(picture courtesy of baseballgate.jp – If you want to win Koushien, you might have to go through him)
Now that senbatsu is less than a month away, who might be the keys to success for each team in the field? Not necessarily who is the best player, but which player could be imperative for the team to make a successful run.
Sapporo Ootani – Oota Ryuusei (太田 流星)
With the Meiji Jingu champions, I’m not looking towards their ace, but rather his backup in Oota Ryuusei.
Because ace Nishihara Kenta I don’t think can be relied upon to carry the team. His strikeout and walk numbers are not good and even though he held Seiryou to 1 run and struck out 8, he also walked 4 which is about on par with his overall figures.
If Sapporo Ootani is to break the trend of Meiji Jingu champs unable to win Haru Koushien, then Oota must be part of that picture. He’s a sidearmer who may not strike out may batters himself, but he was tasked with saving the team in the super-regional semifinals and finals, and single-handedly defeated Kyushu champs Chikuyou Gakuen.
He may not be draft-worthy, but he’ll be key to the team’s success.
Sapporo Dai-ichi – Ootsubo Renya(?) (大坪 蓮弥)
For Sapporo Dai-ichi the pitching seems rather suspect to begin with, and there’s no one person that could carry the load for the team, so I’m looking elsewhere. Their 1B and 3-hole batter, Renya batted 0.625 including 3-5 in the final with a double and an RBI. If the pitching is going to struggle the hitting will have to make up for it, and Renya will need to drive in runs every opportunity he gets.
Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei – Shimoyama Koudai (下山 昂大)
Kousei Gakuin as it once was called has not been able to get back to the days where it went to 3 straight Koushien finals (though they lost). Again, like Sapporo Dai-ichi the pitching is a bit suspect at best and while I could point to ace Gotou Takemi he feels like more of a game manager at best. Again, this puts a bit more pressure on the offense, and Shimoyama Koudai is the last defense against the black hole at the bottom of the lineup. He’s gone 5-8 against Hanamaki Higashi and Moriokadai Fuzoku, and was 3-10 at Meiji Jingu.
At Koushien he may not afford to be able to take walks, instead needing to deliver a timely base hit to drive in runs before the opportunities pass the team by.
Moriokadai Fuzoku – Ogawa Kensei (小川 健成)
Moriokadai Fuzoku has this figured out (or at least it appears to me that they have). Ace Abe Hidetoshi (阿部 秀俊) put up great numbers up until the final against Kousei where he struggled, giving up 7 hits and 5 walks in their 5-3 loss.
So, once again the offense will need to help carry the team and Ogawa has done well as his team’s last defense against the bottom of the lineup. He was 9-17 during the super-regionals with no walks and just 1 strikeout meaning that he is performing his job of putting the ball in play and moving runners along with 5 RBIs. He’ll need to continue to fulfill that role to give his team a fighting chance.
Kokushikan – Kamada Shuuma (鎌田 州真)
Kokushikan’s ace in the hole is a super rookie who was part of the U-15 team for Japan 2 years ago and is their starting shortstop (despite wearing #16 in the fall). Batting out of the #6 spot, he was 9-17 with 6 RBIs and even drew 3 walks. Against Kanto Dai-ichi, he was 2-3 with a double and 2 walks. He’ll need to pick up the slack that the pitching will inevitably create in the tournament.
Touin Gakuen – Hasegawa Hayate (長谷川 颯)
Here we break the streak of position players and focus our attention on the ace.
Or at least the player that’s wearing the ace number. Hasegawa pitched just one game, finishing the super-regional final (which didn’t even matter) pitching 4 shutout innings, walking 2 and striking out 2. Why did they keep him under wraps for the most part until that game? And in reality why did they even pitch him at all in that case? I don’t have any information on him and he’s not coming up significantly in searches, so it’s just possible he’s not really an ace. But I think he’s got to be one in some respect if they’re going to make any type of run.
Kasukabe Kyouei – Kimura Daigo (木村 大悟)
For Kasukabe Kyouei, it’s the top of the lineup that needs to setup the team for success. Kimura, batting out of the #2 spot, got on base at a 0.588 clip and scored 5 times in their 4 games of the super-regional.
The team looks average on both sides of the ball, which at least means that they’re not a total black hole at the bottom of the lineup, but that also means that players like Kimura need to do their part to allow the rest of the lineup a chance to make significant contributions.
Narashino – Iidzuka Shouto (飯塚 脩人)
For the first time in a long time, Narashino has an ace. Being a public school it’s generally harder for these types of teams to recruit good talent. And yet here they are with what will be a 3rd year pitching lights out, with a very good 10.43 K/9 rate while sporting a 1.84 BB/9 during the super-regionals.
The only knock is that he’s kokoyakyu efficient, which means he’s not efficient at all, and any sustained run will put a lot of strain on him that I don’t know he can withstand.
Yamanashi Gakuin – Aizawa Tosen(?) (相澤 利悛)
Yamanashi Gakuin is a weird case. Their current ace number, Nakagome Akito (中込 陽翔) did not pitch at all during the fall and might have suffered injuries in the past. In fact, he has played in just one game that I was able to find.
So in his place, or at least I think in his place, are three pitchers. Two of them are Satou Yuuji (佐藤 裕士) and Komai Yuusuke (駒井 祐亮). Combined they struck out 14 in 11.2 IP with just 1 walk, which is amazing! They should be in good shape, right?
Well, 11.2 IP doesn’t account for all of the innings pitched. The remaining of the innings go to their 1B, and that’s Aizawa.
His line in the super-regionals? 13.2 IP, 4 ER, 11 H, 3 K, 6 BB.
Compared to the other two, it’s not a great line. His ERA and WHIP are good, but his K and BB rates are not leading one to believe that he was overperforming his numbers. But, he can’t be omitted from the overall strategy though, he has to eat innings.
The question is, can he successfully eat innings and give his team a chance to win?
Yokohama – Oote Haru (大手 晴)
People might point to ace Oyokawa Masaki as the key for Yokohama, but Yokohama hasn’t had a good ace it feels since the days of Matsuzaka Daisuke. Furthermore, he suffers from very high walk rates and inconsistency which have plagued him since his debut as a first year.
If that’s the case the offense will have to make up the difference, and Oote sitting 7th in the lineup will be key for the offense to succeed. He’s been patient at the plate, averaging at least 4 pitchers per AB and does take his walks. But for him to be successful he’ll need to turn those advantageous counts into hits, not just walks before the lineup hits the 8-9 spots.
Seiryou – Okugawa Yasunobu (奥川 恭伸)
Okugawa is by far, an ace among aces. Good enough to be selected to Japan’s U-18 squad this past fall for the BFA Asian tournament, he almost certainly will be drafted in the opening round should he declare for the draft this fall. With seemingly plus pitches all around, including a wicked curveball, in recent games he has learned to pitch with almost major league efficiency, allowing him to not fully exert himself like other ace pitchers who easily go 130+ pitches in an outing.
What might be allowing him to pitch even more free is 2nd year Ogihara Ginya (荻原 吟哉), who was called to the Japan U-15 team in 2017 (along with Kokushikan’s Kamada), and was asked to pitch both against South Korea and Chinese Taipei, which if you think about it puts a lot of trust in his abilities. If he’s the backup, then Okugawa perhaps can go all out knowing that he’s got someone in the wings just in case.
If that’s the case, the rest of the field better watch out.
Keishin – Azumi Kouta (安積 航大)/Uramatsu Taku (浦松 巧)
Keishin’s offense is almost offensive.
The team batted 0.238 during the super-regionals and had an atrocious 0.286 OBP. That simply won’t play at Koushien. And it’s not like you can become Osaka Touin level offense overnight (or heck, even something average-ish like Yokohama).
Which means the onus comes directly to their ace – or in this case aces (if you want to call them that) since Azumi and Uramatsu basically split time. If they can somehow continue to win despite combined having K and BB rates under 4, then more power to them.
That just looks like an uphill battle though…
Touhou – Ueda Yuuki (植田 結喜)
Ueda is not Touhou’s ace, but in this case it may not matter. The player wearing the ace number Ishikawa Takaya (石川 昂弥), was their 3B not too long ago. Now, the numbers he’s put up in limited use aren’t bad for sure (13 IP, 9 K/9, 2.077 BB/9) but as I just mentioned, it’s in limited use. Ueda on the other hand is just a pitcher and has put up similar numbers 9.1 IP, 9.64 K/9, 2.89 BB/9.
It’s way too strange to put a position player in as your ace, and generally doesn’t portend success. So I think the bullpen is going to have to play a key role in any type of run for them, and Ueda might be the centerpiece of that.
Tsuda Gakuen – Mae Yuito (前 佑囲斗)
There’s no way the Tsuda Gakuen offense is as strong as their super-regional numbers indicate. The 2-run effort versus Touhou in the final is probably more indicative of their offense than their other wins despite the fact that they did defeat Oogaki Nichidai and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the process. Neither team has really come back to prominence as of yet, so it’s getting harder to count victories against these squads as quality wins.
All that being said then, the responsibility will probably drop down to the ace to keep the score low and buy time for the offense. Mae’s K and BB rates aren’t terrible, striking out almost a batter an inning while running a 3.2 BB/9 rate. The concerning part is that against Touhou those numbers look about the same, but he wound up yielding 8 runs in the process.
It may just be a fluke, Touhou could have been just dead on the ball that day. But if Mae’s pitches are that hittable to a seasoned (but unremarkable) veteran, then the team could be in way over their heads.
Ryuukokudai Heian – Nozawa Shuugo (野澤 秀伍)
Heian wins the Kinki super-regional thanks to their MO of pitching to contact and defense. Generally defense doesn’t slump and theirs is almost robotic and error-free. Any offense they get is just a bonus – last year showed that they can try to dress up their team as an offensive powerhouse, but in the end they are who they always are.
Nozawa isn’t even their ace, or at least their ace number. But he’s been the one asked to pitch against Riseisha and Akashi Shougyou. Of course, this was at the point in which the team was pretty much guaranteed a spot at Koushien.
Yet, in those two games he game up just 1 run in 19 innings, striking out 11 and allowing 6 free passes. That’s not nothing. And he actually did well at Meiji Jingu if not for… well the defense actually slumping. While he gave up all 6 runs to Sapporo Ootani, only 2 were actually earned.
Akashi Shougyou – Miyaguchi Daiki (宮口 大輝)
Akashi Shougyou, for years a Tier 3 school out of Hyogo has finally come into its own in recent years. It’s been as a result of a vacuum where schools like Touyoudai Himeji, Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku and Houtoku Gakuen unable to stake a claim.
I haven’t yet been able to figure out a modus operandi for them, other than just being a solid team. Which in its own right is pretty good since as a public school (a) it’s generally harder to recruit talent and (b) funding isn’t as good. Though if you were to take the pessimistic side, you could argue that the only reason why it’s become visible in recent times is precisely because those top teams in Hyogo are getting weaker, not that Akashi Shougyou is strong.
This year’s team tries to put that perception to bed though with not one, but apparently two good pitchers. But my key person isn’t their ace Nakamori Shunsuke (中森 俊介), but their other ace Miyaguchi Daiki. In his games at the super-regional which included starting against the aforementioned Houtoku Gakuen and Ryuukokudai Heian, he struck out 25 in 26.2 IP. He did walk 10 during that time, but that’s better than their ace by a whole walk per 9. So while it may be that Nakamori is their ace, don’t be surprised if you see Miyaguchi on the mound sooner rather than later.
Riseisha – Shimizu Taisei (清水 大成)
While Riseisha has been the only team regularly successful at being a thorn in Osaka Touin’s side (which still isn’t all that often), they have yet to do what Osaka Touin has many times over – win a Koushien tournament, though they have reached the Haru Koushien finals twice in 2014 and 2017.
You could argue that Riseisha is in some ways a poor man’s Osaka Touin, a good offense but not necessarily as good as them, and a pitching staff that is just about as good (read: bad).
Shimizu is the ace of the team this year and he certainly has racked up the strikeouts – 11.638 K/9. But the fact that he gave up 3 runs in 3.1 IP (including a HR) to Ryuukokudai Heian, a known defensive school, does not sit well. There’s a good video of him here, and from what I see his velo is slightly above average so he’s not going to blow by batters. Now his location is decent, going either up or away in the zone. It looks like he’s got the standard slider, a slow curve, and a possible changeup. The slow curve seems to buckle knees whenever he throws it, but while his slider and changeup does get some swings and misses I’m not sure they are plus.
Because of that, I think what can trip him up is if he faces a team with a discerning eye. Since his off-speed offerings pitch outside of the slow curve are not devastating in nature, it allows the batters to feel a little more comfortable at the place.
Chiben Wakayama – Ikeda Taiki (池田 泰騎)
I found highlights of the Chiben Wakayama win against Osaka Touin and it explains a lot as to why Osaka Touin wasn’t chosen. The pitching was not great, the defense looked sketchy at times and the offense looked rather pedestrian.
What I still can’t square is that a pitcher who held Osaka Touin to just 2 runs in 8 innings had otherwise given up 6 runs in just 4 innings of work. That is the conundrum that is Ikeda Taiki. Oh, and he’s not the ace pitcher either. Unfortunately, there isn’t much other information on him so he’ll have to remain a conundrum for now.
Considering that Chiben Wakayama has been weak with respect to pitching, they’ll need any help they can get. I don’t know if Taiki is going to be that person, but compared to the rest it might have to do.
Fukuchiyama Seibi – Oohashi Shouta (小橋 翔大)
Fukuchiyama Seibi is basically in the same boat that Chiben Wakayama is in. I don’t really know how they managed to get as far as they did, outside of maybe their ace Oohashi Shouta. The only problem is that he wasn’t what you would call an ace carrying an ERA of almost 4.50 with a K rate of just around 3. But he is their ace, and did pitch both games of the super-regional, so he’s probably all they got. On a team whose offense seems to be rather inconsistent, he’s going to have to help toe that line between ineffective and competent to keep his team in it.
Shiritsu Wakayama – Ogata Ryuunosuke (緒方 隆之介)
Shiritsu Wakayama doesn’t have much chance in the tournament. But for what it’s worth, the top of the lineup at least seems to perform well. Part of that top of the lineup is Ogata Ryuunosuke. He was 5-8 during the super-regionals with a double, but more importantly he’s the last line of the top batters. Even though one would normally associate the #4 batter as their strongest hitter, they can’t afford that so they’ve just loaded the top of the lineup instead.
Kouryou – Nakatomi Hiroki (中冨 宏紀)
Unfortunately for Kouryou, their 2017 finals seem to have been more of a fluke, and nothing like the team from 10 years past under now ace Nomura Yuusuke.
They’re back at Koushien this time around, hoping to turn around their poor performance from the summer. But, they’re still unfortunately not strong on the mound, so my focus is going to their #2 batter Nakatomi. He takes pitches (he took 33 pitches in 5 plate appearances versus Soushi Gakuen), but also knows when to take a swing when he needs to. They’ll need his 7-17 at the top of the lineup to help setup the offense they’ll so desperately need.
Yonago Higashi – Toki Shouji (土岐 尚史)
Just about anything that will involve success for the Chuugoku region will hinge on the offense being able to score runs. Mostly because it’ll be hard to put all the pressure on the aces of each of the staffs.
For Yonago Higashi, that responsibility goes to Toki who is their last line of defense in the lineup. He was hitting 7-16 in the prefecturals against Koushien-grade schools. With the bottom of the lineup the typical black hole of offense, he’ll need to stand and deliver timely hits to help the team survive and advance.
Shiritsu Kure – Numata Jin (沼田 仁)
The one exception in the group is the team benefiting from the floating bid – Shiritsu Kure. They’re not bad shakes as a team in general, and did win their first ever game at Koushien, defeating Shigakukan.
Numata Jin isn’t a dominant ace, but at the same time he’s not bad either. He struck out 11 in the extra inning loss to Yonago Higashi and while he gave up 6 runs, 3 of them were in the 13th where they now play with tiebreaker rules, and as a pitcher, it’s really hard to fault him for giving up runs in such a disadvantageous system. Despite having just a 6.83 K/9 rate, he has a 22:2 K/BB ratio which mean he won’t cheat himself out of an opportunity to win.
He’s pretty efficient for an ace as well, which will suit them if they can avoid being a one-and-done team. The question will be if he can be sufficiently good enough when he takes the mound at Koushien.
Takamatsu Shougyou – Asano Ren (浅野 怜)
The Shikoku champions are making do with their pitching (much like most other teams), but has enough offense to rise above the masses.
That’s in part thanks to Asano who was on fire during the prefecturals going 8-10 with a double and 3 RBIs hitting the ball to all field and acting as the backstop of the heart of the lineup. He cooled off and was 0-3 with 2 Ks against Seiryou in their Meiji Jingu loss, but if he can handle average pitching, he could be a main lynchpin of the offense and their attempt at a run.
Matsuyama Seiryou – Nikadori Hideaki (荷川取 秀明)
It’s not often that a manager is a key to a team’s success, but as we’ve seen (Shuugakukan, that’s not going to get old) a manager can inhibit a team’s ability to win. Matsuyama Seiryou’s kantoku at least from what I see is a major part of his team’s success.
He’s managing a pitching staff of 4 people, none of which are outstanding, but together seem to do an admirable job:
- #1 Nemoto Tairen (根本 大蓮) – 7.2 IP, 3 ER, 1.696 WHIP, 5.87 K/9, 2.35 BB/9
- #10 Sano Kouki (佐野 幸輝) – 4.2 IP, 2 ER, 5.786 WHIP, 1.93 K/9, 9.64 BB/9
- #13 Takamatsu Yutaka(?) (髙松 亨有) – 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 1.235 WHIP, 6.35 K/9, 3.18 BB/9
- #12 Henzan You (平安山 陽) – 15 IP, 4 ER, 1.20 WHIP, 10.20 K/9, 6.6 BB/9
As you can see, none of these pitchers have solid stats across the board. The closest would be Henzan, but his BB rates are atrocious despite his stellar WHIP.
Somehow though, Nikadori-kantoku has patchworked these guys together to the Shikoku super-regional final and kept that game close as well. He’ll need to work his magic at Koushien though to make this ragtag bunch serviceable at Koushien.
Chikuyou Gakuen – Ebara Yuuya (江原 佑哉)
How in the world did a team that batted 0.245 in the super-regionals actually win? You could argue that we should focus on ace Nishi Yuudai (西 雄大), who with below average K rates did most of the yeoman’s work on the mound.
But I’m going to focus on the one batter who managed to hit over 0.300, and that’s Ebara Yuuya. He was 8-19, with 2 RBIs (but that’s out of 14 total runs scored) and had a hit in each of their games at Meiji Jingu. It’s not a lot, but when there’s little to go on, it’s better than nothing.
Meihou – Nobe Yuudai (野邊 優汰)
It’s still a wonder that Meihou, with offense to spare couldn’t do anything against Chikuyou Gakuen. Even still, their offense consists of solid players, and their #3 hitter Nobe is by far their best example.
While only 5-14 during the super-regionals, he still walked 5 times and drove in 8 runs. He’s come into his own here entering his last year at Meihou, though his hitting has played throughout since his freshman year averaging over 0.400 during his kokoyakyu career.
Meihou could prove very troublesome to teams this year, and Nobe will look to have long stays at Koushien.
Oita – Egawa Yuuto (江川 侑斗)
Oita if they are to have any chance will need the top of the lineup to constantly get on base and create opportunities to score. Egawa is their #3 hitter and was 5-11 with two walks. While that is pretty good for a catcher, more will probably be asked of him in terms of driving in runs if his team is to have a chance of advancing.
Nisshou Gakuen – Fukakusa Toshiya (深草 駿哉)
Nissou Gakuen’s best player also could be arguably their catcher as well as Fukakusa went an amazing 8-11 (including 2 doubles in their semifinal loss) with 5 runs scored and 2 RBIs. Despite that, he doesn’t seem to be garnering much attention but will be key in setting the table for the heart of the lineup.
Which will be important since the bottom of the lineup is about as much of a black hole as you can get.
No, seriously, it’s bad.
Ishioka Dai-ichi – Iwamoto Daichi (岩本 大地)
Ishioka Dai-ichi at least in terms of results is the least qualified having only made it to the prefectural semifinal, so there’s less information to go off of.
But one name does show up when researching the team, and that’s their ace Iwamoto. While he sported an average ERA (3.77), it’s his last 2 games that jump out at you where he struck out 28 which included 16 against Fujishiro in an extra inning loss (via tiebreak rules sadly). Surely those numbers won’t translate completely to Koushien, but it’ll be interesting to see how he does, especially if the team gets a favorable draw in the opening round.
Tomioka Nishi – Sakamoto Kenya (坂本 賢哉)
Tomioka Nishi made it all the way to the Shikoku super-regional semifinals so it’s not like they were a terrible team, but when your ace’s line during the tournament was:
27 IP, 18 ER, 19 K, 24 BB, 1.741 WHIP
You’re not going to look to the ace to save you.
The weirdest bit about this team is that the middle of the lineup (3-4-5), is the only effective part of the team. Sakamoto leads that group with a line that looks more like a leadoff hitter than a heart of the order hitter – 6-9 with a triple, 8 R, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 1 K.
It’s their ace that has been the main run producer, driving in 8 runs, but if Sakamoto can’t get on base, there’s no one for Ukihashi to drive in. And with 3 batters who are hitting under 0.100, they need to stand and deliver every time they’re at bat.
Kumamoto Nishi – Shimoue Koutarou (霜上 幸太郎)
As with most teams, generally the best player ends up being the ace, and here it’s no exception. Though in Shimoue’s case it’s probably more on the offensive front than him on the mound. Batting in the 3-hole, he was 4-7 with a walk.
While that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, when you score 4 runs in 2 games, and give up 8 runs to Nisshou Gakuen, there isn’t a whole lot to go on.