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Final Position: 2nd

League Record: W78 L63 D3 (Chunichi W79 L62 D3, Kyohin W79 L64 D1)

Post Season: To be played

In Mayumi Year 2 we flirted with success and failure in equal measure, and a genuinely tight run in in October saw us narrowly avoid finishing third, even as we could have won the league with just one more win. It’s human nature to seek drama in sport, and if drama is what we’re after one can point to two late season moments that sealed it for Tigers – a poor defeat to the Yokohama Baystars at Koshien, when they hit a 3-run homer late on to win 4-3 – and a 1-0 defeat to Chunichi at Nagoya Dome, when a poor throw from Brazell to home plate saw them win it in the ninth. Our record however is an undoubted improvement on last season, and we lost the league by a whisker.

In comparison to other teams however one feels we could have done better. Kyojin had a shocking year, and it was only their finances that kept them in it – I wonder how Hara would do managing a lesser team. Chunichi won the league, and all credit for that – however their style of play is very boring to watch, relying on pitching well and not hitting to scrape wins at their fortress stronghold of Nagoya Dome. Tigers, in contrast, had inconsistent but sometimes brilliant pitching, and a historically potent offensive line up. I am clearly biased, but I believe most Japanese baseball neutrals would have preferred to see Tigers win to the other two. The style we play is an exciting style, and should be maintained next season.

While we have found a lot to keep in our team next time around, certain changes do need to be made. Offensively we don’t need to make any changes. In defense, however, Kanoh and Egusa should be restored to ichi-gun, with Shimoyanagi, Fukuhara, Sugiyama and (dare I say it) Andoh demoted. We should also sign two pitchers – a top class starter (Maeda Kenta please 🙂 ), and a relief pitcher in the mould of Atchison/Williams. This would bolster our defence and ensure that even Mayumi didn’t mess up a pennant season. We also need to play better away to Chunichi – this is our clear weakness when one analyses the season’s stats. How to do this is a conundrum that Mayumi should spend some time addressing.

That last comment points to a general feeling about Mayumi’s management – that for all the improvements of this season, he still doesn’t ‘get’ it. Certainly this is a feeling shared among many of the foreign commentators on the Tigers, and is justified when you watch the Tigers play on a regular basis. At least certain positive changes have occurred – Murton was quick to credit batting coaches including Kataoka for their work this season. Anyway, Mayumi is staying for 1/2/3 more years, so there’s no point complaining. For all Tigers weaknesses, I’d far rather watch Mayumi Tigers than Ochiai Dragons. Let’s hope we can make a few improvements to the team next season, and move onwards to our first league title since 2005. That’s the prize all Tigers fans want – and a subsequent celebratory drive into that dirty canal in Osaka that will probably send them all to hospital.

Offence – A Record Breaking Year

This Hanshin Tigers line-up will hopefully go on to great things, but 2010 will be remembered as the year that the dasen really came of age, with numerous records broken and set. The most impressive offensive line up in Japan in 2010.

Batting Average
Hirano (平野) 0.350 (PB)
Murton (マートン) 0.349
Arai (新井) 0.311 (PB)
Johjima (城島) 0.303
Toritani (鳥谷) 0.301 (PB)
Home Runs
Brazell (ブラゼル) 47
Johjima (城島) 28
Arai (新井) 19
Toritani (鳥谷) 19
Murton (マートン) 17
Hits
Murton (マートン) 214
Arai (新井) 177 (PB)
Toritani (鳥谷) 173 (PB)
Hirano (平野) 172 (PB)
Johjima (城島) 168
RBIs
Brazell (ブラゼル) 117
Arai (新井) 112 (PB)
Toritani (鳥谷) 104 (PB)
Johjima (城島) 91
Murton (マートン) 91

As you can see, the stats for this season are dominated by six top players. Murton set the record for the most hits in a season ever – and in his first season (214). Hirano set a franchise record for sacrifice hits (59). Toritani set the record for the most RBIs for a shortstop in a season ever (104). Brazell got 47 HRs, narrowly missing out on the Home Run Crown to the Giants’ Ramirez. Johjima set a franchise record for catcher hits (168). In addition to this, several players had personal best seasons (PB above). Hirano is the most astonishing – his previous average batting average was 0.265, and best hits 109, but this season he managed 0.350 with 172 hits!

There’s not much more to say about our offence, except that these six players are record breakers, and worthy of that title. I still have some doubts about the order of the line up. Clearly these six should be above anyone else next season – including the sadly (but inevitably) ageing star Kanemoto. I would play Brazell at 4 rather than Arai, who – while being an excellent player – doesn’t hit enough home runs for me to play in that position. Having said this Brazell had trouble hitting with runners on base for a while,  so maybe its six of one… Hirano should also be asked to bunt less next season – while bunts have decreased since the Okada heydey of Sekimoto, there are still too many for a batter averaging 0.350. Hirano certainly can bunt well – and has an excellent dive into first – on one occasion this season getting him expelled at Meiji Jingu when he protested a call too much.

Anyway, I’m particularly pleased that Toritani, Arai and Hirano have come of age, while in Murton we have an incredibly talented player, Brazell a home run slugger to rival Kanemoto in his heyday, and Johjima a first class catcher with offensive power.

The Best of the Rest

Of course, there are nine players in a baseball team, and 8 hitters. The final two slots in our team have normally included Kanemoto. He is clearly on the decline, and too often Mayumi’s batting order has not reflected this fact. He should play at 7 or 8, and hopefully next season this will be the case. His stats for this season were 0.241 with 16 home runs. I still think he should be a starting member for one more season. The other slot has rotated between several players – Fujikawa Shunsuke, Asai, Sakurai, Lin and Saka. I preferred Sakurai, Asai and Lin to Fujikawa as all three appear to have more impact with the bat. Fujikawa is a bit bland in every respect and doesn’t seem to add that much. Saka looked a slightly better prospect.

Let’s also not forget the importance of our pinch hitters – Sekimoto and Hiyama most of all. The latter – “daida no kamisama” as he is known (god of pinch hitters) performed excellently, driving in runs at key moments. Katsuragi seemed to disappear this season – not sure what has happened there.

Catcher – New Records and Missed Opportunities?

It is difficult to criticise Johjima’s first season back in Japan. Not only has he contributed a huge amount of hits from 6th in the order, he also seems to have an important off field effect due to his gregarious personality. He’s the joker of the team, but also seems to rally morale when things are going badly.

One of the great missed opportunities of this season however comes with the treatment of Kanoh. Instead of giving him game time, and helping him develop as a catcher, Mayumi inexplicably dropped him to ni-gun, and then later promoted Okazaki in his place! This is sheer stupidity- possibly the worst decision Mayumi has made as Hanshin manager, and one would hope this would change next season (although it doesn’t seem likely). I feel genuinely sorry that a talented young catcher like Kanoh is being treated in this way- he should be brought back up next season, and given some game time.

Pitching – A Mismatch Bunch

EPA (Starters)
Nohmi 2.60 (12 games)
Kubo 3.25 (29 games)
Akiyama 3.35 (7 games)
Standridge 3.49 (23 games)
Tsuru 3.77 (21 games)
Win-Loss Record (Starters)
Kubo 14-5
Standridge 11-5
Nohmi 8-0
Shimoyanagi 7-8
Messenger 5-6
Other Records
Fujikawa Kyuji 28 saves
Kubo 4 whole games
Kubo 158 strike-outs
Kubota 71 games(6-3, EPA 3.2)
Kubo 202.33 innings pitched

Our final pitching stats don’t actually look that bad, but the key was consistency. Stand-out pitcher of the season has been Kubo – consistently excellent, with a great win-loss record and EPA. What might have been if Nohmi had been fit all season – his stats suggest he’ll be a force to contend with next year. Standridge has also flourished, although he became slightly inconsistent toward the end of the season.

In addition to these three, we have 2 promising new pitchers. Tsuru started incredibly well, before losing it a bit and going back to ni-gun. However he did enough to suggest he could be one for the future. Akiyama also looked very impressive- Mayumi described him as our ‘saviour’ in a late season game. Both need to be handled well – there was a sense of desperation when Mayumi turned to them, but at least it got them game time. Now Mayumi needs to not lose faith, giving them time to learn in the ichi-gun environment.

If we can sign one more starter to bolster this line-up, I think we’ll be ok. This is because for all the talent we have, they didn’t perform for the whole season. At the start of the year, Andoh and Shimoyanagi were still in the line-up – and Andoh was considered the ace. Andoh in the end had a terrible season, with Kubo/Mayumi trying to reinvent him as a relief pitcher mid-year which also failed. Shimoyanagi is over the hill now, and shouldn’t make a return. Fossum never got off the ground, and has been sent home. Messenger (4.93, 5-6) typified Tigers pitching – too inconsistent. Whether he is retained depends on what other deals are done in the off season.

Our two stand out relief pitchers have been Watanabe (2.65) and Kubota (3.2). The latter had a golden season, and is back to his best after a couple of turbulent years. Fujihara (3.60) and Nishimura (3.89) have also contributed. There were, however, several duds- Sugiyama looked poor, Tsutsui disappeared, Fukuhara was terrible, and Kawasaki didn’t come up with the goods. We  really need a relief pitcher who can fit between Kubota and Fujikawa, in the Atchison / Williams role. This should be a priority for next season. Sadly one of my favourites, Egusa, could not adapt to the new catcher. A more inventive and innovative manager would have considered changing catchers and bringing in Kanoh to partner Egusa is certain games – experimentation like this can only help the team, especially if it is done in no-pressure games (games with a large run lead). The trouble with a lot of this seasons relief performances is that we know these pitchers are good, or at least capable – as they have performed in the past. Egusa is a good relief pitcher – but had his own ideosyncrisies (usually walking the first batter and then pitching better with runners on base).

Star closer Fujikawa Kyuji (2.01, 28 saves) has performed a valuable role for the team as always. He did let us down in the game against Yokohama late in the season, when he gave up a 3 run home run. Overall, however, his performances have been good. To suggest he is arrogant is preposterous – he is one of the all-time stars of Japanese baseball, and had always pitched with a kind of nonchalance – he smiles in the face of danger, and usually gets us out of the situations we find ourselves in. To say he suffers in “big games” is to generalise too much – two bad innings in 2 years – against Woods in the Climax Series in Okada’s last year, and against Yokohama this season – are not enough to extrapolate such a conclusion.

Conclusion

Overall, this season has been a good one, if one tinged with what might have been. The Climax Series is yet to come, and while it is a consolation prize, a good run (getting to the Japan Series) could be considered a positive note to end the season on. We at least want to get past the Giants, having home advantage for the first stage having finished second. It looks like Kubo and Nohmi will justifiably start the first two games, while the third is a toss up between Akiyama and Standridge. Mayumi Year 2 gets a B+ overall, which compared to the C- of Mayumi Year 1 is good. More progress is expected however, and next season we simply have to win the Pennant.



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