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  • Fantasy Basho

The True Level of a Rikishi

Here's a thought: every rikishi has a "true level." A true level is what spot on the banzuke where a wrestler is most likely to win 8 matches in a basho. For some, this is very easy to define. Sadanoumi, for example, has been around the Maegashira 10 range for over a year and has consistently been around a .500 record. This is good information to know for Fantasy Basho purposes. Sadanoumi went 8-7 at Maegashira 10. But would he be as good at Maegashira 9 or 8?

At Maegashira 9 for Haru 2019 he went 5-10. Then again, at Maegashira 13 for Natsu 2019 he went 7-8. Sadanoumi did pull a 9-6 at the same rank for Nagoya 2019, so his "true level" is probably best stated as Maegashira 10. That up and down shows some of the issues for assessing a rikishi's "true level." Even for Sadanoumi, an extremely consistent wrestler who never has serious injury issues, it's hard to say exactly what his best spot on the ranking sheet is.

"True level" is also hard to determine in any way systematically or mathematically. Some wrestlers swing wildly between rankings, winning big at lower ranks and getting hammered during the next basho after a serious promotion. Others swim along in one range for awhile. Injuries and small slip ups also have to be accounted for. So what follows is not a perfect formula, but more a series of informed guesses. With that in mind, there are a few ground rules that shaped these assessments.

  1. A wrestler's true level is the rank at which they'd achieve 8-7, so an 8-7 last basho puts them with a true level of their most recent rank.

  2. If someone consistently wins at certain ranks, but consistently loses at other ranks, their true level should be between them.

  3. Wrestlers on hot streaks or cold streaks cannot be rewarded or penalized too much. They have either not totally proven their high rank or completely shown they are hopelessly lost.

  4. A Yokozuna's true rank is Yokozuna. An Ozeki's true rank is Ozeki. This is true no matter their recent performance, because both ranks are difficult to earn and can't just be had with one random 10 win performance.

  5. Ranks are listed as simply the number, without East or West. This is hard enough as it is.

  6. Some ranks are the "true level" for a number of Rikishi, while others might be void of any rikishi. Things don't line up perfectly with a banzuke.

But mostly these are fun guesses trying to get to something deeper. It's not perfect, but it is a good concept to understand who is likely to rack up wins or losses in the next basho.

Rikishi by "True Level"

  • Yokozuna--Kakuryu and Hakuho

  • Ozeki--Takayasu, Goeido, and Takakeisho

  • Sekiwake--Mitakeumi and Tochinoshin

  • It is entirely possible Mitakeumi's true level will go up one by the start of 2020, while Tochinoshin's goes down one. That would also be reflected in their spot on the Banzuke.

  • Komusubi--Abi and Endo

  • They did both successfully hold onto this rank, after all.

  • Maegashira 1--Hokutofuji and Asanoyama

  • Although both of these rikishi had Komusubi level performances, they weren't at that rank and haven't defended it. At Maegashira 1, a winning record seems more likely than at Komusubi for Hokutofuji and Asanoyama, which is the idea of a "true level."

  • Maegashira 2--Aoiyama, Ichinojo, and Tamawashi

  • Three wrestlers who are all somewhat inconsistent land here. Aoiyama and Tamawashi are both good solid veterans who seem perfectly capable of dominating from Maegashira 4 and below, but struggle when placed in Sanyaku. Ichinojo just doesn't always put it all together. When he does, he's much better than this. (He's also fighting an injury currently, which would affect performance going forward.)

  • Maegashira 3--Daieisho

  • This is an odd "true level," because Maegashira 3 is basically a guarantee that a wrestler will face a match slate entirely consisting of higher ranked wrestlers. Yet Daieisho has been hanging out at Maegashira 2 and 3 for awhile and is always around 7-8 or 8-7. He got an 8-7 at Maegashira 3 for Aki.

  • Maegashira 4--Tomokaze

  • A wild guess. He just shot up the Banzuke and received his first losing record as a Maegashira 3. It was also a 7-8, and Tomokaze sure looks like someone who will become a top wrestler in short order.

  • Maegashira 5--Shodai

  • Good enough to win occasionally against Sanyaku, not good enough to join it. Probably good enough to win outside the joi-jin.

  • Maegashira 6--Chiyotairyu, Ryuden, Myogiryu, and Takarafuji

  • These are all tough outs for anybody, although never really threats to rack up 11 or 12 wins over the course of a basho. They also all are generally solid, but occasionally have a high variance basho either direction.

  • Maegashira 7--Meisei and Okinoumi

  • Okinoumi feels like he should join the previous group, but his rank-performance level just is a little off of the others. Meisei is a young wrestler who steadily went up the banzuke, got hammered at Maegashira 4, then succeeded back at Maegashira 10. So he lands between the two.

  • Maegashira 8--Kotoshogiku, Kotoeko, Kotoyuki, and Onosho

  • Onosho joins the top men from Sadogatake-beya. They all got here differently, but each of these rikishi are wrestlers who could do quite well, yet never seem to really be on the cusp of ascending past this point. As a general career trajectory, though, Kotoshogiku is closer to retirement, while the other three should be going up.

  • Maegashira 9--Shimanoumi

  • Honestly, assessing the "true level" of someone who was floundering in Juryo earlier in the year, then went on a massive hot streak to go to mid-Maegashira is a fools errand. Total shot in the dark.

  • Maegashira 10--Enho, Shohozan, and Sadanoumi

  • Shohozan and Sadanoumi are veterans who are comfortably settled around this rank. Enho, by contrast, is a youngster with promise, but he also is so small and different that he might need to establish himself at each rank as he proceeds up the banzuke.

  • Maegashira 12--Tsurugisho

  • Another wild stab in the dark. He did go 10-5 at Maegashira 14, with a track record previously of Juryo competence. Seems unfair to say his true level is worse than this.

  • Maegashira 14--Daishoho, Kagayaki, and Terutsuyoshi

  • None of these rikishi have pulled the 8-7 at this rank, but have rather bounced around it with varying levels of performance.

  • Maegashira 15--Ishiura, Kaisei, and Yutakyama

  • All three of this group have spent time recently in Juryo, which has been enough to prove they are just good enough to be in the top division, but are not guaranteed to win. Kaisei is probably better than this fully healthy, but health is a skill and the one Kaisei might be losing fastest.

  • Maegashira 16--Nishikigi

  • Nishikigi will likely avoid a Juryo demotion by sheer luck, as many people did worse below him at Aki. So he is just barely a Makuuchi wrestler at Maegashira 16.

  • Maegashira 17--Tochiozan

  • Tochiozan will drop to Juryo, almost certainly, for Kyushu. Yet he also seems better than a Juryo wrestler even with his recent struggles.

  • Juryo 1--Azumaryu, Toyonoshima, and Chiyomaru

  • The yo-yo spot, for wrestlers who will go between the top two divisions.

  • Juryo 2--Chiyoshoma, Daishomaru, Takagenji, Takanosho, Wakatakakage, and Yago

  • All wrestlers who have proven they are worthy of Makuuchi, but haven't shown they'll do much there. (Wakatakakage, in fairness, will probably make his Makuuchi debut for Kyushu 2019. Still, he didn't set Juryo on fire.)

Again, this isn't based on a rigorous methodology and should not be considered infallible. "True level" is probably better as a concept than as a fact. Yet when assessing who to draft for Fantasy Basho, it is good to think about who is at a good rank and who is far above or below.

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