this seasons performances. Fields on 1st base, although will be moving to 3rd under the new head coach Mayumi.
Kentaro Sekimoto has played his whole career at the Tigers. A solid performer, he averaged 0.298 last season. Unfortunately, he was often used as a sacrificial bunt to get Akahoshi to second (see below), a waste of his decent average. Let’s see him used more positively this season! Fields on 2nd base (if I remember correctly).
Toritani Takashi, handsome Hanshin poster boy, is one of the younger key players in the team. He plays a key fielding role at short-stop, where he excels, as well as being a solid hitter in offense. He averaged 0.281 with 13 homers last season, a remarkably consistent continuation of his record over the last few seasons. Statistically, expect more of the same this season.
Outfield- we’ll take a look at Kanemoto and Akahoshi. Other players of note- Shinjiro Hiyama, Mench.
If Tony Adams was Mr.Arsenal, and Jamie Carragher is Mr.Livepool, then Tomoaki “Aniki” Kanemoto is Mr.Hanshin. Aniki turned 40 last year, yet has consistently turned in top or near-top batting averages, as well as being far and away Hanshin’s biggest hitter- his 27 homers last season were by far and away the largest number (Toritani coming in second with 13) while his 0.307 average put him in second position. He’s also a true Chugoku boy- before playing for Hanshin Aniki plyed his trade across in Hiroshima, where he was born.
The phrase printed on the picture above, [４番の本領, 背中で語る男] means he has the characteristics of a number 4- i.e. a big hitter, and that hit back shot “expresses what he thinks”, in other words that he lets his hitting do the talking. Mild mannered, extremely wealthy and already half-legend, Aniki Kanemoto is the backbone of the Hanshin team. More importantly, with the Giants having gaijin-sensation Rami-chan (Ramirez), and Hanshin failing to sign anyone in his mould (time will tell on new-signing Mench), Kanemoto’s home runs are essential if Hanshin are going to be successful this season.
Norihiro Akahoshi, my favourite Hanshin player, had a career best season in 2008 and will hopefully continue his form into 2009. A lead-off batter, Akahoshi is an expert at stealing bases, and scoring hits to first. He got the highest average of the team last season, with 0.317, and was the Central League’s second best stealer (盗塁). With Hanshin so dependent on scoring runs the non-big hitting way, Akahoshi’s lead off is essential. The frustrating thing last season was that Akahoshi tended to be “pushed” around the bases, particularly by sacrificial bunts from Sekimoto as the 2nd batter. This season it’d be nice to see a more positive attitude, as Hanshin have a strong top 4 batting line-up that really doesn’t require this technique. That, or replace Sekimoto with someone else and stick him further back in the order with Toritani (see 2009 probable order below).
Catcher and Pitchers- so much to look at here. We’ll do a pitcher round up, and mention Hanshin’s catcher.
In baseball, pitchers are divided into starters- who pitch the first 5 or so innings, and relief, who come in and take over when the starters are ineffective/tired. Hanshin’s key starters last season were Shimoyanagi, Atchison and Andoh. There are also several youngsters coming through the ranks, as well as mid-season gaijin acquisition Resop. Shimoyanagi is Hanshin’s veteran pitcher. Last season he recorded an ERA of 2.99, a joint career best with his performance in the 2005 season. He is of an age with Kanemoto, and needs to be used wisely to prevent him tiring too fast. Atchison was used as both a starter and a relief last season- where will he be in the order this season? Andoh had a poor 2007 but in 2008 got back to- and indeed surpassed his 2006 performace, with an ERA of 3.20. Hopefully he can carry this on in 2009.
JFK- Jeff Williams, 藤川, 久保田
Named after the dead President (though now reminds me of Joe “Fucking” Kinnear”- thanks Football Weekly), JFK have famously been Hanshin’s star pitching line-up, albeit with some alterations over the years in order.
Undoubted star among them is Fujikawa Kyuji, Japan’s best closer, more consistent than Kyojin’s Kroon, getting 38 saves last season (Ce League 2nd best, only missing out on first because he had to leave for the Olympics) and stepping up to the plate 63 times. He has a star temperament, a steal like nerve and is just generally great. Let’s forget the Nippon Series playoff in Nagoya, when we was tactically beaten by Woods to knock Hanshin out – a cruel fate, with sad scenes of Fujikawa in tears apologising to Manager Okada as he said goodbye to the players :(
That’s the F, but what about the J and K? The J is Jeff Williams, an Ozzie who was dissapointing last season, with his ERA jumping from 1.90 in 2006 and 0.96 in 2007 to a dissapointing 3.09 in 2008. He is left-handed, which is useful, and he is proven in the past. Can he bounce back in 2009? The K of JFK is Tomoyuki Kubota. Kubota also dissapointed in 2008- his ERA was 3.16, and he was replaced at various points in the year. He was so good in 2007 that he played a massive 90 times. Again it remains to be seen whether he will bounce back in 2009, and where he will pitch in the lineup.
Other relief pitchers to look out for include Abe, Watanabe and Egusa.
A Catcher- 矢野 輝弘
Akihiro Yano is Hanshin’s veteran catcher. Again of an age with Kanemoto and Shimoyanagi, he performed solidly last season, despite slow throwing, and is likely to be kept in Number 1 spot this season. As with Kanemoto and Shimoyanagi, some serious thought needs to be given to the future of the team and the replacement of these three players.
Ok- now to some analysis! Success in 2009 will basically be down to whether Hanshin can correct the weaknesses of 2008. No real signings were made in the close season- save Mench, so the key is whether 2008 failings can be put right. In terms of pitching, Hanshin have some solid starters and a star relief- the J and K of JFK need to step it up, and if either does then this will be a big filip. Fujikawa won’t be absent this year- no Olympics thank god- and so can ply his trade season-long, a big bonus as we lost a lot of games in August last season. Similarly Arai will be available, and if he stays injury free he should really try to challenge Kanemoto for the home run crown. Our starters are solid but uninspiring- we really need a Darvish- but barring that we can expect some good performances from stalwarts Shimoyanagi and Andoh. In attack, I’m not really sure how we can improve that much. A more positive attitude would help (see Sekimoto problem above), as would more home runs from Arai.
In a few seaons time Hanshin will have to replace 3 key players- Kanemoto, Shimoyanahi, and Yano. In this respect 2009 sees the continuation of what can be described as the end of an era. Bringing in a star starter, a star home run hitter and a star catcher will take time, and Hanshin will need to invest. One of these players should really have been brought in this season- time will tell if that was a mistake or not. Of particular concern is Yano, who was slow in fielding last season.
Added to this is the fact that the Yomiuri Giants look as strong as ever. I think last season really was our chance- the Giants were so poor at the start that it gave us a large lead. Bad luck (injury), circumstance (the Olympics) and poor management led to us squandering that lead. This season the Giants will possibly be stronger. We will need to fight to challenge all the way. A big effort is required from every player- みんな様、一所懸命頑張ってください！！！
I found another interesting preview of the Tigers forthcoming season here. Chris mentions the probable lineup of the Tigers as
This interestingly moves Arai down to 5 (where apparently he originally wanted to bat), brings Toritani in at 3, and new signing Mench at 6. Arai could be a key man- we need more home runs from him!