Friday, October 20, 2006

Japan Series Preview, Part 2 - Matching it all up

Continued from this post where I take a stab at which players will see playing time in the Japan Series.

I liked the way Blez did his matchups like this one, so I'm cribbing the format:

Starting Pitching: The Fighters guys walk more batters and strike out fewer. This is a minus. On the other hand, on the whole the Fighters pitchers have been great at keeping the ball in the park, and also give up a lot less hits (which defense-independent pitching suggests shouldn't matter). The average age of the Fighters starters is 25. The average age of the Dragons starters is 30. The Dragons starters also have Japan Series experience though, as Kawakami and Yamamoto both pitched on the 2004 team (even if neither had particularly good results). Kawakami, the ace, has been losing steam in his last few starts, whereas the 41-year-old Moyer-like Yamamoto is something like 6-1 with a no-hitter in his last 9 starts. Yes, Yagi and Darvish both dominated in the playoffs, but -- Yagi and Darvish didn't really have to face guys who could actually, you know, hit a baseball with a bat, like Woods or Fukudome. Also, I don't trust Satoru Kanemura any further than I can throw him, which is definitely less than 60.5 feet. First the suspension and then not even being able to pitch well against a KBO instructional team? Right.

Advantage: Dragons

Relief Pitching: The Fighters' Hisashi Takeda is pretty awesome, but I'm not entirely confident how effective he'll be against the powerful Dragons lineup. The bullpen in general has been pretty decent, with Hideki Okajima being surprisingly good (how on earth did we get him for Sanematsu?), and Takehiko Oshimoto coming up out of nowhere and suddenly kicking ass as well. Closer Micheal Nakamura broke a Fighters club record for saves, and I think he'll be fine against the Dragons... if the rest of the team can get him to that point. Unfortunately, Chunichi's closer Iwase has the same handedness advantage that Micheal has, and despite Micheal's club record, Iwase notched one more save than he did! Most of the Chunichi bullpen is right-handed though, which should help the Fighters a little bit, as most of their good hitting comes from the left side.

Advantage: Fighters (barely)

Offense: This isn't even a contest. The only position we rightfully have a better hitter on the Fighters is at second base in Kensuke Tanaka, vs. Masahiro Araki. I suppose if you count Ogasawara at third instead of first, he was better than Morino, a converted left-fielder. Other than that, how can you compete with Fukudome's mindboggling 1.091 OPS and Woods's 1.037? Of course, I sort of see Fukudome and Ogasawara as being somewhat comparable hitters, but Tyrone Woods is a beast, and he's been on the prowl again, what with getting 7 RBIs off two home runs in the Dragons' clinching game against the Giants.

The other thing is, notice that Dragons batting lineup I listed? Doesn't it look awfully familiar? See, if you substitute Omar Linares for Tyrone Woods, and Tatsunami for Morino, you essentially have the exact lineup that went out for the 2004 Japan Series. Heck, some of these guys saw playing time with the Dragons in the 1999 Japan Series as well. Whereas the only Fighters lineup regular with Japan Series experience is Atsunori Inaba, who played for the Swallows in the 1995, 1997, and 2001 Japan Series. Most of the rest of the team is young or has been on the mostly-lousy Fighters for their whole career; the two ex-Tigers, Tsuboi and Shinjo, both just missed out on Hanshin's 2003 title. Obviously experience doesn't mean everything -- just look at Imae last year -- but who knows how these guys will react to the pressure?

Advantage: Dragons (arrrrggghh)

Defense: This is where I have a real problem coming up with anything to say. The only really hard number I have for anything is that the Fighters made 70 errors as a team this year and the Dragons made 59. On the other hand, errors are so weird and subjective and even moreso in Japan. The Dragons stole more bases than were stolen against them and the Fighters were the opposite. The problem is that I haven't really watched the Dragons enough to be able to know much about their fielding. For the Fighters, I know just by what I've seen that Kaneko's got pretty good range and a decent arm and that Ogasawara can cover the corners well, Kensuke Tanaka's still learning but he's got good hands, Inaba's got a hell of an arm and Shinjo's a pretty decent ballhawk. And unfortunately, most of what I know of the Dragons is stuff like Morino making mistakes as he adjusts to being a third baseman (he's got an interesting backstory), and Woods being somewhat stiff at first. But I'm under the impression the rest of their staff is pretty good at defense, and Shukan Baseball certainly seems to think so. I'd definitely take Tanishige over any of the Fighters catchers. I simply don't know, really.

Advantage: No idea, probably Dragons

Manager: You know, I think Hiromitsu Ochiai is great, I really do. But he took a team full of proven talented players and won with them. Trey Hillman took a team that most people had pegged for finishing in the second division and pretty much marched up the long climb to the Japan Series with them. He screwed up a few times with pulling starters too early or too late, but in general he seemed to do a pretty good job with the bullpen and with figuring out who should be where, keeping the players happy and managing to get a lot out of younger guys like Hichori, Kensuke, Yagi, and Darvish, as well as dealing with the antics of guys like Shinjo and Hichori.

Advantage: Fighters (if it matters)

Yeah, okay, now that I really sit down and look at it all, it's pretty depressing.

But here's the thing.

I'm looking at a lot of these things from the perspective of the whole season rather than from just the last month, and quite frankly, there's a lot to be said for momentum sometimes. The Fighters are going through a winning tear somewhat akin to the one the Chiba Lotte Marines went through at this time of the year last year, and honestly, who the heck would have picked those guys to win the Japan Series? (Besides me, of course.)

The Fighters are a younger team, too, just like it was last year when kids like Imae and Nishioka went blasting past the older Tigers; Hichori and Kensuke aren't quite as young, but you never know what could happen.

I think it'll somewhat come down to whether Kenshin Kawakami can be an ace or not. If the Fighters can take one of the first two games on the road, that'll probably be pretty huge for them.

The ballparks are actually about the same, really -- the standard 100-122-100 meter measurements to the fences, and they're both domes, with turf (interestingly, the Sapporo Dome actually has a retractable grass surface which is brought indoors for soccer games). I'm not sure whether there's any particular ballpark factor with either of them, though domes can get pretty damn loud with a good home crowd.

I think it'll be an interesting series no matter what, though. Definitely more interesting to me than the so-called World Series starting on this side of the Pacific this weekend as well.

(backdating this so it shows up under the AWESOME INTERIOR DECORATION POST)

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