With the Central League’s regular program now consigned to the history books, let’s have a look at the individual title winners from this past season, and see how Tokyo’s boys (both new and old) fared:
One of the “ones that got away” from Yakult this last off-season. Despite a slightly shaky start, Seth proved once again to be arguably the best starting pitcher in the CL. He contributed a whopping 17 wins to the Giants record, and as anyone who witnessed him pitch this year will testify, when he’s on-song, he’s almost unplayable. Truly dominating.
Oh, and to the Yakult Front office official who was quoted as saying that Greisinger’s 2008 contract negotiations had “become a money game” (or something to that effect) – you have to pay the money to get quality like Seth. Refusal to pay gives you a 5th place finish. You had the chance to retain him, you failed. Thought you could strike cheap gold from the Korean League two years in a row, you got Rios. Well done.
This time it’s a case of one that got away from Yokohama, with the first year Giant taking the saves crown. To be honest, although the figures may disagree with me, I don’t rate Mark too highly. Maybe it’s my dislike of that annoying OTT point to the sky celebration of his that clouds my judgment. Speed he has in spades, but his control and temperament have sometimes let him down. He’ll down any free swinging batter, but show a bit of patience at the plate and you’re in with a chance. But what do I know eh? I am biased after all.
Little Masanori has a career year this year, and won the ERA title for his troubles. He came on for one out in relief in the last game of the season against Yokohama, and that was enough to take him past Carp Lewis’ figure of 2.680. He had talked before the start of the season about his intense disappointment in his 2007 performance, and the need to step up his game in the absence of Greisinger in 2008. And step up he did, becoming the team’s undisputed ace and the dependable rock around which the orbiting planets of disarray that was the 2008 Swallows rotation moved. Well done Ishikawa. We’re going to need more of the same next year.
The 2008 acquisition was a sparkling success, and a big reason that Hiroshima challenged for a playoff spot. Also finished second in wins with 15, as well as in ERA. Hopefully we’ll see him in a Hiroshima shirt in 09 and the vultures (Yomiuri and Hanshin I’m looking at you) will leave him be.
The fact that he won this title shouldn’t disguise the fact that he’s not the formidable relief pitcher of past years, with a tendency for the occasional meltdown. In fact the much vaunted Hanshin relief trio of JFK (Williams, Fujikawa and Kubota) were pretty dysfunctional this year with the W and K (and to a lesser extent, the F) malfunctioning, to the extent that they were not quite the fearful lights-out crack relief team of the past. If they were, Hanshin probably would have been crowned the CL champions.
Quite simply a breakout year for the Yokohama outfielder, with his figures from his first seven years as a pro offering no hint as to the gold that would come in his eighth. He also led the league in hits with 189, and in OBP with .416. Last year’s batting king Aoki came in second with an average of .347, and trailed in hits with 154 with an OBP of .413. Aoki’s shortfall in hits compared to 2007 was down to his being injured and thus out for a month in May, as well as his Olympic voyage on the titanic-esque Good Ship Hoshino.
Uchikawa also hit for a whopping .449 with runners in scoring positions, also top in the CL.
Another bright spot in the disaster that was the Baystars’ 2008 season, Murata took the HR crown at the expense of Yomiuri’s Ramirez, who hit 45. A three run shot against the Swallows on the season’s final day was enough to give Murata his second straight HR title. As he rounded the bases at Jingu, he was even cheered by the home Swallows fans, who were delighted at Ramirez being pipped at the post (though in fairness, if Yokohama had actually pitched to Ramirez in their last game, they may have had nothing to celebrate come that final day at Jingu).
The second, and more painful of the “ones that got away” in the off-season. Alex had every bit as good a year in 2008 as he did in 2007, with his slight decrease in average (.343 to .319) offset by his increase in RRIs (up from 122) and especially homeruns (29 to 45). I’d like to think that our front office now regrets their decision not to offer him a multi-year deal, though knowing just how inept they are, I doubt it. They obviously thought his 2007 performance was a peak, and boy, how wrong they were.
And though I’m the first (and loudest) to barrack him every time he comes to Jingu, the man is simply class.
Fukuchi just beat Hanshin pint-sized weasel Akahoshi to the steal crown by a single steal. Apart from his speed, Kazuki has been an excellent acquisition from Seibu, and though I’m pleased at his winning this title, I can’t help but feel that it’s due to our over reliance on the small-ball tactics this year. Aoki and Ihara also featured in the CL’s top 6 stealers with 31 and 28 bags respectively.
So, overall not a bad showing from Tokyo given the year we’ve had. One interesting point though. Yakult didn’t have an entry in the top ten of either HRs or RBIs which really shows the dearth of power on the team this year. Our top HR hitter was Aoki with 14, and he also brought home a team leading 64 runs, which is simply not good enough for any team with aspirations for an A class (top 3) finish. This needs to be addressed this closed-season, or else Takada will use it as an excuse to play yet more inept “small ball” in 2009.