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Time to Consider the Role of Closer

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Featuring Michael Westbay (a.k.a. westbaystars)

Michael Westbay has been blogging about Pro Yakyu since before the word "blog" entered the vernacular. Here he writes about Pro Yakyu in general, and the Yokohama BayStars in particular.


Time to Consider the Role of Closer

2 replies. Most recent reply: Mar 7, 2011 4:59 PM by westbaystars

If there was one characteristic of the Yokohama BayStars from the last part of the 1990s that I like to recall, it was their ability to turn any game around to their favor in the late innings. If there's any characteristic about the BayStars of the last decade that I'd rather forget about, it's been their ability to turn a victory into a defeat in the final innings.

It was the latter that they pulled off on Sunday afternoon, March 6, in Kurashiki.

Let's have a look at all that went right before that fateful 9th.

Yokohama got off to an early lead, scoring the first run of the game on a Kinjoh Tatsuhiko single to right in the first inning to put Yokohama up 1-0. They added an unearned run in the top of the Lucky 7th on a sacrifice fly (that wasn't really hit very deep!) off of rookie Aranami Sho's bat. That put the BayStars up 2-0, a score that held through to the 9th inning.

On the mound, former Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yamamoto Shogo started and threw the first three innings, allowing just two hits. Brent Leach appeared for the first time in a BayStar uniform, and while many questions surrounded his signing, he worked three innings, allowing three hits and striking out three. A few of Leach's pitches were a bit up in the strike zone, but Hanshin was unable to do much with them.

For the 7th, 8th, and 9th, Obana-kantoku went to what could well be Yokohama's triple stopper line of defense, Ejiri Shintaro, Ohta Atori, and Yamaguchi Shun. Ejiri allowed a couple of base runners after getting the first out, but closed down the bottom of the Hanshin order with back to back strike outs (both swinging) to end the Tigers' 7th. Atori also allowed a 1-out walk in the 8th inning, but Hanshin's Maeda Yamato was thrown out trying to steal. The fact that a Yokohama catcher managed to throw out an attempted steal is huge! It seemed like all of the teams ran the bases freely against Yokohama last season. While there may have been more, this is the second foiled steal attempt that I've seen, giving me hope that second base may not have the free pass it's had the past several seasons for the opposition.

And so, Yokohama's "closer" Yamaguchi takes the mound for the bottom of the 9th. Morita Issei singles to right to lead off the inning for Hanshin. Two outs later Lin Wei-zhu (who started in left, maybe Mayumi-kantoku is starting to realize how valuable he is in the lineup?) grounds the ball to Yamasaki Noriharu at second base. It looks like a sure 2-0 victory for Yokohama, but Yamasaki bobbles the ball! Everyone is safe! Then, just to exasperate all, Yamaguchi serves up a wild pitch to pinch hitter Sekimoto Kentaro to put runners at second and third before allowing both runners to come home on a base hit to left. Just like that, we go from winning the game 2-0 to being tied up 2-2.

As though Yamasaki's boot wasn't enough, shortstop Fujita Kazuya fails to finish off the Tigers as well, committing the second error of the inning, putting runners at first and second with two outs. To the top of the Hanshin order, Fujikawa Shunsuke hits the ball over center fielder Aranami's head, the runner from second scores on the double, and the Tigers have a gyakuten sayonara victory.

OK. It's hard to blame Yamaguchi for this failure as his middle infielders really let him down. But Hanshin did get two clean hits with runners in scoring position off of him, something that has happened with an awful frequency the past couple of years. When runners get to scoring position, a closer will bear down and get the necessary out(s)! Yamaguchi has not impressed upon me that he can do that, not the previous two seasons, and especially not during this game. This experiment has gone on too long. Let's start looking for a new closer.

Now, because I don't like it when people complain without any notion of how to fix the problem, I'd like to put forward my personal favorite for the job: Kaga Shigeru. When runners do manage to get on against him, he really does have the ability to shut the opposition down more often than not; and that includes inherited runners. I think that as a closer he'd be more valuable than as a starter in the long run.
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Comments

Re: Time to Consider the Role of Closer

[ Author: Guest | Posted: Mar 7, 2011 3:41 PM ]
Quick, Kroon still has his belongings somewhere in Kawasaki.
http://www.sponichi.co.jp/baseball/news/2011/03/07/kiji/K20110307000379360.html

Re: Time to Consider the Role of Closer

[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Mar 7, 2011 4:59 PM | Posts: 35252 | From: Yokohama, Japan | YBS Fan | Registered: Aug, 2001 ]
I saw that in today's Nikkan Sports. My translation of their translation of what Kroon said in Nikkan Sports went more along the line of, "You never know what may happen. Right now I'm concentrating on holding down a job in the Majors, but I would like to play in Japan again someday."

The Nikkan article had an accompanying photo of Kroon still using his Mizuno glove with the number 42 and his name written in Katakana on it.

But I don't think that Kroon would be interested in returning to Yokohama. He didn't seem to like the way the front office handled things. So unless a complete clearing out of the front office (by a potential new buyer) happens, I fear that this city by the bay won't be a destination for him. Of course, while it would be nice to believe that much of what he said was just lip service to appease the Yomiuri management at the time, I fear that he was speaking from his heart.
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