The Monday Review #1

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.

After going 1-3-1 in the first week, the Swallows rebounded nicely in week #2 going 5-0-1 against the Chunichi Dragons and the Hiroshima Carp. But just as it was important not to panic after week 1, it’s important not to get excited after week 2. The Birds still have 133 games to play and many things can still happen. As reference, the Swallows started 7-5 last year, and 6-5 the year before that, and we all know how those seasons ended up. If you look back through our season archives (2008, 2009, 2010), you’ll see that we are quite streaky so it’s best we reserve judgement until we get further along in the season. That being said there’s a lot to be happy about this week.

Left field and the 3 Spot: Since the beginning of the season the Swallows have, at various times, started Hamanaka (3 starts), Iihara (2), Takeuchi (3), Fukuchi (2), and Yuichi (1) in left field and batted them in the 3 spot. In limited at bats, no player has shown much of anything. All are batting below .200 (Fukuchi and Iihara are still without hits), and have OBPs below .250. Iihara, who by the end of last season was a regular outfielder, was sent down to ni-gun prior to Masubuchi’s first start, and it’s not clear what the team intends to do with him. Without any further information on Iihara’s condition it would seem like he would be the best candidate to start, as he has the greatest upside and is probably the second best fielder in the group after Fukuchi. Another option possibly worth exploring is starting either Hatakeyama or Whitesell in left. (More on that below.)

First base: Ever since Whitesell was held out of a game for right shoulder pains, Hatakeyama has started at first base and has been hitting very well. Some sources have attributed Hatakeyama’s success to the increased number of day games. Whatever the reason, Hatakeyama has certainly earned his playing time for now. However, it’s a shame to see Whitesell languish on the bench. Despite not hitting terribly well in his limited starts to begin the season, Whitesell is probably still perceived to be one of our scarier hitters, as evidenced by his 5 walks drawn (2 intentional) in just 17 plate appearances. He sports a BA/OBP/SLG line of .167/.412/.417 and has only seen 1 pinch hit appearance (Apr 19 vs. Chunichi) since being held out of the Yokohama game on the 17th. While Whitesells numbers did go down in September of last year, perhaps a sign that opposing scouts have a read on him, he certainly strikes more fear into opposing pitchers than the batters listed in the previous section. While Whitesell does not have any outfield starts, he did play a bit of left field in ni-gun prior to joining the first team last year. More likely, if we were to try to start both, Hatakeyama would play left as he did quite a bit last August. The big manchild leaves a lot to be desired defensively but the offensive returns may be interesting.

Aoki the robber? Prior to the start of the season there was talk of Aoki being given the green light, and that we would see more steals from our leadoff hitter this year. So far that hasn’t been true, through 11 games Aoki has recorded only 1 steal. Tanaka remains Aoki’s preferred method of reaching second as Hiroyasu leads the league with 9 sacrifices. On the other hand, Fukuchi is working hard to regain the stolen base crown, as he leads the league with 6 steals.

Beware Pitcher Abuse: Last week was a great week for Swallows starters, except for Takaichi. The other side of these performances is the high pitch counts that were used to accomplish them. Ishikawa (122), Yoshinori (123), Tateyama (123), and Yamamoto (110) all threw over 100 pitches last week. Masubuchi got into trouble after 87 pitches last Sunday, after he had thrown 123 pitches in his previous start. While I’m less worried about veterans like Ishikawa and Tateyama, overuse of young arms like Masubuchi, Yoshinori, and Yamamoto is a concern. On the reliever side, Matsuoka and Lim both made 4 appearances last week including 3 consecutive appearances in the Hiroshima series.

Quo Vadimus: This week the Swallows will face the Giants at “home” in Shizuoka and the Tigers at Koshien. The Giants will be coming off 4 days of rest, as they last played on the 21st against the Tigers. No idea how the extended off days will affect the Giants’ starters, but the Giants have gotten some pretty strong starts from guys like Utsumi, Kubo, and rookie southpaw phenom Sawamura. On the other hand, there seems to be some confusion in the Giants bullpen as their closer Yamaguchi has gone down with injury. The Giants’ bats seem to be on track as usual, but we’ll see how the off days have affected them. We’ll most likely be facing the team from across the way with the top of our rotation, Ishikawa, Yoshinori, and Tateyama. For those of us in Japan the first two games will be shown on Fuji TV, although if you understand Japanese I’d turn down the sound as the announcers will no doubt be plugging the “visitors.”

The Tigers also have had some strong pitching success early in the season, but have not gotten their bats on track quite yet as last year’s golden boy Matt Murton is hitting a paltry .224.  If the Tigers’ rotation holds true, expect to face Kubo, Messenger, and old man Shimoyanagi. We’ll probably counter with Yamamoto, a young call up, and Masubuchi. It’ll be the first time the Swallows meet the Tigers this year, and thanks to some quirks in the post-earthquake scheduling we won’t be seeing them again until July.

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.

  • I’ve also thought that Whitesell or Tatakeyama could be options in left. The defense is definitely a concern but a Hatakeyama-Whitesell-Balentien middle of the order is not too shabby if you ask me. Other than that, I would prefer Iihara because of the reasons you mentioned, however, it definitely seems like he has disappeared off the face of the earth! Fukuchi is a great pinch runner and defensive replacement late in games.

    Also noticed the Aoki thing. Several times this season I have been expecting him to steal based on the count and situation but he would stay at put. The situations were so obvious to steal in it was crazy (1-2 count with 1 or two outs and whatnot). After he said he wanted to run more I too am left baffled with his lack of steal attempts.

  • Bob Whitesell

    Josh Whitesell has not been playing because he is injured.

    • Kozo

      Thanks for the insight Bob! I certainly didn’t want to dismiss the possibility that Josh was being held out for medical reasons. Given the fact the club hasn’t taken him off the active roster and that he pinch hit tonight, I hope that means he can work himself back into some more playing time.

    • Rob

      Oh, good. I mean, not good that he’s injured, but I thought he was being held out for running over the Baystars’ catcher a couple of days ago – good that it’s not that.

      • Both Whitesell and Balentien love to bulldoze catchers in close plays at the plate. And I love it.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the Monday Review Kozo. Good to have a daily article to ponder!

    Getting a fit Josh back will be great. I’d definitely like to try Hatakeyama back out in left, Josh on 1st and keep Iihara and Fukuchi as pinch hitters/runners respectively, who come with the added bonus of being defensively sound. Josh was the main man last year, and deserves that chance to shine again before considering other combinations, while Hatakeyama is undroppable at the minute and deserves playing time.

    Fingers crossed that at least 2 of Ishikawa, Yoshinori and Tateyama can bring home wins this week.

    Question. Where is Guiel?

    • He went to the US for a couple of weeks in mid March for treatment for lower back pains. So I would guess he is currently down with the ni-gun team working his way back to full fitness.

  • Sawamura isn’t a southpaw. Other than that, good roundup. The Dragons and Giants skipped the weekend because they didn’t find a way around the 3-day scheduled series at the Tokyo Dome. Sheesh.

    I’m all sad about Yasushi getting sent down. If I was still in Japan I’d surely be at Toda Stadium stalking him AND Miyade together. Or something.

    • Rob

      He’s back! Iihara was called up and Hamanaka sent down today (4/27).

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