Japan has a really rich starting lineup, and there are four incredibly powerful players. Is there a system in Japan that helps develop these pitchers?”
This is a question that Japanese baseball team coach Hideki Kuriyama heard at a press conference ahead of the match against Italy in the quarterfinals of the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) held at Tokyo Dome, Japan on the 16th. The reporter who asked the question was Michael Clare of MLB.com, the homepage of Major League Baseball. In the major league, where only the world’s top players are gathered, the Japanese mound seemed quite impressive to him, even in his eyes, as he watched various pitchers play every day.
Claire went to Tokyo Dome from the 9th, when the Group B match of the first round was held, covered all the teams participating in the tournament, and asked questions. Of course, coverage of Japan, the candidate for the championship, was the highest. The last question he asked after watching the Japanese team’s baseball game for nearly two weeks was, “How does Japan have a system that can develop such good pitchers?” Korea, who lost 4-13 in the first round group stage match against Japan on the 10th, was also a question worth wondering.
As of the 17th, after four group matches and quarterfinals, Japan ranked first among the participating countries with a team ERA of 1.80. Shohei Ohtani (29, Angels) – Yu Darvish (37, San Diego) – Rocky Sasaki (22, Chiba Lotte) – Yoshinobu Yamamoto (25, Orix) had a solid starting rotation. Ohtani won 2 wins, and the other 3 players won 1 each, winning all 5 matches and advancing to the semifinals.
Just looking at the four starting pitchers is splendid. Ohtani is the only star in the major leagues to hit and hit, and drew attention by throwing fastballs up to 164 km in the quarterfinals against Italy. Darvish is a veteran who boasts 95 victories in the major leagues, and Sasaki is a rookie who throws fastballs exceeding 160 km/h. Yamamoto is the league’s top ace who won the Sawamura Award and the pitcher’s 4 crowns (most wins, ERA, strikeouts, win rate) for two consecutive years until last year.
There are 15 Japanese pitching staff including them. The average age is only 25.9 years. Darvish is the only one born in the 1980s, and Darvish and Imana Shota (30, Yokohama) are the only two in their 30s. The youngest pitcher, Hiroto Takahashi (Chunichi), is 21 years old this year. The youngest pitched in 2 games and saved 2 innings with 1 hit (1 home run), no walks, 3 strikeouts and 1 run.
Hiromi Ito (26, Nippon Ham) was the relief pitcher who took the mound with two outs on first and third base in the top of the fifth inning when starting pitcher Ohtani was chased 4-2 by Italy’s counterattack in the quarterfinals. Hiromi ended the inning cleanly by striking out, and Ohtani was proud as she stroked his hair. Aside from the well-known Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) title holder pitcher, young and promising pitchers are lined up in the Japanese bullpen.
Claire told manager Kuriyama, “The starting lineup is really rich. There are four incredible starting pitchers, and Yamamoto is the fourth starting pitcher even though he is a two-time Sawamura Award winner. How important is a solid mound in a tournament like this. And Japan “Does baseball have a special plan and system to develop pitchers like this?” he asked.
Coach Kuriyama hesitated for a moment before answering with a smile. They are players who can pitch at a league level. I believe so.”
“When I was coach of the Nippon Ham Fighters, it was difficult to build a solid pitching staff. However, to explain general Japanese baseball, Japanese baseball basically has a tendency to learn. And it is most important to emphasize the basics.” he added.
Director Kuriyama went on to explain and emphasized the basics once more. He said, “When I learn baseball in Japan, I want to show that the basics are the most important. And I also have a Japanese style that is difficult to explain. Sometimes, I try to preserve the individuality of the children without touching them. Even I asked the question I need to study a little more to answer that.”
The basics of a pitcher eventually start with knowing how to throw a strike. Former Softbank pitching coach Yasuo Kubo, who was with the Doosan Bears as a pitching instructor at the Doosan Bears finishing camp last October, also said something similar to manager Kuriyama. Former coach Gubo told Doosan’s young pitchers, “I thought that pitchers should throw a lot of strikes. If you throw a walk, you can’t talk about the next one,” he emphasized.
Japan gave up only 5 walks in 5 matches in this tournament. Korea recorded 11 in 4 games, and 8 came out in the match against Japan. The heavy pressure of catching Japan to avoid being eliminated appeared as young pitchers struggled to find their way out. Left-handers Kim Yun-sik (23, LG) and Lee Eui-ri (21, KIA) struggled with 2 walks in 0 innings and 3 walks in ⅓ innings, respectively. This does not mean that the pitchers who did not walk that day had good control. The rest of the pitchers gave up hits while attempting to put pitches in the strike zone due to a high ball count. This is the background of struggling with 13 hits, 8 walks and 13 runs in 8 innings against the Japanese lineup.
The problem of pitching had a big impact on the rule that pitchers must deal with more than three batters unconditionally. In Korea, pitchers whose pitches faltered before facing all three batters often appeared. Normally, the next pitcher would come out as soon as he was shaken, but Korean coach Lee Kang-chul had to wait until the shaken pitcher walked or gave up hits and faced all three batters. Manager Lee, who could neither adapt nor respond to the unfamiliar system, collapsed without catching the pitcher replacement timing at all.
‘150km per hour is the default, 160km is a fastball,’먹튀검증 and ‘various breaking balls that are not easily seen in Korea’ are representative modifiers attached to the Japanese pitching team in this tournament. Still, the biggest strength of the Japanese pitching staff was their precise control. In the end, control must be supported by a strong heart that does not tremble even on the big stage and believes in one’s own ball and knows how to strike.
Baseball players who diagnosed the problem of the Korean mound, including coach Lee, said in unison, “Young pitchers couldn’t throw their own balls because they were nervous or not in good condition on the big stage.” In the end, if you remove this and that modifier, the Korean mound itself lacked pitchers who could throw strikes. Will the Korean pitching team, who have realized the gap with the Japanese mound more than ever before, find an answer that is faithful to the basics and show a different performance in the next international tournament?