The Hanshin Tigers’ first championship in 18 years is really in sight! Data and in-depth interviews revealed “this much evidence”! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Hanshin Tigers’ first championship in 18 years is really in sight! Data and in-depth interviews revealed “this much evidence”!

Kouji Chikamoto, Teruaki Sato, and Odeki Murakami have awakened, and this season is different in more ways than one.

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Sato became the first left-hander in team history to hit 20 homers two years in a row as a rookie, but he has been in and out of form.

Nine straight losses to start the season and a .063 winning percentage, the lowest in professional baseball. The Tigers, who had nightmares every night in the early part of last season, are living the dream this season: 26-14-1 after 41 games and still in first place (as of May 23). The first thing that comes to mind as soon as I see …… is, “I shouldn’t say ‘win’.

I can’t say “championship,” I have to say “that” (laughs).

Let’s check out the basis for the Tigers’ strength this season, which is different from the rest, using data and the eyes of an expert. First, on the offensive side, Koji Chikamoto (28), who has been a fixture at No. 1, has been playing the role of leadoff man with a .417 on-base percentage. He also leads the league in walks with 25. The swing rate was 46.4% at the same point last season, but has decreased to 33.9% this season. Jun Ominami, an analyst at DELTA, Inc. who analyzes data, explains.

“The team’s overall swing rate also decreased from 46.0% to 42.8%. You can see that they are watching the ball more carefully. The improved baserunners of Chikamoto and Nakano Takumu (26) have led to an increase in runs scored.

In terms of the main axis, the awakening of Teruaki Sato (24), who is waiting behind Yusuke Oyama (28) at No. 4, has been significant. He was in a slump right after the season opener, but he has recovered in May with a batting average of just under 30% and five home runs.

Manager Akifumi Okada (65) said, “Swing away with the intention of hitting foul balls in the right direction. He advised Sato to go back to full swings. Sato, who had been trying to hit for a higher batting average, seems to have regained his own personality.

The Tigers’ defense, which had recorded the league’s worst number of blunders for five consecutive seasons until last season, was the Tigers’ biggest “weak spot. However, manager Okada boldly took a scalpel to the problem. Oyama was moved to first, and Sato, who had been mainly playing right field, was moved to third. Nakano was converted from shortstop to second. The team’s ability to work together has improved. Hanshin alumnus Keiichi Yabu said, “Seiya Kinami, a shortstop, was replaced by Seiya Nakano.

Seiya Kinami (28), a shortstop, has been hitting well and has had more opportunities to play, so he and Nakano have been able to play together more stably. Nakano’s defense has improved to a level where he is compared to Ryosuke Kikuchi (33) of Hiroshima.

In the past, it has been the Tigers’ custom for new foreign fielder acquisitions to fade out before the summer. This season, however, left fielder Noisy (28) has been active. He has shown himself to be a good defensive helper as well.

The improvement in defense is also evident in the data.

Last season, the Tigers’ UZR was minus 22.8, meaning that they gave up 22.8 more runs due to defense than other teams. That has improved to plus 1.0 this season. By position, first base improved from minus 10.7 to plus 4.2, and second base improved from minus 13.0 to plus 1.5. Fixing Oyama and Nakano has had a positive effect.

In the pitching staff, third-year pro right-hander Shoki Murakami (24) saved the day when ace pitcher Akihiro Aoyagi (29) dropped out of the lineup. He has been nicknamed “Tiger God Murakami” for his 31 consecutive innings of scoreless innings since the season opener, a record that is tied in the Central League.

Murakami is characterized by his compact form with his elbows folded and his low release point. He has a pitch line that other pitchers don’t have, and I get the impression that he confuses hitters with a straight ball that seems to float and a cut ball with a small difference in velocity.

The Tigers’ manager Okada, who knows about the 2005 championship, has been right on target with his “Donden” strategy. Who will be the “last piece of the puzzle” for the Tigers to enjoy their first taste of success in 18 years? Kanamura continues.

The relievers are the ones who have to work hard in the summer when the starters are fatigued. I would like to see closer Kyoki Yuasa (23) come back by that time. I think Yuasa’s presence will be key as we won’t be able to drop close games.

If the main players who are out of the lineup return to the first team, the “thing will finally become a reality!

Murakami was drafted fifth overall in the 2009 draft and won the best defensive rating and most wins in the farm system two years in a row. He is a candidate for the next generation of aces.

From the June 9, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Kyodo News Agency (Murakami)

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