Wednesday, February 19, 2014

32 teams in 32 days - Imabari Nishi (Ehime)

Well, Imabari Nishi is once again at Senbatsu, though it's been 4 years since their last appearance here (2 since their appearance at Natsu Koushien).  They are generally one of the better teams in Ehime, and generally around average when looking at fields as a whole, but never really good enough to win the whole thing.  The question is now, do they stand a chance in a possibly weaker field?

Road to Senbatsu
Ehime Prefecturals
  • def. Niihama Kougyou 9-2 (8 inn)
  • def. Imabari Kita 4-0
  • def. Nitta 3-0
  • def. Teikyou Dai-go 3-1
  • lost Saijyou 5-3
Shikoku Super-Regionals
Meiji Jingu Tournament
Offense seems to be in general at a premium for this version of Imabari Nishi.  Despite having 2 mercy rule wins (3 if you count Ikeda's if not for the fact that they play a full 9 innings), the offense hasn't really gone out and dominated the competition.  Instead, it was ace Jinno Yasuhiro (神野 靖大) who for the most part had to shut down the opposition.  And to his credit he did, giving up just 16 hits in his 4 super-reginoal games - half of them not against Meitoku Gijyuku, but against Sakaide instead!

That continued against Kousei where he went the distance scattering 6 hits in a CG effort.  But when they were paired up with Nihon Bunri, Jinno went just 6 giving up about as many runs as all the previous games combined and were subsequently mercy-ruled out of the tournament.

With the offense at a premium for this team, we focus our analysis primarily on their ace Kanno.  A southpaw, he throws on the slower side of average (high 120s) with the standard slider and curve.

However, this poses a big question.  If he doesn't throw hard, how is it then that he was able to strike out so many batters in the prefecturals and super-regionals?  He still managed to strike out 6 vs Kousei before finally getting lit up against Nihon Bunri.  In general when a pitcher doesn't throw hard, it usually means that he pitches to a lot of contact and most of it being bad contact.  You'd be hard pressed to blow a ball by a batter throwing no faster than 130 kph (~80 mph).  From the videos it appears that a lot of it has to do with the fact that Jinno hides the ball well so that it's harder for the batters to pick up. 

Kantoku Oono Yasuya (大野 康哉) does go to a backup and his name is Monden Jyunya (門田 諄也).  He's a righty who apparently throws in the upper 120s/lower 130s also with the standard slider/curve combo.  However, he's lightly used, and in his appearance relieving Kanno vs. Nihon Bunri, he allowed 1 run on 4 hits in just 2/3 of an inning. So it's hard to say how reliable he is.

Of course, the team can't win if they don't score at least a run (hello Mariners), so the two players to watch would be the 3-4 batters C Ochi Tatsuki (越智 樹) and RF Fukuhara Kenta (福原 健太)... but there is no video on either player outside of the game recaps.

There doesn't appear to be much doubt that Jinno's delivery makes him successful to an extent (remember for instance that while Meitoku kept ace Kishi, he pretty much lost the rest of the roster from the summer).  We've seen average velocity pitchers be successful (see Urawa Gakuin's Ojima) as long as the pitcher can exhibit good control, so there is room for advancement for this squad.  The game versus Nihon Bunri did have some unfortunate misplays, but Jinno was hit hard by the Hokushinetsu champs as well.  I can't tell if it's because he wasn't hiding it well or if they were able to see the ball better, but that will be the biggest weakness of Jinno's game if teams can figure his delivery out.

That will be the determining factor as to how far they can go.  If he can be on top of his game, they certainly can make a decent run - if not be a fringe title contender.

Next up, to borrow a phrase from the 70's... welcome back Ikeda!

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