We are now one week into the NPB season, and it has been as fun as I wanted it to be, great pitching perfomances, foreigners mashing, too many sacrifice bunts, some teams started off hot while others not so much… It’s time for the first Power Rankings of the year!
Power Rankings are all about balancing short-term results with the long term outlook of the season, so don’t be too upset if you see a 2-4 team ahead of a 4-2 team.
From worst to first, here are my NPB Power Rankings:
Disclaimer: This list will adress both the first week of the season and the general outlook i have for each team, future editions will be more focused on the actual games.
12. Hiroshima Carp (1-4)
Before winning today on a rain shortened 6-inning shutout over the Tigers it had been a really rough go to start out the year in Hiroshima.
After starting out last season with a 6-0 record before slowly tailing off to a 5th place finish in the CL, this year the Carp decided to not delay it and be disappointing out of the gate.
For the first time in 29 years the Carp were shutout on Opening Day, losing 4-0 to the Swallows. They were shutout the next day as well, tying a Central League record of most scoreless innings to start the season.
The problem with the Carp is they have too many problems.
The rotation that was once headlined by 2x All-Star Masato Morishita looks bland after the former has been sidelined for the beginning of the season due to elbow problems.
The bullpen features closer Ryoji Kuribayashi, one of the best relievers in NPB but after him there aren’t many great options to lock down the late innings, which is a problem because most of the Carp’s starters aren’t effective deep into games.
But what about the lineup?
It has names like CF Shogo Akiyama, 1B Ryan McBroom, LF Ryoma Nishikawa and C Shogo Sakakura, all top 5 players at their position in my opinion, and it’s definitely their strongest group on the roster, but it’s not an elite group as much as it’s a solid one.
11. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (1-5)
They are young, exciting and play in a brand new, state of the art ballpark, but are the Fighters actually going to be good this year?
Last year they finished in last place in the Pacific League being 9 games back out of 5th place, as it was about as close as a true rebuilding year as you’ll see in NPB, then rookie manager Tsuyoshi “Big Boss” Shinjo emphasized giving playing time to as many players as possible, trying to see who could be part of the next championship core.
Guys like CF Go Matsumoto and 1B Kotaro Kiyomiya made the most of their opportunity and blossomed into everyday players, but I still feel they lack the proven talent on their roster.
Losing Kensuke Kondoh in free agency to the Hawks was a huge blow, Kondoh is regarded as one of the best pure hitters in Japan with a career .308/.413/.435 slashline.
They started off the year losing 2/3 at home against the Eagles, and now got swept on the road by the Marines.
This team is lacking true star talent that propelled them to win the 2016 Japan Series, as it’s hard to replace the likes of Shohei Ohtani, keep an eye on this year’s first round pick Kota Yazawa though, as he is attempting to be the next two-way star.
Overall, the Fighters are on the right track but are still not ready to be serious contenders.
10. Chunichi Dragons (2-4)
Speaking of young, supposedly exciting teams, the Chunichi Dragons seem to be everyone’s (including me) trendy darkhorse pick to make the playoffs.
Something just felt different with this team heading into the year, they signed Aquino, brought back Almonte and have one of the best pitching staffs in the league.
It was all fun until the games started, even though they managed an acceptable 2-4 record over their first six games, three of those losses were shutouts, as the offense is averaging just 1.8 runs per game and haven’t hit a single homerun so far.
The offense might receive a jolt when prospect Kenta Bright gets playing time on the 1st team, but for now it looks lethargic.
On the pitching side, 20yo Hiroto Takahashi looked great today, tossing 6IP with 8K’s and just 1ER vs the Swallows, but I when he come out i was afraid how they would relay the remaining two innings to closer Raidel Martinez.
They got out of it unscathed but the loss of premiere setup Yariel Rodriguez after he defected in pursuit of an MLB contract left a big void, they have enough depth to survive but it still hurts.
9. Saitama Seibu Lions (3-3)
I’ve liked what i’ve seen from the Lions so far.
I didn’t have high hopes heading into the year for Seibu, the roster is unspectacular save from the likes of 1B Hotaka Yamakawa, SP Kaima Taira and SS Sosuke Genda and the hitting side especially has a lot of unknowns.
But they managed to go .500 against two solid ballclubs (Eagles and Buffaloes) and their pitching looked outsanding for the most part.
The transition from bullpen to starter by Kaima Taira was polarizing, as Taira had been elite as a setup man, boasting a career 1.66 ERA, but he had been pushing to be moved to the rotation and the Lions finally let him this offseason.
Taira spent the offseason conditioning himself for a heavier workload, even missing the WBC to focus on his new role, and he dominated on his first start, going 7 innings with 9 K’s and just 1 earned run after starting the game with 4 perfect innings.
Just like last year, don’t be surprised if the Lions go under the radar the whole year and end up in a playoff spot in the end.
8. Chiba Lotte Marines (3-3)
It’s a one man show in Chiba, led by Roki Sasaki.
Sasaki finally made his season debut today against the Fighters and “holy sh*t”. 6IP, 1 hit allowed, 11 K’s with zero walks on 80 pitches.
But is relying on a 21yo pitcher who gets the ball every six days the formula the Marines want to make the playoffs?
The question is more about what is around Sasaki, the Marines have a solid mix of respectable vets and exciting youngsters that can be enough to be the “best of the rest” in the PL.
The addition of RF Gregory Polanco and SP C.C Mercedes were shrewd moves, acquiring both from the Yomiuri Giants after decent 2022 campaigns.
On the whole though, this is an average roster that happens to have the holy grail of the baseball world.
7. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (3-3)
“Fly Eagles Fly on the road to a first round playoff exit…”
I don’t think that’s how that chant goes or that is used by the Eagles that play in Sendai (it’s actually the Philadelphia Eagles fight song) but it’s summarizes my expectations for this team.
The Eagles have built an old, middling roster in hopes to squeeze into the playoffs, having finished either 3rd or 4th for the past four years, stuck in purgatory where they aren’t good enough to win in the postseason, but not bad enough to blow it all up and start over.
The rotation is led by their best player in team history, Masahiro Tanaka, who has been back from MLB for two seasons now, posting good but not great numbers in his return.
This team’s strength is their lineup, last year they posted a 106 WRC+, 2nd best in the PL behind the Hawks, and adding 3B Toshiki Abe and former top Phillies prospect Maikel Franco should ensure they will keep hitting well enough(but not too well!).
6. Yomiuri Giants (3-3)
Since NPB was formed back in 1950, no team has rivaled the success of the Giants.
The Giants have won 22 Japan Series and 38 CL pennants out of a possible 72.
But as league parity grew the “Yankees of the East” dominance dwindled, as it’s now been 10 years since their last title.
In 2022, the Kyojin (japanese term for giants) finished half a game back out of a playoff spot and 12.5 games out of first so change was in order.
The team responded by bringing in CF Lewis Brinson, SP Tyler Beede and SP Foster Griffin, all former MLB first round picks who didn’t quite pan out in the majors, and they are all playing a big role so far.
Brinson went 5-5 with a HR in a 9-0 rout over the Baystars, Beede was the Opening Day starter, and Griffin pitched 7 shutout innings in his debut.
The lineup is deep with star talent, 3B Kazuma Okamoto was a key piece for Samurai Japan, SS Hayato Sakamoto has gotten off to a slow start but is regarded as the best shortstop in NPB history and 2x CL MVP Yoshihiro Maru is moving over to RF which should suit him well.
They have the talent, name recognition and the track record to be great, whether that is enough is yet to be seen.
5. Yokohama Baystars (2-4)
The most well rounded roster in the Central League belongs to the Baystars.
After starting off the year 0-4 with losses to the Tigers and Giants, the Baystars have bounced back strong the last two games with b2b shutout wins.
The Baystars parlayed a solid 2nd place finish in 2022 with a polarizing offseason, signing a youtuber to form a formidable pair atop the rotation with ace Shota Imanaga.
On a serious note though, everything about this team should rank between average to good, which is something only the Hawks and maybe Buffaloes can say about their rosters.
And it can get better, if (big if) they get Tyler Austin healthy for the majority of the year this team can be scary.
4. Hanshin Tigers (4-1)
I hope I’m not falling in a early season hype train but the Tigers have done everything right so far to calm my doubts.
Pitching wise, I don’t think there is a deeper team than the Tigers other than maybe the Buffaloes, led by sidearmer Koyo Aoyagi in the rotation and ’22 rookie phenom Atsuki Yuasa, this team is filled to the brim with arm’s with great stuff.
My doubts pertained to their hitting, as when you look past stars like 3B Teruaki Sato, 1B Yusuke Ohyama, 2B Takumu Nakano and CF Koji Chikamoto you will see a massive dropoff in talent, which is what happened in 2022 with the Tigers posting a 83 WRC+, the worst in the league.
And I wasn’t a fan of what they did in the offseason, particularly the Sheldon Neuse signing, giving it an F on my Offseason Grade series, now he’s batting 3rd in the lineup with a .389 AVG while i’m searching for hiding.
If the offense keeps clicking they will be a force, but they have a high floor regardless due to their pitching.
3. Orix Buffaloes (3-3)
The defending champs come in behind the two teams they beat on their way to the title, so am i disrespecting them by putting them 3rd? Maybe.
But that’s what happens when you let “Macho Man” go to Beantown, you are inevitably going to get worse.
Still, the Buffaloes put the $15M they got in Yoshida’s posting fee to good use, signing former PL MVP Tomoya Mori away from the Lions along with new imports Frank Schwindel and Marwin Gonzalez.
The rotation is absurd, Yoshinobu Yamamoto should be regarded as a top 10 pitcher in the world, Hiroya Miyagi is probably the best #2 in the league and the rest of the rotation plus their minor league depth all have top-end talent.
It’s the bats that keep Orix away from the very top, aside from Yoshida only two hitters posted an OPS over .750 in OF Keita Nakagawa and 1B Yuma Tongu.
2. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (5-1)
Another year, another opportunity for the Swallows to lay waste to the Central League.
The Swallows spent the first part of the ’22 season on pace for history, as the club was on track to become the first 100-win team ever before a 2nd half collapse only had them winning the CL by 8 games.
The team is led by 3B Munetaka Murakami, the best player in NPB and now the all-time season HR leader by a japanese player. His sidekicks consist of former MVP 2B Tetsuto Yamada, 5-tool CF Yasutaka Shiomi and the foreign bash brothers of José Osuna and Domingo Santana.
Offensively this team has been unrivaled but it’s the pitching that concerns me, it’s what is holding this team back from building a dynasty.
The Swallows have relied on MLB esque bullpen usage to mask the fact they’re rotation isn’t that good, when you have 43yo Masanori Ishikawa starting games in 2023, with a top speed of 82mph and getting zero whiffs you know you have some issues.
Still, it’s hard seeing anyone take their crown until Murakami is posted to MLB.
1. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (5-1)
The Hawks are once again the best team in NPB, and I do not think it’s that close.
I already went plenty in depth on how good I think the “Evil Empire” is going to be on my storylines to watch piece so I’ll just talk about their first six games of 2023.
On opening day they beat the Marines 4-0, Tomohisa Ohzeki started after missing most of the 2nd half last season with testicular cancer, Ryoya Kurihara hit a HR after mssing nearly all of 2022 with a torn ACL.
Game 2 was another shutout, Koya Fujii started the game after posting a 1.12 ERA out of the bullpen last year, he looked incredible throughout 7IP allowing just 2 hits and striking out 9 batters, Hawks win 7-0.
Game 3 was closer as the Hawks beat the Marines 5-3, pitching 23 scoreless innings to start the year.
They went to Osaka and beat the Buffaloes by 5 runs in the first two games of the series before finally getting their first loss at the hands of Yoshinobu Yamamoto.