Rethinking the Heya Power Rankings

It’s been a bit since we published the heya power rankings.

This feature started off several years ago when I – and others! – were interested in the idea of ranking the performance of a stable.

Now, to be clear, this concept is not central to the idea of sumo at all. Heya do not compete with each other. Nor do they probably want to be told they are better or worse than another stable: they all have their own mostly distinct cultures, histories, chanko recipes, traditions, personalities, etc. While I also wanted to see performance of the various ichimon (the groups of stables organised largely for administrative and also historical purposes with many cross-stable relationships, training partnerships and links among oyakata and elder names), the idea was that perhaps training partnerships could show a correlation of performance over time and a rise in performance of associated stables under certain leadership.

It’s kind of an interesting concept, but I think the presentation was a bit ham fisted and while it was a good thought exercise, I’m sure there were plenty of number crunching people dwelling in the dark recesses of the sweat stain encrusted corners of the mawashi that is global sumo internet fandom slamming their faces into keyboards at the idea of measuring this kind of thing based off sekitori kachi koshi and various prizes.

Admittedly, when you follow the sport more on a personal level and also over a longer period of time you start to understand nuances that appear: Scouting partnerships, relationships, connections to the amateur world, details of the specific oyakata and so on.

For me the most problematic thing, if you look at the old model, is how we would have handled a stable like Michinoku: having a yokozuna and a high ranking maegashira, it would have scored high in 2020. But the reality is that the perma-kyujo yokozuna was transferred there against his interest, and apart from Kiribayama, almost everyone the stable has put into the salaried ranks over 20+ years have been inherited from other stables (and number of those guys were even bounced in the yaocho scandal, truncating their sumo careers significantly). So our old model would have given very inaccurate portrayals of a stable like that, and its development relative to the rest of the sumo world.

The series also spilled a lot of words on these pages about the supposed “fall” of Isegahama beya, as our model showed its numbers going ever lower, to the depths of some stables like (for example) Isenoumi. Again this is a misrepresentation. While Harumafuji’s retirement, Terunofuji’s injury driven fall out of the top ranks and Aminishiki’s intai certainly impacted the stable’s impression on the sport in the short term, this model did not take into account the incredible stream of talent coming up toward the top two divisions while this was occurring. Nishikifuji and Midorifuji have since impacted the top two divisions while Terutsuyoshi has turned himself into a makuuchi regular and even handed his stablemate Terunofuji an assist in his improbable yusho on his makuuchi comeback. This all while Takarafuji continues to be a solid fixture at the business end of the top division. There’s more that happened there in the fallow period following Harumafuji’s retirement than has happened in the total of Michinoku-beya’s 22 years, but our model won’t have seen it that way.

So the question is: how to measure the success of a heya on an ongoing basis? Is it a body of work that can only be measured when an oyakata retires, like a ramen chef who has spent a lifetime perfecting the craft? Or is it fair that like a baseball farm system, we can identify, analyse and grade new recruits and their potential impact on the top end of the sport? Similarly, while the banzuke shifts largely on numbers alone (apart from some strange whims of a group of old men and the interference of a pandemic), the performance and projection of recruits needs context: a 7-0 in Jonokuchi is more impressive from a fresh 17 year old than it is from a 23-year old with university sumo pedigree. Numbers might be able to project a sekitori (as some folks on the Sumo Forum exhibited years ago), but the eye test and other factors are probably required to determine the quality that can lead to improved performance across the board.

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. But unlike those who find it a pointless exercise, I do think there is value in doing the analysis. There just needs to be a better way. I’d love to hear some thoughts from the community. To what extent should data factor into this? Should we be taking more advantage of Andy’s data visualisation tools (trick question, the answer is yes)? Should it contain large amounts of subjectivity from experts with potentially differing opinions, like farm team rankings? Let us know what you think.

Sumo Stables For Beginners

If you’re like me, the sumo stables (heya) are a rather daunting mystery. There are so many of them that even after all of these years, beyond a few famous ones, I still can’t tell my Futagoyama from my Nishikido. After all, there are 45 active stables and there have been significant changes in the past couple of years. There are also many former and a few active wrestlers, ready to spread their wings and set up their own new stables.

There are great resources online to help out. First, the Sumo Kyokai’s website has the Sumo Beya Guide with a list of the wrestlers and staff. In a pinch, it’s a great, current roster. Then, of course, the SumoDB has a ton of information on the stables of each wrestler and does a great job tracking the history of changes; wrestlers do move from one heya to another — usually because a stable closes and its wrestlers are absorbed by a second stable, or a new stable opens and rikishi follow their recruiter to his new home.

Excellent Heya Roster and Sumo Reference

Hat-tip to Bruce for this excellent reference book. It has a complete roster with mugshots of all the wrestlers at the time of printing, grouped with their heya. It also has the staff, including coaches, hair dressers, gyoji, and support staff…my go-to reference, especially when watching those lower division matches because it includes the all-important furigana to help me penetrate some of the more bewildering shikona.

To add to these resources, I put together a little dashboard that I hope you will find as helpful as I do. This helps me get even more of a sense of not only which wrestlers are in which stable but also where the stables draw their wrestlers from. I can also drill into the kimarite (or winning techniques) the rikishi prefer, as well as what they fall victim to.

Feel free to click around. You can select a heya from the radio buttons on the right on either tab and the banzuke will filter to only those wrestlers from your selected heya. On the first tab, you can also click on a shusshin to have the banzuke filter to the wrestlers from that shusshin and on the second tab, click on the individual wrestler’s name to filter the kimarite chart. The kimarite includes each wrestlers’ career record — not just Osaka.

Oitekaze: A Southern Stable

As an example, let’s take a look at Oitekaze-beya, home of Endo, Daieisho, and just about everyone else named Dai~~ and Tsurugisho. Curiously, Oitekaze oyakata seems to recruit exclusively from the southern half of Japan. Tatsunami-beya, on the other hand, picks guys from the far north, the far south, and around Kanto…skipping over much in between.

Daiei-oshi

On the second tab, you can see how well each wrestler did in Osaka in the top graph. In the bottom chart, you can discern his strengths and weaknesses. For Endo, we’ve got a clear preference for yotsu techniques while Daieisho prefers an oshi-battle, win or lose. You can get a sense that he will force the issue and not allow anyone near his belt while Endo is not quite as able to assert his preference.

I’m eager to hear what you discover about your favorite stables…or if it helps you find a stable to investigate further. I’ll update this with the current banzuke as we get closer to Nagoya Tokyo.

Heya Power Rankings: Kyushu 18-Hatsu 19

Takakeisho & Takanosho - Takakeisho Victory Parade

It’s time for everyone’s favorite chart that just about makes it to print in time to become fully obsolete: the heya power rankings!

Before the Kyushu basho, we know that there would be one massive effect on the Power Rankings: Takanohana announced that he was dissolving his stable and all of the stable’s rikishi would be moving over to Chiganoura-beya.

Chiganoura had only recently even made an impact on the top two divisions since Takanosho’s promotion to Juryo, and subsequently Makuuchi, and so hadn’t really been a figure in this series before. However, with Takagenji, Takanoiwa (or so we thought), and budding tadpole superstar Takakeisho moving over to Chiganoura-beya, it was clear that the stable would start to put itself at least among Kokonoe, Sadogatake and other mid-level mainstays of our rankings list.

What we did not anticipate was that the stable would rocket up to the levels of powerhouse stables like Miyagino (3 sekitori including one dai-yokozuna), Kasugano (epic year with big ozeki promotion and yusho champ), and Tagonoura (perpetually injured yokozuna plus serial jun-yusho bridesmaid). How far did the stable rise? Let’s check out the big chart:

Heya Power Rankings - Kyushu 18 Hatsu 19

And now this list in the usual Top 20 format:

  1. (**) Chiganoura. 108 points (+98)
  2. (+1) Tagonoura. 95 points (+15)
  3. (+1) Kasugano. 60 points (+4)
  4. (-2) Sakaigawa. 53 points (-32)
  5. (+1) Oitekaze. 43 points (even)
  6. (-5) Miyagino. 39 points (-65)
  7. (+9) Oguruma. 35 points (+18)
  8. (-3) Izutsu. 30 points (-15)
  9. (-2) Kokonoe. 27 points (-14)
  10. (+7) Tokitsukaze. 27 points (+12)
  11. (+2) Takadagawa. 23 points (+1)
  12. (+2) Isenoumi. 23 points (+3)
  13. (+6) Sadogatake. 23 points (+8)
  14. (-4) Dewanoumi. 20 points (-5)
  15. (-4) Minato. 20 points (-5)
  16. (-4) Hakkaku. 20 points (-2)
  17. (**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+12)
  18. (+-) Kataonami. 15 points (even)
  19. (+1) Isegahama. 15 points (+1)
  20. (-5) Tomozuna. 13 points (-4)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke)

Analysis

We thought Chiganoura would become a big player in these rankings, but Takakeisho‘s (somewhat) unprecedented yusho and accompanying special prizes meant that the stable vaulted straight to the top in its inaugural posting. We’d expect this to cool down next time, as it looks like a repeat from the young starlet is a big ask. However, should be continue to push for Ozeki promotion, some special prizes would certainly be on offer. Takanoiwa‘s retirement will also take a small bite out of the stable’s points tally in our listing.

Tagonoura somewhat appropriately reclaims the #2 spot as its two sekitori have done on so many occasions, with Takayasu‘s jun-yusho more than offsetting the yokozuna’s partially kyujo and kachi-koshi-less tournament. It should be said that like the banzuke committee, this chart does also give Kisenosato more credit than his fellow yokozuna just for turning up.

Sakaigawa shifts down owing to the jun-yusho switch from Goeido to Takayasu, and the former’s partially kyujo tournament (in spite of his kachi-koshi) didn’t help matters, otherwise it would have been a closer run race for #3. Oguruma meanwhile vaults up the listings owing to Juryo-debutant Tomokaze‘s yusho – but unlike in previous occasions where a juryo yusho practically guaranteed a drop in the next rankings, there’s a good reason to believe Oguruma could hold serve with Tomokaze now the favorite for the Juryo-yusho race again, and Yago making his makuuchi debut at Hatsu to complement Yoshikaze‘s somewhat fortuitous placing just outside the likely joi-line.

Otherwise, further down the listings, it’s much of a muchness. Miyagino‘s big drop of 65 points is exactly what happens when a yusho-winning (+50) yokozuna doesn’t show up (-10), never mind get a winning record (+5). Dewanoumi and Minato lose points as both sekiwake came up short of a kachi-koshi.

Kokonoe was the most disappointing stable to end 2018, with its six sekitori posting a miserable 31-59 record in the final basho. Fans of the heya’s remaining sekitori will be hoping for better results from the former powerhouse. And speaking of former big time stables, on a final curious note, this marks the first positive points movement in well over a year for Isegahama-beya (owing to Terutsuyoshi‘s kachi-koshi). Hopefully in 2019 we’ll see Nishikifuji and Midorifuji complete their push from Makushita to replenish the heya’s depleted sekitori ranks.

 

Heya Power Rankings: Aki-Kyushu 18

hakuho-yusho-41

With the Kyushu basho just around the corner, it’s time to check in with the latest soon-to-be-obsolete-somewhat-abridged edition of the Tachiai Heya Power Rankings. If you’re a keen follower of this series, apologies for the tardiness: I had some trouble in the calculations until I worked out that (like many others it sometimes seems!) I had failed to adequately credit Goeido with the points he deserved for his Jun-Yusho in the previous tournament!

I debated how to handle the current iteration of these rankings, as it is the last edition of the rankings to feature the now-defunct Takanohana-beya. As the Kyushu honbasho will be the first grand sumo tournament where Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and Takagenji compete under the Chiganoura flag, I decided to keep Takanohana on the charts for one last run. This means that the end-year ranks that we will publish following the basho will – depending on performance – provide a boost to a stable which had previously only counted Takanosho as a recent sekitori.

And with that preamble out of the way, let’s crack on with the list:

Heya Power Rankings: Aki-Kyushu 18

… and here’s that chart organised into Top 20 format:

  1. (+7) Miyagino. 104 points (+64)
  2. (+1) Sakaigawa. 85 points (+27)
  3. (-1) Tagonoura. 80 points (+15)
  4. (+1) Kasugano. 56 points (+11)
  5. (+5) Izutsu. 45 points (+10)
  6. (+-) Oitekaze. 43 points (-1)
  7. (+-) Kokonoe. 41 points (-1)
  8. (+1) Takanohana. 35 points (-2)
  9. (**) Kise. 28 points (+19)
  10. (-9) Dewanoumi. 25 points (-70)
  11. (+1) Minato. 25 points (even)
  12. (+4) Hakkaku. 23 points (+3)
  13. (+1) Takadagawa. 22 points (+2)
  14. (-1) Isenoumi. 20 points (-3)
  15. (-4) Tomozuna. 17 points (-11)
  16. (+3) Oguruma. 17 points (+1)
  17. (-13) Tokitsukaze. 15 points (-43)
  18. (-3) Kataonami. 15 points (-5)
  19. (**) Sadogatake. 15 points (even)
  20. (-2) Isegahama. 14 points (-4)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke)

Analysis

First of all, there were very few wild moves on this edition of the chart. This is because no sansho (special prizes) were awarded, which generally give non-yusho winning rikishi (and subsequently their stables) a big boost up our chart. So in the absence of that, and due to the fact that finally all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna participated fully last time out, all of the “big” stables made modest gains.

Miyagino replaces Dewanoumi at the top owing to Hakuho’s return to dominance, and Mitakeumi scratching across a kachi-koshi instead of turning in the kind of performance that would have sealed an Ozeki promotion and granted him some additional prizes along the way. Sakaigawa mounts their best ever tally on these charts owing to resurgent Goeido’s Jun-Yusho.

Further down the ranking, Takanohana-beya will make its last ever placing on this chart at #8 with a solid effort from its sekitori, before certainly being replaced on the listing by non-charting Chiganoura-beya next time out. That stable should immediately find itself firmly in or around the top 10 should Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and Takanosho continue their good form. Kise-beya, meanwhile, joins the top 10 this time out off the back of Tokushoryu’s unlikely Juryo-yusho, but will need to show more consistency and better performances from their myriad of sekitori at Kyushu, as the last couple of basho have otherwise been disappointing for comeback star Ura’s stable.

The bottom of the chart is much of a muchness, the only other two notable positions being Tokitsukaze’s precipitous fall owing to Yutakayama’s previous Jun-Yusho turning into a 3 win thrashing in the Joi-Jin. The stable might see a little bit of a bounce next time, should Yutakayama return to form at a lower rank and returning vet Toyonoshima give some youngin’s the business down in Juryo. And at the very bottom, somehow clinging on to the ranks, is former powerhouse stable Isegahama.

Next time out, Oguruma‘s Tomokaze may well add to that stable’s total, as he makes his professional bow next week in Fukuoka and I have hotly tipped him for a kachi-koshi. And there will certainly be change at the top: Hakuho’s kyujo announcement earlier today means that some other stable will claim the Tachiai crown next time out. Who will it be?