Archive > August 2008

The Story of the Shake

» 30 August 2008 » In mlb, pitching » 1 Comment

To my great surprise, the post I did on pitching the other day has made its way around the internet and become my most popular post of all time. Much of the interest has been in Satoru Komiyama‘s breaking pitch the shake.

Most of what I know about the shake comes from Japanese baseball bible Shukan Baseball, specifically this issue from June 2006 (which I happen to have a print copy of). Though it’s small, the image on that page shows Komiyama demonstrating the grip he uses for the shake. It’s hard to see, but his grip is is clearly more like a forkball than a typical knuckleball. Conversely, he throws it with a minimal delivery that resembles a knuckleballer’s windup more than anything else.

Here are selected quotes from my own, unofficial translation of the article:

“This is the pitch I came up with when Bobby Valentine asked me to ‘make the ball shake’ during the 2004 off-season. At first I tried a knuckleball but I couldn’t throw it with the typical grip, and thinking that it was enough to make the ball wiggle, I arrived that the shake. The grip is a forkball without the thumb. When I tried this pitch I got the shaking movement.”

“Putting spin on this pitch would be pointless, since the basic idea is to throw the pitch to be received in the mitt just as it is. Therefor, I don’t put any power into it and use a loose form.”

“The grip is different, but the trajectory is that of a knuckleball. I didn’t call it a knuckleball because if people who spent their lives mastering the knuckleball saw it, they would think it’s wrong, so I named it the Shake.”

“I’m still at a level where if I throw 10, only 6 will go for strikes so I still have to improve on this.”

To go along with it, I found a couple more highlights of Komiyama throwing the shake in game action. Enjoy!

PS: take a look at the scores when Komiyama throws the shake.

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The Quirks of NPB Pitching

» 29 August 2008 » In npb, pitching » 11 Comments

It’s been another busy week and I haven’t had much time for baseball, so let’s take a break from the NPB current events and take a look at some pitching.

If you’ve read this blog more than once, you might have observed that it’s very pitching-centric. This isn’t by accident. I think pitching is the most interesting part of the game — pitchers control the pace of the game, and there’s so much variability in styles and approaches. This second point is especially true in Japan, where there are fewer true power pitchers, and more guys rely on breaking stuff. Here are some of the more interesting examples:

  • Satoru Komiyama throws a pitch he invented called the shake. He describes the grip as forkball without applying pressure from the thumb, but to me looks something like a split-finger knuckleball. Komiyama never throws the shake faster than about 55 mph in the video I linked to.
  • Masaki Hayashi has great movement on his slider. Unfortunately he’s rarely healthy.
  • Shinji Imanaka won a Sawamura Award in the early 90’s with his slow curve. He had a short career and was pretty much done by the time I started watching Japanese baseball, but here’s a highlight of him shutting down Hideki Matsui.
  • A current curveballer is Orix righty Chihiro Kaneko. His curve has big movement like Imanaka’s, but he throws it a bit harder.
  • Obligatory Yu Darvish mention: Darvish has probably the best variety of stuff in Japan right now, mixing in 6-7 different pitches. Here’s a video that focuses on the development of his changeup, comparing it to his fastball (00:26) and slider (00:32). Skip to 01:48 for changeup footage.
  • When Daisuke Matsuzaka came to MLB, he brought the legend of the gyroball with him. Matsuzaka admits that he doesn’t throw it intentionally, but here’s a video of him throwing a slider with gyro properties. However, former Hanshin Tigers ace Tetsuro Kawajiri* is an accredited gyroballer and this video shows him strking out Jay Payton and Carlos Delgado with it in the 2000 Japan-US All-Star Series. Note how Payton and Delgado swing under the pitch.
  • And finally, Ichiro was a pitcher in high school and was brought in to face Hideki Matsui with two outs in the 9th inning of the 1996 All-Star game. He drew cheers by immediately hitting 91 mph on gun, but Central League manager Katsuya Nomura pinch hit Shingo Takatsu for Matsui and took a bit of the edge off this legendary moment.

*footnote on Kawajiri: Kawajiri pitched great in that Japan-US series. After that he wanted to be posted to play in MLB, but Hanshin refused. Tigers teammate Tsuyoshi Shinjo also represented Japan in that All-Star series and played well, but left as a free agent to join the Mets. Kawajiri faded into the background and was eventually traded. Neither player was around the next time the Tigers fielded a winning team, which was in 2003.

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NPB Player Blogs in English

» 26 August 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

Following up on last week’s post on blogs by Japanese NPB players, here’s a quick rundown of blogs that are written in English by foreign-born NPB players. The selection is thinner, but there are a few good ones out there.

Of course, the best English content on NPB is maintained by fans — namely Deanna, Simon, the Tsubamegun guys, EWC, and the community at JapaneseBaseball.com. But I think just about 100% of the visitors to this blog are already familiar with those excellent sites, so let’s move on to the player’s blogs.

  • By far the most insightful and entertaining of the lot is CJ Nitkowski‘s blog. CJ, if you’re reading this, well done!
  • Another left-handed reliever, Hanshin’s Jeff Williams is good for about one post a month in his blog. Jeff is one of the longer-tenured gaijin players in NPB, and that shows through in his writing.
  • Giants closer Marc Kroon has a blog as well, but hasn’t updated it in a while.
  • Yet another reliever, Nippon Ham closer Michael Nakamura has a blog on ballplayers.jp, where a number of notable players maintain blogs.
  • Finally a batter: Alex Ramirez‘s site isn’t so much of a blog as a photo gallery, and as you might expect the photos are very Rami-centric. Note the Engrish in the page title.
  • Bobby Valentine has got to be the most fan-friendly manager in Japan right now, and accordingly mantains his blog in English and Japanese. I’m not aware of another NPB manager having a blog, but I could be off on that.
  • And least but not quite least, it’s worth mentioning Brad “the Animal” Leslie’s site. Animal pitched for in Japan for a few years after his stint in the big leagues, then retired to a career in the nutty Japanese game shows that eventually made it to American cable.

Anyone know of any others that I’m missing?

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/08/22)

» 22 August 2008 » In npb » 4 Comments

Japan is getting pounded 8-4 by America as I type this… what a disappointing Olympics for Team Hoshino. Still, Korea and Cuba asserted themselves as winning countries, so I think it’s not a bad result for the game of baseball.

Let’s move on to the bullet points. I’ve got a couple stored up from the last few days.

Japanese Articles:

  • Hitoki Iwase got lit up to the tune of a 13.52 ERA in 4 2/3 innings of Olympic competition, taking 3 losses. On the plus side, his 7:1 K:BB ratio was strong. Nikkan Sports has the stats published for all the Olympic teams (Japanese only).
  • I found a great blog entry about various NPB batters’ stances. Click the 動画 link above each image to see video highlights on YouTube. My recommendations are Sadaharu Oh and Hitoshi Taneda.
  • Colby Lewis made his return to the Hiroshima Carp on August 21, his first start since July 1. He held Hanshin scoreless in 5 2/3 but didn’t pick up the win.
  • Nagisa Arakaki set a new Japan record with five wild pitches in one game, including three in the fourth inning. This guy has great stuff and would dominate if he could do something about his control.
  • Yu Darvish is heading back to Japan and scheduled to start on September 2 against Softbank.
  • Sales of Kazuhiro Kiyohara goods are up 1000% since he announced his retirement.
  • Unlike their male counterparts, the Japan woman’s softball team took home the gold. I’m mentioning it here because Japan starter Yukiko Ueno pitched back-to-back complete games on consecutive days in the knock-out round, and according to this article threw 413 pitches over the two days. I find that number very hard to believe, even though the semi-final was an extra-inning game.

English Articles:

Well, in the time it took me to type this, Team USA sealed it’s victory over Japan and clinched the bronze medal. Well, the WBC is only nine months away…

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Korea 6, Japan 2

» 21 August 2008 » In npb » 2 Comments

No gold medal for Japan in baseball — the Olympic team took a 2-1 lead into the 7th, but the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. Kyuji Fujikawa took the mound in the 7th and gave up a run on a walk and two hits to allow Korea to tie the game. Then Hitoki Iwase got the call to start the 8th and promptly gave up a single. Manager Hoshino visited Iwase after the hit, but left him in the game only to watch him give up a 2-run homer to Yomiuri Giants slugger Seung-Yeop Lee. Iwase had to give up another hit before finally being replaced with Hideaki Wakui, who gave up a couple of run-scoring doubles to make the score 6-2.

Japan went down quietly in the 9th, ending their shot at the gold. I didn’t get to watch the game, I just followed in on Yahoo Live, so I could only read what was going on. I found it strange that Hoshino used five pitchers in an 8 inning game, pulling starter Toshiya Sugiuchi for Kenshin Kawakami after Sugiuchi give up a run in the 4th inning. And I don’t understand why he went to Iwase again despite his recent struggles.

Congratulations to the Korean team – they beat every team in the tournament and deserve their chance at the gold medal.

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Olympic League Play Recap

» 21 August 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

Well, Japan squeaked into the medal round of the Olympics with a 4-3 record in group play. Japan is the 4th seed and draws top-ranked Korea in the opening game of the medal round.

Japan blew out Taiwan, the Netherlands and China, edged Canada, and lost to Cuba, Korea, and the United States. Japan beat the teams it needed to beat, and lost to the stronger competitors. The lose to Cuba was the only game that Japan didn’t have a chance to win, mostly due to Yu Darvish’s disappointing performance (5 earned runs, 12 baserunners in 4 IP).

The losses to Korea and the USA were closer — both games were tied until the late innings. Japan had Korea tied 2-2 going into the 9th, but Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase gave up 3 runs in 1 1/3 IP to take the loss. Simon from jhockey does a much better job breaking down the game than I could possibly do here.

Japan and the US took a scoreless tie into the 11th, when the lottery tie-breaker rule kicked in. Japan left Iwase on the hill for a second inning and he gave up 4 runs. Japan responded with 2 in the bottom of the inning but that obviously wasn’t enough to win. I’ll have to admit that I didn’t see Iwase pitch in the Olympics, so I don’t know what kind of impression he’ll have made on the many scouts present.

I’m a little disappointed to see Japan and Korea play in the first game of the medal round. I don’t really want to see either of these teams go home without a medal, but one of them will (what was I thinking — the loser will have a shot at the bronze). A Japan-Korea gold medal game would have been phenomenal but that isn’t going to happen.

I’ll close out this post with some random Olympic-related notes and articles I’ve picked up over the last week. These links are all to Japanese articles:

And finally, John Donovan shares his picks for Japan’s “Dream Team” simply by adding Japanese Major Leagurs to the existing Olympic roster.

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/08/18)

» 18 August 2008 » In npb » 1 Comment

Only a few articles I’d like to share today, and all of them are in Japanese:

  • Found a new Marines blog this evening. I didn’t even read the entry, I just like the pictures of Shunsuke Watanabe ptiching: particularly this one and this one.
  • Orix Slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara formally announced his retirement, on his 41st birthday before an away game against his first team, Seibu. “I really appreciate being able to celebrate my birthday in my last season at Seibu Dome,” said Kiyohara.
  • Chunichi Dragons relief ace Kazuki Yoshimi is doing a rehab stint in the minors and gearing up for a return to the top team. He went down with arm pain on July 21, and his return would be a boost the the Dragons.
  • Yakult pitcher Dicky Gonzales made his first appearance in nearly two years on August 17, giving up 4 runs in 5 innings pitched. I’m actually a bit surprised that Yakult stuck with Gonzales, who is coming off elbow surgery. It’s a rarity for a Japanese team to show that kind of commitment to a foreign player.
  • Yomiuri Giants outfielder Alex Ramirez has met the service time requirements for free agency. He’s under contract with the Giants for next year, so he won’t be a free agent, but he will no longer count against the foreign player limit. Ramirez becomes the third player, after Taigen Kaku and Tuffy Rhodes to shred his foreign player status under the service time exception.
  • Hiroshima Carp Manager Marty Brown has returned to America temporarily due to the sudden death of his mother. My condolences go out to Marty and his family.

Up next for NPB Tracker: an Olympics summary, a look at high pitch counts in Japan, and English-language blogs of NPB players.

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NPB Player Blog Round-up

» 18 August 2008 » In npb » 5 Comments

Blogging is immensely popular in Japan — as of April 2007 Japanese was the #1 most “blogged in” language according to Technorati. I haven’t found any newer data, but then again I haven’t looked too hard either. Moving along to the point, several NPB players maintain blogs and I would like to make a selected few a little more accessible to English-speaking fans.

  • Yu Darvish celebrated a birthday, and received 3000 well-wishing comments on his blog.
  • Chiba Lotte submariner Shunsuke Watanabe last updated his blog on August 13, noting that it felt good to work up a sweat in the outdoor Chiba Marine Stadium as opposed to Osaka Dome, while lamenting the struggles of Japan’s Olympic team and his Marines.
  • Speedy Hiroshima Carp centerfielder Masato Akamatsu hit his first home run in a while and was nervous in the Hero Interview that followed, the first of his career. He also included a picture of him with a weird looking stuffed animal in this post.
  • “Hama no Bancho” Daisuke Miura poses for a picture with Osaka Castle and admits to being a “castle maniac”.
  • Kazumi Saito is rehabbing a shoulder injury in Arizona, and fortunately for us has plenty of time to write in his blog. Saito’s blog definitely offers the best insight into what his life is like. A recent post describes his rehab schedule, which is pretty interesting — he has an alternating workout schedule, which requires him to get up no later than 6:15 AM. He has a methodical attitude about it: “For every result, there is a process. I think results without a process cannot be maintained.” Saito seems to be enjoying his time in Arizona. I’ll have to write an entry on his blog alone sometime.

Some of the foreign NPB players maintain blogs as well. I think that topic is worthy of it’s own post so look out for it soon.

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/08/16)

» 16 August 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

A busy work schedule kept me away from the blog for a few days, but I’m back with another post. We’ll start with the usual randomness and hopefully I’ll have some more focused content to post in a couple of days.

English Articles:

Japanese Articles:

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Cuba 4, Japan 2

» 13 August 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

Cuba took down Yu Darvish and Japan today 4-2. Darvish took the loss surrendering 4 earned runs on 7 hits and 4 walks in 4 IP.

I’ll post more later, for now here’s an English box score with the pitchers out of order, and a Japanese account of the game. Simon from jhockey shares his observations in an excellent post as well.

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