The Yokohama BayStars have an impressive track record of futility. They've finished in the Central League's basement seven of the last nine years, twice finishing more than 40 games out of first place. The February issue of Yakyu Kozo featured a detailed analysis of Yokohama's 2010 futility. Among other things, the 'Stars were the worst or second to worst in the Central League in scoring first in games, winning percentage after scoring first, wining percentage after failing to score first, advancing runners, scoring with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, and inducing swinging strikes on pitches outside the strike zone.
After an offseason that saw the BayStars wave goodbye to their best pure hitter, their best arm, and a productive middle infield bat, I figured another last place finish was the safest bet in Japan this year. So far Yokohama has matched this expectation, in 6th place with a 14-22-3 record. But it's more competitive last place, with the bright spots being that so far Hama's offense leads the Central League with 28 home runs and 133 runs scored. Their pitching is still way behind the rest of the league though, and that's probably not a situation that will improve much during the season.
So the focus in Yokohama has to be on finding and developing the players who are going to be on the next good BayStars team. Some of them may be on the roster already, and here's what I would consider a good season for the BayStars.
- Development from Takayuki Makka, Kota Suda, Atori, Kisho Kagami and any other young pitcher that happens to be around.
Pitching has been the core of Yokohama's problem for so long that pitching has the be the top priority, particularly developing the best prospects from the last two or three drafts. I don't really see a potential ace among this group, but if three of these guys become useful pitchers, that'll be a pretty big win.
- Kentaro Takasaki's first eight starts not being a fluke.
I saw Takasaki pitch in relief a season or two ago and was not impressed. I saw him start a game against Chunichi early this season and was extremely impressed. Nothing he threw was overwhelming, but he seemed to throw the right pitch each time while I was watching. Through eight starts, Takasaki has a 2.60 ERA in 52 innings, with 36 K, 15 BB, 3 HR. The ERA is going to go up, but if he has another 120 quality innings in him it'll be the best season a Yokohama starter has had in a while.
- Getting some kind of sustainable contribution from at least one of their young foreign pitchers: Clayton Hamilton, Brandon Mann, Luis Gonzalez, Kuan-Yu Chen, and I-Cheng Wang.
The foreign pitcher section of Yokohama's roster is mostly populated with development project types. I would be lying if I claimed to know much about any of these guys, aside from the observation that they mostly completely lack MLB experience and mostly lack upper minors experience. Finding useful innings from one of these guys over the next few seasons will be a plus. Hamilton's heart seems to be in the right place, I'd love to see him to well.
- Development from Keijiro Matsumoto or Sho Aranami.
Center field has been a hole for Yokohama since... when? Tatsuhiko Kinjo's most recent good season? Hitoshi Tamura? Tatsuya Shimozono was actually respectable with the bat last year, but hasn't played at all this season. I don't really think Hichori Morimoto is a starter any more, though he is a useful player. Matsumoto and Aranami have both up up ugly lines at ni-gun this season; one of those guys turning things around and becoming a viable outfield option would be a major depth boost.
- A good draft.
Most of the guys I've written about fall in to a supporting cast category. Yokohama needs more stars, particularly a frontline starting pitcher. There are a couple of big arms in this year's draft, and they'll need to score one of them.
I'd love to see a more competitive NPB, one that doesn't have any doormats. With Orix showing signs of life these last few years, we're only a healthy BayStars away from such a scenario.