When 772 pitches isn’t enough

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Jones has written an amazing piece of sports journalism exploring Japanese baseball culture, with a focus on the overuse of 16-year-old Tomohiro Anraku, who threw 772 pitches over five games in nine days. For now, Anraku is the greatest teenage pitcher in Japan. How long will his arm stay healthy?

In America, nagekomi, like throwing 772 pitches in a single tournament, would be considered child abuse. Scientists would debunk it, and surgeons would decry it. But in Japan, nagekomi is important. It’s maybe even essential. It is many things all at once, but mostly it is an exercise in remembering, and it is beautiful.

Read the ESPN The Magazine story.

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Jeff Passan on the pitch count problem and how cultural convictions are ruining Japanese pitchers

Jeff Passan writes about 16-year-old Tomohiro Anraku thowing 772 pitches in one week during a high school baseball tournament in Japan.

During the final game Wednesday, Anraku, whose fastball reached 94 mph earlier in the tournament, labored to crack 80. It was his third consecutive day starting a game and his fourth in five days, and those came after his first start of the tournament, in which he threw 232 pitches over 13 innings.

When word of Anraku’s exploits filtered out from Koshien Stadium, the reaction depended on proximity. Nearby, in the Japanese baseball culture that equates pitch count with superiority, Anraku was a hero. Far away, in an American baseball culture that has seen more elbows and shoulders blow out than ever before, Anraku was the picture of excess. For a man who bridges the societies, Anraku represented something much more unsavory.

Read the Yahoo! Sports story.

Baseball 2013: Here come the flamethrowers

More fastball pitchers are throwing at speeds reached by few a decade ago. Why are pitchers throwing faster and what does it mean for baseball?

In the 2003 season, there was only one pitcher who threw at least 25 pitches 100 mph or faster (Billy Wagner). In 2012, there were seven, according to Baseball Info Solutions.

In 2003, there were only three pitchers who threw at least 700 pitches 95 mph or better. In 2012, there were 17. There were 20 pitchers a decade ago who threw at least 25% of their fastballs 96 mph or faster. Last year there were 62, including Carter Capps, the Seattle Mariners’ 22-year-old right-hander, whose average fastball travels 98.3 mph, tying him with the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera for the top spot in the game.

Read The Wall Street Journal story.

Why are strikeout rates soaring?

There were more strikeouts in 2012 than at any other time in major league history. Why?

Strikeout rates have been trending upward for most of the past century, but what has happened in recent years seems to indicate something more. Big swings often result in home runs, yet homers peaked in the majors in 2000, three years before steroid testing began. It could be that the generation of hitters raised in the glow of chemically fueled sluggers still tries to hit like its heroes.

Read The New York Times story.

Before he started managing the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Matheny wrote a youth baseball manifesto

In 2009, retired St. Louis Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny agree to coach a St. Louis-area youth baseball team. STLToday.com’s Derrick Goold reports that it had to be under his terms, which were faith-inspired and without parent intrusion. The result is the TPX Warriors club, a principles-based baseball program that is helping to change the tenor of local youth sports by focusing more on developing the players into excellent young men than on winning games. And they play in a Field of Dreams-ish field carved into the corn, which is pretty cool.

Here’s how Matheny starts his Manifesto:

I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think that it is best to nip this in the bud right off the bat. I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans. My main goals are as follows: (1) to teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way, (2) to be a positive impact on them as young men, and (3) do all of this with class.

Read Derrick Goold’s STLToday.com story.
Read the Matheny Manifesto (PDF).

Image from Wikipedia user UCInternational

Boyd Nation is watching NCAA Division I baseball counts

The 1988 Mississippi State University graduate presents “a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye.”

“The general threshold for listing is 120 actual pitches or 130 estimated, although short rest will also get a pitcher listed if I catch it. Don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger.”

On March 10, an Arkansas-Pine Bluff pitcher threw 164 pitches against South Dakota State.

Toronto Blue Jays Manager John Farrell considers exorcism on Rogers Centre mound

Luis Perez became the team’s seventh pitcher added to the long-term disabled list, writes Brendan Kennedy in thestar.com.

“In terms of the five-day routine, shoulder-strengthening program, all the maintenance work, which I would say are pretty standard within the industry … what we currently do is not a radical shift from anyone else.”

“Starters are usually capped at 105-108 pitches an outing, and typically throw 30 to 40 pitches in a bullpen side session on the second day between starts, for example.”

Read TheStar.com story.