This article is part of our DFS NPB series.
The sixth day of the NPB season was a fairly high-scoring one, as expected on a day in which teams across the league trotted out their weakest starters. Wladimir Balentien's two-homer game was one of the top offensive performances of the day in the Hawks' 4-2 win over the Lions. Rick Van Den Hurk had the best pitching performance of the day in that contest, earning the win after striking out seven while allowing two runs on two hits and a walk over 7.2 innings. Elsewhere, the Fighters' Sho Nakata joined the league leaders with his third homer of the season in his team's 8-5 victory over the Golden Eagles. We also saw our first tie of the season, with the Carp and Giants finishing their game level on five runs apiece after 10 innings. Friday's slate, which kicks off the third series of the season, could be a low-scoring affair, with Opening Day starters taking the hill across the league.
Strong track records are rather easy to find on a day full of aces, but Shota Imanaga ($10,900) still manages to separate himself from the pack. He cruised to a 2.91 ERA last season, his fourth in the league, but what really makes the southpaw stand out is his excellent strikeout rate, which came in at 27.2 percent. That gives him plenty of upside, though a much lesser pitcher would still be an interesting play against the hapless Tigers, who have scored just 10 runs in their first six games.
Kohei Arihara ($11,800), who could make the jump to MLB in 2021, also has plenty of upside as a high-strikeout arm, as he posted a 25.2 percent strikeout rate last season. He paired that number with a 6.3 percent walk rate, helping him to an excellent 2.46 ERA. Those numbers were part of a breakout campaign for the 27-year-old as he'd posted an ERA of 4.50 or higher in the two previous seasons, with a strikeout rate as low as 12.1 percent in 2017. He'll face a Golden Eagles side which sat a modest third out of six in runs per game in the Central League last season.
Tomoyuki Sugano ($12,500) had a down season last year, as his still-decent 3.89 ERA was the worst mark of his career and his first time finishing with an ERA north of 2.33 since his rookie season back in 2013. As the most expensive pitcher on the slate, he's priced as if he's in line for a bounceback campaign, and he did nothing to dissuade that notion on Opening Day against the Tigers, striking out eight in seven innings while allowing just two runs. He could justify his price again in this one against a Swallows lineup which ranks eighth in scoring so far this year.
It's difficult not to mention Seiya Suzuki ($8,900) yet again, as he leads all regulars in DraftKings points per game this season with 14.2, nearly two points better than Brandon Laird in second place. The outfielder has had a dominant start, hitting .409 with three homers and seven RBI. His hot start is hardly surprising given his numbers from the last four years, where he's hit .300 or better with 26 or more homers each year.
Shuhei Takahashi ($7,400) didn't do much in his first seven NPB seasons, never hitting higher than .257 while typically playing a part-time role. He broke out in his age-25 season last year to his a solid .293/.345/.430 and seems to be carrying that momentum into this season, as he's opened the year hitting .333/.385/.583 through his first six games. He'll get the platoon advantage Friday against Carp righty Daichi Osera, who recorded a solid but hardly intimidating 3.53 ERA last season.
Takahiro Okada ($3,200) comes quite cheap for a leadoff man, though his very low price makes sense given that he appeared in just 20 games last season and struggled to an awful .394 OPS. The 32-year-old has had plenty of success across his 13-year NPB career, however, hitting a solid .261/.334/.448 overall. Judging by his lineup position, the Buffaloes expect him to get back to that level this year, and he's paid off thus fair, reaching base at a .370 clip. He'll get the platoon advantage Friday against Marines righty Ayumu Ishikawa, whose 3.64 ERA last year was respectable but hardly intimidating.
Sho Nakata ($5,700) homered in three of his last four games, tying him for the league lead. All five of his hits thus far have gone for extra bases, as his other two are doubles. The cleanup hitter has been a consistently solid power bat throughout his 12-year NPB career, hitting 24 or more homers in seven of his last eight seasons, though he shouldn't be counted upon for a high average, as he owns a lifetime .253 mark in that category. Still, the total package is certainly worth his modest price.
Stacks To Consider
Ishikawa has had plenty of solid seasons in his 19-year NPB career, though the 40-year-old southpaw is understandably fading. His 3.84 ERA last season was quite respectable, though it's one of the weaker marks amongst a group of top-tier arms. Most of his success came from avoiding free passes, as his 5.1 percent walk rate was able to offset a low 17.1 percent strikeout rate. Whether he can keep his ERA below 4.00 this year remains to be seen, as last year was the first time he'd managed to do so since 2015. Even if he repeats his performance from last year, he shouldn't be too much of a threat to a Giants lineup which leads the league in scoring this season.
We'll want to load up on righties with a southpaw on the mound for the Swallows, and the Giants have two of the best in the league in Okamoto and Sakamoto. Cleanup hitter Okamoto has gotten off to a very hot start, hitting .409 with a pair of homers and seven RBI through his first six games. The 23-year-old owns a career .284 batting average and hit a combined 64 homers over the last two seasons, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him jump to a new level this year given his youth and talent.
Number two hitter Sakamoto has likewise gotten off to a strong start, hitting .364 with a homer and a pair of steals. That speed is something of a surprise, as Sakamoto stole just five bases last season, but the reigning Central League MVP did just about everything else right at the plate last year, hitting .312/.396/.575 with 40 homers, numbers which are doubly impressive given that he's a shortstop. He may not maintain that power going forward, as he's only managed 20 homers in three of his 14 NPB campaigns, but he can fall off a fair amount in that category while still being a strong play.
Kitamura has started just once this season, but he led off Tuesday's game, the last time the Giants faced a lefty. If he's in that role again with Ishikawa on the mound, he'll be an interesting budget play, primarily due to his matchup and lineup position. The 24-year-old's extremely low price makes sense considering he's only received 13 career NPB plate appearances, though he looked quite good for the Giants' minor-league side last season, hitting .290/.414/.428.
Higashihama finished with an ERA of 3.32 or better in three straight seasons from 2016 to 2018, but it all fell apart last year. He made just seven appearances, struggling to a 6.37 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP. Judging by his 16.5 percent strikeout rate and 14.6 percent walk rate, it's hard to say he deserved much better. He did throw five scoreless innings in his season debut this year against the Marines, but the Lions present quite a tough test, as they led the league in scoring last season, scoring 0.65 more runs per game than the second-place Giants.
Cleanup man Yamakawa leads this stack. He's gone a modest 5-for-20 at the plate through his first six games this season, though he's walked four times and driven in six runs. The first baseman is one of the top sluggers in Japan despite his 5-foot-9 frame, hitting a combined 90 homers over the last two seasons.His 47 bombs in 2018, paired with a .281/.396/.590 slash line, earned him the Pacific League MVP.
The Lions also have the 2019 Pacific League MVP in Mori. While he'd be even more valuable if DraftKings used individual positions for their NPB contests, his numbers stand on their own even if he doesn't get a boost for being a catcher. Mori has yet to do much this year, but he's coming off an age-23 campaign in which he hit .329/.413/.547 with 24 homers and 105 RBI. Batting out of the number three spot with the platoon advantage against an unreliable righty, he could be in for a big day Friday.
Like Mori, leadoff hitter Spangenberg hasn't fully gotten going this year, recording one four-hit game while grabbing just three total hits in his other five contests. Still, with the platoon advantage against Higashihama in this one, this is as good a time as any for him to break out. The 29-year-old was far from a star in his six MLB seasons, but he held his own with a .256/.315/.389 slash line, good for a 92 wRC+. He should be set up for success in the second-best league in the world.