Chihiro Kaneko put up big numbers last season, but was largely out of the spotlight when it was time to give out awards. This time around, the Orix Buffaloes ace was one of the main attractions.
Kaneko was named the 2014 Pacific League MVP at the NPB Awards on Wednesday night, adding the honor to what has already been a banner year for the 31-year-old pitcher.
“I didn’t expect to be chosen, so I was surprised first of all,” Kaneko said. “This is given to the season’s best player, so it has a lot of value, and I’ll be looked at as someone who has won it for the rest of my career. So I don’t want to let up.”
Yomiuri Giants pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano was the winner in the Central League.
“While I’m pleased, I feel more pressure because now I’ll have to put up a performance worthy of this next season,” Sugano said. “I hope I can channel that energy and use it to my advantage.”
While mostly left in the wake of a historic season by former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles star Masahiro Tanaka in 2013, Kaneko was the NPB’s standout pitcher this year.
He was 16-5 in 26 starts, leading Japan in wins and also with a 1.98 ERA. The right-hander, who also won his first Sawamura Award this year, finished with 199 strikeouts in 191 innings.
“Honestly, I didn’t put up numbers I can really be proud of,” Kaneko said. “But I had a better ERA than last year (2.01) and a better winning percentage (.762 this year vs. .652 last season), so with that being said, I think I had a little better season. But in terms of innings pitched and complete games, I had fewer than last year, so it was disappointing.”
Kaneko was first on 125 ballots and finished with 827 points (accumulated through voting totals), with runnerup Yuki Yanagita of the Pacific League and Japan Series champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks drawing 39 first-place votes and 349 points. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters two-way star Shohei Otani was third with 35 first-place votes and 291 points.
Kaneko is the first MVP from Orix since Ichiro Suzuki in 1996, when the team was still known as the BlueWave.
He was seen as a prime candidate to join Ichiro in the majors next season, but recent reports suggest he’ll be back in NPB in 2015. Nothing has been finalized at this point.
“I’ve got nothing I can announce right now, but playing baseball will not change, and I would like to do my best to win something like this again,” Kaneko said.
He spoke as if he’d be back with the Buffaloes at times during his news conference.
“I want to win another one (MVP), next time with a championship,” he said when asked about next season. “As far as numbers, I want to have better numbers than this year.”
Sugano finalized a raise estimated at ¥40 million (which takes his estimated salary to ¥110 million) Wednesday afternoon before being announced as MVP a few hours later to wrap up a pretty good day.
He was one of the few constant bright spots for the Giants in 2014, finishing 12-5 with a 2.33 ERA that was the CL’s best to help Yomiuri win a third consecutive pennant. He threw three complete games and struck out 122 in 158⅔ innings.
“I didn’t particularly have great numbers, but as far as quality starts, I’m 80 percent satisfied with what I did,” said Sugano, who had with a quality start percentage of 78.3 according to the website nulData. “I can be proud of that. As for my other numbers, I think I can keep improving.”
Sugano battled elbow injuries during the season and was taken off the roster on two occasions, the last of which, in October, ended his year.
“I spent some time on the farm for the first time and I was forced to think about a lot of things during that period,” he said. “Whether it ends up as a positive will depend on how I do next year.”
Sugano, the nephew of Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara, the 1983 CL MVP, is the eighth Giants pitcher to win the award in the franchise’s 80-year history and the first since Masumi Kuwata in 1994.
He won in a landslide, receiving 201 first-place votes and 1,115 overall points. Tokyo Yakult Swallows infielder Tetsuto Yamada was runnerup with 21 first-place votes and 344 points and Hanshin Tigers pitcher Randy Messenger was third, garnering nine first-place votes and 131 points.
“I want to be at an award ceremony like this as many times as possible,” Sugano said. “This time I won the awards for MVP, Best Nine and ERA, but it’ll be a shame If I don’t get any next year. Hopefully I can be here again.”
Japanese baseball also named its top rookies on Wednesday, with Carp pitcher Daichi Osera named CL Rookie of the Year and the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Ayumu Ishikawa taking home the award in the Pa League.
Osera spent much of the season in the Hiroshima rotation and finished 10-8 with a 4.05 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 26 appearances.
“I’m honored to win the Rookie of the Year award,” Osera said. “I owe our manager, coaches, teammates, staff and fans. I’ve played this year hoping to win this award.”
Ishikawa appeared in 25 games for the Marines this season going 10-8 with a 3.43 ERA. Ishikawa said he hoped to do even better next season.
“I blew a few games this year and I would like to eliminate those,” he said.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.