It’s All-Star Break… no real baseball to watch and analyze, so let’s look at our crop of pitchers and give a few brief comments about each of them. What’s your take? Whom do you like in those final couple of rotation spots? In the bullpen? The above “depth chart” is just my own observations, and isn’t necessarily the way the team sees things.
Randy Messenger (8-5, 103 IP, 107 K, 2.97 ERA): Started out the year invincible. Won pitcher of the month for April. Started to show vulnerability during interleague (which he dominated in 2015 and 2016), and has been pretty hittable since. Still, he’s craftier and grittier than most opponents. Need him to have a strong second half.
Takumi Akiyama (7-4, 91.2 IP, 82 K, 3.44 ERA): Surprise pitcher of the year, winning more this year than he had in 7 previous seasons (most of which were spent on the farm). Prone to giving up long flies, could regress some in the hoe summer months.
Atsushi Nohmi (3-4, 74 IP, 73 K, 2.80 ERA): Should have been pitcher of the month for May, but Japanese press values wins too highly. Victim of poor run support. Was once a Carp & Giants killer, but lately has fallen to both. Hope he doesn’t run out of gas as season drags on. At age 38, how much longer can he turn back the hands of time?
Yuta Iwasada (4-5, 68 IP, 61 K, 4.50 ERA): Regression from last year’s breakout was expected. Better since farm stint (April) but still gives up early runs too often (21 of his 36 runs against have come in the first and third innings). Also a home run giver.
Taiki Ono (0-5, 39 IP, 28 K, 4.62 ERA): Pleasant surprise to see the rookie hold his own against some good lineups (Eagles, Fighters). Should not still be winless on the year. But he also might not stay in the rotation until season’s end – rare is the rookie who can hold down a spot for more than a dozen or so starts.
Koyo Aoyagi (3-3, 41.1 IP, 34 K, 22 BB, 6 HBP, 3.27 ERA): Effectively wild at times, just wild at others. Still struggles early and late in starts – first and fifth innings have not been kind to him. Might need a bit of seasoning on the farm before he’s ready to hold down a permanent spot in the rotation. Does much better with Taichi Okazaki behind the mask
Rafael Dolis (33.2 IP, 2.94 ERA, 23 SV, 44 K, 13 BB): Has had a few implosions, but is mostly reliable. Lots of strikeouts, not many walks, no home runs against yet as a Tiger. Hopefully a long-term bullpen cog (think Jeff Williams) for the club.
Marcos Mateo (36 IP, 6 W, 1.75 ERA, 36 K, 13 BB): Ridiculous numbers since June 2016. Filthy slider, hard fastball, better control than last season. If only he could master fielding grounders…
Kentaro Kuwahara (37.2 IP, 0.73 ERA, 43 K, 6 BB): Beast. Earlier in the year some journalists dubbed him the Japanese Mariano Rivera. I laughed then. I’m still not all-in, but his two pitches are so filthy it’s hard not to believe. Having never played a full season on the top squad, fatigue may be a problem down the stretch.
Akifumi Takahashi (26 IP, 1.73 ERA, 27 K, 7 BB): Not sure this stretch of excellent pitching is sustainable, but he seems to have figured something out. Combining K’s with easy outs for his fielders most outings.
Suguru Iwazaki (33.2 IP, 1.60 ERA, 38 K, 13 BB): Made the transition from starter to reliever quite seamlessly. Fastball is livelier, can be used more situationally to exploit matchups. Should become a permanent fixture in the ‘pen.
Kyuji Fujikawa (27.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 31 K, 12 BB): Had a very respectable 2.22 ERA until the calendar flipped. Still, too many walks (4 per 9 IP). K rate solid. Many were screaming for his retirement during 2016 but perhaps he will stick around another year or two. Every precious thing he does adds to his legend.
Shoya Yamamoto (8 IP, 6.00 ERA): Still quite green, and this spot is pretty fluid. Mop up duty only. Not missing many bats. Could be replaced by another able arm at any time.
The Farm Boys
Shintaro Fujinami (3-2, 34 IP, 44 K, 17 BB, 3 HBP, 2.38 ERA): No one in baseball has had worse control. Reminiscent of Rick Ankiel, but will not be converted to the outfield! Not much better control on the farm. Season could be a wash, but of course the big picture is getting him back to who he was in 2015.
Minoru Iwata (4-5, 57 IP, 3.32 ERA): The big picture is getting him back to who he was in 2015. Still just putting up mid-level numbers on the farm, though rumor has it he is relatively high on the call-up list.
Hiroya Shimamoto (3-3, 67 IP, 1.34 ERA): Apparently slated to make a start next weekend. Good stuff on the farm, somewhat long (14 inning) shutout streak. But it’s the farm.
Ryoma Matsuda (0-1, 13 IP, 1.38 ERA): Once seen as a possible closer of the future, now a mop-up guy at best… but he was not even doing that well. Doing well on the farm. But it’s the farm.
Yuya Andoh (0-0, 20 IP, 0.45 ERA): The old man is putting up better numbers than anyone other than Kazuo Itoh. It would be a real shame to see him end his career without getting a call-up. My guess is he will be the next reliever to get the nod.
Roman Mendez (0-3, 19 SV, 3.31 ERA): Was dominant early as farm closer, but recently has gotten lit up. Manager Masayuki Kakefu likes him, it seems, and it’s a good thing – he won’t be at Koshien any time soon, barring injury to one of our big-name Dominicans.