(photo courtesy of Asahi)
There’s a reason retiring Kajisha-kantoku of Shuugakukan is the headline picture of this post – because his team became a talking point because of its composition.
I wondered 3 years ago at my old blog if times were a-changing. It looks like they are now, which is great. How?
1) The expanding of the pitching staffs
Part of the romanticism of kokoyakyu is that one ace carried the team to the title. Go back to 2006 when it was Komadai Tomakomai’s Tanaka Masahiro versus Waseda Jitsugyou’s Saitou Yuuki. Both almost pitch every inning of the tournament, including the replayed championship game. Go back further and there’s Matsuzaka Daisuke and his final 3 games of Natsu Koushien:
- Quarterfinals – vs PL Gakuen, CG, 17 IP, 250 pitches thrown
- Semifinals – vs Meitoku Gijyuku, W, 1 IP
- Finals – vs Kyoto Seishou, CG, No-hitter
But if teams, especially the powerhouses, were smart they would be stockpiling as many arms as possible
Last year, he had 4 pitchers who could throw 140+.
- Arimura Taisei (有村 大誠)
- Tabuchi Kurea (田畑 孔怜充)
- Taura Fumiharu (田浦 文丸)
- Kawabata Kento (川端 健斗)
When they lost last year, they also lost the first two pitchers meaning that Taura and Kawabata would have to shoulder the load this year.
Now? Tenri used a pitcher in one of its earlier games (though he was useless in the game against Meihou), Hanasaki Tokuharu hasn’t even used their ace Shimizu much, Kouryou has been patchworking pitchers together, and if you go to the quarterfinal losers, Moriokadai Fuzoku has a multiple pitcher setup, Seikou Gakuin basically ran relief pitchers until they were at-bat and then pinch hit for them.
Well, you get my point.
About the only team that may be using the old setup is Toukaidai Sugao.
Now, some of those pitching staffs were still not effective (Moriokadai Fuzoku, I’m looking at you). But the idea remains – if you are a powerhouse, you should be able to get the better talent and therefore the better pitchers. So why not get them and utilize them to the fullest?
About the only thing that would stop an ace from going there is sharing the load. If you’re sharing the load, perhaps your talent won’t be singled out. Perhaps the scouts won’t think you can go longer into games, etc.
2) The death of the bunt
It’s not really dead, but in the past the bunt was really prevalent. Not just regular bunts, but suicide squeezes as well.
Bunting seemed like a necessity for those weaker schools where talent wasn’t as good and runs were at a premium. Get a runner on, bunt them to 2nd (even if there was one out), and hope for a timely hit.
I went through my blog posts, and I have cases of just 4 squeeze attempts. It used to be with a runner on 3rd, the squeeze was expected so much that most defenses automatically planned on defending against it. But it was so rare this year that when Seishin Ursula did it, Waseda Saga was completely off guard.
That’s what the suicide squeeze is supposed to do.
In addition, where there are still sacrifice bunts, teams are again taking advantage of teams’ aggressiveness in fielding bunts to execute either the butcher-boy tactic or a push bunt for a base hit. Neither of which in the past were done much before.
3) The sheer numbers of HRs
The prior record for number of HRs hit at a Natsu Koushien was 60 back in 2006. I was there for that tournament and that tournament continues to amaze me how incredibly awesome it was.
This tournament we hit 60 in the 2nd quarterfinal. We’re at 64 now and that number should go up. We may not hit 70, but we may get close.
Is this a change in thinking? We know that in the states there is a marked increase in HRs in MLB, but could that somehow be trending in Japan as well? The number of HRs went up markedly in 2015, again in 2016 and 2017 would seem to break that number.
I don’t know for sure, but if people are paying attention, maybe it has something to do with it.
All of it is great, but perhaps there is an underlying trend to it all, and I think there is…
4) The emergence of younger kantoku’s
Let’s take a look at the ages of the kantoku’s that reached the best 8:
- Kouryou – Nakai Tetsuyuki (55)
- Tenri – Nakamura Ryouji (49)
- Toukaidai Sugao – Wakabayashi Hiroyasu (51)
- Hanasaki Tokuharu – Iwai Takashi (47)
- Sendai Ikuei – Sasaki Jyunichirou (57)
- Meihou – Kawasaki Jyunpei (35)
- Sanbonmatsu – Kusaka Kouta (33)
- Moriokadai Fuzoku – Sekiguchi Seiji (40)
There are some older kantoku’s (Kouryou, Toukaidai Sugao and Sendai Ikuei) who have been at the job for a while, but then you look at the rest and there are some in their 30’s, and you can forgive Tenri’s kantoku – he played in NPB.
And don’t forget last year’s champ, Sakushin Gakuin. Kobari Takahiro won the title at 33 years of age and took over the job at the ripe young age of 23.
The influx of younger kantokus and in some cases kantokus with NPB experience could also be part of the change you see in terms of tactics.
Ok, that’s all well and good you may ask, but how is this leading to the downfall of the sport?
Maybe I exaggerated a bit, but what this all means to me is that the powerhouses will continue on getting stronger as they utilize their rosters more to accommodate more pitchers and build their team more pro-style. The game appears to be moving that way, so those teams that already have a talent advantage will probably continue distancing themselves more from the others. Which means that rural prefectures that already suffer from lack of talent due to lack of numbers could see the gap get worse.
That’s good I guess for those who are fans of those powerhouses, but it will mean more non-competitive games which isn’t good for the sport in my opinion.
But that’s where we’re headed. We’ll just have to see what happens in the following years…