Welcome to the Monday Review, in which we’ll look back at the week that was and look ahead to the week that will be. We hope a recurring weekly review column will help readers identify some trends that can’t be covered in a single game report. We’re still trying to work out the format, so let us know what you’d like to see in the comments.
The Swallows ended the week with a thoroughly unsatisfying 2-2-1 record. Things started well with the team taking 2 games from the Dragons, but got bad after dropping game 3, and failing to get a win from the Carp. The Swallows are currently in a tied with the Carp for the top spot in the Central League with a record of 12-7-3. With only 22 games played, it’s not clear if the Swallows early success will be sustainable.
The Roller Coaster Career of Kenichi Matsuoka: One of the major lowlights of this week had to be the shelling and subsequent demotion of setup ace Kenichi Matsuoka. Matsuoka gave up 5 runs on 5 hits (including 2 homeruns) with the Swallows down 1 run in the eighth inning against the Dragons. Even without the shelling Matsuoka did not seem to be pitching this season, garnering only 4 strikeouts in his 9 innings of prior to Thursday’s game. Readers who read this blog last season know of the concerns we expressed over the overuse of Matsuoka. Matsuoka’s excellent season last season in which he pitched 71 and 2/3 innings in 73 games, came on the heels of a mediocre season in which he was only able to pitch 55 and 1/3 innings in 55 games, which itself came after his breakout season in 2008 in which he pitched 71 and 1/3 innings in 65 games. Obviously a pitcher’s body is complex but one wonders if Matsuoka’s yoyoing ERA (1.39 in 2008, 4.72 in 2009, and 2.64 in 2010) is indicative of the previous year’s fatigue. The loss of Matsuoka will probably put the bulk of the bullpen work on Tony Barnette and Takehiko Oshimoto. I just hope that the shortened bullpen will not force too many consecutive appearances for Barnette and Oshimoto, especially to protect deficits.
But the effect of reliever fatigue is just pure speculation on my part. The work of Rany Jazayerli informs my thoughts on starting pitcher fatigue, and his premises aren’t entirely compatible with the idea of reliever fatigue. Does anyone know of a sabermetric study on the effects of reliever use and performance?
The Continued Search for Starting Pitching: Masato Nakazawa was called up to replace the bullpen hole left by the Muranaka injury and Yamamoto demotion, and did not fare well in his start against the Carp on Saturday. Nakazawa gave up 5 runs (4 earned) in only 2 innings of work. Nakazawa was not demoted, but it isn’t clear if the team will give him another start. Hitoshi Yamamoto who was fairly effective in his ichi-gun starts this year, pitched a ni-gun game on Saturday and will be eligible to return to the active roster tomorrow.
Balentien Strikeouts: After striking out only 11 times in his first 17 games (68 PAs), Balentien struck out 6 times in 5 games (21 PAs) last week. What is particularly troubling is that 5 of those 6 strikeouts were of the swinging variety. In the game against the Carp in which the Swallows were playing from behind the whole game Balentien struck out swinging to three different Carp pitchers in his last three plate appearances. We’ll have to see if this the beginning of a trend as pitchers get a better scouting report on Balentien, or just an off week.
League-wide Trends: With a little under a month’s worth of baseball played in NPB a couple of league-wide trends have started to emerge. The imposition of the three and a half rule for the season has greatly increased the number of ties in baseball. Last year, the Central League had 7 games end in a tie, this year there have already been 5 games that have ended in a tie. We’ll see how ties affect the standings at the end of the year. It’ll also be interesting to see if teams begin to employ stalling tactics to preserve ties so they don’t lose.
The introduction of a unified baseball in NPB is also being attributed with a league-wide drop in ERA. The Swallows team ERA currently stands at 3.25, below the 3.85 they recorded for the 2010 season. Every team (even the BayStars) currently has a lower team ERA than that of the previous year. We’ll see if this trend continues as the season heads into the hot summer. If this trend continues it certainly favors teams with strong pitching and good contact hitting like the Swallows, at the expense bashers like the Giants.
Quo Vadimus: The Swallows will face the Dragons as the away team on Tuesday and Wednesday at Kanazawa and Toyama. After an off-day on Thursday the Birds will travel to Yokohama to play the BayStars. The Swallows owe their current standing in large part to the 5-1 record they hold against the Dragons this season. The Swallows will probably face the same pitchers they faced last Tuesday and Wednesday when they faced the Dragons at Jingu, which means they will get to avoid a rematch with Yoshimi, who handed the Birds their only loss against the Dragons this year. After going 1-2 against the Swallows last week, the Dragons went 1-2 against the Giants at home. Like the Swallows’ series, the Dragons dropped the first two games before taking game 3 when their offense came alive.
The Swallows will be making their first trip to Yokohama this season, and will be facing the BayStars for the first time since the first week of the season. The teams split the first 3 games series at Jingu 1-1-1. Since then the BayStars fell back down to their perennial spot at the bottom of the league table, but are just coming off a 3 game sweep of the Tigers. It was the first 3 game sweep for the BayStars since July 2009. The Stars have also been quite strong at home getting 6 of their 9 wins at home. As usual, the BayStars’ pitching has been horrible but their bats, lead by former Montreal Expo Terrmel Sledge has been above average. That being said, if the Swallows aren’t able to take this series even with the bottom of our rotation, we should be very disappointed and worried.
This week will be the last week of Central League action before the Interleague season starts.