Month: August 2016

The Ace Conundrum

The Ace Conundrum

(screencap courtesy of NHK, and that’s Matsuzaka Daisuke if you’re wondering)

So fellow Kokoyakyu follower (and a much better writer than I), Kazuto Yamazaki, recently wrote an article about the pitch totals that aces face at Koushien – and it’s more than true. The 2006 Koushien that now Yankee Tanaka Masahiro lost to Waseda Jitsugyou saw winner Saitou Yuuki throw 69 innings and 948 pitches, which included a now famous finals replay.

You can go back further to the aforementioned Daisuke who pitched a CG shutout and then a 17 inning affair against the now beleaguered PL Gakuen program.

There is a long held romanticism with a team having the ace pitcher on the mound carrying the team all the way to the title. Never mind if the pitcher suffers later, winning the title now is important. (The same sometimes is argued with runners participating in the Hakone Ekiden and how it affects the future of good marathon runners).

And that belief for the most part holds today as seen in Kazuto’s article. Most of the teams that reached Natsu Koushien have just their ace #1 and that’s it.

Sure, there are things changing a little. You have the article by George Nishiyama on Tatsuta Shouta of Yamato Kouryou (Nara) whose father had him go to that school primarily because Wakai-kantoku did not press his #1 into service like other programs. But really, cases like this are very rare in Japan.

The easiest way of fixing the ace conundrum is to carry more than one pitcher. Saga Kita did it when it defeated Kouryou in 2007, Nobeoka Gakuen had more than 1 when it went to the title game in 2013, and there was Shuugakukan who had 4 pitchers this year (though mismanaged, and NO I won’t let that go).

Herein lies the rub. Kokoyakyu, while it touts in some ways the romanticism of having any team win the title, is already dominated for the most part by private schools like Osaka Touin. If teams were to go to a multi-pitcher strategy like Shuugakukan, the concentration of schools who go to Koushien could get even more significant as the best will recruit the best to win the title. The only side effect could be those that want the glory for themselves could go to a different school to be the staff ace.

Basically if you thought seeing the same schools at Koushien was bad now, wait if an actual bullpen/rotation takes hold.

Not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing. Seeing pitchers basically degrade as the tournament progresses, to the point where you see pitchers like Anraku Tomohiro suffer injury isn’t worth it. But the correct movement to protect pitcher’s arms (as opposed to the 15 inning replay rule which does anything but), could make the Koushien tournament a tournament even more for the elite, and not the common kid. And that makes it even more sad in my eyes.

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Does it matter where you’re drawn?

Does it matter where you’re drawn?

(Photo courtesy of Sponichi, also sorry, that game was a bad memory)

It was brought up by one of my twitter friends during the Koushien tournament, and something that I had thought about for a while now.

Given that there are 49 teams in the tournament, and this obviously is not a exponent of 2, there are 34 teams that must play one extra game than the rest. Given that the schedule collapses at the end with teams possibly pitching 4 games in 5 days, having to burn through an extra game seems fatal.

Yet for instance those that draw the opening day, it is possible to pitch on Day 1, then Day 7, Day 10, Day 12, Day 14, and Day 15. So while you do play the extra game, there is 5 full days off for your pitchers to rest. Now, if you’re further up the schedule, yeah – in my opinion you’re probably screwed unless you have a pitching staff like Shuugakukan (and don’t mess it up – you had one job Kajisha-kantoku, ONE JOB!).

*Ahem* Anyways, instead of going with gut feeling, let’s see how many schools actually were able to take the long road. For purposes of this example, we’ll take a look at the Best 4.

  • 2016 – None from 1st round
  • 2015 – 2 from 1st round (Sendai Ikuei & Waseda Jitsugyou)
  • 2014 – All 4 from 1st round
  • 2013 – 1 from 1st round (Maebashi Ikuei)
  • 2012 – None from 1st round
  • 2011 – 2 from 1st round (Nichidai-san & Sakushin Gakuin)
  • 2010 – 3 from 1st round (Toukaidai Sagami was the only exception)

That’s not all that conclusive. There isn’t a trend that teams who get that extra game are less likely to reach the Best 4. And if you were to look at the overall winners, we had 4 of the last 7 years (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014) where the eventual winner came from the opening round.

So does it matter what day the champions who played out of the 1st round came out of?

  • 2010 – Kounan (started on Day 4)
  • 2011 – Nichidai-san (Day 5)
  • 2013 – Maebashi Ikuei (Day 5)
  • 2014 – Osaka Touin (Day 5)

Huh? So these winners actually came from late in the 1st round! That’s not what I would have been expecting at all!

Now this is a bit of small sample size going back to 2010, but I think it’s good enough especially given that nowadays you are looking at more teams with deeper pitching staffs (and by deeper, I mean more than 1) compared to the past when Saga Kita’s duo was really the exception. And in all those 4 cases, there was 1 primary pitcher for all of them (Shimabukuro, Yoshinaga, Takahashi, Fukushima).

So, it doesn’t really look like it matters where you get drawn as long as you get to the title.

The Irony of the “Little League World Series”

The Irony of the “Little League World Series”

(photo courtesy of AP)

Hah! So you’d thought that the first post would obviously be about kokoyakyu! Well, I mean most of them will be, but with the 98th Natsu Koushien completed, ESPN shows the LLWS. And several years ago there was a player from Tokyo Kitasuna who is now the darling of kokoyakyu. Perhaps you’ve heard of Kiyomiya Koutarou?

Anyways, I generally watch the LLWS when time allows, but when I do I watch basically hoping the US loses each year.

Why?

Well, in the current format of the LLWS, 16 teams head to Williamsport. 8 US teams representing the different regions, and 8 international teams. They play a double elimination format with the winners of each side going to the title game.

Yes, that means that the US is always guaranteed a spot in the LLWS final. And for me, this can’t be a “World Series” if the US is always in the title game.

So, let’s see how the finals have gone since say 2000.

Of the 16 finals since 2000, the international side have won 9 of the 16, so slightly over half.

  • 6 from Japan (2 from Tokyo Kitasuna and Musashi Fuchu)
  • 1 from South Korea (maybe 2 tomorrow), Curacao and Venezuela

If we look since 2010, international teams have won 5 of the 7 so far – 4 from Japan and 1 from South Korea.

If we just look at the international representatives:

  • 10 from Japan (3 from Tokyo Kitasuna and 2 from Musashi Fuchu)
  • 2 from Curacao & South Korea (including this year)
  • 1 from Taiwan, Mexico, Venezuela

Asia has represented the international side for 13 of the last 17 years and should South Korea win tomorrow, will have won almost half of the LLWS titles since 2000.

Here’s how you fix this, because at this point I think the current format is broken in my opinion.

Unguarantee the US a spot in the final. I’m sorry, if you’re butthurt that I’m saying the US shouldn’t have a spot in the final, but it’s a WORLD SERIES. There should be a possibility that 2 international teams reach the final.

Redistribute the spots as follows:

  • Individual Countries
    • United States (6)
    • Canada (1)
    • Mexico (1)
    • Japan (1)
    • South Korea (1)
    • Australia (1)
  • Regions
    • Asia-Pacific/Middle East (1)
    • Latin America (1)
    • Europe/Africa (1)
    • Caribbean (1)
    • Floating Bid between all regions (1)

The US would lose 2 spots immediately, one to South Korea and one to a floating bid.

South Korea is quickly establishing itself as a baseball power, already shown in the WBC and now in the players coming to MLB. And chances are they will be dominating the Asia-Pacific region unless they get their own bid.

The floating bid would be to allow a team from different regions an ability to come to the LLWS. It would be on a rotating schedule between all regional areas. Though would be subject to removal if we needed the bid for a particular region country.

The US would also be at risk in the future for losing 2 more bids. And I would imagine that one would go to Africa as its own region provided that LL did outreach to Africa as a whole. I could also see one going to the Caribbean as well, especially if Cuba were to join LL in the near future (or perhaps Cuba itself eventually). And add the floating bid going to say Europe if baseball were to take off there and they’re all accounted for.

This is how I would imagine the field eventually if LL did outreach all around the world:

  • Individual Countries
    • United States (2)
    • Canada (1)
    • Mexico (1)
    • Japan (1)
    • South Korea (1)
    • Australia (1)
  • Regions
    • Latin America (2)
    • Caribbean (2)
    • South America (1)
    • Europe (1)
    • Africa (1)
    • Asia-Pacific/Middle East (1)
    • Floating bid between all 1 bid regions (1)

Change the format. With the US not guaranteed a spot anymore and the loss of 2 bids (which right now would be looked at as regions), I think this could bring in an opportunity to bring in a Koushien-like qualifying for the US. Take 64 teams, with 50 states plus D.C. each getting a team and the teams with the largest number of teams or success at the national level getting more teams.

Bids given by size (permanent)

  • Texas (4)
  • California (4)
  • Florida (2)
  • New York (2)

Bids given by performance (temporary)

  • Washington (2)
  • Oregon (2)
  • Pennsylvania (2)
  • Louisiana (2)
  • Connecticut (2)

The above is just an example, but you get the point.

If you want to avoid the single unfortunate elimination have 16 pools of round-robin games. In terms of who goes in what pool, the states getting bids due to size draw separate pools. Then you rotate the final 2 states who will get seeing priority. The rest will draw in randomly making sure no pool has 2 teams from the same state.

Winners of each pool (16) would draw into a bracket. If a state qualifies multiple teams, they will be distributed as evenly as possible. From there it’s one round of single elimination to get to best 8. Then the winners of those quarterfinals are guaranteed a spot at Williamsport but will continue to play on for seeding at the LLWS, while the losers play another round robin to determine the final 2 spots.

As for the LLWS itself, you can keep the pool play like before, but there is no international/US side. All teams are thrown in together. For the draw into pools we would do the following:

  • Seeded Teams – 6 US teams and for now Japan and South Korea, are considered seeded teams and would be placed first as follows:
    • Pool A – USA 1st, USA 5th/6th (must not have played 1st if possible)
    • Pool B – USA 2nd, USA 5th/6th (must not have played 1st if possible)
    • Pool C – USA 3rd, Japan/Korea
    • Pool D – USA 4th, Japan/Korea
  • Any regions with 2 bids draw next, making sure they don’t draw same pool.
  • All single bid teams draw last.

Then after pool play, the top 2 from each move on to single-elimination bracket play. 1st place finishers will play 2nd place finishers by random draw. Of course 1st and 2nd from the same pool can’t play each other.

Now, I could imagine a potential conversation going like:

  • Reader: “Doesn’t your format mean that 2 US teams could reach the final?”
  • Me: “Yes, it does.”
  • Reader: “But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of your entire argument?”
  • Me: “No, because the tournament is structured that the US is not guaranteed a spot in the final. It is entirely possible that the 2 best teams are from the US, which is fine. But what we are concerned about is that the US has a spot currently irregardless of the team’s ability.”

Well, that’s how I would fix the LLWS anyways. *steps off soapbox*

(Don’t worry, there’ll be kokoyakyu stuff on here soon enough)