Some Thoughts on NPB’s Post-Season So Far
The Hanshin Tigers will be facing off against the SoftBank Hawks in the Japan Series this year, after the Tigers upset the Yomuiri Giants and the Hawks held off the Nippon Ham Fighters in a taught six-game series.
One thing that strikes me about the Japanese play-off system is just how lop-sided the playoff set-up is and just how bad for business it is. Not only does the team with the better record automatically have to win one fewer game than their challenger, but the team with the better record also gets all the games played at home.
This didn’t stop the Tigers, who swept the Giants 4-0 (or 4-1 since the Giants automatically got a win by virtue of the Central League’s best record), and the Fighters made a go of it too, only losing the deciding Game Six and thus losing the Series 4-3.
However, playing all the games in one park is apparently not good for attendance, with the exception of the Yomiuri Giants who routinely sell out all their games. In the Fighters/Hawks series, the Hawks sold only 28,000+ tickets to Game One and gradually improved to a 38,000+ sell-out only in Game 6. (Even though the Hawks are the third-best attended team in NPB in 2014, it was only their 15th sell-out of the season.)
One would certainly think that the games would be better attended if they were split between two stadiums for the obvious reason that fewer games in any one park would create greater scarcity and excitement about the three (instead of six) play-off games.
Frankly, it’s striking sometimes how the otherwise-sophisticated corporations that own NPB’s teams don’t do more to maximize league revenues. It’s always been explained that corporate owners treat the teams as advertizing vehicles and treat actual profits from the baseball operations as beside the point. To me, that just makes no sense, unless there are some kind of tax incentives in play that allow the corporations to use baseball as a loss-leader. Perhaps if they are treated primarily as a form of advertizing, there is a bigger tax write-off. It’s just about the only thing that would make understandable the widespread failure to maximize team profits in fairly obvious ways.
In another note, some Japanese teams really don’t treat their foreign players well. Tigers’ closer Seung-hwan Oh has now pitched in the team’s last 11 consecutive games. He won the Climax Series MVP Award, but he was obviously suffering in the last game against the Giants, allowing three hits and two home runs in the last inning of the Tigers’ 8-4.
Did the Tigers really need to have Oh work the final inning of an 8-2 game? Of course not — or at least not until about four guys in a row hit safely. There have obviously been some off-days in among the 11 games, but it’s still crazy to make anyone pitch in that many consecutive games.
At least Oh has another year on his contract with the Tigers, so if the Tigers ruin him this post-season with overwork, at least it will hurt them in 2015. Still, its hard to imagine an MLB team pitching any pitcher 11 games in a row under any circumstances. If they did, the team would be buried under a mountain of criticism.