Thursday, January 30, 2014

32 teams in 32 days - Touryou (Miyagi)

And now to our other qualifier from Tohoku - first-timers Touryou from Miyagi.  This is their first ever trip to senbatsu after several prior attempts in recent years were unsuccessful.

Road to Senbatsu
Higashi Regionals
  • def. Ishinomaki Kita 8-0 (7 inn)
  • def. Kesennuma 10-0 (6 inn)
  • lost Ishinomaki 7-6
Miyagi Prefecturals
  • def. Ishihasama Shougyou 3-2 (11 inn)
  • def. Tohoku 12-6 (11 inn)
  • def. Ishinomaki 11-0 (7 inn)
  • def. Shibata 5-4
  • lost Sendai Ikuei 2-1
  • def. Kuji Kougyou 9-4
  • def. Kakunodate 13-11 (10 inn)
  • def. Aomori Yamada 4-1
  • lost Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei 13-2
So as we can see here Touryou makes Senbatsu despite suffering 3 losses in the Aki Taikai - one at each level, but sufficient enough to progress.  They actually revenged their loss to Ishinomaki in the regionals (one that they rallied late from down 7-1) in the quarterfinals of the prefecturals.  Before that game though, they almost bowed out against unknown Ishihasama Shougyou.  Then they turn around and go toe-to-toe with Tohoku outlasting them in another enchousen affair.  They actually almost won the Miyagi prefecturals, but the tandem of Okamoto and Satou couldn't shut out Sendai Ikuei.

Onto the super-regionals and here they faced a plucky Kakunodate squad that just missed out last summer.  With the score at a normal 4-2, the teams would combine for 16 runs in the final 3 innings of regulation, sending it to enchousen at 11 all before Kakunodate's pitching staff would be finally depleted.  After that was an impressive CG 1-run performance by Satou over Aomori Yamada to send them to the finals.  Of course, that's when they ran right smack into Kousei and were routed rather handily.  Still, despite 3 losses, their body of work was good enough and had some quality games to warrant an invitation to senbatsu.

On the hill for Touryou is Satou Kouga (佐藤 洸雅).  There are no videos of him, and the only thing I have is that he is a rookie ace who throws in the low-mid 130s. Also used was Okamoto Naoki (岡本直己) who seems to be the other reliable pitcher that kantoku Chiba Ryousuke (千葉 亮輔) relies on.  He's another relatively younger manager at the age of 42.  The only video I have is of the manager at a BBQ back in September.

Which leaves me with very little to go on other than the results, which show some solid results, but at the same time, do not appear to be competitive.  They could easily win a game, but just as easily be a one-and-done team.  If I find any other information, I'll post it here.

Tomorrow, onto the Kanto Super-Regionals and champion Hakuoudai Ashikaga!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

32 teams in 32 days - Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori)

Onto the Tohoku region where we start with champion Kousei Gakuin, now known as Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei. It was heartbreaking to see them reach 3 straight Koushien finals only to lose in all 3. Once versus Nichidai-san which I witnessed in person, then back-to-back in 2012 to Osaka Touin.  I really hoped they would have been able to win one - I think they certainly deserved it.  But the world of 高校野球 is not as ideal as we would like - though that might be changing.  After a year to rebuild, they return once again to the national stage, hoping for a better result this time around.

Road to Senbatsu
Hachinohe Regionals
  • def. Hachinohe Suisan 10-0
  • def. Hachinohe Higashi 16-2
  • def. Hachinohe 10-1
Aomori Prefecturals
  • def. Goshougawara Shougyou 8-1
  • def. Misawa Shougyou 9-0
  • def. Aomori 5-2
  • lost Aomori Yamada 8-3
  • def. Sendai Ikuei 10-7
  • def. Sakata Minami 9-2
  • def. Hanamaki Higashi 2-1
  • def. Touryou 13-2
Meiji Jingu
  • lost Imabari Nishi 5-1
As you can see, for larger Super-regions the road to Koushien is much, much longer.  Fortunately for Kousei they were able to afford a loss - to an Aomori Yamada squad that has tried for years to return to Koushien themselves.

Looking at their record, they defeated every lower-level team they were supposed to beat.  And not just beat, but in general annihilate.  Only Aomori, who isn't that bad of a team in-prefecture was spared a mercy-rule loss.

Of course, what is more important is their games against the bigger fish, and there is a bit to see. I do not unfortunately have data on their loss to Aomori Yamada, but perhaps I think knowing that they were going to qualify held some things back just in case for the Super-Regionals.

In those Super-Regionals, they had a very Sendai Ikuei-ish game against said team. I say that considering the game that Urawa Gakuin had against them last summer - if you could call it one. They got out to a 4-1 lead, gave up 6 runs, then battled back to win.  Sakata Minami got a bunch of hits, but could only push through 2 runs.

Predictably, Hanamaki Higashi proved to the the biggest stumbling block as Sasaki-kantoku continued to have his team play up to the competition.  Ace Hosokawa would strike out 11 in a CG effort, but Kousei made enough of their 8 hits while Nakagawa would hold the fort.

Indeed, it would seem that they are playing safe as in their loss to Imabari Nishi, Nakagawa only pitched 3.2 innings before being relieved with his team down 3-0.

Further supporting my argument was the fact that Nakagawa Masashi (中川 優), who was used for many of the key games... does not wear the ace number!  Instead he wears #11!!  According to the reports, he throws in the mid 130s, and has a change to go with the standard slider and curve.  He appears to be Nakai-kantoku's stopper.  More videos of him can be found here and here.

So then what about ace Satou Shun (佐藤 駿)?  He also apparently also throws in the 130s, and with the Meiji Jingu radar gun, this figure is more reliable. But while he wears the ace number, there is no other information on him - although I guess you could assume he carries the basic selection of pitches.  Which begs the question if he really is the staff ace.

Defensively, the Nii(?) twins of Katsuyoshi (新井 勝貴) and Katsunori (新井 勝徳) who patrol CF and RF respectively are a great asset for the team.  At the plate, SS Houjyou Yuuji (北條 裕之) can provide some pop at the top of the lineup, though from these ABs against Imabari Nishi it doesn't look like that at all - though the defense seems to have him played right in the OF.  And finally, their cleanup batter is 1st year Sai Seiu (蔡 鉦宇) who is actually Taiwanese.

With not as much information as I'd like, it's hard to say whether Kousei can make another big run. It would seem that the pitching might keep them in it, but the offense may not be able to stand and deliver against the more competitive teams.  Unless they get a tough draw, I think they could make the quarterfinals - but after that it will be tough.

Next, Tohoku runner-up Touryou!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

32 teams in 32 days - Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido)

Komadai Tomakomai was given a "gift" by departing alumni Tanaka Masahiro.  For the first time in 9 years they will return to Haru Koushien.

Hokkaido has missed Komadai as they were the only team to have successfully claimed a Koushien title - all thanks to the aforementioned Ma-kun. Teams have come and gone, but none have been able to replicate their efforts.

So now Komadai returns once again to perhaps find that spark:

Road to Senbatsu
Muroran Regionals
  • def. Noboribetsu Seiryou 5-2
  • def. Muroran Shimizugaoka 8-0 (8 inn)
  • def. Ootani Muroran 11-0 (5 inn)
  • def. Hokkaido Sakae 2-1
  • def. Kushiro Meiki 8-0 (7 inn)
  • def. Asahikawadai 8-5
  • def. Toukai Dai-yon 1-0 (12 inn)
  • def. Sapporo Ootani 3-2
Meiji Jingu
  • lost Okinawa Shougaku 5-3
Their body of work unfortunately does not inspire confidence. With Hokkaido already considered a weak prefecture in the world of 高校野球, having 3 1-run games - even against tougher competition in-prefecture, do not point to success.

Interestingly, while Itou Harumi(?) (伊藤 大海) seems to get quite a bit of work, he wore #15 for Komadai.  Perhaps it's because he's a rookie.  Anyways, he's reported to throw in the low 130s with the normal slider and curve.

And he's got a video of his own while ace # Kikuchi Shouta (菊地 翔太) does not. Go figure. The best I can figure is this digest video of their Meiji Jingu game against Okinawa Shougaku.

Offensively, it looks like 2B Yasuda Daisuke (安田 大将) is the main generator of power for the team. Somehow, I'm reminded of Honma Atsushi of way back when.

Perhaps the only other person offensively noteworthy is leadoff batter CF Itou Yuuki (伊藤 優希) who is a quick leadoff batter.

Considering that they played Okinawa Shougaku close despite falling behind early 3-0, they might have a chance for a game or two, but not much more.

Next up... Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei!

Friday, January 24, 2014

86th Haru Koushien field announced!

Here is the announced field for the 86th Haru Koushien:

Hokkaido (1)
  • Komadai Tomakomai - 3rd appearance, 1st in 9 years
Tohoku (2)
  • Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori) - 7th appearance, 1st in 2 years
  • Touryou (Miyagi) - First appearance
Kanto ex Tokyo (4 + floating bid shared w/Tokyo)
  • Hakuoudai Ashikaga (Tochigi) - 1st appearance (??!)
  • Kiryuu Dai-ichi (Gunma) - 4th appearance, 1st in 7 years
  • Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku (Yamanashi) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 20 years
  • Sano Nichidai (Tochigi) - 4th appearance, 1st in 7 years
  • Yokohama (Kanagawa) - 15th appearance, 1st in 2 years
Tokyo (1+ floating bid shared w/Kanto ex Tokyo)
  • Kanto Dai-ichi - 5th appearance, 1st in 2 years
I feel really bad for Nisshougakushadai Fuzoku... the JHBF perhaps to get more viewers chose Yokohama over a team that took Kanto Dai-ichi to the limit in the title game.  I understand it, but I certainly do not agree with it.

Hokushinetsu (2)
  • Nihon Bunri (Niigata) - 5th appearance, 1st in 3 years
  • Toukai Dai-san (Nagano) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 15 years
Tokai (2)
  • Mie (Mie) - 12th appearance, 1st in 2 years
  • Toyokawa (Aichi) - First appearance
Kinki (6)
  • Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) - 38th appearance, 2nd consecutive
  • Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama) - 11th appearance, 1st in 3 years
  • Riseisha (Osaka) - 6th appearance, 4th consecutive
  • Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo) - 20th appearance, 2nd consecutive
  • Chiben Gakuen (Nara) - 9th appearance, 1st in 2 years
  • Fukuchiyama Seibi (Kyoto) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 5 years
Chuugoku (2 + floating bid w/Shikoku)
  • Iwakuni (Yamaguchi)  - 7th appearance, 1st in 14 years
  • Hiroshima Shinjyou (Hiroshima) - First appearance
Shikoku (2 + floating bid w/Chuugoku)
  • Imabari Nishi (Ehime) - 13th appearance, 1st in 4 years
  • Ikeda (Tokushima) - 8th appearance, 1st in 27(!) years
  • Meitoku Gijyuku (Kochi) - 15th appearance, 1st in 3 years
As expected, Meitoku Gijyuku gets the floating bid. In my opinion, they certainly deserved it.

Kyushu (4)
  • Okinawa Shougaku (Okinawa) - 6th appearance, 2nd consecutive
  • Misato Kougyou (Okinawa) - First appearance
  • Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima) - 4th appearance, 1st in 2 years
  • Chinzei (Kumamoto) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 24 years
Meiji Jingu (1) - Champion - Okinawa Shougaku (Kyushu)
  • Souseikan (Nagasaki) - 2nd appearance, 2nd consecutive
Souseikan indeed took the Meiji Jingu bid as expected and Chinzei did indeed get a regular Kyushu bid.

21st Century Team (3)
  • Western Representative - Ooshima (Kagoshima) - First appearance
  • Eastern Representative - Koyamadai (Tokyo) - First appearance
  • Wild-Card Representative - Kainan (Wakayama) - 17th appearance, 1st in 27 years
Koyamadai gets the Eastern bid over Kakunodate, and I'm surprised. I have to surmise that the JHBF decided to bring just 2 schools from Tokyo and determined that the 21st century bid was more important than perhaps a team that was deserving??!


Ooshima appeared to be a no-brainer at least talent-wise, so nothing surprising there. (Why couldn't you do that with Nisshougakushadai??)

I would have liked Ise to go to Koushien, but I cannot argue with Kainan's selection.  Both front-runners for the wild-card bid had a team already going, so giving one to a prefecture without a bid wasn't an issue. About the only thing I could argue is that Wakayama had a 21st century team go back in 2010 and Mie hasn't sent a school yet, so perhaps they could have given it to Ise, but that's about it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Are the times a-changing?

I was having a discussion with a twitter friend of mine the other day (@junko_seaside) briefly about what might happen at senbatsu in 2 months considering we will find out the invitees this Friday.

I had mentioned the fact that this past summer we saw perhaps the biggest example of young managers sending their teams deep into the tournament - in fact the final 2 teams Maebashi Ikuei and Nobeoka Gakuen both had very young managers.  You could include Toyama Dai-ichi who got to the quarterfinals and perhaps the predecessor to them all - Hanamaki Higash's Sasaki-kantoku (Deanna prolly is still swooning over him - just kidding).

Still, there is something to be said for what is happening here.  For the longest time, it seemed that the top of the 高校野球 world was dominated by older managers who have done things the same way since... well, ever.  Takashima-kantoku over at Chiben Wakayama, Ogura-kantoku over at Nichidai-san, Wakao-kantoku first at Tohoku and then over at Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku, Jyoukou-kantoku over at Saibi.

Yet now, when you flip the pages of the official program, you can see that the managers reaching there are getting younger and younger.  Why is that?

Well, first of all, of course the older kantoku's eventually get old enough to retire and are replaced.  Then there are always younger kantoku's who are trying to get in and make a name for themselves.  It's just that now they're getting successful sooner.

In my discussion with said twitter friend, she mentioned about the fact that younger managers are strategic and come up with ingenious tactics.

Which led me to write this post because these ingenious tactics aren't really new per se.  They're just a change in thinking from what has been regarded as the norm in 高校野球.

I think the first thing I started noticing with the younger kantoku's is the fact that the one thing I despise the most (yet understand because of the meaning carrying out the action implies), diving head-first into 1st base, was starting to be phased out of some schools.  Not only does it carry injury risk, but it generally slows a player down.  I cannot tell you in the short history of me following Koushien how many outs could have been saved if the runner had just run through the base like everyone else does.  Same goes for immediately bunting after getting a runner on first. Sure, maybe you have a low-scoring offense and any runner you can get in scoring position is a good thing, but continuously bunting only shortens the game for the other team and has become so ingrained that teams automatically look for it - squeezes too.

Another is the fact that more managers are going to a multi-pitcher setup for Koushien. Nobeoka Gakuen last year is a prime example of it, though perhaps the one most memorable was Saga Kita several years back. Yes, when a team has a staff ace a manager generally tends to ride him for all he's worth.  But, despite the fact that MLB teams are crying about it for the wrong reasons in my opinion, we have seen players get injured from throwing so much (Anraku Tomohiro being the most recent example).  The sheer fact that the deeper you go, the less rest you get facilitates teams to perhaps go to a multi-pitcher strategy - especially given the fact that teams continue to practice on their days off during not just Koushien, but even during the prefecturals - something that I wasn't aware of until I talked to another friend of mine who returned from an ALT stint in Ishikawa.  I'm surprised we don't see more dropoff in velocity for those aces when they get to the semifinals and finals.  Also, if teams generally do indeed practice on the off-days, the new system to give teams at least one rest day doesn't even matter.

We're even at the point now where teams actually employ a shift.  Jyoukou-kantoku against the speedy slap-hitting Chiba-kun, actually brought in his CF to play just right of the pitchers' mound.  The idea was right, but the execution was a bit off as he also had his outfielders playing in as well.  So when Chiba actually went to swing, he hit it into the vacated part in center for a triple - oops.

The thing is, none of these strategies are necessarily new. They're just new in the world of 高校野球.  Carrying a "bullpen" is easily used in other areas of baseball, it's just that there is some romanticism in having your staff ace carry the team.  Same can be said for diving into first.  And shifts have been around for many years now in MLB, and in some cases implemented in NPB as well (Marty Brown at Hiroshima for example pulling an outfielder into the infield when it is a sayonara situation).  Heck, even anime had extreme examples of strategy (see One Outs for what I mean).  Nobeoka Gakuen rarely bunted at all on the road to the final.

The point is, there is nothing really that revolutionary in kokoyakyu that I'm seeing.  Instead, I think we're seeing kokoyakyu catch up with the rest of baseball in terms of strategy.  Some things I think we don't need to see (for instance a "closer", or the idea of defined relief roles).  But a lot of things I'm seeing it's about time we did and it's better for the game.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why Rakuten was in a no-win situation

The bidding now for Ma-kun is in full swing as Rakuten did indeed decide to post him.

But while they certainly didn't want to, they really didn't have a choice.

Since Ma-kun was the first big name wanting to post after the new agreement, Rakuten couldn't send the message I laid out in my prior post.  Doing so had the possibility of undermining the NPB pipeline faster than it possibly already is.

But as a result, they will get much less for a player who certainly was the most integral in giving the "expansion" team their first Japan Series.  And now losing him means that their attempt to make a repeat bid will be severely hurt by the loss.  Perhaps HS strikeout phenom Matsui Yuuki (Toukou Gakuen) drafted this year will offset the loss, but it may take a couple of years to get him into the superstar status that Ma-kun reached.  In the meantime, other teams can catch up and Rakuten's window may close.

It sucks that of all the teams that had to take the hit, it would have to be Rakuten. I'd be more fine with it if it was a team like Yomiuri - but for a team like Rakuten trying to gain a foothold in the league, it really is unfortunate.