Asking what can Shohei Otani do better in 2017 is akin to the question of what do you get the person who already has everything.
Otani almost did it all for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters this past season. He won 10 games and struck out 174 as a pitcher and batted .322 with 22 home runs at the plate. He was the Pacific League MVP and an unprecedented Best Nine selection at both pitcher and designated hitter.
But if you thought that would be enough for a player who has said he hopes to one day be the best in the world, you would be mistaken.
“I don’t know where the very top is yet, so I don’t know if I’m getting closer or not,” Otani said at the 2016 NPB Awards on Monday night. “What I can say is that I’m really getting better, so I want to do my best to get there.”
Otani noted that he’d only thrown 140 innings during the regular season, having missed time with a blister.
“I want to increase the number of innings pitched,” he said. “If I can do that, I think other things will also improve. I don’t know if the goal is 200 (innings), but I want to set my bar at least that high.”
No pitcher reached 200 innings in 2016, and the last PL hurler to hit the mark was the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Takahiro Norimoto with 202⅔ in 2014.
Otani was 10-4 with a hold and a 1.86 ERA during the regular season.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Tsyoshi Wada finished with the most wins in the PL with 15, the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Ayumu Ishikawa was the ERA leader at 2.16 and Norimoto grabbed the strikeout crown with 216.
“I want to win all of them if it’s possible,” Otani said. “While I could’ve won up to three this year, I had the best ERA (Ishikawa was the official winner since Otani didn’t pitch enough innings). But I didn’t win the strikeout title, and I want to win those I didn’t win.”
Sayonara: While there were a number of players with dramatic last-gasp, game-winning hits in NPB this season, two stood out as the best. Seiya Suzuki of the Hiroshima Carp and Yuki Yoshimura of the Hawks were chosen as the winners of the 2016 Sky Perfect Dramatic Sayonara Awards in the Central and Pacific Leagues, respectively.
Suzuki was honored for beating the Orix Buffaloes with sayonara home runs on consecutive days, June 17 and 18. After the second, Carp manager Koichi Ogata used the phrase kamitteru (godlike) to describe Suzuki’s feat. The phrase ended up as the winner of the 2016 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (2016 U-Can New Words and Buzzwords Awards). Suzuki is the 10th player to end consecutive games with a sayonara home run.
Yoshimura was recognized for being a thorn in the side of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on April 17. First, Yoshimura tied the game with a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth. When his turn came around again in the 12th, with the game still tied, he ended things with a sayonara two-run homer to left.
Word up: The selection of kamitteru as the winner of the the 2016 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho means that a phrase from the baseball world was the winner for the second straight year.
Last year’s co-top buzzword was “toripuru suri,” or Triple Three, which was the feat (recording at least a .300 average, 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases) achieved by the Hawks’ Yuki Yanagita and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tetsuto Yamada.
Last man standing: With pitchers Masahiko Morifuku and Shun Yamaguchi deciding to join the Yomiuri Giants this week, there is just one member of this year’s six-man free agent class remaining.
Daikan Yoh, who hit .293 with 14 home runs and 61 RBIs and won a Golden Glove this year for the Fighters, is the last man standing on the market. The Giants, Orix Buffaloes and Eagles are rumored to be the teams vying for the Taiwanese star’s services.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.