Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Verducci's Take on Daisuke

Tom Verducci's latest piece at SI.com is almost enough to make this entire blog obsolete. I've been at this for about a year. I pride myself on knowing that I was on the Daisuke beat before anyone else in this business save perhaps Rob Neyer and Will Carroll. It wasn't long ago that people laughed at the idea that a Japanese player could succeed in the Majors. Now, I get e-mail after e-mail every day asking, "Who's next?"

The article is a 7-page masterpiece, detailing everything Matsuzaka. The most valuable part of the story is its attention on the shift in attitude regarding pitchers' workloads and pitch counts in general. Verducci gets it, and many of baseball's top organizations are beginning to get it too. The Japanese way of training may revolutionize the American game, and Daisuke is one of the most important figures in that process moving forward. I pulled a couple of excerpts that struck me:

"After being part of this for three years," former big league manager Bobby Valentine says by e-mail from Japan, where he's the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines, "I am convinced we do a bad job of coaching in the U.S. for pitchers."

Fact is, Matsuzaka would not be Matsuzaka if he had been born in the States. Says Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, "I'm not even sure he would have been drafted out of high school, as a 5'11" righthander who was pushed like that at such a young age."

This strikes me because it means we may be missing out on pitchers that could make Major League impact simply for a lack of training expertise. Yuki Saito, following in Matsuzaka's footsteps, is a prime example of an undersized guy that has the potential to enter the Majors in 3-4 years time and dominate. He just completed a Waseda University training camp in Okinawa where he threw 1000 pitches over 6 days. That sounds insane to Americans, but it is a mandatory training regimen for Waseda starters. Matsuzaka may be the Jackie Robinson of Japanese pitchers if he can break the Irabu wall, and simultaneously change the perception of smaller pitchers who train intensely like Saito, for example.

Think the Red Sox were concerned about his MRI when they posted $51 million?

"When Matsuzaka's pictures came back, the Red Sox were shocked at what they saw. The MRIs were whistle-clean."

The article says that Daisuke doesn't ice his arm and never has. Go figure. I think there's so much we don't know about how Japanese pitchers train. I'm sure there will be more articles like this to follow, and I'll be curious to talk this over with Will Carroll again soon. More on that later. The article also talks about the idea that Matsuzaka's pitching ability, both physical and mental, appears to be lining up with the Cy Youngs of the game, and that all eyes are on him for a run at 20 games if he stays healthy. I'm biased, so take that for what it's worth. Read the article for yourself, and then stop back here to comment.

7 Comments:

At 2:45 AM, Blogger mars2001 said...

An excellent article to be sure...

I wonder if Boston's "problem" this season (of having too many SPs for a 5-man rotation) won't be rethought if they really do adopt a 'Japanese philosophy' and learn from Matsuzaka...

It'd be pretty neat to see a 6-man rotation here in the US [if nothing else, to allow Will Carroll and others gauge the stress and effectiveness] - as most of the outcry is to push down to a 4-man rotation instead of up to a 6.... I'd say that if Lester is ready to go after the AS Break, it's definitely worth a try... maybe Wakefield could double up as a starter and do some relief work when Beckett or Clement take the hill and go 5 2/3...

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger John said...

I was gonna mail the article link to you MP then you posted it

I find it hard to believe that Matsuzaka doesn't ice his arms because I do remember seeing him with ice packs after the game before in NPB.. so /shrugs

But this is a great article nonetheless.. there's still quite a large population of American baseball fans who still believe in degrading the "Pro Yakkyu"

Anyway, Matsuzaka had hell of a game today against the Pirates..... he was "almost untouchable" as quoted on MLB.com

 
At 7:25 AM, Blogger John said...

Another point I would like to bring out is: there have been numerous players whose size don't exceed 6'0 y et all have pitched 155km + with the exception some reached 158km and 159km
Take the following players for example:
Kaku (Former Seibu Lions, part of the Pitcher Dynasty in the early 90s), he was listed as 180cm and small frame (72kg) but he was also known for his 158 km fastball. Some of the current era pitchers like Mahara (180cm 80kg), Shimizu(180cm 85kg), Igarashi (178cm 74kg), Fujikawa (184cm, 83kg) can all pitch 155+ km.
Japanese coaches truly believe in mechanics in both hitting and pitching

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger curtis said...

He does ice his arm.

Here is the caption, but the photo on the Red Sox website.

Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, with his arm wrapped in ice, walked away from reporters after interviews in Jupiter, Fla.
(Reuters Photo)

 
At 1:39 PM, Blogger John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very intrigued in the different thinking in terms of work load and pitch count. I wonder if this has something to do with the Asian diet, which has much higher intakes of fish, whole grains, and vegetables, whereas the U.S. diet is primarily red meat, pork, and poultry. Maybe the buildup of excessive protein puts additional strain on muscles, tendons and such. This is just me thinking out loud and is based on circumstantial evidence, at best, but I think the different diets between cultures is worth mentioning. Nutrition is forever evolving, so don't be shocked to see more and more athletes start eating more like Asian and Mediterranean peoples do and less like most Americans do. All studies show that their diets are far healthier than ours, with lower instances of diet related disease and illness, with long term health benefits a primarily meat based diet will never obtain.

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger William said...

To Mike:

I used to believe that Japanese pitching philosophy is superios. Now, I can PROVE it.

But jumping into conclusion without experience and science is dangerous, so we better think again if any American coach staff of the 21st century had enhanced pitcher ability better than their counterpart in Japan.

To anonymous:

Diet will help, but nearly all Japanese players, since youth, would indulge at stuffing themselves ENDLESS grilled meat (yakiniku) as long as they can. Unfortunately, meat in Japan is more expensive than in USA, where the transportation network is more efficient.

I think diet is as good as long as you eat something that you are used to and that helped your performance as you remember it did. What really counts is the training. Japanese are used to heavy workload since youth. Bobby Valentine had said: When he first managed Chiba Marines, he tried swining 1000 times the first day of training, and he still couldn't find any reason for its aid to performance on the field, BUT, Bobby also found that this intense swinging practice gives players a sense of confidence, and it will serve like a lucky charm (mamori) and help players.

So, it's up to your philosophy, whether to take (food) science as a granted factor to help players perform.

 

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