Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Japan Series Preview, Part 2: Matching it all up

Sigh. I swear I started writing this post on Friday night before the Series started, but I just got too sidetracked with everything else. At this point I could either post it, or delete all of it, and I'd rather just throw it out there even if it's coming with the series at 2-1 Dragons right now. Besides, I really don't feel like writing about Game 3, being as 1) I didn't see any of it since I was at work and 2) the Fighters got whomped 9-1 with a "patented big first inning" by the Dragons. I really didn't just make that up for humor value, see? Exploding ham.

Also, dear Kansas City fans: just because you're getting our manager next year doesn't make the Fighters "your" team. Although if you wanted to send us Mark Teahen, I certainly wouldn't object.

(I need to stop reading sites from the other side of the Pacific this time of year. The offseason just makes me want to cry.)

Fighters: Hichori Morimoto, Atsunori Inaba, Takahito Kudoh and Tomochika Tsuboi
Dragons: Byung-Gyu Lee, Masahiko Morino, Hidenori Kuramoto, Kazuki Inoue

Defense: Fighters.
Hichori gets a lot of flak for having to take over Shinjo's role on the Fighters, but he really is a genuinely good center fielder, with great speed and a decent arm and great instincts. Inaba is also a lot better than most people give him credit for; I don't consider him a liability in the field at all. (I think since he's a 35-year-old left-handed outfielder, people assume he's become just like Yokohama's Saeki or Chunichi's Inoue. They're wrong.) Kudoh and Tsuboi are about the same from all the times I've seen them play, which is to say, they're definitely at least competent.

On the other hand, Lee is no Fukudome, and Morino gets moved around so much that it's hard to really call him any particular position; he's decent in the outfield but no superstar at defense (though all things considered, he's really flexible; how many LF/3B/2B/SS types do YOU know?). And Kazuki is slow as rocks. Hidenori's not bad, but not particularly amazing either.

Offense: Neither.
I know that sounds insane, but in all honesty, there's no clear winner to me. Inaba more than cancels out Morino, see, and nobody else is particularly great.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Tsuboi and Kudoh rock the high socks and both have cute smiles. Tsuboi's even a former member of the "Hanshin pretty-boy outfield" with Shinjo. Inaba's really handsome when he smiles, and even if Hichori looks like an alien, his personality gives him inherent cuteness.

I love Morino (Dragonbutt!!), even if several Dragons fans and players and reporters think he looks like the Chunichi mascot Doala. (I also love Doala.) Hidenori's really good-looking -- when he lets his hair grow long, at least. But that's about it. Kazuki sucks.

Middle Infield
Fighters: Makoto Kaneko, Kensuke Tanaka
Dragons: Hirokazu Ibata, Masahiro Araki

Defense: Dragons.
Kensuke and Kaneko are fantastic, don't get me wrong. They're a great middle infield. But they can't compete with the Two-Headed Double Play monster that is Arakibata (or sometimes Ibataraki). I would actually say that it's possible Kensuke is as good as Araki, but Ibata is just the best shortstop in Japan, hands down. He's amazing and intelligent and agile and... just watch him play, you'll see what I mean. He's so good at playing each batter that he makes it look easy, because he's always already where he needs to be to make each play. Two-thirds of the field is covered by artificial turf and the other third is covered by Ibata. (Yeah, I stole the Garry Maddox quote. It's so accurate here.)

Offense: Dragons.
This isn't even a difficult one to talk about. Remember, Kaneko bats 9th and Kensuke's best known for being the King of Bunts.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Ibata's kinda cute, but Araki is REALLY astoundingly freakish-looking. Seriously, it's a good thing he's a baseball player because otherwise he could have a nice career frightening children for Halloween. The Fighters, on the other hand, have the adorable Kaneko, who has a fantastic smile and nice eyes and is just plain good-looking. Kensuke is pretty cute too, like an adorable little teddy bear.

Fighters: Eiichi Koyano, Naoto Inada
Dragons: Tyrone Woods, Norihiro Nakamura

Defense: Fighters.
Nori's not a horrible third baseman but he's really not that great either. I've seen him boot way too many plays and miss too many close grounders to really trust him. Tyrone Woods is basically a homerun-pounding DH stuck in a Central League team. I make fun of Tyrone's defense a lot more than I should, but "T is for Tree" isn't entirely inaccurate. Whereas Koyano and Inada are both pretty reasonable at defense. Naoto is a little worse, which is why he ends up at first more often and Koyano at third, but people will be talking about Naoto vs. The Cameraman for quite a while, I'm sure.

Offense: Dragons.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Tyrone Woods is actually a really good-looking guy, which I didn't realize until I saw him close up in Yokohama a few weeks ago. He has a really nice smile and surprisingly friendly demeanor. But, Norihiro? Ugh, he's always looked kind of like a troll to me. Whereas, I'm not going to say that either Inada or Koyano completely flattens me with good looks, but they're both cute in their own way. Inada always smiles, and is apparently becoming part of the Hichori "mood maker" faction, and his line about "running like a wild boar thinking the ball was my food" was pretty priceless.

Fighters: Fernando Seguignol
Dragons: Kazuyoshi Tatsunami

Offense: Fighters.
Tatsunami is one of the best hitters ever in Japan, but he's also getting old and has mostly been limited to pinch-hitting this year, and I'm really not worried about his bat all that much. Seguignol, on the other hand, can hit the ball a fairly long distance. And so far in the postseason he's been doing exactly that, quite often.

Cuteness factor: Neither.
In my honest opinion, both guys are what I'd call "classically handsome", and thus disqualify from the cuteness factor.

Fighters: Shinji Takahashi, Shinya Tsuruoka
Dragons: Motonobu Tanishige, some scrubs

Defense: Dragons.
Tanishige is freaking awesome. I have no idea how he manages to go out there every single day and be as awesome as he is, given that he's like 37 and literally plays in EVERY Dragons game and has done so for like 3 years. I think he's secretly a robot. The Fighters' catchers aren't bad, certainly, but they're no Tanishige.

Offense: Fighters.
Tsuruoka sucked this year, but Shinji made up for it. Tanishige, on the other hand, bats like an old man. I think his OBP is aided partially by the fact that he's usually batting before the pitcher and thus gets a lot of intentional walks.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Tanishige is another one for the "classically handsome" club. I think he's incredibly good-looking, but not "cute" per se. Shinji, on the other hand, is freaking adorable. Tsuruoka is not so adorable but he also plays not so often, so it's okay.

Fighters: Yu Darvish, Masaru Takeda, Ryan Glynn, Brian Sweeney
Dragons: Kenshin Kawakami, Kenichi Nakata, Kenta Asakura, Daisuke Yamai

Pitching: Dragons.
I won't say the Fighters starters are bad, because they're not. They are, infact, rather good, and in most cases their win totals are skewed by their team's inability to score runs, so a lot of bullpen guys often pick up the wins. And yes, we have the Sawamura-award-winning Darvish on our side, as well as the best pitcher in the Central League, Ryan Glynn. But, aside from Darvish, all of them have weaknesses. Masaru gives up over one home run per game. Sweeney walks nearly 3 guys per game.

The one big thing that all of the Chunichi starters can really do is stay in there for a good long time and be effective, or at least long enough for their team to score them some runs. The only question is whether or not Ochiai will leave them in for too long, I think. Firearm's always complaining about Nakata blowing games in the 8th inning, but my modern-baseball-brainwashing says that it should be the manager's fault, not his. One thing to note about Asakura and Nakata, also, is that they barely ever lose games at the Nagoya Dome (Asakura was 6-1, 2.11 there in 10 games this year and Nakata was 8-1, 3.20 there in 13 games).

The Chunichi guys do tend to walk slightly more batters per game, although I think that number is being skewed slightly by being in the Central League, which does a lot more intentional walks. In Nakata's case, he's just crazy (and I swear he gets more full counts than any other pitcher in the world). Nakata also led the Central league in wild pitches this year, for that matter.

I should have posted this somewhere else, but what the hell, here are the Saber-numbers on these guys:


Yu Darvish 0.83 2.13 4.29 9.12 0.39 2.64 1.82
Ryan Glynn 1.05 1.92 3.36 6.45 0.93 3.86 2.21
Masaru Takeda 0.87 1.03 5.94 6.10 1.09 3.88 2.54
Brian Sweeney 1.33 2.97 1.56 4.62 0.91 4.53 3.70

Kenta Asakura 1.30 2.63 2.10 5.52 0.47 3.60 3.36
Kenichi Nakata 1.41 4.29 2.19 9.37 0.74 3.72 3.59
Kenshin Kawakami 1.18 1.24 6.30 7.81 0.97 3.39 3.55
Takashi Ogasawara 1.19 2.47 2.94 7.27 0.75 3.59 2.99
Daisuke Yamai 1.29 3.47 1.75 6.07 0.65 3.98 3.36

You know, there's got to be a league equalizer somewhere, but either way, despite the awesome control and reputation of the Fighters pitchers, I still think the Chunichi rotation is better.

Cuteness factor: Fighters (but it's close).
Darvish is really adorable, Glynn and Sweeney aren't bad, and while I think Hisashi is the cuter of the Takeda tandem, Masaru's kind of cute too.

Nakata's really adorable and Kenshin's sort of a stoic samurai type, but the jury's out on the rest of these guys.

Dragons: Hitoki Iwase, Shinya Okamoto, Yuuichi Hisamoto
Fighters: Micheal Nakamura, Hisashi Takeda, Mitsuo Yoshikawa

Pitching: Dragons.
I hate to say it, but right now I'd rather have Iwase in the 9th than Micheal. Hopefully I'll end up being proven wrong about that. As for the rest of the bullpen, they're both good, but neither one is as good as it was last year.

Cuteness factor: Neither.
I'm just rushing to finish this post and lamenting the fact that Shintaro Ejiri got injured, because he was really adorable, I liked the Ejiri-Hisashi-Micheal tandem we were carrying in the late games. Alas.

I was going to try to justify a cute-off between Keizo Kawashima and Ryota Arai, but it seems kind of pointless now.

Either way, the Fighters completely win on cuteness if nothing else! Whether that can get them to another Japan Series victory is another story, though.

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