Category > pitching

Irabu Comeback in the Works

» 20 April 2009 » In pitching » 5 Comments

Hat tip to the unintentionally prophetic EWC: Nikkan Sports is reporting noted fat toad Hideki Irabu is working out in LA and aiming to resume his career in the US independent leagues some time this season. The article says that he’s played in amateur games and is hitting 90 mph on the gun in his workouts. There’s also a lengthy quote from someone associated with Irabu:

That he’s aiming for a comeback is true. Because he’s gotten back into shape*, he came to want play again. He’s playing with a cheerful demeanor. He wants to get tryouts and find a club he can play for. He’s looking to make a comeback in the independent leagues during the season. Looking to the future, the thinking is that if possible he wants to return to a high level, like MLB or NPB. 

*the original Japanese translates more directly as “his condition has returned”, which I think is really more of an assertion that Irabu has recovered from the injuries that forced him to retire. Keep in mind that this is a guy who was known as “jellyfish” in Japan before he was ever called a toad. The jellyfish moniker was an affectionate one though.

I wonder if that’s Don Nomura talking. 

Nikkan Sports provides us with a picture of him throwing, but I think that it was taken before the WBC, when Kyuji Fujikawa was working out in LA and happened to bump into Irabu in Compton. That sounds too ridiculous to be true, but it’s what was reported. Irabu is a US green card holder and returned to the US earlier in the year. Putting two and two together, I’d say he’s looking for a spot in the Golden League.

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Reader Poll — Which Pitcher to Look at Next?

» 20 April 2009 » In NPB Tracker, pitching » 9 Comments

The pitching data I’ve presented over the last week or so has proven to be a hit. Readers — who do you want to see me take a look at next? Please put your answers in the comments.

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Yu Darvish Pitching Data, Continued

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

More data from Yu Darvish’s most recent start against the Lions

  Changeup Curveball Cut Fastball Fastball Forkball Shuuto Slider Grand Total
Ball   3 3 16 8 9 10 49
Error             1 1
Flyout   1 1 2     2 6
Foul     1 13   2 5 21
Groundball Hit         1   1 2
Groundout   3   1 3 1 1 9
Home Run       1       1
Lineout             1 1
Strike Looking 1 7 1 8 1 4 5 27
Strike Swinging   2   2 5   1 10
Walk       1     1 2
Grand Total 1 16 6 44 18 16 28 129

Note that Darvish got every pitch in his arsenal over for at least one called strike, but the Lions were mostly able to make contact when the swung.

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Yu Darvish Pitching Data

» 17 April 2009 » In npb, pitching » 6 Comments

Here is the velocity chart from Yu Darvish’s win last night over Seibu. More info coming later. More info is here.

Click the chart to view full size.


There are more velocity charts here and here. You can get all the velocity charts here. Is this data compelling?

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Velocity Charts: Ma-kun vs Shunsuke

» 15 April 2009 » In npb, pitching » 1 Comment

Young fireballer Masahiro Tanaka and submariner Shunsuke Watanabe faced off on April 14 in a great pitcher’s duel. Tanaka got the best of Watanabe, but Shunsuke held Rakuten at bay despite allowing 12 baserunners in seven innings of work. And they couldn’t have been more different in their approaches. Tanaka was routinely in the mid-90’s with his fastball, and only threw three pitches below 80mph, while the submarining Watanabe didn’t touch 80 the whole game. Have a look at the velocity charts to see the difference between the two.

click images to view full size



Here’s a clip of Tanaka striking out Shoitsu Ohmatsu to end the game.

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Velocity Charts

» 12 April 2009 » In npb, pitching » 7 Comments

I’m working on a way to gather pitching information for NPB games. It’s not quite Pitch F/X but it should yield some interesting information. I’m not done yet, but the early results are good. I was able to chart the velocity on each pitch thrown by Hisashi Iwakuma and Hideaki Wakui in their April 10 matchup, which Wakui won 6-0.

(Click to enlarge the charts)


Iwakuma was lifted after six innings and 92 pitches, allowing three runs. 


Wakui used seven different pitches, though he only threw his changeup a couple of times. He threw 138 pitches, and note that his fastball’s velocity drops toward the end.

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Yu Darvish Viewing Guide

» 29 December 2008 » In npb, pitching » 2 Comments

I was asked about Yu Darvish in an interview I did recently, and I thought I may have undersold him a bit, so I decided to take a closer look at him, albeit via grainy YouTube video. You won’t see me embed YouTube content on my site very often (don’t like black boxes when it disappears), but for Darvish I’ll make an exception. This is a highlight reel from a playoff game Darvish pitched against the Orix Buffaloes, in his penultimate appearance of the 2008 season.

Here’s a link to the original content on YouTube… and some selected highlights:

0:58 – 91 mph forkball
1:24 – curveball
2:18 – 93 mph two-seam fastball
2:40 – another forkball
3:02 – 96 mph heater
3:40 – 94 mph heater
4:17 – looks like a cut fastball, 91 mph
4:44 & 5:11 – 78 mph 12-6 curve
7:00 — 80 mph curve
7:32 — 91 mph cut fastball
8:00; 8:45;  9:00 — bat-busting 93 mph cutter; 92 mph high fastball; 80 mph hook
9:30 — curve, thrown harder and with a bigger dive than the others
9:54 — 94 mph fastball on the black
10:18 — huge break on this curveball
10:47 — 96 mph heater on the last pitch of the game (his 139th)

What we see in this video is that Darvish runs his straight fastball up to about 96 mph, has three pitches that clock at 90+ mph movement (two-seam, forkball, cut fastball), and a slower curveball. I’d say he commands everything but the fork pretty well. Good stuff, but take it with a grain of salt; Darvish did surrender nine hits and a run in this game.

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The 2008 Sawamura Award

» 04 October 2008 » In npb, pitching » 6 Comments

Work and my upcoming home move have settled down a little bit, so it’s time to catch up on a little NPB bloggin’. There’s no immediate end in sight to my hectic schedule, but I’m hoping to be able to get back to posting 2-3 times a week. 

Let’s start the comeback with a look a this year’s race for the Sawamura Award. With apologies to Satoshi Komatsu and Colby Lewis, two pitchers have clearly separated themselves from the pack: Nippon Ham’s Yu Darvish and Rakuten’s Hisashi Iwakuma. Darvish’s regular season is over, while Iwakuma still has another start left, but we have enough numbers to compare. Here’s my fairly simplistic look at them head-to-head.

Selected Rate Stats

Yu Darvish 1.88 0.90 9.35 0.49 4.73
Hisashi Iwakuma 1.93 0.99 7.15 0.14 4.43

Darvish has an edge here, but it’s minimal. Both pitchers have sub-2.00 ERAs, sub-1.00 WHIPs, and 4+ K/BB ratios. Darvish has struck more guys out, but Iwakuma has better controlled the home run ball. Both guys have been outstanding by these metrics.

Selected Accumulated Stats

  Games Starts CG Shutouts No-walk CG Wins Loses Win % IP
Yu Darvish 25 24 10 2 2 16 4 0.800 200.2
Hisashi Iwakuma 27 27 5 2 3 20 4 0.833 195.2

Iwakuma has a big edge here in hitting the 20 win mark, becoming the first NPB 20-game winner since Kazumi Saito and Kei Igawa both did it in 2003. This is a particularly phenomenal achievement for a guy pitching for a last place team.

Darvish has been a workhorse, throwing 200 innings in just 24 starts. It should be noted, however,  that he threw two meaningless innings in Nippon Ham’s 17-0 drubbing of Rakuten in the Fighters’ last regular season game to reach 200.

  Hits Allowed HR Allowed K BB Runs Earned Runs
Yu Darvish 136 11 208 44 44 42
Hisashi Iwakuma 158 3 155 35 48 42

The WHIP numbers shown above give an indication of how unhittable these guys have been this year, and these totals underscore that further. Despite Iwakuma’s remarkable HR allowed total, overall Darvish has been even less hittable.

The Sawamura Award

The recipient of the Sawamura Award is decided by a panel of great NPB pitchers, who in part base their decision on the following criteria (courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • Games started: 25
  • Wins: 15
  • Complete games: 10
  • W/L Percentage: .600
  • Innings Pitched: 200
  • ERA: 2.50
  • Strikeouts: 150
With the exception of Iwakuma’s CG total (5), both pitchers meet all the criteria, or come so close that it doesn’t matter. So it’ll come down to what the selection committee values more highly: Iwakuma’s win total for his also-ran team, or Darvish’s general unhittable-ness.
Personally, my head says it’s Darvish but my gut says it’s Iwakuma. This would be an easier choice if the Fighters had scored a few more runs behind Darvish early in the season, but they didn’t. Iwakuma was consistent throughout the whole year and helped give Rakuten’s fans their first year of competitive baseball to cheer for. In the end, I think I’d go for Iwakuma. 

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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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