Natsu Day 13 Preview


Hakuho-Kensho

Marking Time Till The Final Showdown

Most of the questions around Natsu were resolved on day 12, and so the last big question – and it’s a big one, is the yusho. Right now, Yokozuna Hakuho has a 1 match lead over Yokozuna Harumafuji. Due to Kisenosato and Kakuryu’s withdraw, they will meet on the final bout of day 15. If both remain at their current scores (12-0, 11-1), Harumafuji can force a playoff by beating Hakuho. I can almost hear the echo of Osaka.

But first the two surviving Yokozuna have to navigate a few challengers. I would expect them to win the next two matches, but there is always an opting for wild outcomes.

There is also the question of the special prizes. Right now Ura, Takayasu, Tamawashi, Tochinoshin and Takakeisho could possibly be considered. For the most part it comes down to 10 wins or more.

For those looking forward to our July banzuke discussion, I dare you to try and figure out the Makuuchi <-> Juryo moves. No one in Juryo will end up with more than 10 wins, ok – that’s not too uncommon, but then there are 7 more that could end up with 9 wins. At this point, only J2w Kyokushuho and J4e Nishikigi look like they might be promotable. But then you have maybe 4 Maegashira who are probably worthy of demotion back to Juryo. Maybe once it’s all over the picture will make more sense, but I doubt it. One thing is certain, the July banzuke is going to have a huge amount of churn.

Natsu Leader board

LeaderHakuho
Hunt Group – Harumafuji
Chasers – Terunofuji, Takayasu, Ura

3 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 13

Sadanoumi vs Kaisei – I am guessing they are trying on Sadanoumi as another promotable. Kaisei is still struggling to lock up a kachi-koshi, he needs 2 more wins.

Kotoyuki vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki has his kachi-koshi, and Kotoyuki may be headed to Juryo, he is also at least somewhat injured. Thus far Kotoyuki leads career matches 3-0, but with him being injured, and Kotoyuki improving quite a bit this basho, it’s time for a new page in their record book.

Ichinojo vs Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu can lock up his kachi-koshi with a win over the towering Ichinojo. I don’t know what happened to Ichinojo, but he really seems so very lost this basho. I think he could be a big deal (and not just his mass to height ratio), but like so many rikishi, he needs to clear up lingering health issues.

Daishomaru vs Takakeisho – Daishomaru trying for his kachi-koshi today against a red-hot Takakeisho. They are evenly matched career wise, but I am guessing Daishomaru may get this one.

Hokutofuji vs Onosho – Another lab experiment bout brought on by kyujo pock-marks in the torikumi. You could look at it as Maegashira 7 vs Maegashira 14, or as two up-and-coming youngsters duking it out. I do know that Onosho has a fun habit of beating Hokutofuji. So I bet this one is a brawl.

Ura vs Ikioi – Oh yes, thank you oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan! This is the kind of match that myself and sumo fans around the globe live for. What kind of bizzaro stuff is Ura going to produce today? Will Ikioi decode his incantations and put a stop to Ura’s sorcery?

Tochinoshin vs Shodai – Yes, yes, a hundred times yes! Both sumotori have secured their promotions, now it’s just to see who is king of the hill. Once again we get the big guy who can’t quite tachiai, against a man with tree trunks for thighs, who can and probably does lift the Tokyo Skytree so they can vacuum under it.

Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – Now that the promotion lanes are going to be open, I am keen to see Yoshikaze reach his magic 8 wins, and cement himself in the San’yaku for July. Chiyoshoma is running on fumes, but can still deliver a great match, as he has dropped Takarafuji and Takakaze in the last two days.

Mitakeumi vs Endo – This goes double for Mitakeumi, I am pulling for him to get his magic 8 and remain in the San’yaku. By the dangly bits of Chiyonofuji, I think he can do it. Endo still has a slim chance at kachi-koshim but he has a bit of an uphill fight. Endo did look very sharp against Yoshikaze day 11, and that a hell of a brawl.

Terunofuji vs Tochiozan – Time to see if our favorite Kaiju was hurt badly on day 12, or if was just some kind of cramp that the trainers could work out. I really pray that Terunofuji can stay healthy, because for the past 2 basho, he has been the only credible Ozeki to be found. Tochiozan will provide a good test for him.

Harumafuji vs Takayasu – These two really do throw down hard. But it’s been since Aki that Takayasu actually won against “The Horse”. A win by the hairy one would cement his Ozeki status, and knock Harumafuji out of the yusho race. But my money is on Harumafuji for day 13, is only loss was a silly slip, and apart from that he is really in excellent form.

Tamawashi vs Hakuho – Hakuho has one goal now, keep in form and pick up no injuries. Tamawashi is strong enough to be a spoiler, but “The Boss” has been in most excellent form this basho, and it’s really magic to watch him do his sumo once more.

Natsu Banzuke Prediction Post-mortem


Two key criteria for developing good predictions are: (1) quantitative evaluation of the prediction and (2) accountability. With that in mind, I take a look at how my banzuke prediction performed.

Upper San’yaku was “chalk” as expected. In the lower San’yaku, I (and other predictions on this site) correctly had Yoshikaze filling the komusubi slot vacated by Shodai. I don’t understand the order of the three sekiwake ranks, as it appears unchanged despite the very different performances at Haru that had all of us predicting the order as Takayasu 1E, Kotoshogiku 1W and Tamawashi 2E.

In the maegashira ranks, of the 31 predictions, I had 11 “bulls-eyes” (correct rank and side” and 3 more correct rank predictions. This is way fewer than I expected or would have liked. The 17 misses were mostly not too bad: 13 missed by one rank, 3 missed by two ranks, and I had Osunaarashi (J1) moving up to M16 and Myogiryu (M15) dropping to J1.

There are three parts to the prediction: the computed ranks, tie-breaking among rikishi with identical ranks, and the departures I make from the computed ranks based on past banzuke patterns. Let’s look at these in turn.

The computed ranks were quite accurate: the official banzuke departs from these in only a couple of places. The computed rank would have Takarafuji at M3, but because of his make-koshi at that rank at Haru, the prediction and the banzuke moved him down to M4. Shodai (one of my two-rank misses) should be down at M7, and I still feel like the NSK cut him way too much slack after his 4-11 performance. And Arawashi and Ishiura would switch sides (but not ranks).

My tie-breaker was higher rank at Haru. This largely resulted in both of my other two-rank misses, as Takanoiwa should have been ranked above Tochiozan (and Aoiyama) by this rule. Presumably his 6-9 record at Haru led to his being dropped further down, although this is not necessarily consistent with past banzuke patterns. In a number of other cases, the tie-breaker got the relative order right, and I will need to look closely to see if the tie-break part of the prediction can be improved.

So, on to the departures from the computed rank order. One rule that resulted in many of my misses was to drop rikishi with 7-8 make-koshi records one spot from their rank at Haru, even if the computed rank would have them retaining their rank. This has often (but not always) been done in past banzuke. Although this rule correctly placed Takarafuji at M4, it placed Kagayaki, Tochinoshin, Ishiura and Daishomaru one slot too low, which also led to one-rank misses in the other direction for Ura, Arawashi, Kotoyuki and Onosho. It seems that the NSK is inconsistent in this scenario, and I’ll have to see if any pattern can be identified.

So overall, I am happy with my computed ranks, need to think more about the tie-break procedure, and need to be more careful with subjective departures from the computed ranks (this also includes demoting Myogiryu in favor of promoting Osunaarashi, even though Myogiryu had a better computed rank).

Others can chime in with how they fared. There will be another opportunity to predict the Nagoya banzuke after Natsu is the in books, and in the meantime we’ll have some actual sumo to watch!

Handicapping The Natsu Banzuke – Part 1


banzuke-1

No Surprises Here

After fairly reasonable success with the Haru banzuke, I dusted off the old spreadsheet and decided to turn the crank for May. The real banzuke is only a week away, and there are a few things that are deep in the unknown, given the chaos and decimation that took place in March to the upper Maegashira ranks. In this series, we take our best guess at where everyone will be ranked for the next tournament in Tokyo.

The San’yaku banzuke is fairly straightforward, with the question being who fills the empty slot at Komosubi vacated by Shodai, and what order the rest of the top men of sumo will take in their respective ranks.

East Rank West
Kisenosato Yokozuna Kakuryu
Harumafuji Yokozuna Hakuho
Terunofuji  Ozeki  Goeido
Takayasu Sekiwake Kotoshogiku
Tamawashi Sekiwake
Mitakeumi Komusubi Yoshikaze

Yokozuna

With just a slight shuffle from March, we now see two time yusho winner Kisenosato as 1 East, with Hakuho dropping to 2 West after sitting out most of Haru with lingering foot problems. During the spring jungyo, Kakuryu was the only Yokozuna making daily appearances for a few weeks, as everyone else was injured and recovering. This further underscores the problems with the current Yokozuna crowd. Now all of them are injured and degraded in some way.

As is frequently the case, there was scant coverage of the true extent of Kisenosato’s injuries, so it will be interesting to see if he is still weakened or if he has fully recovered. Hakuho and Harumafuji were both able to join the jungyo tour a few weeks ago, and were at least able to train with the other rikishi.

Ozeki

Terunofuji’s fantastic performance in March may have not been a sign of things to come, as it seems he re-injured his knees in his day 13 bout against Kakuryu. This explains a few things about his henka against Kotoshogiku, and also why an injured Kisenosato had any chance in his final day match. When Terunofuji is healthy and in fighting form, he is fast, effective and at times a bit scary. We hope he comes to Natsu in form and ready to fight, but fear his chronic injuries are going to hobble him yet again.

The same can be said about Goeido, who had a horrific injury towards the end of Hatsu, and had reconstructive surgery on his ankle. He competed during the March tournament in Osaka, and was a complete mess – clearly not recovered or ready for action. He enters this tournament kadoban once again.

Sekiwake

A second tournament with three Sekiwake, as none of them had a record worthy of demotion. Kotoshogiku has decided to remain active and fighting, though his chances of re-promotion to Ozeki are nonexistent. It is unknown if he is still plagued by the injuries that had degraded his performance to the point he was demoted. Tamawashi managed to hold on to his Sekiwake rank with a 1 win kachi-koshi. He is not yet strong enough to contend for an Ozeki slot, but the fact that he has been able to survive as Sekiwake this long is a testament both to his talent (and training) and the problems in the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps.

Of course, there is Takayasu. He is 10 wins away from securing a promotion to Ozeki, and he has been looking in form for the last several basho. But with Kisenosato out and injured, the logical question must be what effect that will have on Takayasu. Both men are constant training partners, and their mutual strength, determination and dedication is what has driven their increasing performance. Take that away, and it’s natural to wonder what effect Kiseonsato’s absence will have on Takayasu’s Ozeki efforts.

Komusubi

Mitakeumi, sumo’s next-next Ozeki, remains at Komusubi in spite of performance and records that would normally have him sharing Sekiwake with Takayasu. Mitakeumi has been bringing fantastic sumo to the dohyo every match, and I am eager to see him battle his way up to the next rank. Joining him at Komusubi is none other than my favorite, Yoshikaze. This was a tough call, as there was such a blood bath in the top 4 Maegashira ranks that Shodai actually had better computed rank, even with his horrific 4-11 record. So there was really only one choice, and that is veteran sumo berserker Yoshikaze.

Mitakeumi & The Sekiwake Squad Face Down 1972


mitakeumi
This man has some more winning to do.

I’ve focused quite a bit on mathematics in my first couple of posts, so I wanted to formulate a minor Natsu banzuke prediction in this post based more on history. As I detailed in looking at the shift in first week results, much of the change we’re seeing has come down to those at the Sekiwake rank punching above their weight. And much of the debate around the new banzuke seems to be focused on how many such ranked rikishi we may see as we prepare for the next tournament in Tokyo.

So let’s go back 45 years and look at an interesting turn of results that led the banzuke to shift from the standard 2 Sekiwake up to an incredible 5:
Continue reading

Yokozuna Harumafuji Defeated By Sekiwake Tamawashi


Harumafuji-14

Clinches Kachi-Koshi With Important Victory

In a further sign that the current Sekiwake ranked rikishi are on a path towards higher ranks, Tamawashi bested Yokozuna Harumafuji in a fast, aggressive bout. This victory gave Tamawashi his much needed kachi-koshi, signaling he will retain the rank of Sekiwake for his third consecutive tournament. Tamawashi cannot necessarily be considered to be in contention for promotion to Ozeki yet. He can only, at best, reach 9 wins this tournament, which would not make a strong case for promotion. But the ability to survive and even thrive in sumo’s toughest rank speaks volumes about his skill and tenacity.

It’s also noteworthy that there were multiple reports of heckling from the crowd directed towards Yokozuna Harumafuji. I am going to assume that it’s in response to Kisenosato’s injuries following the day 13 match with Harumafuji, and Tachiai hopes that Japanese sumo fans are just blowing off a bit of steam. The last thing sumo needs is some manner of endemic anti-Mongolian theme.

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.

Haru Basho Day 3 Summary


Sokokurai

Harumafuji Gifts a Kinboshi to Sokokurai

A few brief notes before I return to nursing what is a terrible cold. Day 3 action offered some really nice action, do make a point of checking them out on Kintamayama’s  youtube channel or Jason’s All Sumo Channel. Both are friends of the Tachiai team, and without them, overseas (from Japan) sumo fans would have to get by on the NHK summaries alone.

Ishiura looked strong and in control today in his win over Daieisho, you can definitely see some of the moves he has learned from Hakuho in today’s bout.

Ura lost his match against Tochiozan. Ura came in low, and Tochiozan kept him low and off balance. Isaac Newton took care of the rest. Tochinoshin (his first of the year) finally won one against the new winless Sadanoumi.

Okinoumi put in a great effort to overcome Kagayaki, who is yet to score a victory this basho. Chiyoshoma defeated Kotoyuki to remain at 3-0. So maybe Chiyoshoma is on a bit of a hot streak. Likewise Takarafuji is at 3-0 after he found no challenge from Endo.

Ichinojo? He’s doing real sumo these days. He looks like he could turn into a serious guy too. With his size and strength he could do a lot. He dominated Hokotofuji today.

Among the San’yaku battle fleet, Mitakeumi won convincingly over Tamawashi. Mitakeumi established a strong mawashi grip about 10 seconds in, and then had total control over Tamawashi. This is much to be learned here – Mitakeumi use to be a straight pusher/thruster. This worked great for him until he found there were limits to that technique, so he added mawashi sumo into the mix, and deploys it with skill. The result is that he is now a much better rikishi.

As expected, Takayasu contained Kotoshogiku and put him on the clay. The former Ozeki cold not get any power going against the Sekiwake, and appeared out of options when Takayasu took him down.

Terunofuji had no trouble with Shohozan, and is fighting much better than expected. I do hope that he has his body healed up, and we can see a lot of his sumo this tournament.

Goeido fell far too easily to Shodai today. It was clear that Goeido 1.0 was on the clay, and Shodai rolled him down and out. I have real concerns about that right ankle, as he was keeping pressure off of it today.

Takekaze gave Hakuho a honest, vigorous fight today. It was a beautiful thing to watch. But as is Hakuho’s style he took his time andwaited for his opportunity. That extra shove at the end is classic “old school” Hakuho. Surprised it showed up today. Maybe the Boss is getting frustrated.

Takanoiwa has yet to win a match this basho, but he is fighting well. Today against Kisenosato, he gave the shin-Yokozuna a decent challenge. At least twice Kiseonsato was off balanced, but recovered with remarkable speed for a man of his size, once again striking his Mae pose right at the end.

The Harumafuji match – The horse really looks out of his element now. His balance seems to be off, and he seems sluggish. I don’t know if he is taking pain meds to overcome his injuries or what, but I think that Sokokurai winning by a hatakikomi comes as a surprise to many fans.