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NPB Update, June 14 to June 20: Yakyu 2020

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We check in on our adopted NPB team, the Yakult Swallows.

BASEBALL-CLASSIC-CUB-JPN
Tetsuto Yamada
Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images

As regular From Complex to Queens listeners know, we’ve decided to start following a NPB team in the absence of Mets baseball for the foreseeable future. We picked a team and will post updates on how they’re doing over in Japan. Why the Yakult Swallows?

  • The Swallows play in Tokyo, the largest city in Japan.
  • The Swallows are overshadowed by the other team that plays in Tokyo, which has had much more success over the years, the Yomiuri Giants.
  • For the first decade of their existence, the Swallows did not end a single season with a winning record.
  • Meiji Jingu Stadium opened in 1964, the same year as Shea Stadium.
  • The best player in team history was a pitcher.

Sounds like the Mets to me!

June 19 (0-1)

Chunichi Dragons 9, Yakult Swallows 7 / 10 (BOX)

The season opener was an exciting one, but unfortunate, things didn’t end well for the Swallows. Chunichi took an early lead thanks to a Dayán Viciedo homer, but the Swallows tied things back up with one swing from Tetsuto Yamada. They took the lead a few batters later and held that lead for a while, but Chunichi eventually evened things up a few innings later, tying things at 7-7. The game stayed tied into extras, until the Dragons plated two in the tenth. Yakult went down in the bottom of the inning and that was that.

  • 1B Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 3-5, R
  • LF-PR Tsuyoshi Ueda: 0-0
  • PH Yudai Koga: 1-1
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 2-5, R, HR (1), RBI, BB
  • LF Nori Aoki: 2-4, 2 R, HR (1), 2 RBI, BB, K
  • PR-3B-SS Taishi Hirooka: 1-1
  • PR Kotaro Yamasaki: 0-0
  • 3B-1B-3B Munetaka Murakami: 2-6, 2 RBI, K
  • CF Yasutaka Shiomi: 0-5
  • RF Yuhei Takai: 2-5, K
  • SS Alcides Escobar: 2-5
  • C Motohiro Shima: 1-4, R, 2 K
  • PH Daiki Watababe: 0-1
  • P Masanori Ishikawa: 0-1, K
  • PH Takeshi Miyamoto: 1-1, R
  • PH Taisei Yoshida: 0-1
  • 1B Takahiro Araki: 0-1, K
  • LHP Masanori Ishikawa: 5.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, HR
  • LHP Hiroki Hasegawa: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
  • RHP Noboru Shimizu: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, H (1)
  • RHP Yugo Umeno: 0.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, BS (1)
  • RHP Kazuki Kondoh: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, H (1)
  • RHP Scott McGough: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, H (1)
  • RHP Taichi Ishiyama: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, H (1)
  • RHP Ryuta Konno: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, L (0-1)

June 20 (1-1)

Yakult Swallows 6, Chunichi Dragons 2 (BOX)

The Swallows took an early lead in the bottom of the first thanks to a pair of homers from Tetsuto Yamada and Munetaka Murakami. Yasuhiro Ogawa tossed a quality start, scattering six hits over his six innings on the mound, allowing a run in the third and fourth. Yakult added on a few insurance runs in the third and eighth, but they would prove unnecessary as the good work Ogawa put in on the mound was continued by the bullpen.

  • 1B Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 1-2, R, 2 BB, CS (1)
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 1-3, R, HR (2), RBI, BB, SB (1)
  • LF Nori Aoki: 0-4
  • 3B Munetaka Murakami: 2-3, 2 R, HR (1), RBI, BB
  • CF-RF Yasutaka Shiomi: 2-4, R, HR (1), RBI
  • RF Yuhei Takai: 1-4
  • PR-CF Daiki Watababe: 0-0-R
  • SS Alcides Escobar: 1-3, 2 RBI, HBP, SB (1)
  • C Yūdai Koga: 0-4, K
  • P Yasuhiro Ogawa: 0-2
  • PH Takeshi Miyamoto: 0-1
  • LF Tsuyoshi Ueda: 0-0
  • RHP Yasuhiro Ogawa: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, W (1-0)
  • RHP Noboru Shimizu: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, H (2)
  • RHP Scott McGough: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, H (2)
  • RHP Taichi Ishiyama: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

HITTER OF THE WEEK

Tetsuto Yamada

3-8, 0 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 0 K, 1/1 SB

Tetsuto Yamada was born on July 16, 1992 in Toyooka, a city in the northern part of Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture known for its geological biodiversity. He attended Rishosha High School, a private school in Toyonaka, a city in Osaka. Yamada was a quite impressive player, during his time there, playing second base and shortstop. Though the team failed to win summer Koshien while he was there, Yamada did everything he absolutely could, hitting .435 in his third (senior) year. In the 2010 NPB Draft, the Yakult Swallows and Orix Buffaloes both submitted his name for their first round selection, with the Swallows winning the lottery and the rights to sign him.

He spent the entire 2011 season in the Swallows’ ni-gun developmental team in the Eastern League and hit .259/.320/.342 in 114 games with 5 home runs, 17 stolen bases, 32 walks, and 56 strikeouts. He made the big league club in 2012, splitting the season between the developmental team and the majors. Appearing in 24 games with the Swallows, the 19-year-old hit .250/.327/.364. He became a fixture on the team in 2013, permanently taking over second base because of the poor performance of incumbent Hiroyasu Tanaka and because of his own inability to play shortstop at an adequate level over the long term. He had a good showing for himself, hitting .283/.354/.357 in 94 games with 3 home runs, 9 stolen bases, 39 walks, and 37 strikeouts.

Yamada broke out in 2014. After spending a lot of time working with hitting coach Shigeru Sugimura, 21-year-old infielder hit an impressive .324/.403/.539, launching 29 home runs, stealing 15 bases, and drawing 74 walks to 95 strikeouts. His 193 hits were a Central League record for base hits by a right-handed batter, prompting him to be named an All-Star and come in second in Central League MVP voting, behind Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano. For as good as he was in 2014, he was even better in 2015, a major reason why the Swallows won the pennant and reached the Japan Series. Appearing in 143 games, Yamada hit .329/.416/.610, slugging 38 home runs, stealing 34 bases, and walking 81 times to 111 strikeouts. He became the youngest player to ever have a 30-30 season, and the first since Kaz Matsui had one in 2002. He led the league in home runs and stolen bases and ran away with Central League MVP voting.

The infielder proved that his breakout was no fluke, as he continued to produce big time numbers following his MVP year. In 2016 he had another 30/30 season, hitting .304/.425/.607 in 133 games. After a down year in 2017 that was attributed to the lingering effects from being hit by a pitch the year before, he hit .315/.432/.582 with 34 homers and 33 stolen bases in 2018 and .271/.401/.560 with 35 homers and 33 stolen bases, making him the first player in NPB history to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 30 steals more than once.

At 5’10”, 160-pounds, Yamada is not exactly a physical specimen, but he displays tremendous power, athleticism, and endurance nonetheless. He stands tall at the plate, holding his bat high and away, and swings with a leg kick that is exaggerated even for Asian players. He possesses plus bat speed, allowing him to hit for average and for power. Though Jingu Stadium is a hitter’s ballpark at 320-394-320, Yamada has legitimate above-average power.

Defensively, Yamada is a better second baseman than shortstop. He can play the position in short bursts, but otherwise lacks a strong enough arm.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK

Yasuhiro Ogawa

6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, W (1-0)

Yasuhiro Ogawa was born May 16, 1990 in Tahara, a city in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture on the Atsumi Peninsula between the Philippine Sea and Mikawa Bay. He attended Seisho High School, and his third year (senior) there helped the team come within one win of winning the 2012 Spring Koshien. After graduating high school, he attended Soka University, where he emerged as the staff ace. An excellent pitcher to begin with, he became virtually unhittable when he read a copy of Nolan Ryan’s 1991 book Nolan Ryan’s Pitcher’s Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Power, Precision, and Long-Term Performance. The right-hander modified his delivery and mechanics to mirror the Hall of Famer, resulting in an extremely dominating performance for the rest of his time in school and a new nickname: Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa.

In the 2012 NPB Draft, Ogawa was selected by the Yakult Swallows with their second round selection. He made his debut in 2013, posting a 2.93 ERA in 178.0 innings, allowing 155 hits, walking 45, and striking out 135. He made the Central League All-Star team and was voted the 2013 Central League Rookie of the Year. In the years since, Ogawa has been a reliable pitcher ever since. Occasionally, he has pitched like an ace, while management has occasionally toyed with the idea of using him as a reliver thanks to 2018 elbow surgery.

Ogawa uses very unique mechanics, modeled after Nolan Ryan. During his windup, he uses a large leg kick reminiscent of the Texan Hall of Famer. After a slight hitch, he fires home, throwing from a high-three-quarters arm slot. Ogawa’s fastball sits in the high-80s, topping out at 93 MPH. He complements his fastball with a cutter that sits in the low-80s, a slider that sits in the mid-70s, a forkball that sits in the low-80s, and a changeup that sits in the mid-70s. Because of his mechanics, hitters have a hard time picking up his pitches, making them more effective.