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The Sawamura Award and the Best of the Rest

» 17 November 2009 » In npb, pitching » 2 Comments

The 2009 season concluded with Hideaki Wakui of the Seibu Lions being honored with the Sawamura Award, but a number of pitchers had outstanding years and we wanted to take a closer look at them. Sawamura Award candidate are judged on how close they get to the following seven criteria:

  • Game Appearances… 25 or above
  • Complete Games… 10 or above
  • Wins… 15 or above
  • Winning Percentage… .600 or above
  • Innings Pitched… 200 or above
  • Strikeouts… 150 or above
  • ERA… Under 2.50

Obviously the only pitcher surpassing each of the criteria is Wakui with 11 complete games which made him the only true candidate for the award. An unwritten criterion necessary to win the Sawamura Award is strength and the ability to stay healthy. Even though Yu Darvish started out the season with a stellar performance, his injury in the second-half cost him his chance to win his second Sawamura Award.

G CG W Win Pct. Inn. K ERA
Hideaki Wakui 27 11 16 0.727 211.2 199 2.30
Yu Darvish 23 8 15 0.75 182 167 1.73
Toshiya Sugiuchi 26 6 15 0.75 191 204 2.36
Masahiro Tanaka 25 6 15 0.714 189.2 171 2.33
Wei-Yin Chen 24 5 8 0.667 164 146 1.54
Dicky Gonzalez 23 2 15 0.882 162 113 2.11
Kazuki Yoshimi 27 5 16 0.696 189.1 147 2.00

The Best Nine Awards are still up still unannounced, and there are a lot of worthy candidates for the top pitcher in both the Central and Pacific Leagues. Who is most deserving of the award?

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New Project in Beta: NPB Tracker Data

» 29 September 2009 » In npb, NPB Tracker, pitching » 5 Comments

I’ve interrupted my self-imposed hiatus to launch my Data project into Beta. You can check it out at www.npbtracker.com/data. This is a beta release, so expect more functionality to come over the next few months, and don’t be shy about reporting problems and making suggestions.

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Pitch Counts at Koshien

» 28 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, Koshien, pitching » 3 Comments

The response we received to my recent article about pitch counts reaffirmed to me that the subject is of interest to baseball fans. To continue on the topic, I will take a look at the Koshien High School Tournament, which is known to be grueling for pitchers.

49 teams representing each prefecture (Tokyo and Hokkaido with two each) qualify for the single-elimination tournament. There was a total of 48 games in the tournament. In those 48 games, 48 complete games were thrown. Naoki Itoh from runner-up Nippon Bunri was the hardest-working pitcher this year, throwing five total complete games including the final and averaged for 131 pitches per game. In the 48 complete games thrown, pitchers averaged a total of 127.88 pitches per game.

The most grueling game of the tournament was thrown by Hayato Shoji (Tokoha Gakuen Tachibana), who already had two complete games in the books when he threw 211 pitches in a twelve inning game. Ironically, Shoji had the most efficient complete game as well, with a 98-pitch effort. The face of this year’s tournament, Yusei Kikuchi of Hanamaki Higashi, threw three complete games (124, 118, 125 pitches) and was looking for more until he started suffering from back pain.

The Koshien Tournament is always an emotional dramatic event, but is it safe for pitchers such as Shoji to be throwing that much? There are handful of promising pitchers in the Koshien Tournament who will make it to the professional stage and may develop into key players in NPB or even the majors. Even though the injury suffered by Kikuchi does not look serious, evaluating a limit on  pitch counts at a high school tournament where the top teams will play up to six games in the fifteen days should be something we should consider about thinking about the future that lies for the face of Japanese baseball.

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The Nature of Pitch Counts

» 10 August 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, nichibei, npb, pitching » 15 Comments

The difference in the philosophy of pitch counts in the MLB and the NPB is an area where pitchers from Japan need to adjust when they make the jump to the big leagues. The nature of pitch counts remains a hot topic around MLB and the topic has been addressed recent in interesting articles such as The countdown to 100 pitches by Tim Kurkjian and Pitch counts an overrated stat by Hal Bodley.

100 pitches is acknowledged as the magic number around the league and younger pitchers are protected by organizations from an early stage at their career. Even though some NPB managers have implemented the 100 pitch count philosophy it is not rare to see pitchers go the distance in an effective outing surpassing the magic number. Recent outings from Yuuki Karakawa throwing 153 pitches (9.0 innings, 9H, ER) and Naoyuki Shimizu (7.2 innings, 11H, 4ER) pitching 144 pitches illustrates how teams and players are not shy about increasing their pitch counts.

The difference in the philosophy of pitch counts between the two countries comes from number of reasons, of which I will only touch on a few. The beauty of finishing the game as a starter is indoctrinated from an earlier stage, especially dramatized in the National High School Tournament at Koshien Stadium. The legendary three days at the Koshien Tournament for current Boston Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka has been well publicized here in the United States with his 17 inning, 250-pitch complete game followed by a relief appearance the next day and his no-hitter performance in the final of the tournament. It will be interesting to see how the pitchers in the Koshien Tournament evolve with the number Major League-minded players increasing in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Another difference between pitchers in the two leagues is how much pitchers throw during spring training, before the season starts. MLB pitchers tend to pitch every other day or have a routine schedule throwing from the mound to prepare for the start of the season. However in the NPB, there are pitchers who start the camp in full-mode, throwing 100 to 200 pitches from the mound on a given day and coming back the next with even more. Throwing a large amount of pitches before the season starts results in a routine for the pitchers and that makes it easier to throw over 100 pitches during the season.

The last point to make here is the difference in the schedule and number of games. NPB pitchers will typically make fewer starts over the course of the season than MLB pitchers, who spend the longer season of traveling around a country that is several times bigger than Japan. That requires the teams to schedule stretches with 20 straight games, compared to NPB which has a more flexible schedule with more off days. Then there are times when teams can have extra inning games which last until a winner is decided, as opposed to  NPB, where games end in a tie after 12 innings. These are practical differences that affect the usage of pitchers in each country.

Japanese pitchers coming over to the MLB need to adjust to the philosophy of pitch counts here in the States, but that is obviously not the easiest thing to do as we all know that routine is important for an athlete. Coming to a different country and then adjusting to a new routine is something that only certain players can do, looking at the results from past players. Even for a pitcher such as Yu Darvish, hyped as the next big star if he ever makes the jump, adjusting to the new routine will be the key for him. So far in 2009, he has pitched a total of 153 innings in 19 total starts averaging 8.05 innings per game. He has thrown seven complete games including two shutouts and you rarely see him leave the mound before hitting 100 pitches.

As long as the nature and philosophy of pitch counts differs in the two countries, adjustments will be required for NPB veterans jumping MLB and both sides need to be aware of that reality in order for both sides to succeed.

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“K” Board to Appear in Fukuoka

» 02 August 2009 » In npb, pitching, sports business » Comments Off

“K” signs and boards are commonly seen at ballparks around the United States, but until now, uncommon in Japan. NPB fans will be able to see the same at Fukuoka Yahoo Dome starting this week. The board will be placed along the first base line and a “K” will  be added every time a SoftBank Hawks pitcher records a strikeout. Surprisingly this will be the first time an NPB team has permanently placed a “K” board.

A SoftBank spokesperson states, “Batters are able to receive an award (hitting an advertisement board/ceiling), so we decided the pitchers should be able to obtain something as well.” If a pitcher breaks the team record set on April 6th, 2008 by Shota Ohba recording 16 strikeouts in a game, the pitcher will receive 100-man yen ($10,000) worth of gift certificates.

In the first half, the SoftBank Hawks led the league with 657 total strikeouts. If strikeout shows by pitchers increase that should bring a positive for a team staying in the playoff spot and be a spice for some individuals. Ohba states, “100-man yen is pretty big. Of course I will go for it.”

If the prize acts as an incentive for high-strikeout performances, we can expect that to have an effect on a pitching staff aiming to keep its team in a playoff position.

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Darvish Ready to Go

» 28 July 2009 » In npb, pitching » Comments Off

Yu Darvish was examined after the all-star game and some worried of his status for the start of second half of the season, but he seems to be ready to go. He participated in the team practice at Marine Stadium and completed the full workout with the team. The team will keep evaluating his status, but he seems to be on schedule to start his second half versus the Softbank Hawks on July 31st.

Darvish talked with the head trainer before practice and the trainer stated, “He was able to play catch normally,”  so he gave him the okay to participate in full practice. The swelling is alleviating according to reports and he took the precaution of icing his shoulder after practice.

He will be evaluated again in his bullpen session two days prior to the start. His pitching coach, former major leaguer Masato Yoshii stated that he looks fine and there should be no problem.

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Yu Darvish’s Pitching Bible

» 25 July 2009 » In mlb prospects, npb, pitching, sports business » 2 Comments

Yu Darvish’s Pitching Bible has been on sale in Japan since last week.

The 84-paged full-color book features a special interview, demonstration of his breaking ball and off-speed pitches, and interviews by his former pitching coach, trainer, and catchers. His history will be revealed in depth and the results of the survey conducted to 50 current NPB players regarding his number one pitch will be presented.

The content of the book can be seen here. As mentioned before Yu Darvish will appear on CNN and he is taking the next step in marketing himself; having become one of the best pitchers in recent years. I am not sure how many of his “secrets” will be revelead in this book, but this shows some confidience in letting the nation know that he is not scared to present what he is made of to the whole country or maybe in his case, to the world.

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ダルビッシュ対ストラスバーグ:キース・ローさんに聞く

» 08 July 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb, pitching » 1 Comment

このブログを読んでくれている方々は、高い確率でキース・ローさん(Keith Law)の事はご存知かと思います。キースさんは長年ベースボール・プロスペクタス、そしてトロント・ブルージェーズで経験を積み、現在はESPNのScouts Inc.のリードベースボール・アナリストとしてご活躍されています。キースさんはお忙しい中ダルビッシュ有投手と2009年にワシントン・ナショナルズによってドラフト1位選択されたステーブン・ストラスバーグを比較するべきいくつかの質問に答えてくれました。

NPB Tracker:ストラスバーグの球種はダルビッシュに比べるとどうですか?

Keith Law: ダルビッシュの方がストラスバーグに比べて見せ球を多く持っていて、四つの球種を持っていますが春の期間は二つしか主に使っていませんでした。

NT: どちらの投球フォームを好みますか?

KL: ストラスバーグですね- 簡単でバラつきがない – ですがまっすぐな彼の腕のふりの速さは予想できない部分もあります。 我々はあれだけ速い球をあれほどの腕のふりの速さで投げる先発投手に触れた経験はあまりありません。

NT: 二人のうちの一人を今年中にメジャーリーグのローテーションにいれるとしたらどちらですか?

KL: どちらでも間違った答えにはならないと思いますが、高いレベルの相手との経験値を踏まえて私はダルビッシュを選びます。

NT: どちらの方に今後の可能性を感じますか、それは何故ですか?

KL: 良い質問ですね、その答えについては私も行ったり来たりという状態です。ストラスバーグの直球とカーブのキレの方がダルビッシュの決め球二つを上回ると思っていますので、ストラスバーグを取ります。

NT: キースさんありがとうございました。

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Toshiya Sugiuchi Pitching Data

» 28 April 2009 » In npb, pitching » Comments Off

On Sunday I posted pitching data for Tsuyoshi Wada. Today let’s take a look at SoftBank’s other diminutive lefty ace, Toshiya Sugiuchi. This data is taken from his most recent start, a loss to Rakuten.

Here’s the chart:

sugiuchi_velocity_chart_0426

And the breakdown:

result/pitch Changeup Curveball Fastball Sinker Slider Grand Total
Ball 9 4 17   13 43
Ball (stolen base)       1   1
Double         1 1
Flyball Single     1     1
Flyout         1 1
Foul 9 2 9   3 23
Groundball Hit     2   1 3
Groundout 2 1 2   2 7
Groundout (double play) 1         1
Home Run 1         1
Line Drive Single     1   1 2
Lineout   1       1
Strike Looking 2 8 11   6 27
Strike Swinging 6   6   4 16
Walk     2   1 3
Grand Total 30 16 51 1 33 131

Compared to Wada, Sugiuchi doesn’t rely on his fastball quite as much, and in general mixes it up more. He also has two softer breaking pitches, and based on this data, commands his curveball well.

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Tsuyoshi Wada Pitching Data

» 26 April 2009 » In npb, pitching » 9 Comments

Last week, I asked readers for suggestions on which pitchers to look at in my velocity charts series. Based the responses I got, here’s the order I’m going in:

  1. Tsuyoshi Wada
  2. Toshiya Sugiuchi
  3. Top closers: Kyuji Fujikawa, Takahiko Mahara, Hitoki Iwase
  4. Tetsuya Utsumi
  5. A look at Nippon Ham’s secondary pitchers: Sakamoto, Tadano, and Sweeney

You can see all the velocity charts I’ve done so far here.

So let’s take a look at Wada’s most recent outing, a loss to the Rakuten Eagles in which he was outdueled by Satoshi Nagai. Here’s Wada’s velocity chart:

image0013

And a break down of his pitches:

result/pitch Changeup Curveball Fastball Forkball Slider Grand Total
Ball   1 20 11 10 42
Double         1 1
Flyball Hit         1 1
Flyout     4 1 1 6
Foul 1   23 7 4 35
Foul Bunt     1     1
Groundout     1 3 2 6
Home Run     1     1
Line Drive Hit     1 1   2
Lineout         1 1
Sacrifice     1     1
Strike Looking   1 14 2 4 21
Swinging Strike     10 3 1 14
Walk     1     1
Grand Total 1 2 77 28 25 133

I was surprised to see how much Wada relies on his fastball, and how many strikes he gets with it. I didn’t see this game, but I’m inferring that he uses his slider and fork to set up his fastball. He also only threw three off-speed breaking pitches.

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