Month: December 2018

91st Haru Koushien – Projecting the 21st Century Candidates

91st Haru Koushien – Projecting the 21st Century Candidates

(photo courtesy of Kushiro Kouryou HS)

There’s one final bit to try and project, and that is the three 21st century candidates which will round out the field. Recently I had found that it wasn’t just picking 3 of the teams nominated from the super-regional areas, but that the JHBF would pick 1 from Western Japan, 1 from Eastern Japan, and 1 wild card.

Of course, projecting these teams are much harder because we don’t know what will be the JHBF’s priorities each year.

Anyways, with that said, let’s look at the 9 nominees.

Hokkaido – Kushiro Kouryou – No prior appearances

Kushine Regionals

  • def Kushiro Konan 5-4
  • def Kushiro Meiki 6-3
  • def Bushuukan 5-0

Super-Regionals

  • def Sapporo Eiai 14-12
  • def Wakkanai Ootani 10-0 (6 inn)
  • lost Sapporo Dai-ichi 5-1

Kushiro Kouryou profiles as a good candidate in that they’re not been overly strong throughout the years, though they did make it to the quarterfinals of the qualifiers for the 2016 Natsu Koushien. Mostly that’s been a by-product of not being very good, but in recent years it’s been because they’ve had to continuously run into Bushuukan, who themselves have started to make a name for themsevles. This fall they have finally slayed the beast that is Bushuukan to reach the Super-Regional where they had another decent win against Wakkanai Ootani before a very good loss to Sapporo Dai-ichi (who also is now in the field). As part of their application, it was mentioned that this was their first Best 4 appearance in 61 years.

The resume looks excellent, and the timing would be good if not for 2 things:

1) The JHBF has seemed to operate on a lag when it comes to rewarding teams, like fellow Hokkaido brethren Engaru several years ago. This seems too timely for them to award them this spot.

2) More importantly, and perhaps counter-intuitively, Sapporo Ootani won the Meiji Jingu Taikai, giving the prefecture an extra bid. A normally weak prefecture now has 2 spots at Koushien, and if Kushiro Kouryou were to be invited, 3 teams would be coming from Hokkaido. I have a hard time believing that the JHBF will let that fly, but I’ve been wrong before. So despite their credentials, circumstance may prevent them from making the trip.

Tohoku – Furukawa (Miyagi) – No prior appearances

Hokubu Regionals

  • lost Iwagasaki 2-1

Hokubu Regionals – Repechage

  • def Furukawa Reimei 5-2
  • def Nakaniida 5-0

Miyagi Prefecturals

  • def Matsushima 5-0
  • def Tohoku Gakuin 6-3
  • def Tohoku 4-3
  • def Oosaki Chuuou 4-0
  • lost Sendai Ikuei 17-3 (7 inn)

Super-Regionals

  • def Hirosaki Higashi 4x-3 (10 inn)
  • def Akita Shuuei 3-1
  • lost Moriokadai Fuzoku 10-0 (6 inn)

That has to be one of the longer resumes I’ve seen. Mostly because of the regionals and the repechage when they were immediately sent down. Even still, they were able to work their way out, defeated some decent schools, but in the case of the prefecturals and the super-regionals, they were unceremoniously ousted by Tier 1 schools.

As part of their application, it is mentioned that the team only has 2 hours of practice everyday (which is less than you might think). In addition, they continue to take the assistance angle as it is mentioned the school has assisted when the Shibui River ran over its banks during heavy rains, and after the Tohoku Earthquake, the school participated in assistance efforts.

That’s not to say they don’t deserve a spot. In fact, the JHBF seems to prefer schools who have actually not done as well – mostly to avoid having a 21st century team suddenly run laps around the field much like Rifu did some years back. They appear to be a team that can make life difficult for the lower rung teams, but will almost certainly be outmatched if they play a Koushien regular.

Which might be perfect for the JHBF.

Kanto/Tokyo – Ishioka Dai-ichi (Ibaraki) – No prior appearances

Minami Regional Pools

  • def Edosaki Sougou 11-0 (5 inn)

Ibaraki Prefecturals

  • def Mito Kougyou 1-0
  • def Meishuu Hitachi 10-6
  • def Tsuchiura Nichidai 4-2
  • lost Fujishiro 5x-4 (13 inn – Tiebreak initiated in 13th)

Ishioka Dai-ichi is a weird team. They’ve not been a strong team, and yet if you look at their Koushien qualifying, their losses are to some notable teams:

  • 3 losses – Kasumigaura, Jyousou Gakuin
  • 2 losses – Fujishiro, Meishuu Hitachi, Tsuchiura Nichidai
  • 1 loss – Suijyou

13 of their 21 losses in Koushien qualifying since 2006 have been to teams that have made it to Koushien. That’s pretty unprecedented considering that they’re not considered a Tier 2 school.

Part of the resume includes having to play 3 of those schools back-to-back-to-back. They defeated 2 of them and were short-circuited in the semifinals due to the tiebreak rules (which by the way favor the better schools, but that’s another article). The only notes made other than baseball related are that it was, and still is an agricultural-oriented school despite not having the Nougyou designation (農業).

They look like another candidate for the JHBF. A schools that’s not overly strong, who were able to almost avenge three thorns in their side.

If there is some consolation, both Ibaraki teams that advanced to the super-regionals lost narrowly to the Kanto Super-Regional Champion and Runner-up in the first round. Can’t get a better loss that that I guess.

Hokushinetsu – Kanadzu (Fukui) – No prior appearances

Fukui Prefecturals

  • def Takefu 11-6
  • def Tsuruga Kehi 2-1
  • def Keishin 6-5
  • lost Fukui Koudai Fukui 12-0

Super-Regionals

  • lost Matsumoto Dai-ichi 6-0

Kanadzu’s resume is also short and has very distinct good and bad bits within it.

The good? They defeated Tsuruga Kehi, a Koushien regular. And to a lesser extent, you can include the win over Keishin as well.

The bad? They were blown out by Fukui Koudai Fukui in the prefectural final, and then were shutout by a weak Matsumoto Dai-icihi squad in the super-regional.

As part of their description, Kanadzu is the only HS left in the region due to declining populations (typical for rural areas nowadays, unfortunately), and the team only numbers 22 people in all. In addition they have started teaching Tee-ball to the kindergarten children as well as developing a relationship with the elementary school teams.

With that additional information, it makes sense that their two losses are very stark in nature. It also could speak more to the win they had against Tsuruga Kehi. While I’m not sure if it puts them on par with Ishioka Dai-ichi if we were to take resumes into account, that additional information might help.

Toukai – Shimizu Sakuragaoka (Shizuoka)

Chubu Regionals

  • def Yaidzu Suisan 7-3
  • def Jyounan Shizuoka 10-6
  • def Shizuoka 5-3
  • def Shizuoka Shiritsu 7-3
  • lost Suruga Sougou 9-3

Shizuoka Prefecturals

  • def Izu Chuuou 5-1
  • def Toukaidai Shizuoka Shouyou 5x-4
  • def Katou Gakuen 4-1
  • lost Gotenba Nishi 6-5 (11 inn)

Super-Regionals

  • lost Gifu Dai-ichi 5x-4 (11 inn)

It looks like the super-regions are learning what might constitute a good candidate to the JHBF. A not overly strong school, who has a good win here and there. For Shimizu Sakuragaoka, it’s defeating Shizuoka in the regionals. The rest of the resume is rather underwhelming, though at least in the prefecturals and super-regionals were enchousen losses, though the teams they lost to will get a certain ding against.

Additional information passed on is that the school was as a result of a merger between Ihara and Shimisu Shiritsu Shougyou, of which the latter has been to Koushien before (Haru – 1963, 1968 & Natsu – 1986). The team has to share a field with the soccer team, who are regulars at the national tournament. They are also involved in the “Active Learning” program instituted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in which players help determine policies for teams in all aspects (practice, games, etc.).

The problem with schools picking similar schools is that it’s easier to put them in order, and for Shimizu Sakuragaoka they too fall behind someone like Ishioka Dai-ichi. They’d have to hope that the items outside of performance help push them over the top.

Kinki – Yao (Osaka) – 6 Haru appearances (last 1952), 4 Natsu appearances (last 1959)

Osaka Prefecturals (A Block)

  • def Nishi/Minami/Ogimachi Sougou 13-0 (5 inn)
  • def Senyou 9-2
  • def Ootori 8-7
  • def Kishiwada Shiritsu Sangyou 6-2
  • lost Minato 13-11

Perhaps it seems like the Kinki region went a little too far in nominating someone off the map as it were, though it seems this is the farthest the team has gone in a while. It seems that the selling point is that the school used to be a powerhouse way back when, and in fact of their 10 appearances, they appeared in the semifinals 4 times and the finals once though they didn’t win the title.

Which is nice and all, but it probably would have helped if they had done this last year when they were having the X0’th Haru Koushien. Even still, if the JHBF wants to commemorate a school from the past, this team seems as good as any to give a spot – though one would imagine they’d be in over their heads no matter who they played.

Chuugoku – Hirata (Shimane) – No prior appearances

Shimane Prefecturals

  • def Goutsu 3-1
  • def Izumo Kougyou 3-2
  • def Hamada 3-2
  • def Yakami 2-0
  • lost Taisha 8x-7

Super Regionals

  • lost Soutoku 12x-5 (7 inn)

While the loss to Soutoku was rather significant, they almost won the prefecture if not for giving up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to Taisha. Also, given the fact that they scored 11 runs in the prior 4 games, this type of offense in the final, against a better known team is rather impressive.

Unfortunately, stop me if you’ve heard this story. Originally established as an agricultural school, the school also excelled in the literary and military arts. Due to declining population the school has been proactive volunteering with the community while the baseball team has been doing outreach to nursery and kindergarten schools.

This means that they are in line with both Ishioka Dai-ichi and Kanadzu. And while the school is on the Western side and wouldn’t be in direct competition, I find it hard to believe that the JHBF is going to take two schools with the same story. This puts them between a rock and a hard place unless the JHBF actually wants to emphasize the declining population issue and wants to push some kind of initiative to revitalize those areas…

Shikoku – Tomioka Nishi (Tokushima) – No prior appearances

Tokushima Prefecturals

  • def Komatsushima 12-1 (5 inn)
  • def Jyoutou 7-0 (7 inn)
  • lost Tokushima Shougyou 3-2 (10 inn)
  • def Ikeda 9-3

Super-Regionals

  • def Kochi 8-7
  • def Teikyou Dai-go 10-6
  • lost Matsuyama Seiryou 5-3

Shikoku has gone totally on the performance front seeing as though they probably will lose the floating bid. Tomioka Nishi was no slouch, defeating teams like Komatsushima and Ikeda in the prefecturals, and Kochi and Teikyou Dai-go in the super-regionals. Not only that, the losses were narrow as well.

The additional information on Tomioka Nishi still is baseball-related in that they share a compact shared ground, and yet are still able to produce good results. That and a short statement about contributing to the community.

If the JHBF wants to give a bid to a strong resume team, Tomioka Nishi could be that team (though one wonders what Furukawa would count as).

Kyushu – Kumamoto Nishi – 1 Natsu appearance (1985)

Kumamoto Prefecturals

  • def Ushibuka 7x-0 (7 inn)
  • def Asou Chuuou 11x-1 (5 inn)
  • def Nanryou 5-1
  • def Kikuchi 4-2
  • def Kumamoto Kougyou 6-5
  • lost Kumamoto Kokufu 11-9

Super-Regionals

  • def Saga Gakuen 3-2
  • lost Nisshou Gakuen 8-1 (7 inn)

Kumamoto Nishi has come from nowhere (the team had won 3 consecutive games only twice in the prior 9 years) to reach the quarterfinals of the Kyushu Super-Regionals defeating a team like Kumamoto Kougyou in the process.

The huge catch? They did it entirely with a team whose prior experience was in rubber baseball (軟式 or nanshiki).

WHAT?

That’s right, the members before reaching HS seemingly had not played with a hard baseball.

If that’s really true, then this is unprecedented.

Tragically, this could also lead to potential issues if players have not had extensive experience. Back on November 18th #19 on their roster, Shinoda Taishi was struck on the head by a batted ball and died of his injuries the following day.

With the announcement of the super-regional nominees done on the 14th of this month, surely this was taken into account when submitting them for nomination.

So while there is mention of the team reaching out to elementary school students and the fact that they have management controls for things like the netting and the club room, surely this will be something overhanging it all.

And while it might be unfair, and they may have been chosen anyways on its story, it is all but certain that Kumamoto Nishi will be selected as a representative – though maybe as the wild card so as not to give the feeling of being emotionally held hostage as some might think.

So I imagine the three projected teams to be:

  • West – Kanadzu
  • East – Yao
  • Wild Card – Kumamoto Nishi

Here’s what I figure, with Kumamoto Nishi almost certainly guaranteed to get a bid, it hamstrings the JHBF and who they could choose.

West

Kushiro Kouryou is probably out due to Hokkaido having 3 teams if they were included. Furukawa is probably out due to the fact that Tohoku schools have been chosen each of the past 3 years.

The other 3 teams have a compelling argument. Ishioka Dai-ichi was able to (almost) exercise the demons against the powerhouses in its own prefecture. Kanadzu would be picking a team fighting the decline of the area. And Shimizu Sakuragaoka could be chosen to promote the program they’re associated with.

My teams chosen are in themes. For Kanadzu it’s the present and dealing with regions with declining populations.

East

With Kumamoto Nishi taking the wild-card spot, that leaves Yao, Hirata and Tomioka Nishi. Hirata and Tomioka Nishi were both nominated due to their results, which I think means that Yao will get chosen due to a celebration of the past.

Wild Card

Kumamoto Nishi will be awarded this spot because it will allow the JHBF to choose this team to honor their fallen teammate, while acknowledging their ability to convert from rubber to hardball.

 

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Pitch limits in Niigata – What does it all mean?

Pitch limits in Niigata – What does it all mean?

(photo courtesy of the Japan Times article and subsequently Kyodo)

So I was eating dinner and decided to read the recent Japanese Baseball news especially since the Carp were losing players (or soon to lose in the case of Kikuchi).

Then the aforementioned article linked above appeared, and I was completely shocked to see this happening.

For those who want a summary of the article, Niigata has decided that for all tournaments starting with the 2019 Spring Taikais, no pitcher can start an inning if they have already thrown 100 pitches. Now, this is slightly different than pitch counts in say Little League, where once a pitcher hits 85 pitches they may finish the batter, but then be immediately relieved.

Now, the player above, Yoshida Kousei obviosuly broke down as the tournament progressed, basically becoming ineffective in the final. Go back further and there’s Anraku Tomohiro who was billed to be the next great pitcher, only to see injuries derail his career for good.

Even with the injuries, the JHBF (Japan HS Baseball Federation) hasn’t really been all that proactive about dealing with pitchers’ high counts overall, and when they’ve implemented something it almost had the opposite effect.

Take for instance the rule they implemented after Matsuzaka’s 1998 performance. In it, he pitched a complete game shutout, then a 17 inning affair against rival PL Gakuen, then closed out the 9th inning, then pitched a no-hitter in the title game.

All on consecutive days.

So what did the JHBF do? They said that any game that was tied after 15 innings would be considered a draw and have to be replayed.

Great, the games now can’t go longer than 15 innings, that’s good right?

But the problem is most teams have just 1 pitcher. Or even if they have a 2nd, there’s a large gap in talent. So now, instead of a game going say 16 innings and finishing, now a game would be called a draw and that same pitcher (generally after just 1 day off) would have to pitch a minimum of 9 more innings.

That’s not really protecting the pitcher now, is it?

The most recent effort by the JHBF is to enact tiebreaker rules, where once the game hits the 13th inning, runners are placed on 1st and 2nd and no out. That probably will end the game sooner, but the game also becomes a crapshoot because now it comes down to a timely hit or a poorly executed bunt. Even more, this would seem to favor the powerhouse schools as runners on base are almost always threats to score.

So, back to the Niigata pitch limits. What will this do? Lets take a look at it from a prefectural view outwards.

Arbitrage means talent may go elsewhere

Wait, what? Arbitrage? Yeah, in a way.

So Niigata is the only prefecture to enforce pitch limits. If you are a pitcher attending middle school in Niigata and you’re looking at what HS school to choose, if you are still under the old-school thinking that you (and only you) want to be the staff ace, there’s no way you’re going to HS in Niigata.

Why?

Because there’s no way you’re going to get through a complete game in 100 pitches or less, which means that you’re going to have to give way at some point in time.

So what do you do then? You just move out of prefecture and the old rules still apply.

Those that do stay will have to be more efficient

Any pitcher for a Niigata school, especially the staff ace, will have to pitch more efficiently to get deeper into games. Waste pitches, especially on a 0-2 count? Not anymore. Pitchers will have to be more around the zone to get either strikes or contact (hopefully for outs). But with more pitches in the zone, it also means…

More balls in play and more offense

Most pitchers won’t be able to cope with throwing in the zone more. They may be able to throw in the strike zone, but either will not have good control or have average velocity. Either of which makes them more vulnerable to good offenses.

Which brings me to my final, and most important point…

The rich will get richer

There is only so much good talent to go around. If you took Kanaashi Nougyou and Yoshida and put them in the new rules, there’s no way they would have made the finals. His inefficiency and pitches that seemed hittable would have knocked him out of the game early, forcing them to go to a bullpen which would be significantly worse.

Flip the script to Osaka Touin now. First, they have an offense that will mercilessly punish bad pitching. And this year they had 2 aces in Kakigi Ren and Neo Akira. Not only that, you can bet that they had even more pitchers in the pipeline should they need it.

As I mentioned before, Shuugakukan put out the template of a successful team when it had not 1, not 2, but 4 ace pitchers. Now, it was mismanaged IMO, but the blueprint nonetheless was still there.

If you are a powerhouse team, and you can already recruit some of the best talent in the country, why not take advantage of that, leverage every spot on your roster and build a pitching staff?

What a pitch count will do is accelerate that process giving those teams that can recruit enough talent a significant edge. Niigata might be ahead of the curve getting their schools accustomed to this, especially if they bet that the JHBF will eventually make this a nationwide mandate.

But even then, schools like Nihon Bunri, Niigata Meikun and Chuuetsu will all immediately benefit as their 2nd pitcher will generally be better than the average Niigata school’s 2nd pitcher.

The long-run impact

Pitch counts are not a bad thing, and in the case of kokoyakyu, it perhaps is needed to prevent pitchers (and kantoku’s) from detrimentally hurting themselves in the long-run.

However, pitch counts means schools will have to carry an actual pitching staff which means that the powerhouses will immediately benefit both because they can take advantage of mistakes and because their pitching staff will generally be deeper. If you thought there was already a concentration of schools that regularly make the Koushien tournament, that pool of schools may continue to dwindle as fringe schools struggle to develop a 2nd competent pitcher.