This article is part of our DFS NPB series.
Scoring was up in the fifth day of NPB action Wednesday, with teams plating an average of five runs. The Hawks led the way with nine runs, and, with three players homering and five recording multi-hit days, they provided plenty of possible stacks. Elsewhere, Seiya Suzuki and Brandon Laird jumped out to an early lead in the home-run race, each hitting their third bomb of the year. Even on a higher-scoring day, quality pitching performances weren't impossible to find, with the Carp's Aren Kuri leading the way by striking out nine Giants in seven innings while allowing just two hits and a single unearned run. Good pitching could be quite scarce Thursday, however, as teams in Japan use six-man rotations, meaning that each team in this slate will be using their sixth starter. Four of the 12 starting pitchers in these contests will be making their NPB debuts.
Rick van den Hurk ($12,700) is by far the most expensive starter on the slate, though it's hard to argue with that assessment, even against a Lions side which led the league in scoring last season. Injuries limited van den Hurk to just three games last year, though he was healthy in the playoffs, starting the third game of the Japan Series for the champions. His overall numbers in five NPB seasons are quite strong, as he owns a career 3.50 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP, striking out a strong 26.6 percent of opposing batters while walking just 7.5 percent.
As a player with parts of six years' worth of experience in MLB, Drew VerHagen ($10,600) deserves respect at the NPB level until he proves otherwise. His 5.11 ERA in 199 career innings, all for the Tigers, was nothing special, though it came with a respectable 4.76 FIP and a roughly average 4.50 xFIP. His combination of a 18.3 percent strikeout rate and an 8.8 percent walk rate was nothing special, though it should play just fine in the lower-strikeout environment in Japan. He'll face a Golden Eagles side which sits in the middle of the pack in scoring this season, tied for fifth, the same spot they occupied last year.
Though it came in just 51.1 innings, Takahiro Shiomi's ($8,100) 3.16 ERA from last season stands out among a group of uninspiring alternatives. A strong 23.9 percent strikeout rate and an excellent 4.6 percent walk rate backed that number up. The veteran southpaw has been a quality arm throughout his eight-year NPB career, posting a lifetime 3.67 ERA. He'll face VerHagen's Fighters, a team that finished 10th in scoring last year.
Seiya Suzuki ($8,300) has showed up here a few times already, but it's hard not to look his way again, given his hot start. He's hit .412 through his first five games, tying for the league lead with three homers while leading the league with seven RBI. That excellent start should hardly be a surprise given Suzuki's numbers from his last several seasons. He's hit .300 or better for four straight seasons, hitting an average of 28.3 homers while stealing an average of 15.3 bases. He'll face Giants righty Toshiki Sakurai, who recorded an unimpressive 4.32 ERA last season.
Tetsuto Yamada ($8,000) is another recurring character in this column, but he's produced similarly strong numbers, as his modest .263 batting average comes with a pair of homers and a pair of steals. That strong overall performance is right in line with expectations for Yamada, who has four 30-homer, 30-steal seasons in the last five years, hitting over .300 in three of those campaigns. He'll get a relatively easy matchup against the Tigers' Takumi Akiyama in this one, who struck out just 14.6 percent of opposing batters en route to a 4.26 ERA last season.
Ryoya Kurihara ($3,400) shows up here for the second straight day, and he certainly paid off in Wednesday's slate, going 3-for-6 with a double and a pair of runs. The 23-year-old's very low price tag is a reflection of the fact that he'd played just 46 largely uninspiring games prior to this season, but he's been installed in one of the top two spots in the Hawks' order in all five games this season and has made his manager look quite smart, hitting .375 with four doubles. He'll get the platoon advantage against Lions' righty Keisuke Honda, who struggled to a 4.63 ERA and a 14.1 percent strikeout rate last season.
Jefry Marte's ($5,600) Tigers have really struggled this season, scoring a total of nine runs in their first five games. That hasn't been Marte's fault, as he's gone 6-for-17 (.353) at the plate with a homer, two runs and two RBI. The 29-year-old hit a mediocre .222/.288/.407 in 256 MLB games for the Tigers and Angels, but he looked good in his first season in Japan last year, hitting .284/.381/.444. He'll get an easy matchup Thursday against the Swallows' Hirotoshi Takanashi, who posted a 6.23 ERA in 78 innings last season.
Stacks To Consider
There's very little information available on Muranishi, a 23-year-old righty who will be making his NPB debut. He's one of three rookies (along with the BayStars' Yuya Sakamoto and the Dragons' Yuichiro Okano) who will be making their debut Thursday. A third-round draft pick, Muranishi comes in with the lowest reputation out of the trio. He's also facing the toughest opponent of those three, at least judging by this year's results, as the Marines sit fourth in scoring with 4.2 runs per game through their first five contests.
Laird has been one of the hottest hitters in the league thus far, so he naturally heads up this stack despite the fact that he won't get the platoon advantage against Muranishi. His .438 batting average through five games is well above expectations, as he's never hit better than .263 in any of his five NPB campaigns. His three homers, which tie him for the league lead, are much less of a surprise, as he's averaged 32.6 bombs per season. The cleanup hitter has a chance to move into the league lead in that category if he can go deep off an unproven rookie Thursday.
Unlike Laird, number five hitter Martin will get the platoon advantage against Muranishi. He's yet to have an extra-base hit this season, but his .294 batting average and .400 on-base percentage through his first five games are both quite strong. The power should come along soon for the former major-leaguer, as he slugged .495 with 14 homers in 52 games last season, a total which would translate to 38.5 home runs over a full 143-game season.
Number two hitter Kakunaka, another left-handed bat, hasn't really gotten going this season, going just 3-for-20 at the plate, but he's nevertheless a solid budget play to round out this stack. The 33-year-old owns a career .285 batting average, though he hasn't hit above .269 in any of the last three seasons. He's maintained a solid on-base percentage, though, posting a .359 mark in that category last season, making him well-qualified for a role near the top of the Marines' lineup.
At first glance, Endoh's 3.16 ERA last season could make him one of the more intimidating starters on the slate. There are reasons to believe he won't pitch at that level Thursday, however. For starters, those numbers were produced entirely out of the bullpen, so he shouldn't be expected to maintain that level out of the rotation. Additionally, his underlying numbers weren't all that great, as he struck out a roughly average 20.2 percent of opposing batters while walking a high 13.3 percent. He's also unlikely to maintain a 0.2 HR/9 going forward. The Giants, who lead the league in scoring through five games, could be in for another big day.
Cleanup man Okamoto kicks off this stack for the defending Central League champions. The 23-year-old has gotten off to an excellent start, going 8-for-17 with three walks through his first five games, driving in six runs. He's a strong power threat, averaging 31 homers over the last two seasons. While his batting average dropped from .309 to .265 last season, it would hardly be a surprise if he takes a step forward in that category this year given his talent and age.
Number two hitter Sakamoto tested positive for COVID-19 in early June, but it certainly doesn't look like his preseason preparations were significantly impacted, as he's hitting .333/.400/.500 with a pair of steals through his first five games. The reigning Central League MVP hit a career-high 40 homers last season, and while he may not maintain that number this year (he'd only crossed the 20-homer threshold twice in his first 12 NPB seasons), there's every reason to believe he'll again be one of the best hitters in the league.
Maru has yet to get going this season, grabbing just one hit through his first five games, but he remains an interesting option as part of this stack. Some of his value comes from his cheap price, his platoon advantage and his spot as the number three hitter, sandwiched between Okamoto and Sakamoto. He's quite a strong player in his own right, though, even if he's yet to show it this season. The veteran outfielder has hit .291 or better in each of the last four seasons, averaging 28.3 homers and 14.5 steals.