Guess the Natsu Banzuke 2.0


In my previous guest post, I made predictions for the Natsu banzuke right after the conclusion of the Haru basho. With the release of the official Natsu banzuke only 10 days away, I thought I’d update my predictions, based partly on the feedback I received from Tachiai readers. In addition to pointing out the inherent unpredictability of the banzuke due to subjective NSK committee decisions, commenters noted that the committee tends to favor higher-ranked rikishi over lower-ranked ones to a greater extent than my predictions did. With that in mind, here is a second attempt at the Natsu banzuke.

Rank East West
K Mitakeumi Yoshikaze (3)
M1 Chiyonokuni (3) Endo (4)
M2 Okinoumi (3) Chiyoshoma (4)
M3 Daieisho (4) Takanoiwa (5)
M4 Takarafuji (4) Aoiyama (5)
M5 Takekaze (6) Ikioi (6)
M6 Tochiozan (5) Hokutofuji (6)
M7 Shodai (7) Takakeisho (6)
M8 Shohozan (8) Sokokurai (9)
M9 Ichinojo (10) Ura (11)
M10 Kagayaki (10) Arawashi (13)
M11 Tochinoshin (11) Kotoyuki (14)
M12 Ishiura (12) Tokushoryu (14)
M13 Toyohibiki (14) Onosho (15)
M14 Daishomaru (14) Chiyotairyu (16)
M15 Kaisei (17) Oyanagi (17)
M16 Osunaarashi (18)

I rank-ordered the rikishi by a score based on their rank in the previous basho and their win-loss record. This score, given in parentheses, roughly corresponds to the rank the wrestler “deserves,” (i.e. 3 = M3), though of course the actual rank is affected by the ranks of others and the need to fill all the slots. So for instance, this time around, even though nobody below Mitakeumi had a score above 3, the KW, M1 and M2 slots still needed to be filled.

I then generally simply filled in the ranks from K1W to M16E in this order, with ties broken in favor of higher rank at Haru. The main consistent departure from this order is that those with make-koshi must drop a rank; this affected Takarafuji, Kagayaki, Tochinoshin, Ishiura, and Daishomaru, who otherwise might have been placed a rank or two higher. Takanoiwa, Ura, Arawashi, Kotoyuki, and Onosho benefited by being ranked a bit higher as a result of this rule.

I’ve indicated other deviations from this rank order by italics. I gave the nod to Endo over Okinoumi for M1W given Endo’s popularity and higher rank. I placed Tochiozan at M6 instead of M5 so that Takekaze and Ikioi, who had identical Haru performances at the same rank, would remain at the same rank. And I brought Osunaarashi back to makuuchi in favor of Myogiryu, who drops to Juryo, along with Sadanoumi, Kyokushuho, Nishikigi, and Chiyoo.

Differences in rank from my previous prediction are in color, red for higher and blue for lower; bold indicates differences of more than one step in rank. These predictions are more sensitive to assumptions about how rikishi with identical or very similar scores are ranked relative to each other, and therefore have lower confidence.

Have at it with your own predictions! I might try to compile how we did after the banzuke is released.

A Closer Look at San’yaku after Week 1


Moment of Silence
One of these men is more consistent than the others – and basically everyone else.

Hi there – this is my first guest post on the site, so thanks for having me! Following Bruce’s analysis last week, contrasting the early upper san’yaku vs lower san’yaku results from the current Basho to that of last year’s Nagoya tournament, I posited that it might be interesting to have a look at a larger sample size and determine if what we’re seeing is the product of a shift in the performance of the upper san’yaku over time, and what it might mean.

I pulled the first week win/loss data (up through day 8) of each tournament going back to January 2015, the logic being that a 2 year period of first week bouts would give us an idea of what it means to perform at the level of a Yokozuna or an Ozeki in this day and age. I selected 8 days because this has typically been the tipping point in the tournament after which the upper san’yaku (of which there have usually been 7) stop being polite and start being real, and are then starting to fight each other.

Finally, I removed forfeit matches due to rikishi going kyujo from the equation entirely. While these wins and losses show up in the history books, they don’t give us a true read on whether or not the rikishi involved are performing at the expected talent level.

This is all basic stuff and is meant to be a jumping off point from which assumptions can be based so that we can have some more detailed conversations in future. So let’s see what the data (which you can see in rawer form here) tells us:

* A Yokozuna can usually be counted on to lose one match in the first week. Over 2015 & 2016, the win rate (or wins per day in Bruce’s format) of a Yokozuna is 85.7%. Taking into account that healthy rikishi will fight 24 times, we’d expect to see 3 losses from the group and this is exactly what happened in 8 of those 12 tournaments.

* Ozeki typically perform 15% worse than the Yokozuna. So, they lose a little more than 1 more match apiece on average than their more prestigious counterparts. Interestingly, this is exactly what has transpired in 2017 as well as 2015 and 2016 – the downturn in Yokozuna performance (~10%) has been almost exactly matched by their Ozeki counterparts in spite of Kisenosato moving up a level: his brilliant Hatsu masked disasters from Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku, while his promotion has covered for the kyujo Hakuho and underperforming Harumafuji and Kakuryu.

Yokozuna Win Percentage 2015-16: 85.7%
Yokozuna Win Percentage 2017: 75.6%

Ozeki Win Percentage 2015-16: 70%
Ozeki Win Percentage 2017: 60.5%

* Hakuho isn’t in trouble – at least as far as week 1 is concerned. He was 7-1 in January and having gone kyujo twice in the 2 years prior (including once mid-basho), he came back with 8-0 and 7-1 starts. He clearly was struggling early in this tournament along with Harumafuji and Kakuryu (who have since seen their records improve), but if his body works then the early results bear out when fighting against his lower ranking san’yaku competitors.

* Sekiwake up their game. Over 2015-16, the expected win rate for a Sekiwake in week 1 was a paltry 46.3% – you wouldn’t even expect them to end up 4-4 never mind challenge for Ozeki promotion, which obviously only happened once (Terunofuji) in that time frame. However this has increased over the first two basho of 2017 to 64.6% – almost as good as an Ozeki would usually be expected to perform (70%).

* This hasn’t been reflected at Komusubi level. Usually Komusubi win 33.2% of their first week matches, but that’s only up to 35.4% this year. Tochinoshin’s tanking at Hatsu is somewhat to blame for this but of the four Komusubi performances this year, only Takayasu has turned in a winning performance at the level in matches fought, and even that was only a 4-3 standing after 8 days. This is still as hard of a level as ever to compete at.

* The recent lower san’yaku level of performance isn’t totally unprecedented, however. While we began to see the tide swing toward the lower san’yaku in January, there were actually 5 better performances over the past couple years – a 5 basho streak starting with a 50% success rate in March 2015 through to a 43.8% hit rate in December 2015 – from the up and comers than in January (42.9% success rate).

* Takayasu may be more special than we think. Most Sekiwake have never returned to the rank over the past 2+ years: only 3 prior rikishi have re-obtained the title after losing it since the start of 2015. However, unlike Ichinojo, Myogiryu and Okinoumi, Takayasu looks to be the first to fight back and look capable of not only hold the rank but have the stuff to move up. Of the prior three, only Myogiryu was even tenuously able to cling on for one more basho at the ranking.

* Kisenosato starts as well as anyone not named Hakuho. While his historical troubles with finishing off the yusho have been well detailed, his week 1 performances have outshined Kakuryu over the last 2+ years and he’s in a dead heat with Harumafuji’s level of performance. While it’s not clear yet that he’s better at this level than a healthy Hakuho, Hakuho’s toe problem means the Shin-Yokozuna was already for all intents and purposes the top dog coming out of the traps even before the the first grain of salt was thrown at Haru.

* No one’s success rate has taken a bigger hit than Goeido. The Ozeki from Osaka’s first week win rate has dropped over 20% in 2017. Historically he’d been expected to win almost exactly two thirds of his opening week matches, but he now sits at a lacklustre 46% – the exact tally we’d typically expect from a Sekiwake that’s might be demoted lower. He really shouldn’t have turned up unfit at Haru.

So what does all of this mean? There’s a certain shift as we’re seeing results that haven’t been there over the past several years, but it’s much too soon to call it a day on the current crop of Yokozuna. At Haru, they’ve lost 2 more matches as a group than we’d expect to have seen, but as recently as November they were turning in a vintage week 1 performance that stands up to anything else they’ve done recently, battering the lower san’yaku with better than expected results.

Health aside, in the short term the data shows that we can probably expect to see some more turbulence in the rankings of a small group of rikishi in between the Sekiwake and Ozeki tiers, and what it means to fight at those levels may become somewhat blurry if Kotoshogiku ends up as the first in what could be a string of yo-yo rikishi. The next two or three basho will be telling to be sure, and I’ll continue to update the data to see how the san’yaku bear out against each other in the early going to try and pick up more signals.

Imbalance In San’yaku By The Numbers


San'yaku

The Yokozuna and Ozeki Are Hurting

It’s clear that the Ozeki / Yokozuna problems from January have not abated, and we are seeing a strong effort from the lower San’yaku. As most sumo fans will tell you, the Sekiwake and Komusubi ranks are horrific assignments that see rikishi get handed brutal losing records that typically launch them down the banzuke for several tournaments. Let’s take a look at Nagoya 2016

Nagoya – Yokozuna / Ozeki (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
4 0 Hakuho
3 1 Harumafuji
3 1 Kakuryu
4 0 Kisenosato
2 2 Goeido
0 4 Kotoshogiku
4 0 Terunofuji

Total of 20 wins, 8 losses after 5 days, or a 0.71 wins / day from this crew. Very powerful. They Yokozuna crew produced 0.83 wins / day, which is even more dominant.

Meanwhile, lower San’yaku was a blood bath

Nagoya – Sekiwake / Komusubi (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
3 1 Kaiesei
0 4 Tochinoshin
0 4 Kotoyuki
3 1 Takayasu

6 wins, 10 losses by day 4. Kaisei and Takayasu were pulling hard, but Kotoyuki and Tochinoshin were being beaten bloody. In fact, now almost a year later and neither one has actually recovered from that basho’s pounding. This crew turned in 0.3 wins / day. Very ugly, right? And this is how it typically is for these ranks.

Now lets see what is happening during the first 4 days of Haru

Osaka – Yokozuna / Ozeki (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
2 2 Hakuho
3 1 Kakuryu
2 2 Harumafuji
4 0 Kisenosato
1 3 Goeido
4 0 Terunofuji

Not as strong, they are producing an average of 0.66 wins / day, with Kisenosato and Terunofuji really hauling most of that themselves. Meanwhile, in lower San’yaku land

Osaka – Sekiwake / Komusubi (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
2 2 Tamawashi
4 0 Takayasu
3 1 Kotoshogiku
2 2 Mitakeumi
2 2 Shodai

Also averaging a respectable 0.66 wins / day. Instead of the normal beating, the Sekiwake and Komusubi are keeping pace with the Ozeki and Yokozuna. While the basho is still young, this would seem to indicate that there is a real challenge to the top men of sumo from the lieutenant ranks now. Also keep in mind, the first week is “Hell Week” for the Sekiwake and Komusubi, where they are typically pounded to a bloody mess by the Ozeki and Yokozuna. Week 2 has them returning the favor to the Makuuchi troops.

As with Hatsu, this is going to be a departure from the typical basho, and is a further signal that we will likely see a change soon.

Haru Day 1 Preview


Day 1 Preview

Let’s Get Started!

At long last your Tachiai crew is back in Basho mode. The NSK schedulers gave us a great first day to prep us for what could be a pivotal basho as the old guard fights to remain in the face of a powerful new generation of rikishi.

There are many unanswered questions about the health of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps that may only reveal themselves by day 7 or so. The Yokozuna and Ozeki have an “easy” first week fighting the lower San’yaku and upper Maegashira. In fact during the Hatsu basho, we saw a new side of Hakuho where he barely moved during the tachiai in the first week. He stood up and waited for his practice rikishi to come to him for folding and ejection from the Doyho.

But this time is different, but the San’yaku hopefuls and the upper Maegashira smell blood in the water, and even without the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps to face in the first week, they want to best each other jockey for as many as 4 possible Ozeki slots this year. It’s going to be a San’yaku bloodbath, and if the injured upper ranks are not careful, their they may get seriously hurt.

To folks who are recent to Sumo tournaments, a few pointers. Most westerners like myself naturally like to divide things into halves and quarters. Even numbers are happy and comfortable. A basho is 15 days long and does not split evenly. In fact it was never meant to. A basho actually tends to happen in 3 five day acts, each one drives priority and placement in the daily torikumi or match schedule.

The first third is all about warming up your stars, you Ozeki and Yokozuna. Preferably by crushing the daylights out of the Komusubi and Sekiwake along with a few upstart Maegashira. The more of them with make-koshi the better. And you see who seems to be on a “hot” run.

The middle third is all about grooming a leader group, the rikishi who are clearly going to be among the handful that will take the yusho, and ensuring that the “right” group emerges. This is also where you start to see sumotori withdraw due to injury.

The final third is where dreams and crushed, and the champion emerges.

With that being said, let’s get down to business

Day 1 Matches We Like

Takakeisho vs. Daishomaru – There is a strange theme in the lower part of Makuuchi for day one, the ranks seem to be facing off. Here Maegashira 13e faces 13w. There only prior meeting saw Takakeisho win by pushing Daishomaru out from behind (okuridashi)

Sadanoumi vs. Ura – In this one the Maegashira 12s go head to head. If this makes the NHK World highlight real, this may be many US fan’s first chance to see a broadcast of Ura in action. Their only prior bout was in Juryo where Ura won by sukuinage, which is actually a really trick Judo throw.

Ishiura vs Tochiozan – Ishiura starts his climb back where he faces Tochiozan for the first time. Tochiozan has been struggling of late, so there may not be much to this match, but it will provide us an early look to see if Ishiura is getting more comfortable in his sumo at this level.

Ichinojo vs. Aoiyama – Battle of the giants! Ichinojo is one of the few rikishi who might not notice when Aoiyama lands one of his amazing slaps. I will be certain that both men will be flailing away with reckless abandon, and frankly I give a slight edge to Aoiyama this time, although Inchinojo leads there career record 5-2.

Endo vs. Arawashi – Arawashi had a farily bad record coming out of January, and Endo had a losing record as well. They have only matched 3 times prior, with Endo taking 2. If Endo can land a grip within the first few seconds, it’s all Endo. if Arawashi can keep him away at first, he will likely prevail.

Shohozan vs. Takayasu – Another fine scheduling idea – let’s have Kisenosato’s retainers fight each other the first day. Because you know they both want to know who is better. So send the sword-bearer and dew-sweeper in to sort it out like Sumotori do. in their prior 9 matches, Takayasu holds a very slight 5-4 edge. But by all accounts in the press, Takayasu has been training in “Beast Mode” in Kisenosato’s fight-club dungeon in Osaka. So this will be an early show of his current mode of sumo.

Tamawashi vs. Takanoiwa – Dont’ let his Maegashira 2 rank fool you, I call him “Demon Hunter Takanoiwa” for a reason. When he gets going his sumo if fast and effective, and even the Yokozuna are never safe. Tamawashi holds a 3-2 edge from their prior meetings, but it will be interesting to see if Tamawashi can deploy his Sekiwake moves. If Takanoiwa can set up for a throw, it’s all over, so keep you feed low and your stance wide, Tamawashi.

Sokokurai vs. Terunofuji – Time to see just how damaged Terunofuji is, and Sokokurai drew the reconnaissance mission. All indications is that Terunofuji is still hurt, not very well tuned up and in demotion condition. Keep in mind Sokokurai has never won against Terunofuji, but there is always a first.

Goeido vs. Ikioi – Ikioi has been steadily improving all through 2016. Now he will test Goeido’s bolt-on ankle repair kit. Ikioi has only won once in their prior 14 matches, but he has more than enough mojo to handle Goeido 1.0 if he is still only partially recovered. If Goeido 2.0 takes the doyho, Ikioi may need a doctor standing by.

Harumafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Demoted Ozeki against one of the strongest pure offenses in sumo. I hope and pray that none of these men do Kotoshogiku any favors, and that they honor him by giving him their full measure. This being Kotoshogiku, he will try to lock up Harumafuji for the hug-n-chug. I am hoping for a death-spin instead. But we are more likely to see the mini-henka or worse yet the old “Darth Vader”.

Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – I think this will be the match of the day. Mitakeumi, if he stays healthy, is an important rikishi for many years to come. He had a chance to advance his cause with the most reactive and dynamic people in Sumo. I am convinced that Kakuryu has not pre-set plan, and waits for his opponent to open up, then concocts a series of countering moves that leaves that rikishi in increasingly bad positions, until Kakuryu just pushes them out or down. Kakuryu has won 2 of their 3 lifetime matches, so Mitakeumi has a chance to draw his mark early.

Special Wakaichiro Note

Tachiai favorite, Texas Sumotori Wakaichiro, fights his first bout in Jonokuchi early Sunday. He faces Jonokuchi 6 Shunpo, who has been strugging to escape Jonokuchi for 5 basho. Shunpo is only 16 years old and weighs about 213 pounds (97 kg). As always, we will post news and video as we can find it.

March Banzuke Released!


banzuke

Tachiai Formula Driven Ranking Comes Close

As expected, the banzuke for the Osaka tournament in March was published by the Japan Sumo Association this afternoon US time. Find it here. Much to our surprise, the formula defined after careful sifting of many past tournaments turned out to be fairly close in many cases. The most glaring miss was the demotion of Tochinoshin down to Maegashira 10, as opposed to rank velocity putting him only at Maegarshia 3. For future banzuke predictions, we will be adjusting the demotion scoring to try to get closer.

The other interesting wrinkle was that the new Maegarshia promoted from Juryo were inserted higher in the banzuke than expected. Some highlights

Three Sekiwake – As predicted, there are three wrestlers ranked at Sekiwake for March. This is the normal two with the addition of demoted Kotoshogiku, who is at this rank while he attempts a 10 win comeback to re-secure Ozeki.

Komosubi Power CoupleMitakeumi and Shodai at Komusubi means there are no slackers in the San’yaku this tournament. This is going to be quite thrilling, I think. It also means that the Ozeki and Yokozuna are going to be vigorously challenged.

Takekaze top Maegashira – the veteran was strong in the January opener, and how he has a chance to really deliver the goods.

Takanoiwa was promoted to Maegarshira 2, vs the Maegarshira 4 predicted by the formula. As stated in the earlier posts, there is some hand modification done (it would seem) to get the banzuke “right”.

Hokutofuji was also 2 ranks higher, Maegashira 5 vs the predicted Maegashira 7. He had a strong run in January, and perhaps the NSK thinks it’s time for him to be tested above the middle of the pack.

Ura debuts in Makuuchi at Maegashira 12, I am hoping he makes the NHK World highlight show every day.

More in depth analysis coming from Tachiai now that we begin the march toward Haru. It’s time for sumo!

Hatsu Recap 5 – Takayasu Recovers


takayasu

Back On An Ozeki Path

For the second half of 2016, Takayasu was on a march towards a bid to be promoted to Ozeki. At Kyushu, the goal was before him, needing a strong 12 wins to close the deal, and secure his promotion. Sadly, faced with victory, he utterly failed, and finished with a losing record, and demoted back down to Komusubi. Going into Hatsu, we asked if Takayasu could re-focus on his sumo, and return to his winning ways.

For fans of Takayasu, Hatsu was a triumph. With most of the Ozeki and Yokozuna out or hurt, he was able to rack up 11 wins, and a special prize. In the process he defeated 3 Ozeki and 2 Yokozuna. This set him squarely on the path back to Sekiwake, and re-ignited his bid to claim a promotion to Ozeki.

But there is a cloud on Takayasu’s shining path to Ozeki. At the Hatsu basho, we witnessed the ascendency of Mitakeumi, who also turned in an 11-4 record. Mitakeumi was strong, relentless and executed his sumo well. In Takayasu’s past efforts during 2016, he was the sole sekitori who stood any chance of promotion. It appears in 2017 there will be at least two, and possibly three that push towards sumo’s second highest rank.

The criteria for Takayasu’s promotion is 33 wins over 3 tournaments. That continues in Osaka, provided the March banzuke places him, as we expect, at Sekiwake.

Hatsu Day 14 Preview


day-14

Final Weekend Begins

Hatsu has been an interesting tournament for fans, but it has been brutal for Sumo’s talent. In the top division alone there have been 4 rikishi that have withdrawn with injuries, and many more (such as Kotoshogiku and Osunaarashi) who continue on although they should probably be nursing their wounds.

It would be easy to think of day 14 is filler while we all wait for the final, all important battle between Yokozuna Hakuho and Ozeki Kisenosato, but in fact there are a number of sumotori who are still fighting to secure their winning record (kachi-koshi). This includes

Sadanoumi who will fight Ura in the first bout of Makuuchi, Aoiyama who fights Kagayaki in a battle of slaps, Chiyoshoma who fights Daishomaru , and Ikioi who faces hapless doomed Ozeki Kotoshogiku.

There also seems to be a number of “test matches” that feature men from much lower down the banzuke trying their sumo against upper ranked rikishi. These will likely give us some good idea of how they might perform after their expected promotions. This includes

Takayasu vs Sokokurai – Komusubi (working to start an Ozeki run) vs Maegashira 10, but they have even records, and Sokokurai is a real contender. I am certain that Takayasu will take this match seriously, and it could be a real brawl.

Kisenosato vs Ichinojo – The dai-Ozeki vs Maegashira 13, but Ichinojo will be no walk in the park. He has lost a lot of weight, and is in good fighitng form now. Its expected that Kisenosato will dispatch him, but Ichinojo’s size, weight and strength means it’s going to take some work.

Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji shows hints of being a very strong, dominant member for the new class of rikishi. He goes against Mitakeumi who has really impressed this tournament. On day 13, Mitakeumi looked a little bit spent, but we think he will gamberize for this match.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyotairyu – The mobile attack platform know as Yoshikaze will test Chiyotairyu, who is only Maegashira 14. The Berserker is a personal favorite, but he seems to be slowing down a bit these days. He still has skill and speed on his side.

Hakuho vs Takanoiwa – So the greatest Yokozuna of our age is going against a Maegashira 10. Takanoiwa comes in at 10-3, but it’s all against the bottom half of Makuuchi. I expect Hakuho to fold him like a paper airplane and send him up, up and away.