Hisashi Iwakuma gave the Tohoku Rakuten faithful something to smile about and Yomiuri’s Alex Ramirez received a well-deserved consolation prize as Nippon Professional Baseball announced its MVP award winners at a Tokyo hotel on Friday afternoon.
Iwakuma was named the Pacific League MVP during the awards ceremony after putting up career numbers for the fifth-place Eagles.
“I was selected for the Most Valuable Player, although I was on the team that missed the championships,” Iwakuma said. “I appreciate that they chose me.
“I was given this award because of the hard work of the people on my team . . . I’d like to win an award like this with the team doing better — hopefully win a championship.”
The Rakuten hurler went 21-4 to become the first NPB pitcher to win 20 games since Kazumi Saito and Kei Igawa each accomplished the feat in 2003 for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Hanshin Tigers, respectively. He’s also Japanese baseball’s first 21-game winner since the Hankyu Braves’ Yoshinori Sato won 21 in 1985.
“No, I didn’t really do anything,” Iwakuma said when asked if he changed anything before the season. “But I tried to come into the season with a stronger mind-set since I couldn’t contribute to the team and betrayed the expectations of the fans in the previous two seasons,” he adding, referring to his injury-plagued past two years with the Eagles.
“My control got better, not giving up too many walks, and because of it I was able to focus on facing the batters. And also, I could pitch low and that led to the fact that I gave up less home runs.”
Iwakuma, who also won the Sawamura Award, ended the year with a league-best 1.87 ERA, 159 strikeouts and allowed just three home runs in 201 2/3 innings pitched.
His win and ERA totals represent career-bests for the nine-year veteran.
“Not caring too much about numbers, I tried to concentrate on doing my job as a starting pitcher as my mission,” Iwakuma said. “I really think that I was able to do this well because I ignored the numbers.”
Iwakuma beat out Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima for the honor, getting 73 first-place votes to Nakajima’s 56.
Ramirez won the Central League award after a big first year with the Giants. He led Japanese baseball with 125 RBIs while batting .319 with 45 home runs.
He expressed his thanks not only for being named the MVP but for earning the RBI crown as well.
“I also want to say I’m very happy to win the RBI title which is something that is very special, because RBIs are what win games,” Ramirez said in a video statement. “To be able to win that title means a lot. Not only to me but also for my team.”
Ramirez put up big numbers in the postseason as well, winning the CL Climax Series MVP award en route to leading the Kyojin to within one win of the Japan Series title.
“Big Daddy” was the overwhelming winner in the CL, garnering 122 first-place votes and 900 points in the MVP race.
A pair of Giants finished a distant second and third, with third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara grabbing 22 first-place votes with 381 points and pitcher Seth Greisinger finishing with six first-place nods and 381 points.
Giants reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi was honored as well, taking home the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
NPB MVP VOTING(With first-, second- and third-place votes and total points on a 5-3-1 basis)
1st2nd3rdTotalRamirez, Giants166224900Ogasawara, Giants227643381Greisinger, Giants66869303Uchikawa, BayStars291956Fujikawa, Tigers16932Kanemoto, Tigers051126Murata, BayStars22218Abe, Giants03413Lewis, Carp03413Yamaguchi, Giants0255PACIFIC LEAGUE
Player1st2nd3rdTotalIwakuma, Eagles 734424521Nakajima, Lions 565224460Nakamura, Lions 323751322Darvish, Fighters 82437149Kataoka, Lions 12617Graman, Lions 03413Rhodes, Buffaloes 0228Hoashi, Lions 0145Hosokawa, Fighters1001
NPB ROOKIE OF THE YEAR VOTINGCentral LeaguePacific LeagueYamaguchi, Giants 91Komatsu, Buffaloes 170Sakamoto, Giants 49Iwata, Tigers 32(One voter abstained)
NPB BEST NINE Central LeaguePacific LeaguePitcherGreisinger, GiantsIwakuma, EaglesCatcherAbe, GiantsHosokawa, LionsFirst basemanUchikawa, BayStarsCabrera, BuffaloesSecond basemanHigashide, CarpKataoka, LionsThird basemanMurata, BayStarsNakamura, LionsShortstopToritani, TigersNakajima, LionsOutfieldersRamirez, GiantsInaba, Fighters Aoki, SwallowsKuriyama, Lions Kanemoto, TigersShort, EaglesDesignated hitter—Rhodes, Buffaloes
Yamaguchi went 11-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 23 holds and two saves in 67 appearances.
“I didn’t expect I’d be able to win such a wonderful award like this, so I’m so happy,” Yamaguchi said. “I’m feeling so honored because you can only win a rookie of the year award once in your lifetime.”
Orix rookie pitcher Satoshi Komatsu was named the Pa League’s top newcomer after finishing 15-3 with a 2.50 ERA.
The Buffaloes hurler was a nearly unanimous choice, finishing with 170 out of 171 possible votes. The lone vote he failed to earn was due to one voter abstaining.
The Japan Series champion Seibu Lions dominated the PL Best Nine, with catcher Toru Hosokawa, Nakajima, second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka, third baseman Takeya Nakamura and outfielder Takumi Kuriyama being named to the squad.
Orix first baseman Alex Cabrera, who played for Seibu last season, was the only non-Lions position player named in the infield. Orix’s Tuffy Rhodes was named to the team as designated hitter and Iwakuma, Rakuten outfielder Rick Short and Hokkaido Nippon Ham outfielder Atsunori Inaba round out the squad.
For the CL Best Nine, the Giants led the way with three players: Ramirez, Greisinger and catcher Shinnosuke Abe.
The Yokohama BayStars had two players named to the team: first baseman Seiichi Uchikawa and third baseman Shuichi Murata. The Hanshin Tigers were also represented by a pair of players: outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto (honored for the seventh time) and shortstop Takashi Toritani.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki and Hiroshima Carp second baseman Akihiro Higashide round out the team.