Monday, June 08, 2015

Day 9: If it weren't for those meddling home run hitters...

Day 9 of the NPB 30-Day challenge actually says "A player you think is the most difficult to play against".

I thought about different ways to interpret this.  The obvious one that a lot of people would go for would probably be a really strong pitcher, that when you see they are the scheduled starter against your team, makes you think "Do I really want to go to the game today?".  Me being a primarily Pacific League person, there have been a lot of those over the years.  Ma-kun in 2013 (or any year really).  Darvish (though not an opponent to me).  Chihiro Kaneko.  Hisashi Iwakuma, of course.  Kazumi Saitoh before he got injured.  The entirety of the Hawks and/or Lions rotations some years.

But what fun would that be?

I want to talk about two personal vendettas that specific home run hitters have had against me in the past.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura

You've probably heard of the Seibu Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura.  If nothing else, I've written my fair share about him on this blog.  He's almost hit 50 home runs 3 times in his career - in 2008 when he hit 46 and in 2009 and 2011 when he hit 48.  He would be leading the PL this year if Sho Nakata wasn't one homer ahead of him (at the time of me writing this), and he's on pace to be pretty close to 50 again this year.

Anyway, those years that Okawari was pounding the crap out of the PL in general, it always felt to me like he was pounding the Fighters more than anyone else -- and pounding them particularly in games I was watching.  So I went and looked up the numbers:

Year     HR total    HR vs Fighters   Games I saw    HR in front of me
----     --------    --------------   -----------    -----------------
2008        46         7 (15%)            11           7 (2 off Fs)
2009        48        11 (23%)            11           5 (4 off Fs)
2011        48        10 (21%)             3           3 (all off Fs)

So maybe I was a little over-paranoid in 2008, but in 2009 and 2011 he definitely hit homeruns against the Fighters a little more than average -- each year he only played 17% of his games against the Fighters but hit 21% and 23% of his homers against them.  Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this happened, like home games and interleague pitchers and whatnot, but I'm just justifying my own impression of how things went down.

Also, if you think about it, in those years, he was hitting homers at a rate of about 1 HR per 3 games (you'd expect him to hit a homer about 33% of the time; yeah, I know he hit more than one in a few games).  However, I saw him in 25 games and 15 homeruns of his, so he hit a homerun about 60% of the time in games I was watching.  And it clearly wasn't just against the Fighters; this was also against the Marines, Buffaloes, Dragons, and even the Giants in the 2008 Japan Series.

The upshot is, at some point I was so annoyed at losing to Seibu that I had joked to a friend who worked for the team that he ought to hire me as an "Okawari Omamori" of sorts and hang me in the Seibu Dome dugout for good luck since Nakamura was hitting homeruns in pretty much every game I watched there.

As for my second personal vendetta...

Nobuhiko Matsunaka

Those of you who just started following NPB recently are probably like "I don't get it.  That old guy?  Why hasn't he retired yet?"  But those of you who remember Matsunaka as the freaking Triple Crown winner back in 2004 who led the Japan team at the 2006 WBC in all batting categories, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say how in my earlier days as a Fighters fan I was pretty damn sure Matsunaka personally wanted me to see as many of his home runs as humanly possible.  Heck, the very first time I saw him in person in a game (in Sendai in 2006) he hit a home run.

Anyway, looking at numbers, it's clear that the only time this was really true was 2009.  Not only did he hit 8 out of his 23 homers against the Fighters (for 35%) but I did personally see 5 of them in person in 7 games.  Infact, there was a point that season where I wrote on here how "I've seen Matsunaka in 5 games this season and I've seen him hit 5 homers.  Coincidence?"

So yeah.  My nemesis is Matsunaka 10 years ago and Okawari-kun now.  I wonder who the next one will be.   Given that it's likely to be a Hawks or Lions slugger born around 1994 I'm going with Tomoya Mori :)

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