Baseball / Japanese Baseball

MLB-bound Giants ace Shun Yamaguchi earns maiden Best Nine Award

Kyodo

Yomiuri Giants ace Shun Yamaguchi earned his first-ever Best Nine Award on Monday in what could be his last season before departing Japan.

The right-hander, who led the Central League in wins, strikeouts and winning percentage this season, intends to move to the major leagues through the posting system.

Three Giants were selected in the poll of Japan’s baseball media as the best in the CL at their position, while the Seibu Lions dominated the Pacific League with five picks.

Yamaguchi went 15-4 this year with 188 strikeouts and a .789 winning percentage as he contributed to the first CL pennant in five years for the Giants, who went on to lose the Japan Series to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in a four-game sweep.

“I pitched with the goal of contributing to a championship. This award came as a result, and I am honored to receive it,” said Yamaguchi, who has received rare approval from the Giants for posting.

Yamaguchi, who received 274 votes, was joined in the CL Best Nine by Yomiuri outfielder Yoshihiro Maru (220) and shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, whose 294 votes were the most for any player in either league.

The Hiroshima Carp picked up two awards, with catcher Tsubasa Aizawa receiving 167 votes for his third straight selection and outfielder Seiya Suzuki making it four years in a row. Suzuki’s 286 votes were the second-most of any player.

A pair of Chunichi Dragons, first baseman Dayan Viciedo and third baseman Shuhei Takahashi, earned selection with 179 and 142 votes, respectively. Takahashi, 25, picked up his maiden award, while former big leaguer Viciedo made his second straight appearance.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada (250) and Yokohama BayStars outfielder Neftali Soto (172) rounded out the CL picks.

Seibu catcher Tomoya Mori topped the PL polling with 251 votes after posting a league-leading .329 batting average for the pennant winners.

The 24-year-old tallied 162 hits, 23 home runs and 105 RBIs as he helped lead the Lions to the PL Climax Series, where they were beaten four games to one by SoftBank.

“It’s an honor to be selected for the Best Nine this season. I will do my best to be chosen again next year,” said Mori, who earned his maiden selection in 2018.

The other Lions to make the Best Nine were Hotaka Yamakawa (230) at first base, shortstop Sosuke Genda (186), outfielder Shogo Akiyama (246) and third baseman Takeya Nakamura, who snared 240 votes for his sixth selection after a four-year absence.

SoftBank ace Kodai Senga gained his first award after helping lead the Hawks to their third straight Japan Series title.

The righty tallied 134 votes in a competitive field after going 13-8 in 26 games with a 2.79 ERA.

“I’m really happy to get this award for the first time. I’m thankful to be chosen and will work even harder to be selected next year,” Senga, 26, said.

Despite their continued dominance on the field, the Hawks picked up only one other Best Nine spot, with Alfredo Despaigne (140) selected at designated hitter.

The other PL outfield spots went to Masataka Yoshida (241) of the Orix Buffaloes and first-timer Takashi Ogino (191) of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura earned his fourth straight award and fourth overall with 159 votes. The former Lion was selected once previously at first base.