Tuesday, April 17, 2018

2018 Epoch "Rookies And Stars" Team Sets

I wanted to do a quick post about the "Rookies And Stars" team sets that Epoch is publishing this year.  I don't know for sure if they are planning these sets for all 12 teams but they have already released sets for two teams (the Carp and the Lions) and have announced three others (the Buffaloes, the Dragons and the Swallows).  From the size of the base sets (90 cards) for these sets I suspected that Epoch was doing a "comprehensive" team set for each team - by that I mean that there would be a card for every player on the team's 70 man roster plus the manager.  BBM's annual pack based team sets are "comprehensive" team sets (as opposed to their smaller team box sets).  Epoch's team sets from last year were also not comprehensive.

I was curious about something with the sets though - since typically the 70 man roster for each team doesn't actually have 70 players on it, how were they getting a base set of 90 cards out of it?  BBM for the last 4 years has done their team sets with 81 card base sets - 70-ish cards for the players and manager and 11-ish cards for the mascots and various subsets.  There was no indication on the pre-sell information on Epoch's sets that explained how the sets would be made up (or at least nothing that I understood).  So I was going to have to wait until the sets got released.

The Carp set got released the weekend of April 7th and Jambalaya had the cards on-line as usual.  And I had my answer - the set only features 69 individuals - 67 players plus manager Koichi Ogata and the mascot.  The set is numbered 1-69.  However there are 15 players who have multiple cards in the set - 9 "Stars" (Daichi Ohsera, Kris Johnson, Shogo Sakakura, Kosuke Tanaka, Takahiro Arai, Ryosuke Kikuchi, Ryoma Nishikawa, Yoshiharu Maru and Seiya Suzuki) who each have two cards and six "Rookies" (2017 draftees Makoto Kenma, Sho Yamaguchi, Atsushi Endoh, Takato Hiraoka, Shosei Nakamura and Atsushi Nagai) who each have three cards in the set.  As far as I can tell, none of the multiple cards are short printed "variants" like Epoch did last year.  Each card for a player has the same number along with the letter "a", "b" or "c" - so Shosei Nakamura's three cards are numbered 36a, 36b and 36c.  The Carp currently have six players on their ikusei squad (including three players taken in that portion of last fall's draft) that I wondered if Epoch would include in the set (BBM regularly included ikusei players in their team sets until 2015) but they did not.

Epoch released the Lions set last weekend and it's very similar to the Carp set.  The set also only features 69 individuals - 67 players plus manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji and farm team manager Tetsuya Shiozaki.  Once again the set is numbered 1-69 and there are 21 players with multiple cards.  There are four big differences between this set and the Carp set.  Number 1 - each of the 21 players who have multiple cards only have 2 cards each (which you could have probably figured out from the math - 90 minus 69 equals 21).  Number 2 - only the top three 2017 draft picks (Hiromasa Saito, Manaya Nishikawa and Sho Itoh) have multiple cards - the remaining ones have only one card each.  The other 18 players with multiple cards are all "Stars" - Neil Wagner,Yusei Kikuchi, Hayato Takagi, Fabio Castillo, Brian Wolfe, Tomoya Mori, Ginjiro Sumitani, Hideto Asamura, Shuta Tonosaki, Sosuke Genda, Hotaka Yamakawa, Takeya Nakamura, Ernesto Mejia, Takumi Kuriyama, Kazuo Matsui, Yuji Kaneko, Fumikazu Kimura and Shogo Akiyama.  Number 3 - there's no card for the Lions mascot(s).  Number 4 - there are cards for the two Lions ikusei players - Masato Saito and Wataru Takagi. 

Interestingly the Lions had made a trade during spring training where they sent Yosuke Okamoto to the Hanshin Tigers for Daiki Enokida.  Neither Okamoto or Enokida appear in this set so I'm betting the set went to press right around the time of the trade - Epoch had enough time to remove Okamoto (and replace his card in the set so they still had 90 cards) but not enough time to get a card done of Enokida.

Epcoh assigned the card numbers in the sets in the same style that BBM uses - first the manager, next coaches (if any) in order by uniform number, then pitchers by uniform number, catchers by uniform number, infielders by uniform number and finally outfielders by uniform number.  What this means is that it's likely that some teams will have identical checklists between the Epoch and BBM team sets.

The fact that the "Rookies And Stars" team sets look like they do further confirms to me that Epoch is really challenging BBM's place at the top of the Japanese baseball card market.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out the rest of the year.  Will Epoch possibly bring back the All Star or Nippon Series box sets?  Will they release a draft pick set to rival BBM's Rookie Edition?  Maybe one with something other than the standard "guts' poses for all the draftees?  I think it will be fun to see how this all plays out.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Study Abroad - The Dragons And The Dodgers

The Chunichi Dragons made some big changes during the offseason between the 1986 and 1987 seasons.  The Dragons had won the Central League pennant in 1982 but had finished fifth three times in the following four seasons.  Kazuhiro Yamauchi, their manager at the beginning of 1986, was forced to resign during the season due to health issues and Morimichi Takagi ran the team the second half of the season (the first of three separate times he was Dragons manager).  For 1987 the team decided to go in a different direction and instead of letting Takagi continue with the team, they brought in former Dragons pitcher Senichi Hoshino as manager.  Their other big personnel move of the offseason was the trade with Lotte that brought 1986 Triple Crown winner Hiromitsu Ochiai to the team (at the cost of four players).

But their other move of the offseason was to form a partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  This was a bit of a coup as the Dodgers had for years been associated with the Yomiuri Giants with the Giants having done spring training with the team in Vero Beach, Florida five times between 1961 and 1981.  I'm not sure what all the parameters of the partnership with the Dodgers was or how long it lasted but it manifested itself in three obvious ways.  The first is that the Dragons uniforms closely resembled those of the Dodgers for the next 17 years (really until Ochiai became manager in 2004).  The second is that the Dragons did spring training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach in the spring of 1988.  The third is that 10 players from the Dragons played in the Dodgers organization between 1987 and 1989.

The first two players Chunichi sent to America were teenagers Tetsuo Arakawa and Takeshi Yamasaki who were assigned to the Dodgers team in the Gulf Coast League.  Neither one played a whole lot - Yamasaki got into 10 games (5 in the field at first base) and went 0-10 with 3 walks and 4 strikouts.  Arakawa got into only four games (three in the field at shortstop) and went 0-3, striking out in all three at bats.

The Dragons sent five players to the Dodgers organization in 1988.  Again two players were sent to the Dodgers' entry in the Gulf Coast League - outfielders Kazuyoshi Kohyama and Yasuharu Fujio - but this time they got more of an opportunity to play and made the most of it.  Kohyama (whose NPB stats are listed separately at Baseball-Reference under Kazuyoshi Koyama) hit .311 in 61 games.  Fujio only got into 16 games in the GCL but his .375 average with one home run earned him a mid-season promotion to the Dodgers' Short Season Low A Northwest League team in Salem, Oregon where he hit .200 in 19 games.  Fujio joined third baseman Hiroyuki Maehara (who's name is mispelled "Maebara" in Baseball-Reference) in Salem, who hit .196 in 54 games.  Maehara also pitched in one game, giving up two hits in two innings while striking out two.  The best performances by Dragons players in the US that year however were in Vero Beach of the Florida State League where two pitchers - Masahiro Yamamoto and Hidetsugu Nishimura - put up impressive numbers as members of the team's rotation most of the season.  Yamamoto went 13-7 with a 2.00 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings.  He had six complete games and three shutouts.  He was named to East team for the mid-season Florida State League All Star game as well as the post-season league-wide All Star team.  Nishimura went 11-3 with a 3.34 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 148 1/3 innings.  He had three complete games and two shutouts.

Chunichi dispatched three pitchers to North America for 1989.  One of them, Koji Takaheshi, started the season with the GCL Dodgers (going 1-0 with a save in three appearances with 11 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings and a perfect 0.00 ERA) before he was promoted to Vero Beach where he didn't perform quite as well (0-4 with an ERA of 5.18).  He joined fellow Chunichi players Masaaki Kamanaka and Yasuhiro Kawabata in Florida.  Kamanaka went 3-3 with 3 saves in 33 games mostly in relief.  He had an ERA of 3.91 and 52 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings.  Kawabata went 5-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 11 games as a starter.  He threw one complete game (a shutout) and struck out 47 in 69 innings.

Here's a summary of the 10 players and their NPB careers:

Year Player Teams Draft Round NPB Career
1987 Tetsuo Arakawa GCL Dodgers 1986 4th Dragons 1987-89
1987 Takeshi Yamasaki GCL Dodgers 1986 2nd Dragons 1987-2002, BlueWave 2003-04, Eagles 2005-11, Dragons 2012-13
1988 Yasuharu Fujio GCL Dodgers/Salem 1983 1st Dragons 1984-89, Hawks 1990-92
1988 Kazuyoshi Kohyama GCL Dodgers 1984 6th Dragons 1985-97
1988 Hiroyuki Maehara Salem Dodgers 1985 5th Dragons 1986-95, Lions 1996-2000
1988 Hidetsugu Nishimura Vero Beach Dodgers 1986 3rd Dragons 1987-89, Hawks 1989-92
1988 Masahiro Yamamoto Vero Beach Dodgers 1983 5th Dragons 1984-2015
1989 Masaaki Kamanaka Vero Beach Dodgers 1987 2nd Dragons 1988-95, Buffaloes 1996
1989 Yasuhiro Kawabata Vero Beach Dodgers 1984 2nd Dragons 1985-91, BlueWave 1995-95, Dragons 1996
1989 Koji Takaheshi GCL Dodgers/Vero Beach 1987 6th Dragons 1988-92

Masahiro Yamamoto and Takeshi Yamasaki were the most successful of the players the Dragons sent to the Dodgers organization.  Yamamoto played with the ichi-gun Dragons in parts of 29 seasons between 1986 and 2015.  I did a summary of his career when he retired a few years ago so won't go into a whole lot of detail.  He did return to Chunichi from Vero Beach in 1988 and went into the Dragons rotation for September where he went 5-0 helping the Dragons win the Central League pennant.  He also started (and lost) Game Three of the Nippon Series that year.  There are many Japanese baseball cards of Yamamoto available.

2015 Calbee "Exciting Scene" #ES-10
Yamasaki spent parts of 25 years with the top level teams in NPB.  He was with the Dragons until they traded him to Orix after the 2002 season.  After two years in Kobe he moved north to Sendai and spent the next seven seasons with the Eagles.  He came back to the Dragons for the final two years of his career in 2012-13.  Like Yamamoto I wrote a summary of his career when he retired and like Yamamoto there are quite a few Japanese baseball cards of Yamasaki out there.

2001 Upper Deck #62
Hiroyuki Maehara had the longest career of the remaining players.  He made the All Star team in 1992 and was traded to the Lions in 1996 along with Masaji Shimizu for Katsuyoshi Murata and Kazuaki Yamano (who had played in the US with San Jose in 1986-87).  He was player/coach for two years with an industrial league team (Showa Concrete) after the Lions released him and later coached for the Mie Three Arrows indy league team and the Dragons.  He had a handful of Japanese baseball cards (although oddly enough he did not make the 1992 BBM All Stars set).

1994 BBM #299
Kazuyoshi Koyama played in the Dragons organization until 1997 but he spent most of his time with the farm team.  The only year he had more than 100 at bats with the ichi-gun team was 1990.  He has only two Japanese cards I'm aware of - both from 1991.

1991 Takara Dragons #44
Yasuhiro Kawabata had spent parts of three seasons with the top team before going to Vero Beach in 1989.  He returned to the Dragons that season in time to get in 20 games with them, going 7-1.  He was traded to Orix for Toyozo Minamimure early in the 1991 season.  He spent a couple of years in their bullpen but only played for the farm team in his last couple seasons - including a final season when he returned to the Dragons.  He apparently is currently an official scorer for the Buffaloes.  There are a handful of Japanese baseball cards of him.  

1990 Takara Dragons #53
Yasuharu Fujio was the first pick of the Dragons in the fall 1983 draft out of Kyoei High School in Nagoya.  It was hoped that he would become a power hitting third baseman for his hometown team but he never really developed into this role.  Following the 1989 season Chunichi traded him and Yoshihisa Komatsuzaki to the Nippon Ham Fighters for "the other' Yukio Tanaka (the pitcher obviously) and Kazuo Hayakawa.  He spent three years with the Fighters but his numbers never really improved and he retired following the 1992 season.  He has a number of Japanese baseball cards but I don't have any of them.

There are no Japanese baseball cards of the remaining four players that I am aware of.

Despite putting up good numbers in Vero Beach in 1988, Hidetsugu Nishimura didn't have a lot of success in NPB.  He had gone 0-1 with an ERA of 9.00 in four games with the Dragons in 1987.  In mid-1989 the Dragons capitalized on his success in Florida by packaging him with Koichi Emoto in a trade to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks for Takayuki Shirai and Hiromichi Nakamura (Emoto would be sent by Daiei to Salinas in the California League in 1990).  He went 0-1 in 16 games with the ichi-gun Hawks over the next three and a half years and retired following the 1992 season.

Masaaki Kamanaka's Dragons career lasted until 1995 but he spent almost the entire time with the farm team - he made two appearances with the top team in 1992 where he gave up 3 hits (including two home runs) and three runs in two innings.  He spent 1996 with the Kintetsu Buffaloes' farm team before retiring.  Koji Takaheshi only played in six games with the ichi-gun Dragons (in 1990) while Tetsuo Arakawa never made it off the farm team.

In the late 1980's it was still kind of hit or miss whether or not a minor league team would have a team set of baseball cards and of the five teams that the Dragons players were part of, only Vero Beach had cards (although even today I wouldn't expect a Gulf Coast League team to have a card set).  Both of the Vero Beach team sets were produced by Star.  Four of the five Japanese players who played in Florida ended up having cards - Yamamoto and Nishimura from 1988 and Kamanaka and Kawabata in 1989.  Here are images of the front and back of all four cards, swiped either from TradingCardDB.com or Ebay:

In addition, Yamamoto also appeared in the 1988 Florida State League All Star set (also from Star).  I swiped these images from TradingCardDB.com as well:

Kamanaka and Nishimura both have American minor league baseball cards but do not have Japanese cards.  These are the earliest cards for both Yamamoto and Kawabata.

In addition Chunichi apparently sent a coach to at least Vero Beach in at least the 1989 season.  The 1989 team set included a card of Jun Irisawa who I have not been able to identify at all.

Card Of The Week April 15

I've got three hours before Shohei Ohtani's start against the Royals today makes me change my mind about what I'm posting about...

The Marines and Hawks were tied 5-5 going into the ninth inning in their game today in Kagoshima.  Softbank brought Dennis Sarfate to hold off Lotte in the ninth but he ended up giving up the go-ahead run.  In the bottom of ninth though, Yuki Yanagita came up with a runner on and did this:

Yanagita said after the game that "Safe-chan and Ls don't go together".

Here's Yanagita's rookie card from the 2011 BBM 1st Version set (#024):

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sports Market Report Follow Up

I wanted to do a quick follow up to my post a few weeks back about the issue of Sports Market Report devoted to Japanese Baseball Cards.  Most (if not all) of the articles from the magazine are now available on-line.  There are articles on collecting Sadaharu Oh, Ichiro and Shohei Ohtani as well as the 1967 Kabaya-Leaf set.  There's also two articles on the history of Japanese baseball cards - split between vintage and modern.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Card Of The Week April 8

I wasn't going to feature Shohei Ohtani this week.

I really wasn't.  I knew he had a good week.  His first MLB start as pitcher last Sunday went pretty well - he went six innings against Oakland and gave up three runs on three hits and a walk while striking out six.  The only real blemish was the three run home run he gave up to Matt Chapman.  Then as a batter this week he homered in his first three home games - Tuesday vs the Indians (in his first at bat at Angel Stadium), Wednesday against the Indians again and then Friday against the A's.  But I wasn't going to feature him this week.

I've probably featured Ohtani in Card Of The Week more than any other player.  Frankly I'm not sure how many cards I have of Ohtani that I haven't already shown on the blog.  And there were others to consider.  Takahiro Norimoto got his 1000th career strikeout on Friday.  The Lions have won their first 8 games of the season.  And 300+ pound Japhet Amador stole a base yesterday - his first steal ever in NPB.  So I was going to go with Amador.

And then Ohtani had his second start as a pitcher today.

He was perfect for the first 6 1/3 innings of the game.  He ended up going 7 innings, giving up one hit and one walk while striking out 12.  And it seemed he was pitching effortlessly, at least until the seventh inning.  He struck out the side twice - in the first and fifth innings - and it didn't seem like any ball got hit particularly well off him.  It was one of the best pitching performances I've ever watched on TV.

The 2018 season is now 11 days old and Ohtani is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA.  He's given up four hits and two walks in 13 innings while striking out 18.  As a batter he's hitting .389 with an OBP of .421 and a slugging percentage off .889.  He's 7 for 16 with three home runs and seven RBIs.  He's walked once and struck out four times.  It's early but so far it doesn't look like Ohtani is having issues adjusting to MLB.  Now obviously MLB will be adjusting to him and how successful he continues to be will depend on how he adjusts to the league's adjustments (and so on) but he's doing well for now.

I thought I'd show off a subset that BBM included in their 2014 Fighters which commemorated Ohtani's first three wins and first three home runs of the 2013 season (he went 3-0 that year with four home runs).  I've shown two of these cards before but here's all six:

2014 BBM Fighters #F76

2014 BBM Fighters #F77

2014 BBM Fighters #F78

2014 BBM Fighters #F79

2014 BBM Fighters #F80

2014 BBM Fighters #F81

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Epoch One

I used to make April Fools' jokes here on the blog.  Most of them weren't particularly clever and I ran out of ideas after a couple years.  But I still think try to think of ones and this year I considered trying to make some joke about BBM doing a version of Topps Now.  I just really couldn't come up with anything funny to say about the idea - other than maybe BBM publishing them within 30 minutes of the game ending and each card having some ridiculous number of parallels.  As I said, I really couldn't come up with anything good - which is why I didn't do a post for it.

It probably good that I didn't try to joke about it because it turns out that Epoch is actually doing it!  I got a tweet from Kenny (aka Zippy Zappy) the other night telling me that Epoch had launched something called Epoch One which was their version of Topps Now.  There's a couple nice differences though - the cards are only 500 yen (about $5) and they are available for about three days.  There are discounts for ordering several cards at one - 3 cards are 1350 yen, 5 cards are 2000 yen and 10 cards are 3500 yen.  There doesn't appear to be a shipping charge.

On the negative side however - they don't ship to the US.  Kenny already sent them an email and asked.  So the only way to get them outside of Japan would be to use a proxy company (although none of them are set up to buy from them automatically so you'd need to contact them to ask if they'd do it) or have a friend in Japan who can order them for you.  They also apparently only have licenses with seven teams to do cards - the Lions, the Dragons, the Tigers, the Marines, the Giants, the Carp and the Fighters.

As of right now there's 35 cards so far through the games of April 4.  I swiped the image of the front and back of the first card from their site:

Each card has a couple numbers on the back.  The number at the upper left is the overall card number.  There's a number at the lower right that is the team-specific number.  This particular card is "NF-001".  The card will also have the number of cards in the print run on the lower left side.

I think this is a cool idea and I wish there was an easy way for me to get some of them.  I don't want to get all of them - I mean even at 350 yen a card we're already looking at over 10,000 yen for what they've put out just in the first week of the season.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Team Sets Galore!

There are a bunch of upcoming team sets that have been announced in the past few weeks:

- BBM has announced their annual pack-based team sets for the Baystars, Fighters, Carp and Giants.  I've started referring to these as "comprehensive" team sets because they contain most if not all of the players on each team's 70 man roster at the time the set went to press.  The base set for each of these sets contains 81 cards. 

- There's not a lot of details available for the Baystars set other than it will have 33 associated insert cards - 15 "Phantom" cards and 18 others - and various autographed cards.  It will be released in mid-April. 

- There's a little more detail on the Fighters set (which will be released in early May).  The base set is broken into 71 "regular" cards for the manager, players and probably mascots, a three card "Fresh Breeze" subset, a four card "The Beginning" subset and a three card "Centerpiece" subset.  There's a whopping 48 insert cards available - three "Thunder & Lightning" cards, six "Future Is Born" cards, nine "Diamond Dust" cards, 18 "Phantom" cards and 12 "Royal Purple" cards.  There are jersey cards available for Hirotoshi Takanashi, Go Matsumoto, Kensuke Kondoh and Kohei Arihara as well as a bunch of autographed cards that are not fully defined. 

- The base set for the Carp set breaks down to 69 cards for the manager, players and mascot (probably), three cards for "Youngsters Of Expectation", four cards for "Main Pitchers" and five cards for "Main Hitters".  Like the Fighters set there are 48 insert cards - six "Starting Pitcher", three "Relief Pitcher", two "Main Types Of Defense", three "Hits Production Machines", four "Kinds Of Weight Bowing Line", 12 "Royal Purple" and 18 "Phantom" (most of those are probably not the real names of the insert sets).  There are jersey cards available for Akitake Okada, Yoshiharu Maru, Ryusuke Kikuchi, Kosuke Tanaka and Kazuki Yabuta as well as an undefined as of press time batch of autograph cards.  The set will be out in mid-May. 

- The Giants base set breaks down to 67 "regular" cards for the manager and players, a single checklist card that also features the mascots, a four card "New Arrivals" subset, a three card "Giant Guns" subset, a three card "High Quality Triangle" subset and a three card "Young Sinergy" subset.  There are three different parallels of each of the "regular" cards - gold leaf, holo foil and orange foil - I'm assuming these are all facsimile signature parallels but I could be wrong.  There are 66(!) insert cards - 15 "Giants Pride" (which have serially numbered parallels), three "My Generation" (which also have serially numbered parallels), 18 "Cross Foil Signing" (serially numbered to 15), nine "Super Metallic Giants" (serially numbered to the player's uniform number - so there's only six Hayato Sakamoto cards for example.  These are available via an exchange card), three "Triplex" (these are 3D cards that are serially numbered to 25) and 18 "Phantom" cards (serially numbered to 25).  There will also be memorabilia and autographed cards but what they are were not listed at press time.  There set will be out in mid-May.

- In addition to the Carp "comprehensive" team set, BBM is also releasing a "Premium" box set for the team called "Carp Invincible".  This is a 29 card box set.  Each box contains the entire 27 card base set plus one "Invincible" insert card (one of six possible) and one autographed card.  The autographed card may be of a player who is not in the base set.  This set reminds me quite a bit of the "Premium" team sets BBM did last year for the 2016 pennant winning Carp and Fighters so it wouldn't surprise me to see a similar set for the Hawks be released in the next month (and before you email me to correct me, keep in mind that in NPB the pennant winner is the team that finished first, not the team that wins the Climax Series, so the 2017 Central League pennant was won by the Carp, not the Baystars).  The set will be released in late April.

- Epoch has announced three more of their team based "Rookies & Stars" sets.  The newly announced ones are for the Swallows, Dragons and Buffaloes.  Each of these features a 90 card base set along with various insert and autograph cards.  I'm more convinced than ever that Epoch is attempting to challenge BBM in the "comprehensive" team set arena.  This is now five announced "Rookies & Stars" sets and one of these (the Buffaloes) is a team that Epoch did not do an inexpensive team set for last year.  The first of these sets (for the Carp) is due to be released this weekend and then we'll know for sure if it is a comprehensive set (potentially including the ikusei players who have not been included in BBM's team sets for the past few years).  The Swallows set will be released on April 21st, the Buffaloes set will be out on May 12th and the Dragons set will be released on May 19th.

- Hits has announced another "Mini Color Paper" team set this year - this time it's for the Hawks.  There are 12 players represented in the set and each player has two versions of a "card" - a "normal mini colored paper" and a "gold foil signed special mini colored paper".  The set comes out in early April.