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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