Tag Archive > Chihiro Kaneko

Who’s Next?

» 15 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 15 Comments

Within minutes of Masahiro Tanaka signing with the Yankees, I started getting questions on Twitter about the next star out of Japan.

The short answer is that there’s no one of Tanaka’s caliber that we’ll see in MLB in the next few years.The longer answer is that there are a number of interesting pitchers currently active in Japan who could eventually wind up in North America. Here are the ones I’m watching most closely.

Kenta Maeda RHP starter, Hiroshima Carp: Maeda is Tanaka’s heir apparent as Japan’s best pitcher, but he grades well below Ma-Kun as an MLB prospect, both on pure stuff and statistical dominance. On this list, he compares most closely to Kenshin Kawakami, but with the advantages of youth and health. A reasonable expectation is that he’ll be a viable mid/back rotation starter for someone. Maeda is expected to be posted following the 2014 season, so we should see him in MLB in 2015.

Chihiro Kaneko RHP starter, Orix Buffaloes: Kaneko is pretty good, but for whatever reason, frequently overlooked in discussions about Japan’s best pitchers. He’s a bit less consistent than Maeda, but has more breaking stuff and generates a few more whiffs. Kaneko is eligible for domestic, NPB-only free agency after the 2014 season, and there are already rumors that Yomiuri is going to go after him. If he wants to play in MLB it likely wouldn’t be until 2016 at the soonest.

Seung-Hwan Oh RHP closer, Hanshin Tigers: 2014 will be Oh’s first year in NPB, having spent his career to this point in Korea. He was expected to move to MLB this past offseason, but wound up signing a two-year deal with Hanshin instead. The thought is that he could move on to MLB at the conclusion of his contract, so that would be 2016. I haven’t seen Oh yet so I haven’t formed an opinion of him as a prospect.

Hideaki Wakui, RHP starter, Chiba Lotte Marines: A few years ago, Wakui would have ranked among Japan’s better MLB prospects, but now he’s a bit of a question mark. He hit his peak in 2009, winning the Sawamura Award, but overuse, a contentious relationship with his team, girl trouble, and possible conditioning problems has resulted in several steps backward. I’ve been hearing for years that Wakui wants to move to MLB; he signed a two-year contract with Lotte this offseason where he could rebuild value.

Takuya Asao, RHP reliever, Chunichi Dragons: Asao was so dominant in 2011 that won the 2011 Central League MVP Award, despite pitching in middle relief. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same since, suffering from shoulder discomfort and pitching 30 and 30.2 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt his stuff — mid-90s fastball, hard splitter, funky palmball — is good enough for MLB. He’s a few years away from free agency so we’ll see what happens.

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP starter, Seibu Lions: Kikuchi made waves in 2009 for considering forgoing NPB to sign with an MLB club. He ultimately remained in Japan, and was drafted by Seibu. In 2013, Kikuchi was in the midst of making good on the potential that made him such a hot commodity as a high school prospect when he was stricken with shoulder inflammation and lost for the season. It obviously remains to be seen how he’ll fare when he returns, but so far he’s at least show that he can turn his ability in to results. Kikuchi is at least six years away from free agency.

Shohei Ohtani RHP starter/OF, Nippon Ham Fighters: Here’s where it gets interesting. Like Kikuchi, Ohtani also showed an interest in jumping right to MLB out of high school. Unlike Kikuchi, he seemed intent on actually doing it, but Nippon Ham drafted him anyway and eventually convinced him to sign. Despite flashing 100mph heat in high school, Ohtani opened the 2013 season as Nippon Ham’s starting right fielder. A few months later, he made his ichi-gun debut on the mound, and pitched 61.2 innings, becoming the first nitouryu (double-bladed) player since Yozo Nagabuchi in 1968. Ohtani’s offseason training centered on pitching, but he’ll reportedly continue to play both positions this season. Nippon Ham has been publicly supportive of sending Ohtani to MLB after a few years of seasoning, but of course that was before this posting system nonsense took place.

Shintaro Fujinami RHP starter, Hanshin Tigers: Ohtani’s 2013 rookie brethren Fujinami might not be as flashy, but he’s a lot more polished. Fujinami opened the 2013 as Hanshin’s third starter, and essentially stuck in the rotation for the duration of the season, an impressive feat for an 18 year-old. At this point, Fujinami probably has the best potential of any pitcher on this list. He already shows polish and pitchability, and he’s extremely lanky 6’7. As he fills out and adds strength, it’s reasonable to expect that he could develop a bit more fastball velocity, and handle more innings pitched. At age 19 he’s a long way away from free agency and MLB, but if 2013 is any indication fans on both sides of the Pacific have a lot to look forward to.

Tomohiro Anraku RHP starter Saibi High School: Anraku’s still a high school student, but he’s an interesting prospect. Clearly the top player in last year’s spring Koshien Sembatsu tournament, he was famously pitched into the ground by his manager. The bodily wear he sustained from the effort led to worse performances later in the year, and his stock as an NPB draft prospect has dropped. We don’t know what 2014 holds, but it’s conceivable that he could follow in Kikuchi and Ohtani’s footsteps as a player who tests the MLB waters out of high school.

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Orix’s Worst Pitchers

» 10 July 2011 » In npb » 6 Comments

After a rough start to the season, the Orix Buffaloes have clawed their way to a .500 record and into contention a playoff spot. So far, they’ve followed the same path that they took last: making up for a bad start by beating up on Central League teams in interleague play, then continuing to hover around respectability. So far they’re three games over .500 since returning to league play.

Orix has so far posted the worst ERA in the Pacific League, though not by much (3.28 to Seibu’s 3.25). That’s not terribly surprising, but going into the season, I really liked Orix’s rotation options. I saw a lot of question marks, but plenty of depth and a lot of upside as well. A couple of the question marks have come up positive, most notably Hayato Terahara and Alfredo Figaro, but Orix’s bad pitchers have been the worst in the Pacific League. Check out these numbers:

  • Satoshi Komatsu — 0.1 IP, 5 ER
  • Tatsuya Kajimoto — 1.1 IP, 3 ER
  • Masahide Kobayashi — 4.2 IP, 7 ER
  • Masato Nishikawa — 3 IP, 4 ER
  • Evan MacLane — 2.1 IP, 2 ER
  • Kazuya Takamiya — 6.1 IP, 5 ER
  • Hiroshi Kisanuki — 43 IP, 27 ER (32 R)

Add it all up and these seven pitchers have surrendered 53 earned runs over 61 innings pitched, which works out to an ugly 7.82 ERA, and over a fifth of Orix’s team total.The non-Kisanuki members of the group have an even more jarring 13.00 ERA over 18 innings of work, though to be fair, none of them has gotten much of a look. And to be intellectually honest, even if we took these 61 innings away and replaced them with scoreless innings, Orix would still be a ways off Nippon Ham and Softbank in terms of run prevention.

So, what happens next? Over the road back to respectability, Orix seems to have found a bullpen that works a bit better, as most of the guys from my bullet point list haven’t seen any recent game action. Kisanuki pitches on the 11th, so we’ll see if he has any bounce-back in him season. Chihiro Kaneko and Kazuki Kondo have both missed time with injuries this season, but are back now. Chan Ho Park was had some rough spots early in the season, has good enough stuff to compete in Japan. He’s currently out with a torn muscle and is expected back around the All-Star break. It looks like there is enough here to keep things interesting, even if they probably won’t contend for a title.

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My Team Japan

» 08 May 2011 » In npb » 27 Comments

Last week, I got a pretty good question Twitter — who would my Japanese national team be today?

It’s a good question, and a nice change of pace from the Darvish questions I frequently get, so I decided to write up a post about it. Coincidentally back when I was teaching English at the now-defuct NOVA, I used to do a lesson like this with my baseball fan students, and it was always a fun one.

I’m picking my team as if they would have to compete at the highest level, so as cool as I think the World Port Tournament is, I’m following the WBC roster rules. In summary, I get a maximum of 28 players, with a minimum of two catchers and 13 pitchers.

Outfield

No reason to deviate from the 2009 WBC starting outfield of Ichiro, Kosuke Fukudome, and Norichika Aoki. For my fourth outfielder I’ll go with the gap power, strike zone judgement, and defensive prowess of Nippon Ham CF Yoshio Itoi.

Infield

There’s one easy call for me in the infield: Hiroyuki Nakajima at shortstop. At second base, I’ll start Tsuyoshi Nishioka, without regard to his current injury.

The corners are a little trickier. At third base, I like Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura’s bat and Eiichi Koyano’s glove, with Takahiro Arai striking a balance between the two. Choices are a bit limited on other side of the diamond, and Sho Nakata might be the best choice by the end of the year, but for now I prefer the contact bat of Seiichi Uchikawa.

This group of four gives me some flexibility. I can play the stronger defensive group with Koyano at third, Arai at first, and Okawari-kun DH’ing, or I can for the better offensive lineup and have Arai at third, Okawari-kun at first, and one of my other candidates batting DH. The presence of Uchikawa gives me the option of playing the hot hand as well.

On the bench, I’ll stash Yasuyuki Kataoka and Munenori Kawasaki, both of whom can pinch run, steal bases, get bunts down and play good defense all over the infield.

Designated Hitters

Nakamura would DH for my team when he’s not playing in the field. Hideki Matsui never participates in these things, but dammit,this is my dream team, so he’s in.

Catchers

Catcher is an easy call. Kenji Johjima starts, Shinnosuke Abe backs up.

Starting Pitchers

The first three starters are easy choices: Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda. The next three are pretty easy too: Masahiro Tanaka, Hideaki Wakui, Kenta Maeda. Hang on, no lefties in there, so I’ll call on Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Masaru Takeda.

That’s nine starters, so some of these guys are are going to relieve. In particular, I like Tanaka as a power arm out of the bullpen, and Takeda as a lefty specialist.

Relief Pitchers

I’m rounding out my 13-man pitching staff with four full-time relievers for my squad: Kyuji Fujikawa, Takuya Asao, Hitoki Iwase and Tetsuya Yamaguchi.

Those last two are kind of risky picks, given Iwase’s struggles in the 2008 Olympics, and the fact that Yamaguchi got lit up for 10 home runs last year. But Iwase is a good pitcher, and I like Yamaguchi’s ability to get lefthanded batters out.

Notable absences

The last name I deleted off my list of candidates was Chihiro Kaneko (ignoring the fact that he’s been out injured all season). It was either him or Koyano, and I went with Koyano for his third base defense and gap bat. Kaneko’s righty starter skillset is already well-represented.

I would love to have another power bat on this team, but the only other guy I really thought about was Shuichi Murata. A few years ago, his inclusion would have been a no-brainer, but I prioritized defense, and his down numbers last season concern me. Nobuhiko Matsunaka would have been a great inclusion, but he is a shadow of his former self.

I gave some consideration to Koji Uehara and Takashi Saito, but they are too injury-prone to displace either Fujikawa or Asao, and too righthanded to bump Iwase or Yamaguchi.

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2011 Season Predictions: Pacific League

» 10 April 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

The Pacific League is balanced. In fact, this is probably the first time I can say that I think that every team in the league has a chance to finish first. That makes it difficult to pick winners this year, so I’m going to try something different. I’ve got the teams ranked not by where I think they’ll finish, but by how likely I think they are to finish first.

6. Orix Buffaloes (offseason summary)

High-risk, high-reward rotation; new suketto question marks; counting on lots of guys who had their first success in 2010; thin bullpen; Chihiro Kaneko injured

5. Chiba Lotte Marines (offseason summary)

Absence of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Kobayashi; lineup is due for some regression; not quite sold on starters not named Naruse or Karakawa

4. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (offseason summary)

Strong front rotation; better lineup with the additions of Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura; lots of righty bullpen options; new manager

3. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (offseason summary)

Yu Darvish; steady rotation; great defense; a few break-out candidates; good 2nd half in 2010; Darvish

2. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (offseason summary)

Additions of Alex Cabrera and Seiichi Uchikawa; strong lineup 1-9; good 1-2 starters; lights-out bullpen; backed into 2010 title; emerging starters; lots of injury-prone players

1. Saitama Seibu Lions (offseason summary)

Productive lineup; talented core; interesting young pitchers — Yusei Kikuchi, Tatsuya Oishi, Kazuhisa Makita; stalwart ace in Hideaki Wakui

It was tough putting Orix last, since I’m such a big fan of their approach, but everything needs to go right for them to win. Similarly it’s hard having Lotte fifth after a Nippon Series win, but I think their lineup is likely to fall back to earth in 2011. Rakuten in fourth is a bit of a leap of faith for me; last year Chunichi won with four good hitters and a good group of pitchers. Rakuten has the starters (but not the bullpen) and with their additions they might have the offense they need to contend. As for the other three… well, it came down to a toss up between Softbank and Seibu for first. I think I just have a preference for Seibu’s lineup, and more confidence in their ability to remain healthy.

The point is, any one of these teams can win in 2011. It should be a great season.

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NPB Bullet Points: Nippon Ham No-No, Kaneko Hurting

» 27 February 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 8 Comments

With spring camps in full swing, it’s time to get caught back up with

  • Five Nippon Ham pitchers, led by none other than Yu Darvish, combined for a no-hitter in a practice game against Korea’s Samsung Lions on the 25th. Darvish hit 154 kmph on the gun, and threw a curve at 94 kmph. I guess he came to camp in shape.
  • I’m late on this one, but Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko has been injured since essentially the beginning camp. The Nikkan Sports report I’ve linked to indicates that righty complained of elbow on February 6th, and had surgery on the 9th. He’s rehabbing at Orix’s ni-gun camp. Given that Kaneko logged a career-high number of innings last season this is a bad sign.
  • Masahiro Tanaka and Yuki Saito have crossed paths, but have yet to face each other.
  • In more bad news for Orix, Mike Hessman took a Masahide Kobayashi fastball to the head on the in an intrasquad game 17th. Here’s hoping Mike is all right.
  • According to Sanspo, Lotte has narrowed there list of candidates for their compensation player from Hanshin to two pitchers. A resolution is expected on March 1.
  • Carlos Torres looked pretty good in his appearance against Yakult on the 27th. Here’s a link to the game on Justin.tv.
  • I’ve found a bunch of good stuff lately on Twitter: Yakyu Kozo Editor’s photo site, Softbank’s ustream.tv channel, and this Tweet from Data Stadium: “actually the ball probably won’t carry.”

And for something completely different: this collection of Japanese art and graphic design from the 1920’s and 30’s. I like this poster advertising the cancelled 1940 Tokyo Olympics.

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Orix’s Rotation

» 24 December 2010 » In npb » 7 Comments

The Orix Buffaloes have added a few arms this offseason, and have a number of interesting options for their 2011 rotation. Let’s take a look at how things could fit together.

Strong Incumbents

The Orix rotation discussion begins with an established ace and two solid arms.

Chihiro Kaneko — Orix has a legitimate ace in Kaneko. He’s been good in each of the three years he’s spent as a starter, but he reached new heights in 2010 with 17 wins, 204.1 innings, six shutouts and 190 strikeouts.

Hiroshi Kisanuki — Orix bought low on Kisanuki, and were rewarded with a solid 174.1 innings of 3.98 ball. Kisanuki’s been around for a while, so it is a little surprising that 2010 was just the fourth time he’s thrown over 100 innings, and the first since 2007. This may explain why he was strong in the first half but struggled down the stretch. If he can stay healthy again in 2011, he’ll continue to be a solid innings eater.

Kazuki Kondo – I like Kondo, he reminds me of Junichi Tazawa. His 5-10, 4.35 performance in 2010 belies the fact that he took a big step forward with a career-high 133 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Like Kisanuki, he wore out down the stretch, and was basically done after a 144-pitch outing in early September. Kondo has established a ceiling of 140-150 innings in a season, but he’s a good mid-rotation arm.

Health Question Marks

Then we have a group of talented pitchers with poor track records for health.

Hayato Terahara — Terahara is another personal favorite of mine, and I think Orix absolutely fleeced Yokohama in getting him for Shogo Yamamoto and Go Kida. Terahara had a big breakout year as a starter in 2007, then a solid year as Yokohama’s closer in 2008, but has missed significant time with injuries over the last two seasons. If Orix can coax a healthy season out of him, they’ll have something. It’s a good risk to take.

Satoshi Komatsu — It seems like a long time ago that Komatsu went 15-3, won the Rookie of the Year award, and was chosen for Japan’s WBC team. It’s been a rough, injury-laden couple of years since then. Komatsu did make 13 starts last year, but now seems destined for the bullpen.

Masayuki Hasegawa – Getting Hasegawa for the unused Yuichiro Mukae was an inspired move, but he’s no ace. Realistically, Hasegawa’s contribution will be that he can take the ball every so often and keep his team in the game for five or six innings.

New Imports

Next year, Orix should have a foreigner taking regular rotation turns for the first time since Tom Davey in 2007.

Chan Ho Park – Park is obviously the big name here, having collected 124 wins over a 17-season MLB career. Park signed with Orix to start, so we can assume he’ll open the season in the Buffaloes rotation. There are some question marks though; he’s 37 and hasn’t worked anything close to a full season as a starter since 2006 in San Diego. On the other hand, getting more rest between starts and reduced travel might suit him well.

Alfredo Figaro – And at the other end of the spectrum, there’s Figaro. Figaro has only 31.2 MLB innings under his belt, and is still only 26 years old. Back in 2009, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs put his upside as a back-rotation MLB starter, which makes him an interesting NPB prospect. He’ll bring plus velocity and a good slider to the table.

My Rotation

Assuming health, I’d stack the rotation going into the spring something like this:

  1. Kaneko
  2. Kisanuki
  3. Park
  4. Terahara
  5. Kondo
  6. Figaro

Kaneko’s the ace and Kisanuki earned his #2 spot with his 2010 performance. Park’s MLB track record will probably give him the edge for the next spot, though I like Terahara better if he’s healthy. Kondo is next, and I put Figaro in the last spot because I have decided what I expect from him yet.

The catch is that every pitcher I listed here is a righty. With Yamamoto dispatched in the Terahara trade, Orix doesn’t have an obvious rotation lefty. Shinya Nakayama got a few starts in 2010, but has never been able to stick at the ichi-gun level. Another option might be sophomore Shuichi Furukawa, but he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in his first professional season.

Overall, Orix has assembled a deep group of starters. It’ll take a few things going right, but Orix could have one of the best rotations in Japan next season.

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NPB Bullet Points: News & Retirements

» 02 September 2010 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

(insert witty introduction here)

Around NPB

  • Chihiro Kaneko has gotten himself in to the mix for the Pacific League’s wins title, with a career-best personal 10-game winning streak. Kaneko is now 14-7 on the season. He also has six shutouts.
  • The Giants have slumped to sub-.500 records in each of the last two months, and it’s showing on Tatsunori Hara’s face.
  • Craig Brazell cranked out his 40th bomb of the season the other day, becoming the first Hanshin foreigner to since Randy Bass back in ’86.
  • Orix righty Kazuki Kondo pitched a 144-pitch complete game loss on the 1st… and then got sent down. I didn’t see the game, but it must have been a save-the-bullpen kind of effort, as Kondo had allowed seven runs by the third inning.
  • Nippon Ham lefty Masaru Takeda has a personal seven-game winning streak going, and leads the Fighters with 12 wins.
  • Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka is out a minimum of three weeks with a torn pectoral muscle, and with Rakuten languishing in last place, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again this year.
  • At least one MLB club was seen watching lefty Daiki Uekida’s September 2 outing for Tokyo Gas of the Industrial Leagues. I haven’t seen Uekida but at first glance he looks like a Hisanori Takahashi type.
  • Today’s Japanese word: moudasho (mo-da-sho, 猛打賞), which means three hits in one game. An example: Lotte shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka has 22 moudasho games this season, a club record. Ichiro, of course, holds the NPB record with 26. With 21 team games left in the season, Nishioka has a shot at Ichiro’s record if he gets hot.

Player Personnel

  • Yakult is looking into re-acquiring Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh is set to move on from Aki after this season, and I believe Yakult still controls his NPB rights.
  • Longtime Hanshin catcher Akihiro Yano is calling it a career at the end of the season. Something of a late-bloomer, Yano made seven All-Star appearances in his 20-year career and was the runner-up for the 2003 MVP.
  • Orix ni-gun infielder Masahiro Nagata has already retired, according to a team announcement from August 31. Nagata was once a pretty decent prospect, but never made an impact at the top level.
  • Cuban pitcher Pedro Lazo is also retiring. I was planning on listing him as a dark horse to move to Japan next season, as Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan did at the end of their careers.

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Re-run: The Quirks of NPB Pitching

» 25 March 2010 » In npb » 2 Comments

This is one of my favorite all-time NPB Tracker posts, and one that generated a good amount of interest in the site. I decided to re-run because seeing the various pitching styles is one of my favorite things about Japanese baseball, and hopefully a new audience will get to see it this time around. I think I’ll do a 2010 version of this at some point.

This post originally ran on August 29, 2008.


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 (ed. note: 2010: Matsui video removed by YouTube, so here’s one where Imanaka struck out 16).
  • 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. (ed. note: 2010: video removed by YouTube; this post goes further into Darvish’s arsenal)
  • 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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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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