430 pitches

DMZ · May 8, 2006 at 11:06 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

From Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa:

In 1984, Hiroka ran an “autumn camp” for the younger players on his squad, and some veterans as well. […] Lasting fifty-nine days, from season’s end to late December, […] it consisted of an average of nine hours of daily drills, including 600 swings a day for each batter, 430 pitches a day for each pitcher, as well as swimming and akido – a kind of self-defense- sessions.

Reading accounts of Japanese training, I find it a wonder that any Japanese players survive long enough to make it to free agency or posting.


11 Responses to “430 pitches”

  1. Deanna on May 9th, 2006 12:30 am

    To get to be an NPB player, a guy has probably already gone through a survival of the fittest sort of thing anyway. The guys who made it were probably already the guys who made it through a good high school baseball program, which means they survived the hazing of joining the team in the first place and then had to excel to be featured at Koshien or something similar. And so on. (I forget which Whiting book covers it more indepth, but I think it’s the later one, “The Meaning of Ichiro”)

    I think that in part the overpracticing is to compensate for lack of a farm system, but it’s also true that the Japanese baseball season is shorter, and the benches are more fluid; on average a lot more guys get into a Japanese game than an MLB game, even in the DH-using Pacific League. So they don’t get quite as many innings out of the guys anyway.

    But I’m pretty sure the practices described in your quote were actually an extreme measure, and they didn’t have posting or free agency back then anyway. These days, especially with the influx of American managers and crazy dudes like Hiromitsu Ochiai, I think things have gotten a lot more laid back, though it’s true they’ll just have guys throwing a hundred pitches every day in spring camp for the hell of it and such. Plenty of Japanese players seem to retire in their early 30’s, though. I joke about Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi being the Jamie Moyer of Japanese baseball, but come to think of it, he’ll only be turning 38 next week. That makes him pretty ancient.

  2. gwo on May 9th, 2006 4:19 am

    That’s interesting, as is Deanna’s point above. I think there are a few other differences I’d like to ask about. Everything that follows is entirely conjecture, but I’d be interested in opinions.
    i) Is the home run rate lower in the NPB than MLB? This would allow pitchers to throw less than 100% a lot of the time and only bear down with runners on, as Christy Mathewson always used to recommend.
    ii) Started early enough I genuinely believe that some people’s armed can be trained to throw an ungodly number of pitches without completely destroying the arm, just as you can train a body to run ultra-marathons. Livan Hernandez is the all-too-obvious example, but there have been others. But there would an enormous wastage rate of young talent, leaving only the old-fashioned rubber armed pitchers left.

    I don’t think its coincidental that those guys originate outside the US. The present US system limits the work rate of young (pre-college) pitchers in a way that sandlot ball never did. So you get fewer pitchers capable of such feats, and far fewer kids who disable themselves by blowing there arms out at age 19. If you make 1000 kids throw 700 pitches a week from age 12, you’ll get 950 dead-arms and 50 extraordinarily resilient pitchers. Thats not a reasonable trade-off, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

  3. joser on May 9th, 2006 10:56 am

    As a teenager in 1980 I visited Japan, and one of the places I stayed overlooked a baseball practice field. I don’t remember (and probably didn’t know at the time) whether it was highschool kids or some kind of minor leaguers, but they were teenagers too. What I do remember is being exhausted just watching them: they ran from exercise to exercise, stopping only to bow at anything resembling a coach they might pass, and there didn’t seem to be any down / rest time for any of them. Even the guys waiting to take batting practice were doing exercises. It looked more like Special Forces boot camp than baseball.

  4. Evan on May 9th, 2006 11:22 am

    I find it a wonder that any Japanese players survive long enough to make it to free agency or posting.

    I watch Formula One racing. I admit it. One things those cars do a fair amount is blow up. A piston head touches a valve and it all goes kablooie.

    But they replaced the engine fairly often. It’s not supposed to last for long – just long enough to win a race or two. If it lasts beyond that, that means you didn’t push it hard enough – you didn’t shave those margins as well as you could have.

    As such, a car that explodes the instant it crosses the finish line has performed exactly to specification.

    The Japanese seem to approach their plays the same way. The team really has no interest in how well the players do once they leave Japanese ball, or become free agents and go to other teams. A player who blows up the instant his contract expires has performed exactly to specification.

    Formula One is pretty big in Japan.

  5. Gomez on May 9th, 2006 11:56 am

    Keep in mind the quantity of pitches does not necessarily demand quality. They may not have to throw 90-95 on every pitch or throw it with killer break… they just have to get it over the plate. It builds up stamina and forces pitchers to use every muscle in their body, rather than arm it over like many pitchers do.

  6. jefffrane on May 9th, 2006 1:02 pm

    Just for the sake of accuracy, it’s aikido, not akido. Having spent 20 years studying it, I feel comfortable in suggesting that “self-defense” isn’t the point. Watching Ichiro’s approach on deck and at the plate has looked very familiar to me, and I always assumed he had some kind of martial arts training in Japan, perhaps as a child. The stretching, the focus, that upright bat held in front of him before he sets up for the pitch — it all looks like the standard Japanese approach to budo.

  7. chrisisasavage on May 9th, 2006 1:28 pm

    #5, Exactly. I still think throwing more will lessen injury risk, and improve muscle control, if the sessions are sub maximal (IE, not to fatigue). I think 430 pitches, even at reduced velocity sounds extrme, but I think if a player built up to this, the damage of large pitch counts might be reduced. I dont know specifically with pitching, but I’ve seen this kind of training help many physical endeavors. It helps build neurological connections.


  8. chrisisasavage on May 9th, 2006 2:07 pm

    Adding to that, throwing less, more often ala Leo Mazzone, is probably the best bet, if you subscribe to Pavels teachings. Anyway, I’m done with trumping that subject.

  9. basebliman on May 9th, 2006 6:34 pm

    Yeah, throwing so little has really helped in keeping Mariners pitchers healthy. Maybe it’s time to try something like that. Maybe not to the extreme of Japanese pitchers, but what they did when Mazzone was in Atlanta. Last time I looked Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz were all still pitching and pitching well.

  10. number9 on May 9th, 2006 11:02 pm

    Can’t remember where I read it, but the homerun rate in NPB is not particularly low, even when compared to the current HR happy era of MLB.

    Matsuzaka seems to be one of those pitchers that thrive on what seems to be absurd amount of work. But then again he only pitches about once a week. NPB schedules teams so that they usually have most Mondays off, so it’s very easy for a manager to set up a 6 man rotation (also because of the large bench), even if he doesn’t have 6 good starters he can’t be faulted for going along with tradition. Hiroshima Carp’s new American manager is going with a 5 man rotation with a soft 100 pitch limit, but because he doesn’t have good pitchers to begin with, him and the 5 man rotation will probably be derided by the Japanese media sometime during and after this season. Kind of like how the first bullpen-by-committee failed in Boston because there were no good pieces to begin with.

  11. Deanna on May 10th, 2006 1:35 am

    Heheh, Hiroshima’s manager Marty Brown is doing plenty of other crazier stuff for them to talk about. For example, a day or two ago, he did a great Lou Piniella imitation and picked up and threw first base when arguing a call.

    But it’s true. Hiroshima’s got issues way beyond that, although it’s looking like Yokohama’s going to be the true doormat of the CL this year…

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