The State of the Rotation

With the season now entering it’s second half, let’s have a look at how the Tokyo starting rotation is shaping up for the playoff push.

Tateyama 09Ishikawa 09Yoshinori 09Kawashima Ryo 09Yuki 09Muranaka 09

The Main Men

Tateyama 0925 – Shohei Tateyama

The main man and far and away the ace of the team this year, Shohei has proved himself to be one of Japan’s top-tier starting pitchers as he’s amassed a 12-2/3.00 record in his 16 starts this season (his .846 win ratio is the CL’s best).

Tateyama went on a remarkable run from August 15th 2008 to June 26th of this year where he made a total of 19 starts without experiencing defeat.

The lasting legacy of that run was that Shohei is now the holder of the Swallows record for consecutive wins as a starter with 14.

Since the Giants managed to give him that first taste of defeat in June, he went on a bit of a wobble losing his next start to Hanshin, but since then has settled down earning three more wins, the last of which was a complete game shutout of the Tigers at Koshien.

After posting a record of 12-3/2.99 in his 24 starts in 2008, if Tateyama continues in the same vein for the second half of 2009, he will be in line for his best season yet by some distance.

Ishikawa 0919 – Masanori Ishikawa

The team’s recognised starting ace for the past few seasons. Since Seth Greisinger left for the fuktards in orange our dearest neighbours in 2007 Masanori took up the slack, converting himself from a solid and dependable starter into something a little more special in 2008.

Ishikawa finished the 2008 season with a record of 12-10, which doesn’t sound too spectacular by itself. Add in his 2.68 ERA (the best in the CL) though and you can see what a good year he had, especially considering his ERA had always hovered around the 4 mark during his six previous seasons with the club.

This year (so far), has been a mixed bag for Masanori as he’s pitched to a 8-5/3.85 record in the first half of the year. His performances have ranged from the sublime (see his recent win over Hiroshima) to the not so sublime (see his mauling at the hands of the Lions) but hopefully the little man can continue to improve and show us more of the former in the second half of the season. He has a key role to play if the Swallows are to make the playoffs (or better).

The Future (and present)

Yoshinori 0911- Yoshinori

The 19 year old Yoshinori Sato is just two years removed from playing high-school ball, and in that short space of time has proved himself to be one of the brightest young talents in the NPB.

He is now showing the potential to establish himself as one of the birds’ top three starters and he’s amassed a record of  5-5/3.44 so far in ’09. He did have a shaky start to the year where his control was a problem (he leads the team with 31 walks issued so far this year) and he spent a spell down on the farm team.

Since returning to the top team in late May he’s looked more and more like the real-deal, with his improving form culminating in a wonderous 8 innings against the Giants during which he gave up just one run off two hits against what is undoubtedly the most fearsome batting lineup in Japan.

The only cloud on the Yoshinori-shaped horizon is his soft, smooth and tender hands. Or more specifically his soft, smooth and tender right hand (his throwing hand). Blister problems have limited him to 12 starts this year, and have also lead to some of those 12 starts to be cut short (see last weeks game at Hiroshima).

Hopefully the pitching staff can find a way to toughen up them hands (a pre-game hand-bath in wholesome Yakult?) and we can see a blister free second half of 2009, because make no mistake, this young man has the potential to become one of NPB’s finest.

The (rather young) Old Hand

Kawashima Ryo 0917 – Ryo Kawashima

Now in his 6th year with the organisation, Ryo’s career has been one of both promise and frustration. Promise due to his undoubted natural talent on the mound, and frustration due to his continual injury problems.

This year has been merely OK for the 27 year old as more niggling injury issues have led to him making just 12 starts this year, to the tune of a 5-4/3.72 record. He’s not in the same bracket as numbers 25 and 19 or even 11 (though if he stayed injury free he could well be), but given the state of flux that the rest of the rotation has been in this year (not that that’s anything new at Tokyo), his experience as a longtime Swallows starter counts for a lot.

The Supporting Cast

Yuki 0929 – Yuki

Signed to the top team part way through the season from a developmental player contract, the former Buffalo Yuki Tanaka has proved himself a valuable no.5 starter at Yakult. Despite his career-threatening shoulder troubles limiting his starts these days to around the 5 inning mark, he has added a much needed extra body to a rotation in which members are often not healthy enough to pitch (see the above two).

He’s made 8 starts so far this year with a 3-2/4.30 record, and as unspectacular as that looks, he’s been a vital cog in a team in which the rotation is so often unsettled.

Hopefully his fitness will hold, his stamina will improve as we will need all the help we can get in the march to the playoffs.

Muranaka 0915 – Kyohei Muranaka

At 21, the youngest member of the rotation until Yoshinori arrived on the scene, Muranaka has had a torrid time of late with elbow ligament troubles.

He pitched 21 starts in his first real full season of work in 2008 (6-11/4.34) but has been sidelined with injury so far this year. By the looks of things Tokyo management hopes for him to stay healthy enough to become the no.6 starter in the second half of this year. He did manage to make two starts in July (7/7 and 7/14 ) but looked a little rusty as he ended up the losing pitcher in both outings.

His highlight of last season (and indeed his career) came in May ’08, when he was 3 outs away from throwing a no-hitter against Yomiuri at Jingu, before fatigue caught up with him (he threw 137 pitches) and he eventually lost the game.

Hopefully he can stay healthy, and improve on his confidence issues as we could sure use a second lefty in the rotation (the other being Ishikawa). He has shown flashes of brilliance in his career so far, so hopefully he can make good on his obvious potential.

The Others

Kida 0942 – Masao Kida

The 40 year old ex-Yomiuri, Orix and MLB man was a surprise member of the starting rotation to start the season, despite having pitched the majority of his career from the bullpen.

Though he did manage to secure a win in his first start in eleven years against the Dragons, his next two starts were both losses as he saw himself back in the bullpen. Yoshinori’s blister troubles meant that he made one more appearance as a starter against the Lions but that was more of the same.

He is now back in the bullpen with an ERA of 5.64 to show for his 21 appearances this year, as it looks like his time as a pro may be numbered.

I do like Masao, he’s got a lot of heart, and I hope that if Tokyo do dispense with his services as a player anytime in the near future, they sign him up as a member of the coaching staff. A guy with his experience would be/is an invaluable asset to the organisation.

Ichiba 0943 – Yasuhiro Ichiba

Coming to Tokyo from Rakuten in the Miyade trade in March, Tokyo have been trying to squeeze out the potential in this once highly-coveted prospect.

Unfortunately, so far it looks like they’ll need to squeeze a little harder.

After starting the season as a starter he lasted just a month before being dropped to the farm team after losing 3 (and winning 1) of his first 4 starts. Control issues have plagued him his whole career and he needs to sort that out if he’s ever going to make it as a regular starter.

Since then he’s been used twice from the bullpen as his ERA now stands at an ominous 6.66. He’s currently residing on the farm team with our next member………

Barrett 0918 – Ricky Barrett

Brought in for this season to bolster the bullpen, and with an eye on a possible slot in the rotation, things haven’t gone too well for the new lefty.

After making 5 appearances from the bullpen Ricky made a surprise start in May against the Fighters. But after that less then stellar starting debut, and with his ERA at 5.40, he was dropped to the farm and hasn’t been seen since as it seems that he may be down there to stay.

Giving him Shugo Fujii’s old jersey number did seem a touch optimistic…….

Lee 0949 – Hye-Cheon Lee

You can find all about newcomer Lee in Chris’ “Tokyo’s Imports” post here.

He did start one game, May 4th at Hiroshima where he lasted just 2 and 2/3 innings having given up two runs off five hits. After that he never got another chance to start and it seems like management see him as a middle relief guy.

But Lee’s looked better as the season has progressed and has developed into a fairly reliable arm to call on from the ‘pen.

So that’s the state of the Tokyo rotation going into the second half of ’09.

The rotation for the second half seems pretty set at 5 (though with Takada you can never be sure). With Ishikawa, Tateyama,Yoshinori, Kawashima and Yuki making up the five-man team, with Muranaka becoming no.6 if things go his way.

So all in all not such a bad set of starters, and certainly as good a bunch as we’ve had for a number of years. Pitching coach Araki has worked wonders with the starters as he has the bullpen (relative to the Furuta [the manager]-era). I just hope fatigue won’t become a factor with Tokyo’s pitching staff (as it’s looking like may well be the case) and they’ll come back raring to go after the All-Star break.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD’S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • Fantastic review of the rotation, standby’s, and what-if’s, Dave!

    Although you didn’t really get into it in this post until the very end, you hit the nail right on the head when you singled out ‘fatigue’ as a possible future anchor on the team’s progression.

    We need some more quality starts from our bottom half starters if any pressure is to be eased on our overworked middle and closing relief.

    That’s basically Kawashima and Yuuki in terms of slack pick-up. Muranaka still needs time before he is a viable option.

    But otherwise I totally agree on two of the major points that you raised: a) there’s a bevy of good, young talent on the team, and b) coach Araki has worked wonders over the last two years.