2015 Season Evaluation

The Hanshin Tigers started their 2015 season with one goal: winning the Central League pennant in their memorial 80th year as a franchise. Despite finishing 7 games behind the champion Yomiuri Giants and just a half game ahead of the Hiroshima Carp in 2014, the team made no significant offseason moves. In fact, officials pointed to the “return” of captain Takashi Toritani, who was rumored to be prepared to sign a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, as the team’s best offseason acquisition. Could this group of seasoned veterans, many of whom had career years in 2014, win enough games to reach its pennant goal?

In a word, no. In two words, ha ha. Despite holding the league lead for over a month (August 8-September 11), the team crumbled down the stretch, looking more like a last-place team that had just experienced a firesale than one ready to bring the franchise its first Japan Series championship in 3 decades. In the end, it reached the playoffs (again thanks to the Carp’s ineptness) but had a sub-.500 record. What went wrong? Who failed the team and what can be done to right the ship?

The Starters

FujinamiCardFrontShintaro Fujinami: Improved on his 2014 numbers significantly and even led the league in strikeouts with 221. Came close to his 200 innings goal, won 14 games and kept his ERA under 2.50. One more step in the right direction and he will reach ace status and win a Sawamura Award or two before he gets snapped up by a major league team. GRADE: A-

Randy Messenger: A severe lack of run support stopped the veteran from becoming the second American in team history to record double digits in wins 5 consecutive seasons. Despite the rocky start (2-5, 5.88 ERA through May 11), he still improved on his 2014 ERA (3.20). Still, no ignoring his first six weeks. GRADE: B

Atsushi Nohmi: This year was better than 2014 for the aging former ace, but not by much. Back to double-digits in wins, his ERA dropped by a quarter of a run (3.99 to 3.72). Prone to too many major meltdowns, like giving up the bulk of the 12 runs the Giants scored in one inning back in August. GRADE: C+

Minoru Iwata: Walks were up, strikeout rate was down and was seldom able to pitch through seven or more innings. Made some terrible plays in the field and failed to advance runners on sacrifice bunts countless times. His RBI triple in May earned him the win but his poor fundamentals cost him several more potential W’s. GRADE: C

Suguru Iwazaki: Looked great in the first three innings of nearly all his starts, but from there was a ticking time bomb. Unable to get through the opponent’s lineup a third time, resulting in an ugly 3-10 record despite a decent 3.51 ERA. Needs to develop consistency and reliability. GRADE: C-

The Rest (Akira Iwamoto, Takumi Akiyama, Shoya Yamamoto, Yuta Iwasada, Yuya Yokoyama, etc.): Did not inspire confidence in the coaching staff or fear in the opponents. The team’s sixth pitching slot yielded 4 wins and an ugly ERA. Iwamoto and Yamamoto might be better suited to the bullpen. Yokoyama and Iwasada need more time and some good coaching, as their best years are likely still ahead. Akiyama has not been useful since 2010. GRADE: D

The Bullpen

OhCardFrontSeung-hwan Oh: Everything the team wanted in a closer, and more*. His 2014 numbers all trended down (worse) this year, and despite leading the league in saves again, he is far from the ideal finisher. GRADE: C+

* More ulcers, headaches and nightmares.

Shinobu Fukuhara: Led the league in hold points for the second consecutive season. Brought more stability to the pen than Oh until a mediocre August and awful September brought him back down to earth. Father time finally catching up on him? GRADE: B-

Yuya Andoh: Was surprisingly consistent this year despite fans’ displeasure at his every meltdown. His good control works well when umpires are generous with their strike calls, otherwise produces many bases on balls. As with Fukuhara, age is catching up with him and the torch must be passed on soon. GRADE: C+

Kazuya Takamiya: Not the best lefty on the club but good as a spot reliever. Another who gets plenty of gripes from fans but his final numbers are on par with Andoh’s. GRADE: C+

Hiroaki Saiuchi: Perhaps the top candidate to consume more innings in tight games starting next year. Walked far too many batters but did not get hit much. GRADE: B-

The Rest (Ryoma Matsuda, Hiroya Shimamoto, Kazuhito Futagami, Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, etc.): Mostly disasters. In all fairness, they were not given many chances in tight games. None could lock down permanent spots on the roster, resulting in a frustrating rotating door in the bullpen that kept the Naruohama-Koshien bus in business. Never a dull moment with these guys on the mound, but many of these moments ended poorly for the team. GRADE: D-


FujiiCardFrontAkihito Fujii: Anemic bat but decent defense and good game calling, at least for Messenger. Retired at season’s end. GRADE: D

Kazunari Tsuruoka: Mediocre bat, awful defense but seemed to call a good game for most of the pitchers. GRADE: D+

Ryutaro Umeno: Potentially good bat but still lacks maturity as a hitter. Called games better at the end of the season than at the start, but needs more time to blossom into the everyday guy. GRADE: C


GomezCardFrontMauro Gomez: Not near enough power for an import “slugger” but showed better discipline than in 2014, despite a prolonged slump down the stretch. Should be back in 2016 but another season like this will leave him unemployed beyond that. GRADE: C+

Hiroki Uemoto: Injuries kept him out of the lineup for prolonged periods twice. Looked lost for much of April. Struck out too much to be dependable at the time of the lineup. Hit well in the clutch and would have led the CL in SBs had he stayed healthy. Once again, a sieve on defense. GRADE: C-

Takashi Toritani: All-around regression, most of all on defense. Less range, poor throws to first, holey glove. Still walks more than he strikes out. OBP suggests he’s a good leadoff hitter; SB% suggests he isn’t. Ironman streak impressive; played through wicked back/rib injuries this year. Is that what’s best for the team, though? GRADE: C+

Ryota Imanari: Actually led the team in batting average though early season injuries and foolish platooning limited his action. The downside was a low slugging percentage as most of his hits were singles. Struck out way too much with RISP. Fielding was nearly impeccable. GRADE: C+

The Others (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Ryota Arai, Yamato, Katsuhiko Saka): Nishioka aside, these were some pathetic bats. Unfortunately he only lasted 30 (?) games before his elbow ligament popped. Arai only hit well with the bases loaded, and was marginally acceptable in the field. Yamato was brilliant when spelling Uemoto at 2B but continues to underwhelm at the plate. Saka adds nothing to the club’s value. GRADE: D


MurtonCard1Matt Murton: Three words – cold, hot, cold. His year on offense resembled weather patterns that start and end in winter. His final line was below par for him and for his salary. (Does no one realize he was being compensated for his exceptional 2014?) Perceived lack of hustle on the base paths and in left field left many fans groaning and cursing. Looks like he’ll be searching for greener pastures in 2016. GRADE: C

Kosuke Fukudome: Finally the numbers justify the hype. Underachieving since returning from MLB in 2013, he led the team in HRs and RBIs and delivered multiple clutch hits, especially early in the summer. Fielding was outstanding – opponents seldom took an extra base when the ball went to right. Injury and fatigue slowed him down in the second half, he is the team MVP. GRADE: B+

Taiga Egoshi: Went up and down the escalator to the farm several times. In between, impressive hitting was followed by unimpressive whiffing. Showed good baseball smarts near season’s end. Potential future cleanup hitter. GRADE: C+

Hayata Itoh: Reputation as a bust precedes him, tainting all performances, good and bad. Not particularly impressive in any aspect. Average hitter, average power, average speed, sub-par fielding. Still waiting to see if the former first-round pick can turn it up a notch. GRADE: C-

The Others (Shunsuke, Kohei Shibata, etc.): Nothing to look at or talk about here. Placeholders until the young guys on the farm can earn the roster slots. GRADE: D-


Good-bye and good riddance. GRADE: F

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.