Kozo’s Monthly Roundup: June

There was much cause for celebration in the month of June

How We Got There

The Swallows came into June fresh off the Takada firing, and were only 4 games into the Ogawa regime. The Birds were looking to build on the 1-2-1 record they had compiled under Ogawa, by exacting revenge on the Pacific League teams that had swept them in May.

How We Did

Interleague Revenge Tour

After having been swept by SoftBank, Seibu, and Lotte in May, the new look Swallows looked to return the favor to start off June. While the Swallows managed to take the first game of each revenge series, they couldn’t close the deal, ending with 1-3 records against the latter three teams. But at this point, the fact that the Birds were winning games and not losing two straight were big improvement. So after matching their May win total (3) in only 6 games, the Swallows faced the Darvish-less Nippon Ham Fighters for the first time. The Fighters did not put up too much of a fight and were swept by the Swallows. This series sweep represented the first back-to-back wins the Swallows had recorded in 2 over months. Not content to stop there, the Swallows proceeded to sweep Rakuten and take the first game of the rain-rescheduled games against Nippon Ham. That five game winning streak was the longest winning streak for the Birds this season, and helped the team achieve an overall record of 9-14-1 during Interleague play. A record that, despite a 10 game losing streak, was not too far off the “bad” scenario I laid out in our Interleague preview.

Back to Regularly Scheduled Programming

The Swallows re-started their Central League schedule against Hiroshima in a rain-shortened two game series. Unfortunately the team ran into Kenta Maeda, the Central League’s hottest pitcher, and took a loss to re-open their Central League campaign. Things were not looking good in game 2 of the series, but the Swallows managed a late comeback to even the series. Unfortunately the dramatic win didn’t translate into momentum, as the team faced their cross town rivals at Jingu stadium and lost the opening game. The Swallows won the middle game, but couldn’t take the series, as they lost handily in Game 3. The lack of positive momentum carried into Game 1 of the team’s next series against Hanshin. After that loss, the Swallows debuted their new offensive weapon, Josh Whitesell. The new-look Swallows came from behind to beat the Tigers in Game 2, and took the series with a 8-4 thrashing in Game 3. The Swallows took the show on the road with a two game series against the Yokohama BayStars in Okinawa. The people of Okinawa got to see the Swallows shutout the BayStars in Game 1, and earn a nail-biting win  in Game 2. Thus the Swallows ended June on a 4 game winning streak, and a 14-8 record for the month. The Swallows also managed to avoid losing to the same team twice in a row.


Offensive Resurgence

The first thing that pops out at you when you look at the Swallows’ June stats is the increased offensive production. Of the 7 players that made at least 68 plate appearances (the minimum needed for batting title considerations this month), 4 had an OPS of over .900. The four players were Aikawa (1.062!), Iihara (.978), Aoki (.930), and Tanaka (.910). All four players have pulled their season batting averages to above .300. Also making a big splash in limited plate appearances were Hatakeyama and Kawamoto, who combined for 10 hits and 1 walk in only 21 plate appearances. Josh Whitesell rounds out the players with eye-popping numbers with 5 hits (including 2 homes and a triple) and 3 walks in 15 plate appearances, more on him later.

Not on the Bandwagon:

The 3 players not to have a .900+ OPS despite 68+ plate appearances were Guiel (.680), D’Antona (.617) and Miyamoto (.612). Guiel and D’Antona had eerily similar stat lines for the month, with the big difference coming from Aaron’s 2 extra walks and 4 beanings. Miyamoto on the other hand, struggled for most of the month, but may be on the way out of his prolonged slump. 8 of Miyamoto’s 19 hits have come in the last 7 games.

Guiel 76 62 12 3 2 10 4 0 18 7 10 .194 .342 .339
D’Antona 76 63 12 2 3 8 0 3 18 7 11 .185 .263 .354
Miyamoto 80 73 19 2 0 7 0 0 7 9 1 .260 .325 .288

I think it goes without saying that Guiel and D’Antona shared the team lead with their 18 strikeouts, Aikawa was a distant third with 11.

Coming Up Short

Also underwhelming was the shortstop platoon of Fujimoto and Onizaki. The two players got most of the starts at shortstop in June, but neither player made any lasting impact on the team. Fujimoto and Onizaki both earned sub-.250 OBPs (.232 and .115 respectively) and had pitiful slugging percentages (.275 and .231). The rookie Takahiro Araki was also given 3 starts at short, but managed only 2 strikeouts and 1 sac bunt in his 8 plate appearances. While I do not expect superstar numbers to come out of the shortstop position, I do hope someone gets into a groove and manages an OPS of above .600.

Aoki the Leadoff Man

Prior to this season, Aoki’s fight song had a line calling him a spray hitting leadoff man. But as he got moved to the three hole and was asked to use his spray hitting prowess to drive in runners, the lyrics were changed to call him a shining number 1 of the world. But Aoki struggled in the role of run producer in May, so he spent most of June in the leadoff spot once again. Using his skill of putting the bat to the ball, and his legs, Aoki managed to produce 39 hits in June. Thanks to the offensive resurgence behind him, Aoki managed to come around to score a team leading 16 times. While Aoki did not hit any homeruns, he still demonstrated drive by hitting a team leading 8 doubles. Aoki was also a perfect 2-for-2 in his steal attempts in June. It would have been nice if Aoki threatened to steal more often rather than being Tak-bunted over to second by Tanaka, something that happened 7 times in the month. The hot-hitting Hiroyasu would probably have seen more fastballs to hit, and more importantly would not have wasted valuable outs. But all in all a successful June for Aoki!

Starter Inconsistency

June was a bumpy ride for most of the Swallows’ starting pitchers. Swallows’ starters pitched gems like Tateyama’s 8 inning 1 run performance against the Fighters, Muranaka’s 8 innings of shutout ball against the BayStars, and Barnette’s 1 run 6 K performance against the Lions. Unfortunately they also let games get away like Tateyama’s 8 runs given up in 5 inning against the Fighters, and Barnette’s 7 runs given up in 2 and 2/3 innings. Overall, the Swallows starting pitchers compiled a 11-8 record (every Swallows lost was tagged to the starters), with an ERA of 4.40, a RIP of 1.50, 6.63 Ks per 9 innings, and 3.14 BB per 9innings, all over 129 innings. Only 4 of the Swallows 22 starts managed to last 7 or more innings. While the numbers are not horrible, the ERA and RIP numbers are of some concern.

Good To Be Lucky?

The one pitcher in the starting rotation that had a stellar record in June was the young Yoshinori. Yoshinori only allowed 5 earned runs over his 4 starts to earn a 3-0 record for the month. However, Yoshinori also managed to walk 19 batters in his 25 and 2/3 innings of work. Yoshinori has single-handedly walked almost a third of the batters that the Swallows walked in June. I worry whether Yoshinori can continue to get away with giving so many batter a free pass to first.

Sweet Relief

With no starter being able to finish games, the bullpen was called into action quite often. Masubuchi (13 games), Matsuoka (12), Oshimoto (11), and Lim (10) all made over 10 appearances in June. Masubuchi was often the first one off the bench after a starter was pulled. He inherited a total of 12 runners in relief and allowed only 4 to score. Oshimoto was called into pitch late-middle innings like Masubuchi and did fine work, recording 10 strikeouts and no walks in 9 and 1/3 innings. Matsuoka played the role of ace setup man, and he had a 10 appearance shutout streak going prior to a Kanemoto 2-run homer in his 11th appearance. Despite the blip, Matsuoka still had 14 strikeouts with a 0.55 RIP and a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings of relief, and he picked up a win and a save. Finally, Lim was once again a dominating closer in June. He was 8-for-8 in save situations, giving up only 3 hits without surrendering a run or walk. He also picked up 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. This bullpen quartet combined for a 1.98 ERA, 0.73 RIP, 10.32 strikeouts per 9 innings, and 0.66 walks per 9 innings.

Major Events

The Whitesell Signing

On June 7, the Swallows announced the signing of Josh Whitesell. Whitesell made his Swallows debut on the 26th of the month, and made a splash by homering in his first game. The signing still leaves some question as to how the team plans to proceed with its foreign players.

Tateyama Injury

On June 23rd, the veteran Tateyama looked to be bouncing back his previous bad outing by holding the Giants to 3 runs and striking out a season high 8 batters. At the bottom of the 6th inning Tateyama came up to bat, and proceeded to hit a double. Unfortunately Tateyama was caught in a awkward situation trying to get back to base on a liner to second. Tateyama did not pitch the next inning, and it was announced that he had fractured his right toe and that he would be out 3-4 weeks. The loss of Tateyama leaves the starting rotation shorthanded, especially with the demotion of Tony Barnette.

Player of the Month

My Player of the Month

Hiroyasu Tanaka and Ryoji Aikawa are my two candidates for Player of the Month. Both players swung an incredibly hot bat in June. Tanaka played every inning of every game in June, lead the team with 18 RBIs, and was the only player on the team to have more walks than strikeouts. Aikawa lead the team with 5 homeruns, and had the highest slugging percentage (.620) and OPS (1.06) among qualifying batters on the team. You can compare their numbers in the table below.

Tanaka 101 82 30 3 1 1 9 3 7 0 8 11 18 .365 .447 .463
Aikawa 80 71 27 2 0 5 8 0 1 0 11 11 14 .380 .443 .620

As you can see, both players has a great June, and one wonders what kind of damage Tanaka would have wreaked if he didn’t have to bunt those 7 times. In the end I give the nod to Aikawa for giving us another power threat in the lineup. But really it could have gone to either player. Honorable mentions go out to Aoki, Iihara, Matsuoka, and Lim.

Quo Vadimus

July will see the Swallows play every Central league team at least once. The cozy scheduling seen in June because of Interleague play comes to an end. The Swallows will play their first 17 games of the month in 19 days, before the All Star break. With fewer rest days, establishing a winning rotation will be key. Unfortunately without Tateyama or Barnette, the team currently only has 4 established starters on the roster. Takaichi has been rumored as a possible starter, calling up Ryo Kawashima is another option. Another storyline to be watching for in July is how the Whitesell situation settles out. Whitesell has started strong, and hopefully he keeps it up, but one wonders what will happen if/when he slows down. Also, as the weather heats up even more and fatigue settles in, I worry about the state of our bullpen. I hope the team doesn’t overuse the relief quartet, and hopefully another player (newly acquired Kouki Watanabe perhaps?) will step up into a key role. If the team keep improving I think a 14-7 record is very possible.

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.