Why Yakult’s Ishikawa, Hanshin’s Murakami and Otake “can hit hard hitters in the 140 km/h range” with “slow pitches”? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Why Yakult’s Ishikawa, Hanshin’s Murakami and Otake “can hit hard hitters in the 140 km/h range” with “slow pitches”?

The more you know, the more interesting professional baseball is! Three pitchers who made an impact in the era of the 150 km/h peak.

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Kotaro Otake, 27, of the Hanshin baseball team, made his first start against Softbank, where he spent five seasons until last season.

In the top of the second inning, when he faced Yuki Yanagita (34), one of the best hitters in baseball, his pitching had all the “elements” that brought him his breakthrough this season.

Kotaro Otake (27), Hanshin
Average velocity of his fastball is 140.6 km/h.

The theme of his graduation thesis at Waseda University was “Is it difficult to hit pitches that use a slow and fast approach? Joined Softbank in ’17 as the 4th overall pick in the developmental round, but failed to develop, and was drafted by Hanshin in the ’22 active draft.
His sharp straight ball increased the power of his change-up, and even hard hitters such as Hayato Sakamoto could not handle it!

On the first pitch, he threw a 140 km/h straight ball into the low ball zone on the inside corner and struck out. 140 km/h on the second pitch, high on the inside corner, was foul. The third pitch was also a hard pitch to the home run hitter, but it was one pitch sweeter than the first, at 140 km/h, and it was a foul.

After making sure he was aware of the inside pitch, Yanagida threw a change-up at 119 km/h to the outside corner, but he managed to hold on to it. However, he was unable to time his 136 km sinker, which sank on the same course as his third pitch, and the leading slugger of the Pacific League struck out swinging, losing his balance.

Using the illusion to choke a batter at 135 km/h

Thanks to the evolution of training techniques and other factors, speedballs in the 150-kilometer range are at their peak in professional baseball. While attention has focused on the higher level, 160-km fastballs of Shohei Ohtani (28) and Roki Sasaki (21), “slow ball users” have been making a splash in the first half of this season.

Hanshin’s Otake and Shoki Murakami (24), who both won the monthly MVP award, are battling for the top defensive rating in the 1-point range. And Masanori Ishikawa (43) of the Yakult baseball team, who has won a total of 28 games and 22 consecutive starts, the most in an interleague series.

All of these pitchers have an average straight fastball velocity below the Central League average of 146.2 km/h. This should be a disadvantage, but the conventional wisdom in baseball is that the hardest pitches to hit are the hardest to hit.

But even those who don’t have a hard fastball can make hitters jump up and down, and that’s where professional pitching technique shines. That is where the skills of the pros shine,” said Kazuhiko Ushijima, who played for the Lotte and Chunichi baseball teams.

If the fastball is slow, then you can use a slower ball of 10 km or 20 km. The important thing is how to create the illusion that you are hitting. For example, if you use your whole body to throw a loose ball like a change-up to the out-course and then hit the batter in the pocket, even a 135-km straight ball can be choked.

However, in order to pitch this way, it is essential to have a form that makes it difficult to see where the ball is coming from and the technique to throw all types of pitches with the same arm swing. I also changed the “pause” between the start of the pitching motion and the throw for each pitch. I was happy when Tsutomu Wakamatsu, a skillful hitter of the past, told me, ‘When I play against you, my hitting timing goes off for two or three days.

Former catcher Toshihiro Noguchi, who laughs wryly at Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi and all the pitchers he worked with at Nippon Ham and Hanshin, said that Otake had a technique of “throwing a change-up and a straight ball with the same swing of the arm.

The reason why batters often easily hit Otake’s change-up is because it looks like a straight ball.

He is good at getting his timing off. This is the most attractive thing about Otake. In addition, he has good control and the sharpness of the ball. In particular, his straight ball, which crosses the right hitter’s inside pitch, is outstanding. Because this ball bothers him, batters will feel that the out course is very wide and far away,” said Noguchi.

In the confrontation with Yanagida at the beginning of this article, Noguchi says that his approach was based on “how to make the batter aware of a single ball,” which is “the lifeline of a pitcher with a slow pitch. Noguchi continues.

Noguchi continued, “The batter’s mindset is to avoid striking out on a fastball and getting a runner at the bottom of the plate. Because you don’t want to miss a swing at a fastball, you have to be aware of the inside fastball. It is extremely difficult to deal with an out-course loose ball while marking an inside fastball, even if it is 140 km/h. It would be very difficult to attack Otake, who can throw inside and outside pitches with the same swing of his arm.

Shogo Akiyama (35, Hiroshima), the professional baseball record holder for most hits in a season, is similar to Noguchi in his view. He once analyzed the reason why Yanagida had trouble with technical players.

I think it’s because he swings too hard. If you have to start swinging at fast, in-course pitches, you can handle two-seamers and other fastballs with handling, but it is difficult to deal with loose outside pitches.

Speed is irrelevant. The important thing is how you use your fastball.

Former Chunichi baseball player Masashi Yamamoto, who holds the record for the longest winning streak in history at 49 years old, threw nearly 50% of his pitches with a fastball of around 135 km/h. “In the end, baseball is all about how far you go,” said Yamamoto, “and how you use your fastball.

In the end, baseball is a sport of probability. You have to throw the fastest pitches that are the easiest to get strikes on and the ones that are the hardest to hit the lowest. This is the basis of pitching. When I was active, I never practiced throwing high pitches. I only tried to throw a sharp straight ball down low.

Yamamoto says that Otake, Murakami, and Ishikawa all have “outstanding control” in common.

And the numbers prove it.

The table below, which was compiled by the data analysis company DELTA and rearranged by the editorial department, shows that all three players are among the top six players in the Central League in terms of low walk rate. The data also shows that Ohtake’s change-up, which has been the most successful ball in the Central League in preventing runs from scoring.

Central League: Percentage of balls given up (over 20 innings)

All three pitchers, Otake, Murakami, and Ishikawa, rank high in the Central League in terms of the fewest number of walks given up. The data shows that pitchers tend to play with good control and in the strike zone (*Data as of June 13. (*Data as of June 13.)

Runs prevented by changeups (over 20 innings)

This number evaluates how change-up pitches prevent runs from being scored, such as “getting strikes” and “getting batters out”. The results for “getting a ball” and “four strikes” were negative. Ohtake stands out.

Pitch Tunnel Offense and the “Magic Ball Straight

Of the three pitchers, Murakami is the one who is the most thorough in throwing a quality straight ball down low,” Yamamoto said. Murakami pitched a perfect seventh inning in his first start of the season against the Giants on April 12.

He said, “I thought the ball was a little low, but it went up and became a strike. And when the ball is dropped from the same course as the strike, the batter can’t help but swing at it. But that is only possible when he throws a high quality straight ball. Even if the pitch is 160 km/h, if it is a stick ball without sharpness or is too high, the pros won’t miss it.

Shinya Miyamoto, who had a total of 2,133 hits in his career with the Yakult baseball team, sees the true nature of Murakami’s “stretchy fastball” in this way.

Generally speaking, it is said that if the ball begins to curve after the distance between the batter and the ball is less than 7 meters, it is difficult to judge the type of pitch. All three players throw a pitch that changes after the pitch tunnel has passed. In Murakami’s case, the straight ball slides naturally close to the batter.

In Murakami’s case, he throws what is called a “straight slant. Moreover, according to batters who have played against him, it seems to float up. This is very difficult to hit. The ball itself is straight, and when it hits the bat, a straight slider has more power than a clean straight ball.

The Secret of the Tigers’ “Murakami” Warriors Pitching

Odeki Murakami (24), Hanshin
Average velocity of his fastball is 145.3 km/h.

A fifth-round draft pick by the Hanshin Tigers in 2008, Murakami made his breakthrough after winning the farm’s best defensive rating and best winning percentage two years in a row. His 31 consecutive innings of scoreless innings since the season opener are tied for the Central League record.

Straight Strikeouts in the Central League

Straight strikeouts are usually proportional to pitch speed, but Murakami boasts the highest number of strikeouts with below-average speed. This is proof that Murakami throws a “special straight” that allows him to compete in the strike zone.

Strike rate from 3 balls

Ishikawa has the control to reliably get strikes in 3-ball counts, where there is a risk of a walk. *The figures are strike rates in three cases: 3 balls, 3 balls and 1 strike, and 3 balls and 2 strikes.

The ultimate technique: “You don’t know what you’re throwing!

Ishikawa is a few steps above Otake and Murakami as a “slowballer.

Noguchi says, “When a pitcher is as slow as Ishikawa, his fastball becomes a backhanded ball.

Batters facing Ishikawa will not wait for a fastball. They will go for sinkers and sliders. He will be looking for a straight ball that he doesn’t have in his head, and where to throw it! and throw it.

If he were a pro, he might be able to get them if he aimed for the fastball, but Miyamoto, who was a teammate of Ishikawa’s during his days with the Yakult baseball team, shook his head.

Ishikawa basically doesn’t pitch at full speed,” said Miyamoto, who was a teammate of Miyamoto when he was with the Yakult. It’s like he’s playing catch, and his fastball just hangs there. It sinks naturally. Sometimes he throws a straight line in the 120-kilometer range. He throws a slower straight ball with more velocity.

I was commentating on the May 10 game against the Hanshin baseball team, which he won for the 22nd consecutive year, and the Hanshin batting line was unable to get a handle on Ishikawa’s sometimes powerful straight pitches.

The secret of Ishikawa’s deceptive pitching lies in the words of Yoshinobu Takahashi, 49, who played in the cleanup lineup for the Giants, to Miyamoto during his playing days: “You don’t know what you are throwing.

He said, “A pitch that looks straight but is actually a slider or a sinker will be thrown as a ground ball. The speeds are almost the same, so even the batter doesn’t know what it is. So, if you are concentrating on the pitch, you will see a curve coming out of the pitch tunnel.

When I was active in the game, I would try to hit the ball as high as possible when I was playing against slower hitters, even if it was a ball. I felt that if I got three low balls, I had no choice but to hit them,” Miyamoto said.

With his amazing control, he turned a slow straight ball into a decisive pitch. This is Ishikawa’s superb pitching technique. This is evidenced by his 81.8% strike rate from 3 balls. Ishikawa also takes advantage of the batter’s mentality that makes it difficult for the bat to come up with a for-ball.

Finally, here is an episode about Ishikawa that astonished Miyamoto.

When a left-handed pitcher throws a sinker to a left-handed hitter, he usually throws it down the middle to the inside pitch, but Ishikawa can also throw it to the left fielder’s outcourse. By changing the standing position of the plate on the mound, he can throw his sinker anywhere on the base plate.

It was a few years ago that I started throwing each pitch with a different plate standing position. If you ask other pitchers, they say, ‘It’s not an easy thing to do. Ishikawa has a spirit of challenge and is not hesitant to “change. I think I have seen the greatness in his ability to stay active for such a long time with such a small body.

No matter how slow the pitch is, as long as you don’t stop refining your technique and applying your ingenuity, you can continue to win. That is why professional baseball is so interesting.

At 167 cm tall, the small lefty is a great left fielder! A great record for a small left fielder

Masaki Ishikawa (43), Yakult
Average velocity of his fastball 131.2 km/h

Joining Yakult in 2001 as a free agent, Ishikawa won the rookie of the year title with 12 wins in his first year, and went on to win double-digit games for five consecutive years. He has never been out of the lineup for an extended period of time, and at the end of last season he had a total of 183 wins.

From the July 7, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Jiji Press Table data provided by DELTA

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