The Tokyo Yakult Swallows Bullpen

“A baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings” (former MLB pitcher, Earl Wilson).

That’s for damn sure.

New Tokyo Pitching Coach Daisuke ArakiAnd the heart attack-inducing portion of the roster has tended to be the bullpen over the past five years. I have always been “interested” to see if our relievers could hold on to the one or two-run (hell, sometimes even five!) advantage that they were given heading into the waning innings and diminishing slivers of daylight. More often than not they couldn’t. Or at least that’s how it seemed.

Thus far this season, however, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows have a trio of right-handed relievers that generally protects leads. That’s kind of cool. We haven’t had anything even marginally like that since Hirotoshi Ishii’s arm still worked.

The three pitchers that have walked in and buttoned up a number of games (the vast majority of the team’s wins) are #21 Kenichi Matsuoka, #65 Takehiko Oshimoto, and #12 Chang-yong Lim. Two-thirds of the trio is imported, and the other is home-grown. All three are worth their weight in gold to the team right now.

21 Kenichi Matsuoka (????)

#21 Kenichi MatsuokaMatsuoka is a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher that TYS has been nurturing since the 2005 season, and he’s been a dream this year!

He usually comes into the game in the 6th or 7th inning and generally makes short work of the batters he faces. As of his 26th appearance this season on July 2nd, Matsuoka has a 1.08 era.

He’s currently ranked number six in the Central League on hold points.

65 Takehiko Oshimoto (????)

#65 Takehiko OshimotoWe got Oshimoto in a trade with Nippon Ham that sent Shugo Fujii north. We were sad to see Fujii go, but we may very well have gotten the better end of that deal. The 25-year old Oshimoto, in his fifth season of pro baseball, often follows Matsuoka into the game, and he has already pitched in 34 contests this season. His era is a very satisfying 1.29, and his record stands at 2-2 with one save.

He is currently fourth in the league in terms of appearances (not always something to be happy about), and second in hold points.

12 Chang-yong Lim (??? – ???)

#12 Chang-yong LimThe 32-year-old Lim was a lucky find over in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) who had been given up for dead by the baseball lords there. Assumed to be all washed up after arm injuries that lead to reconstructive surgery, Tokyo gave him a tryout and liked what it saw.

The sidearm fireballer has 19 saves to his credit so far this season, and his era stands at 2.17 to punctuate a set-up unit that gives up very few runs. When he’s on, he’s nearly untouchable.

His 19 saves are good enough for fourth in the Central League so far, one behind Yomiuri closer, Marc Kroon.

Waiting in the wings…

53 Ryouta Igarashi (?????)

#53 Ryouta IgarashiIgarashi is a fan favorite (partly because of his fastball, and then partly due to his boyish good looks) that has had a rough life since his 37-save season back in 2004. After going under the knife, we’re beginning to witness a bit of a comeback by the 29-year-old who is currently in his 11th season with the team.

Igarashi strikes fear in everyone’s heart–the batters because he throws at around 98 miles an hour; the fans because it’s obvious that on the next pitch he’s going to throw another fastball.

He got knocked about a little bit at the beginning of the season, but his control (read: ability to keep his pitches down in the strike zone) seems to be coming back now. A modicum of stability displayed by Igarashi would go a long way in shoring up the bullpen. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that he can regain the form that led to the roughly 70% jump in salary that he was given in 2005.

You should cross your fingers, too.

***

As relievers spend a relatively short amount of time in the game (when compared with starters), I’ll keep this list of profiles comparatively short. There will probably be more to add at a later date, but at this point the hope is, first and foremost, that Matsuoka, Oshimoto and Lim can continue to reward the offense and starter for their hard work, and, secondly, that Igarashi can rejoin the fray and help get the Tokyo Yakult Swallows into the playoffs.

No matter how it works out though, we’ll be taking the games in one nerve-wracking inning at a time.

About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo’s more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it’s a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini

  • This is definately the most promising year for some time bullpen-wise. We actually have a plan when we have a lead which is nice compared to Furuta’s “draw names from a hat” method with which he seemingly used to select relievers.

    New pitching coach Daisuke Araki (the man after whom Daisuke Matsunaka was named I believe) has seemed to have worked wonders. Especially with Matsuoka who now seems to have found his role after indifferent seasons since 2005.

    Lets all pray they can keep up the high standards for the rest of the season.

  • John Lewis

    I think TOKYO has a pretty respectable pitching staff this year.

    Not only does it have one of the best threesome (pretty soon to be four?) closing up the game but it’s got four respectable and young starters in ISHIKAWA, TATEYAMA, KAWASHIMA, and MURANAKA. If the top end can produce quality starts on a regular basis, the pitching part of the game is basically set.

    With the hitting side starting to look promising (doesn’t it?), I guess the real question is who is going to be starter #5?

  • John,
    Welcome! Yes, the hitting is finally starting to pick up again. If the pitching continues at its current pace, and the hitting also gets itself back in shape and starts averaging an extra run or two per game, then a playoff spot is very much within grasp.

    I, too, am liking the starting rotation that has taken shape this year. Masubuchi might still be a year or two away from full-time first teamhood, so it should be interesting to see if another pitcher will jump in and grab the slot.

  • Hi John.

    As for the 5th starter, it looks like Takada’s going to try a few, starting with giving youngster Katoh another chance tonight against the Giants. Matsui and Masubuchi may also be given fresh chances.

    We’ll see how it pans out. At least we’ve got 4 of them sorted (touch wood!).

  • I’m a fan of all three of those guys. Each of them, Katoh, Matsui and Masubuchi, look like they could make big contributions to the team in the near future.

    I hope that at least two of them are able to make Takada’s choice of a fifth starter a tough one (in a good way).

  • John,

    How much of an influence do you think Mr. Araki has had on the bullpen this year?

    Does he deserve most of the credit?