The Quirks of NPB Pitching

» 29 August 2008 » In npb, pitching »

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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