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January 4, 2006

Battle of Champions

Chicago White Sox vs. Chiba Lotte Marines

by Dave Haller

This wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Bobby Valentine.

As second-year manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines, Valentine guided his team to the Japan Series championship, toppling the favored Hanshin Tigers in a four-game sweep. (The Marines outscored Hanshin 33-4.) Meanwhile, some six thousand miles away, the Chicago White Sox were making quick work of the Houston Astros in the World Series. Valentine--the only manager to ever reach both the World Series and the Nippon Series, Japanese baseball's equivalent--was unimpressed. Boldly he called out whichever team should emerge as the Fall Classic champs.

"I can tell you the level of play is equal," Valentine told the Associated Press. "It's time to do battle."

"It's as good a team as I've ever managed," he said, referring to his Chiba squad. "I'd put them up against the winner of the World Series, and I know we'd win at least a couple of games."

Prior to Game 4 against Houston, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen laughed off the challenge.

"Whoever came from here, the White Sox or the Astros, would kick his butt," Guillen said. "Was he joking or was he serious?"

Serious, apparently, because he was still talking about it more than a month later. During the Winter Meetings, Valentine sized up the Marines' competition.

"I didn't see the White Sox except on TV, but our leadoff guy was as fast. Our defense was as good. Our pitchers threw the same pitches and threw just as hard, but with better control," he told the Associated Press. "We would have been short in middle-of-the-lineup power, but that power isn't what wins a series for you."

If you thought the World Baseball Classic would slake Valentine's thirst, think again. He still wants a direct showdown. Chiba versus Chicago. Best of seven. And through the modern marvel of Tom Tippett's Diamond Mind Baseball, a best-of-seven series we shall provide.

Several people have helped us navigate the sea of logistical barriers. Diamond Mind tech support guru Luke Kraemer patiently endured endless phone calls and emails, and he fulfilled every plea for technological enlightenment. Michael Westbay of JapaneseBaseball.com tied up all kinds of loose ends for us, and his Web site is a rich resource for the English speaker. Sergei Borisov connected us with box scores (from his site Japanese Pro Yakyu) and some important digits you can't find on baseball cards. Thanks are also due to Michael Eng, Stuart Hughes, and two sites that provided free, easy-access statistics--BaseballGuru.com and JapanBaseballDaily.com. Without you, Bobby V's dream would have never come true.

Now on to the technical side.

Creating the Marines Players

Fortunately, Clay Davenport quickly eliminated one of our biggest hurdles. His translations of all Chiba statistics put their players on an even plane with the 2005 American League, and by extension the champion White Sox. Otherwise, Chiba's Matt Franco is better than any Sox hitter not named Paul Konerko. We used the translated statistics--you can download a text file of them here--to define the performance levels of hitters and pitchers alike. (For more info on Clay's Japanese translations, read his essays here and here.)

Diamond Mind also features categorical rankings for other skills--bunting, running, stealing, and jumping, for example--which remained at "average" unless a player's statistical record clearly merited an adjustment. Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who stole a translated 42 bases in 50 attempts, ranked as "excellent" in running and stealing, and since he's quick, young, and plays a prime defensive position, we upgraded his jumping to "very good." As you can see, establishing these ratings is not a perfect science. The process requires some estimation and assumption.

Defensive ratings were also massaged into a workable model. Using available raw defensive stats, we factored in range and fielding percentages for each position where a Chiba player appeared in 2005. Generally, range stayed at "average" unless it was a secondary position or a player was exceptionally quick. If a player's secondary position was an easier one (center fielder Saburo Ohmura played some right field, for example), we gave him extra leeway. Outfield arm strength and injury vulnerability remained neutral--this information is hard enough to come by for major leaguers, let alone Japanese players.

For starting and relief pitchers, we determined durability ratings based on the number of batters faced per game. Holding runners, pitching in jams, wild pitches, balks, ground ball rates and pitcher defense were all set at neutral levels.

Chiba Marine Stadium

To create the home ballpark, we used a combination of hard data and hearsay. Park dimensions were a piece of cake--Chiba Marine Stadium is a symmetrical park with ample foul ground and a four-meter-high outfield wall. It's adjacent to a bay, and the swirling winds draw comparisons to Candlestick.

Park factors were a little tougher to harness. Jim Allen's Guide to Japanese Baseball, an annual book published in the mid-nineties, compiled data on the ballpark from 1994-1996. Admittedly, it's old data, but it's close enough for a best-of-seven series.


1B  2B  3B  HR
100 115 130 88

Roster Quirks

In constructing 25-man rosters for this, the goal was to emulate the "championship roster" for each team--that is, the roster used by Chicago in the World Series and Chiba in the Nippon Series. Additionally, players injured at the time of their championship series were not considered. For Chicago, this was simple. For Chiba, this became another major roadblock, because Japan uses an entirely different roster system. Chiba was allotted 25 players per game in the Nippon Series, but the team could freely swap out players between games. And they did: the starting pitcher from Game 1 was taken off the 25-man roster for Games 2, 3 and 4; several other substitutions were made daily.

To trim Chiba's roster down to size, we placed a qualifier on Marines players. Players must have appeared in at least one Nippon Series game. This cut down the group to 22 (14 hitters and eight pitchers). For balance, we added two pitchers (Satoru Komiyama and Koji Takagi) who did not actually pitch in the Nippon Series, but who were on Chiba's 25-man roster for all four games. We wanted one more position player to total 15 hitters and 10 pitchers, since Valentine tends to substitute position players often (besides, Chicago had the same 15-and-10 split). Third baseman Kiyoshi Hatsushiba (also on the 25-man roster throughout Chiba's playoffs) survives the final cut.

Lineups

Guillen consistently used identical lineups against left- and right-handers. Valentine's lineups varied more, but archived box scores of Chiba's playoff drive enabled us to read between the lines and develop functional lineups and batting orders. The results:


           VS. RIGHT:                VS. LEFT:
MARINES    SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka      SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka
           2B Koichi Hori            2B Koichi Hori
           1B Kazuya Fukuura         1B Kazuya Fukuura
           CF Saburo Ohmura          RF Saburo Ohmura
           LF Matt Franco            LF Benny Agbayani
           RF Benny Agbayani         CA Tomoya Satozaki
           DH Seung-Yeop Lee         3B Toshiaki Imae
           3B Toshiaki Imae          DH Matt Franco
           CA Tasuku Hashimoto       CF Akira Ohtsuka

bench      CA Tomoya Satozaki        CA Tasuku Hashimoto
           IF Kiyoshi Hatsushiba     IF Kiyoshi Hatsushiba
           IF Hisao Heiuchi          IF Hisao Heiuchi
           IF Masato Watanabe        IF Masato Watanabe
           OF Kenji Morozumi         OF Kenji Morozumi
           OF Akira Otsuka           OF Seung-Yeop Lee

WHITE SOX  LF Scott Podsednik        LF Scott Podsednik
           2B Tadahito Iguchi        2B Tadahito Iguchi
           RF Jermaine Dye           RF Jermaine Dye
           1B Paul Konerko           1B Paul Konerko
           DH Carl Everett           DH Carl Everett
           CF Aaron Rowand           CF Aaron Rowand
           CA A.J. Pierzynski        CA A.J. Pierzynski
           3B Joe Crede              3B Joe Crede
           SS Juan Uribe             SS Juan Uribe

bench      CA Chris Widger           CA Chris Widger
           IF Geoff Blum             IF Geoff Blum
           IF Ross Gload             IF Ross Gload
           IF Willie Harris          IF Willie Harris
           IF Pablo Ozuna            IF Pablo Ozuna
           OF Timo Perez             OF Timo Perez

Each team's real-life playoff rotation kept four pitchers in a strict order. However, we will pitch each team's number one starter for Game 1-this does matter because Chiba was forced to start Naoyuki Shimizu in Game 1 of the Nippon Series. Relievers have been slotted into different bullpen roles; we've only labeled the closers.

ROTATION
Marines             vs.  White Sox
R Shunsuke Watanabe      R Jose Contreras
R Hiroyuke Kobayashi     L Mark Buehrle
L Dan Serafini           R Jon Garland
R Naoyuki Shimizu        R Freddy Garcia

BULLPEN
Marines                  White Sox
L Soichi Fujita          L Neal Cotts
R Satoru Komiyama        R Dustin Hermanson
R Shingo Ono             L Damaso Marte
L Koji Takagi            R Cliff Politte
R Yasuhiko Yabuta        R Luis Vizcaino
C Masahide Kobayashi     C Bobby Jenks

Manager Tendencies and Strategy

We've done what we can to accomplish realism within our means. We want the Diamond Mind White Sox to behave like Ozzie's White Sox, and the Diamond Mind Marines to behave like Bobby V's Marines. Lineups, rotation orders, depth charts, etc. are all set in stone to mimic the real teams. We don't want Diamond Mind to "outsmart" Guillen and Valentine, as interesting as it might be to see where the computer detects managerial miscues. While Diamond Mind gives us the option to establish manager tendencies, we've only adjusted for their most obvious habits because most tendencies are hard to quantify. Valentine often uses platoons, tends to ride his starting pitchers, and often sticks with his regular lineup in blowout games. Guillen almost never subs for his position players (at least not in the playoffs), and we've all witnessed his affinity for the sacrifice bunt. These habits should show up in the simulations. Vince Galloro also helped identify many of Guillen's tactics.

Series Tidbits

  • All games will be played with designated hitters, since both the American League and Pacific League use the DH.

  • Home field advantage goes to the White Sox. How did we settle this one? Simple: in the private sumo-wrestling match BP sanctioned at the Dallas meetings, Bobby Jenks absolutely thrashed Dan Serafini. It's true--just ask BP editor John Erhardt, who officiated as the gyoji (referee).

    Okay, this was an arbitrary decision. Since Americans introduced baseball to Japan, we think Chiba fans can deal. The series will follow a 2-3-2 format of home and away games.

  • While we've barred injured players from the rosters, injuries might randomly occur during the series. If that happens, the afflicted team must turn to its bench for replacements--no roster changes may be made. Injury prone-ness is not a factor.

  • With apologies to Joe Crede, we declined the "clutch hitting" option. No, we're not trying to beat the dead horse of our unbelief in clutchness; there's simply no situational hitting data available for Chiba.

It's time to do battle.

Tomorrow:
Battle of Champions, Game 1

Chiba Lotte Marines (Shunsuke Watanabe, translated 12-8, 3.59 ERA)
@
Chicago White Sox (Jose Contreras, 15-7, 3.61)

As their Web site www.diamond-mind.com says, Diamond Mind Baseball is devoted to "realistic strategy-oriented baseball games for use on home computers and the Internet." Special thanks to Tom Tippett and everyone at DMB for their cooperation.

Dave Haller is a staff writer for Baseball Prospectus. You can reach him by clicking here or click here to see Dave's other articles.

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