Gary Garland / the japanese insider
February 12, 2002
Evans Early Candidate for GM of the Year as He Hoses Ishii
The negotiations between the L.A. Dodgers and Kazuhisa Ishii have been rocky, to say the least, but Ishii was apparently desperate enough to play in the major leagues to the point where he may never make as much as even Cory Lidle until the sixth year of the pact he signed last Friday. Lidle signed a new contract this offseason with Oakland that will pay him an average of $3.8 million for each of the next two seasons (incidentally, Lidle will also make more than Ichiro this season as well as Freddie Garcia, both of whom will take home $3.6 million for 2002 before incentives, so maybe we should make Cory's agent player rep of the year for getting so much for someone with just one decent season under his belt). Ishii will finally surpass Lidle in 2007 at $4.2 million, and that's only if the blue crew picks up an option.
By the way, let's also total up one stat that counts to compare Ishii and Lidle: Ishii five championship rings (out of six tries with Yakult), Lidle, well, ZERO. Pencil it in, folks: aside from Ichiro, the 15 wins and 3.50 ERA the Chiba prefecture native will post this season will make him baseball's best buy at $500,000. That's what the Cardinals will pay So Taguchi, who will be mostly a platoon player for Tony LaRussa. And southpaw power arms are in a lot less supply than speedy defensive specialists with mediocre sticks.
There is a side benefit, however, to Ishii coming over now. The yen is very weak and some economists predict that it could fall as low as 150=one dollar U.S. just by the end of the current year. When Ichiro signed, the yen was at 110=one dollar U.S. As I write this, the yen is at
133=one dollar U.S. On the other hand, if he had taken the risk of staying in Japan and had a dominant season, he would have gotten much more as a free agent than what Evans offered.
But then again, Ishii experienced some shoulder discomfort last season and if the shoulder goes he will be guarenteed a four-year paycheck whereas Yakult would probably have released him if he couldn't come back the following season.
One note, though: according to an article on CBS Sportsline, immigration procedures may delay Ishii's spring training arrival. The INS, one of the worst managed of all U.S. government agencies, is not noted for its speed, so Ishii is likely to "camp in," as they say in Japan, at Vero Beach long after this Friday's report deadline.
Nevertheless, that isn't stopping the Japanese press from speculating that Ishii may end up as the Dodgers opening day starter since Kevin Brown, who is recovering from elbow surgery, may not be ready by that time. Ishii has started each of the last four years for Yakult on opening day, losing the first time but taking the last three in a row. He was the first in Yakult history (even more than Hall of Fame inductee Masaichi Kaneda, who won 400 games lifetime) to take three consecutive openers. Overall, on opening day, in four games, Ishii went 3-1, threw 28 innings, gave up 22 hits and struck out 32 and posted a 3.21 ERA (that includes his first opener, when he got hammered for five runs in five innings in 1998 against Yomiuri).
Hideo Nomo is the only Japanese pitcher to win an opening day game in the majors, doing that for Detroit when he went eight innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits, on April 3, 2000 against Oakland.
But he is almost certainly going to take the mound in that first series of the season and may end up facing Tsuyoshi Shinjo, the ex-Hanshin Tigers star who went to the Bay Area in a trade during the off season. Shinjo is just 13-84 lifetime against Ishii for a .155 average, though four of those hits were homers, one a grand slam in 1997, to drive in nine runs, but has whiffed against Ishii 28 times.
A Note on Taguchi
So Taguchi gives the Cardinals a little more versatility than one may see at first glance. He has played some shortstop at Orix as well as some second base. So if LaRussa needs to make a late or extra inning double switch, Taguchi could be moving around quite a bit in those situations.
Waseda University righthander Tsuyoshi Wada, who may be taken one or two by the Yakult Swallows in the November draft, is garnering a lot of attention right now, The 5'11" 158 pound, Hamada High School, Shimane Prefecture product is the son of a former college batting champ and helped get his alma mater to two summer Koshien appearances, but were eliminated due to late inning losses.
The thing about this guy is that there isn't anything that really jumps out at you in terms of velocity or height/weight, although his control is supposedly quite good. But then you look at his strikeout totals and he has just been a machine. So he might be worth keeping an eye on.
One guy I occasionally talk to in the baseball media posited that he may be the Japanese equivalent of Orioles prospect John Stephens. Anyway, here is some basic information:
Fastball maxes out at 92mph and he apparently has a "first rate" slider and forkball. He can throw his breaking balls for strikes as well as work the corners. Has to keep the ball down more consistently.
Says he admires Giants hurler Kimiyasu Kudoh for his efficient mechanics and the way he uses his weight.
Apparently tore a couple of muscles in the underneath part of his throwing arm as a high school senior, but he didn't have surgery on it since they were muscles not used much in throwing. To compensate, worked on strengthening his legs and back as well as exercises for the arm. Was out of commission for two months. Has added about 5mph since the injury. He has international experience, playing against Asian and American college teams.
5-2 with a 1.59 ERA in ten appearances (seven starts, three in relief) 62.1 innings, 80 strikeouts, 19 walks (11.5K/9 and 2.74BB/9) in spring league.
In fall league, went 4-3 with a 1.07 ERA in 10 appearances, 67 innings, 71 strikeouts 16 walks (9.5K/9, 2.14BB/9)
Overall: 10.5 K/9 and 2.44 BB/9 1.32 ERA in 129.1 innings.
Spring league, 10 appearances, 5-4 2.72 ERA 59.2 IP 88K 11 BB (13.27 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9) Fall league, 8 appearances 4-1 1.55 ERA 46.1 innings 62 K and 12 BB (12 K/9 and 2.13 BB/9).
Totals: 106 innings 150 strikeouts (12.7 K/9) 23 walks(1.95 BB/9) and an ERA of 2.20.
Four appearances, 5 IP, 4 K 1.80 ERA.
42 appearances, 18-10 240.1 IP 305 K (11.42/9) 54 BB (2/9) 1.72 ERA.
His strikeout total is seventh all time in the Tokyo Big Six University League, his 88 single season whiffs are second all time for the league. Pitching form pics at: http://village.infoweb.ne.jp/~fwjf6976/aimo-wada.htm
Speaking of Kudoh....
Kimiyasu Kudoh, one of the premier lefties in Japanese baseball and who moved to the Yomiuri Giants in 2000 after refusing a three year offer from the Colorado Rockies and promptly came in to handcuff the NY Mets in an exhibition appearance, was out almost all of 2001 with a bad knee. It is apparently feeling better though, as in a workout Monday he threw more than 250 pitches with no pain.
And for those who ask, yes, it is common for Japanese pitchers to throw that much in pre-season workouts. In fact, just as much a part of a Japanese spring training as the players saying what numbers they intend to put up during the regular season and the Japanese sports press reporting how many homers a hitter slugged in batting practice. Ex-Padre George Arias, now a Hanshin Tiger, wowed the ink stained wretches the other day with a purported 500+ foot blast.
In any event, the Giants absolutely have to have a stellar campaign from Kudoh as well as lefthander Hisanori Takahashi, who has yet to win more than nine games in a season during his two years in the Yomiuri rotation, in order to hope to contend. The club lost Darryl May and replaced him with John, "way back (as in, "the ball is hammered, back, a waaaaaaaay back, gone!)" Wasdin, the ex-Phillie. Tokyo Dome is very similar to the Metrodome in Minnesota and the ball carries fairly well there. So new manager Tatsunori Hara is hoping that Wasdin's nickname doesn't turn out to be a harbinger of his fortunes at the Big Egg, as the park is known.
Quote of the Pre-Season So Far
Yokohama Bay Stars ace Daisuke Miura, on his now ex-batterymate Motonobu Tanishige, who took the money and ran to the Chunichi Dragons (who overpaid for him): "if he hits me I'll go pick up trash in the park." Here's to hoping the crafty righty doesn't end up being this year's Rob Dibble.
Yokohama, We Have a Problem
Former Mariners prospect Jason Turman, who at 6'9" plus is receiving a lot of attention for being vertically gifted (did I just come up with a new politically correct phrase?) from the otherwise height challenged Japanese baseball public, could not lay down a sac bunt in practice Monday to save his life, bringing a big scowl from Bay Stars field boss Masaaki Mori, a proponent of "kanri yakyuu" (control baseball, otherwise known as small ball). Turman, when asked by the Japanese beat reporters about his inability to bunt, noted that "it's been eight years since I've had to hit."
From the "Are You Kiddin' Me?" Department
In an attempt to stuff even more offense into their lineup (which is what happens when you have no pitching), the 2001 Pacific League champion Kintetsu Buffaloes are going to experiment with using Norihiro Nakamura, hardly that mobile at his normal third base position, at shortstop. Imagine, if you will, putting Harmon Killebrew at that position and you will get a fair picture of how effective the burly Nakamura, who hit .320 with 46 homers last season and became part of the most powerful one-two punch in Japanese baseball history with Tuffy Rhodes, will be. Not to mention that this increases the chance he will get injured. I have alot of respect for manager Masataka Nishida in being able to take a club with few viable arms and spotty defense to the Japan Series, but this move seriously needs to be reconsidered.
The Hats are White, But They Might as Well be Black
While the Hanshin Tigers have signed George Arias away from the Orix Blue Wave and took infielder Atsushi Kataoka from Nippon Ham to provide a big improvement in offensive potential over 2001's woeful showing, they also picked up former Chunichi Dragons manager Senichi Hoshino and a notorious coach named Ikuo Shimano to run the team.
A couple of seasons back, Hoshino got into it with umpire Atsushi Kittaka at the Dragons home park, Nagoya Dome, against the Yokohama Bay Stars, over a third strike call. The end result was that in a confrontation with Hoshino and two of his players, Katsuyoshi Tatsunami and Takayuki Onishi, Kittaka left the game with broken ribs and spike marks all over his uniform. The case was ultimately referred to the Nagoya Prosecutor's Office, though they declined to get involved in what they saw as a baseball matter (huh?). Hoshino and Onishi, who is suspected of doing most of the kicking, should have been suspended for life. As it was, the Central League handed out some rather lightweight suspensions (Onishi got seven games) and Hoshino and the players expressed their personal apologies to Kittaka. You can read a Detroit News story about the incident at: http://detnews.com/2000/sports/0005/22/sports-60895.htm
Let's also add to it the fact that Hoshino, who appeared in 500 games in his 14 year career for the Dragons, winning 146, is also known for hitting his players.
Shimano was indeed actually banned for life for what the Mainichi Shimbun referred to as a "brutal" incident he had with an umpire. Shimano, a former outfielder with Chunichi, the Nankai (now Daiei) Hawks, and Hanshin, was about as punchless as you could get as a player. He once SLUGGED a 98-pound weakling-like .301 in the course of a 559 AB season with Nankai. His lifetime OPS was just .598. How he lasted 18 seasons is a complete mystery. But in his disagreement with umpire Sen Washitani (I hope I got transliterated his name correctly; please write in if I didn't) Shimano, then a coach for Hanshin, in a game against the Yokohama Taiyo
Whales (now the Yokohama Bay Stars), disagreed with a foul call that Washitani, the third base umpire, made on a pop up between third and home that the Whales third baseman, Mitsugu Ishibashi, missed and along with another Tigers coach, punched and kicked Washitani. The umpires all left fthe ield in protest and the game was delayed until Hanshin manager Ando apologized and his two coaches banished from the field.
After dillydallying on this matter, the public outcry over the incident lead the Central League office to hand down a lifetime ban of both Shimano and the other coach. Japanese baseball Commissioner Takezo Shimoda, a former justice of the Japanese Supreme Court, was not pleased at how slowly the CL acted on this matter nor the lighthearted way the Tigers front office regarded the matter. Eventually, the case was turned over to the Yokohama Prosecutor's Office, but they never brought formal charges. But the fact that thugs such as Hoshino and Shimano are allowed to be associated in anyway with Japanese baseball is a black mark against it.
Kokubo Coming to MLB in 2004?
The Japan Times made a little news in the last week when it said that Daiei Hawks slugging third baseman Hiroki Kokubo may be leaving Japan for the majors when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2003 schedule. He would be 32.
While there has been no mention of this in the Japanese language press, whoever gets the rough and ready 6' 190 pound righthanded hitting four time all star who blasted 44 homers and drove in 123 while posting a .290 average in 2001 will like what they have.He works hard, is tough as nails and I project him as a .260 to .270, 25 homer guy in MLB while giving you a solid glove. Moreover, he can play second in a pinch, since he has experience there, too.
Hailing from rural Wakayama Prefecture, Kokubo played on the Japanese olympic baseball team at Barcelona, ripping a couple of RBI doubles against the U.S. squad to help give Japan the bronze there. He was the only non-professional on that squad at the time, as he was still in college.. In 1993, he was drafted number two by Daiei, where he hit just .215 with six homers in 78 games in his 1994 rookie season. But he then followed that up in 1995 by playing in every game and going yard 28 times while batting .286 and earning a Gold Glove. He also became the first player in 34 years to take a homer crown with fewer than 30 dingers. Two years later, he established then personal highs in homers with 36 and plated 114 to snatch an RBI crown. His 37 two baggers also was tops in the PL. He sat out almost all of 1998 with a shoulder injury. The layoff must have hurt him since his .234 average in 1999 was very disappointing, though he still managed to whack 24 out of the park for a club that went all the way to a Japan Series championship, its first in decades.
The following season, Daiei won its second PL pennant thanks to Kokubo being absolutely white hot at a time that fellow slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka, who won the PL MVP that season, was out of commission with an injury. Kokubo ended up going downtown 31 times and sending 105 of his teammates across home plate and hit .288. Unfortunately, he also got injured toward the end of the season and sat out almost all of the Japan Series against Yomiuri, which the Giants won, four games to two.
Lifetime, Kokubo has crushed 195 homers and 608 RBIs in 3191 official at bats and put up a .271 average. His K/BB ratio is 1.9K/BB, though his strikeout ratio is a respectable 19% per official time at bat. Anyway you look at it, this is a solid big league talent.
This Almonte is Impressing Nobody
Hector Almonte, older brother of Yankees shortstop prospect Erick Almonte, may be talking his way out of a job with the Yomiuri Giants. Almonte came to Tokyo in the latter half of last season from the Marlins organization in the hopes that he would strengthen the club's third rate bullpen. But after seeing Almonte get lit up, the Giants shipped him and his better than 7.00 ERA to the farm.
Fast forward to last week and Almonte whining about the pitchers being forced to do too much running and then grabbing his gear and heading back to the hotel. The Giants had seen similar temper tantrums from the mercurial Balvino Galvez (one reason why Galvez, who played in Korea last season, is now a civilian) and considering that Almonte isn't showing anything except how fat his heater is looking to CL hitters, he may soon be given a ticket back to the states.
Kuroki Still Bothered By Shoulder Problem
Tomohiro, "Johnny" Kuroki of the Chiba Lotte Marines had a nightmare of a season in 2000, posting an ERA of 5.18, his worst ever as a pro by far. Furthermore, he was a member of the 2000 Japanese olympic baseball team that failed to medal.
But after the regular season ended, he was named to a Japanese all-star squad that would face a similarly composed major league contingent and he was nothing short of awesome. In his first start against them, he tossed five innings of three hit, eight strikeout, one run ball and then next time out did well again by limiting the big leaguers to three hits and a run in four innings, signaling that perhaps he was finally back from the injuries that had dogged him during that regular season.
And starting out of the blocks in 2001, he was looking unhittable. He throws a fastball in the low 90's and to complement it he has a slider, a slow curve ball and a forkball. He won his first three starts, got a no decision, and then ripped off six more consecutive wins. He pitched well against Nippon Ham, giving up only a pair of runs on four hits in eight innings, but lost anyway. Then he got hammered the next two outings before getting back into the win column and emerging victorious in the start after that. In his last two games of the season, he was touched for just four runs in 15 innings, but got a no decision in one and a loss in the other. Kuroki was named to the all star team and was the winning pitcher in one of the games. But in August, he started to complain of shoulder pain. So off the roster he went, as he finished the season prematurely with a sparkling 11-4 record and a 3.02 ERA in 17 games in an offensively oriented league. The opposition hit only .227 against him.
Now it looks as if he still has some nagging discomfort in the shoulder, which he says is still only at about 30% normal strength and if so a club that is very shallow in talent such as the Marines is going to hurt badly if he can't pitch or starts the season late. It's a pleasure to watch him work when he's healthy and one hopes that the shoulder will rebound in short order.
Former Dragons, Orions Infielder Aiko Missing
Takeshi Aiko, a former first baseman with the Lotte Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines) and the Chunichi Dragons, has been missing since early November, according to Nikkan Sports. The last time Aiko, who, upon retirement at the conclusion of the 2000 season, tried to get a career going as a tv personality but so far hasn't been able to make it happen, was last seen striking out as a pinch hitter for the Tokyo Dreams, a club in Japan's Masters League (made up of retired pro baseball players) in a game in Nagoya and hasn't been heard from since.
Aiko's wife was the one who filed the missing persons report in late November after not being contacted at all by her husband.
As a teenager, Aiko pitched Yokohama High School to a summer Koshien tournament title. In 1980, he was selected in the first round of the draft by Lotte as a pitcher. However, he wasn't very successful on the mound and in 1984 he was converted into a position player, spending time both at first, his main spot, and in rightfield. It wasn't until two years later, though, that he began to get significant playing time, managing a .265 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 268 at bats in 1986. 1987 saw him put up a .260 mark with eight homers and 31 runs driven in over the course of 292 at bats.
In 1988, he was finally made a regular player and responded with a .286-17-63 and then improved to a .303-13-65 in 1989 and got himself a Gold Glove. As the 90's dawned, he posted career highs in homers (21) and RBIs (72), but his strikeouts went up to 112 and his average plummeted to .243. He only had two more years as a regular and never hit in double figures in homers again. He was released by Lotte after the end of the 1995 season and signed with Chunichi, where he was also a bench player.
Lifetime, he batted .269 in 1532 games with 108 homers and 513 RBIs and a .743 OPS.
Last year, one of the weekly tabloids had reported that injections of steroid-based painkillers that a doctor had given Aiko had left Aiko in pain and with a weight problem. Indeed, looking at a recent photo of Aiko, he is indeed overweight, but no more so than you would expect any other middle-aged man to be. The doctor and Aiko filed suit against the tabloid's publisher, the Kodansha publishing house, claiming defamation and are asking for ten million yen (about $75,000) in damages.
Aiko was reportedly well liked by his Tokyo Dreams teammates and they hope that he hasn't been "dragged into any trouble."
Japanese Baseball Bible Founder Dies at 90
According to Sankei Sports, Tsuneo Ikeda, who started what became Japan's baseball bible in SHUUKAN BASEBALL (Baseball Week) and lived by the motto of "spreading the spirit of fair play," died Saturday at the age of 90 in a Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo hospital of pneumonia.
Ikeda, a native of rural Niigata Prefecture, graduated from Tokyo's prestigious Waseda University as a literature major in 1935, one year before the first Japanese professional baseball league started. In 1937, he was named editor in chief of YAKYUUKAI (Baseball World) and was said to have poured his heart and soul into that publication.
Following the end of WWII, he established the Baseball Magazine Company, the parent of Shuukan Baseball. That company went on to also issue magazines devoted to Sumo, track and field, boxing, tennis, soccer, pro wrestling and many other sports and employs 213 workers.
Through his sports connections, he was able to travel to countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Rumania, being bestowed with medals in each. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Ikeda visited the old Soviet Union in 1986 and played a role in introducing baseball there. In 1989, he was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. He also sat on the selection committee for that institution. In 1998, a museum was built in Yamato-machi, Niigata Prefecture to house Ikeda's collection of writings, sports memorabilia, paintings and the like, the Ikeda Kinen Bijutsukan. That facility houses more than 3500 items Ikeda amassed during his life.
He is survived by his third son, Tetsuo.