Cubs’ Shota Imanaga: Mastering the Art of Defense Hidden in His Off-Speed Pitches! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Cubs’ Shota Imanaga: Mastering the Art of Defense Hidden in His Off-Speed Pitches!

0.84 ERA in 53 innings pitched in 9 games! Already a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award!

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
Small for a major, Imanaga’s release point is about 10 cm lower than the overall average. This creates a trajectory that makes it difficult to hit!

Even tracing the long history of Major League Baseball, it’s rare to see a pitcher debut as impressively as this.

The Cubs’ Shota Imanaga (30) has been delivering outstanding pitching performances since the opening game.

“As of May 22nd, he has appeared in 9 games, pitching 53.2 innings with only 5 earned runs, boasting an incredible 0.84 ERA. He has not suffered a single loss, and his 58 strikeouts exceed his innings pitched, showcasing superhuman stats. His name has already begun to surface as a candidate for both Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award. While before the season, he was overshadowed by Yushin Yamamoto (25) of the Dodgers, who signed a record-breaking 12-year contract worth approximately 46.3 billion yen, now Imai is the main attraction.” (Sports Desk)

Standing at around 178cm tall and with a fastball averaging less than 150 km/h, Imai’s fastball spin is notable, leading many media outlets to attribute his success to his fastball. However, local journalists have a different opinion.

“Indeed, Imai’s four-seam fastball is top-notch. However, in the Majors, there are countless pitchers who throw fastballs exceeding 100 miles per hour (approximately 161 km/h). Yet, many of them have not achieved the desired results. The Major Leagues aren’t forgiving enough for one to excel with just a fastball.”

So, why doesn’t Imai allow runs? Shohei Tateyama, former ace of the Yakult Swallows, explains, “The key is his ‘slider without corners’ that he can consistently throw in the zone.”

“In a typical pitcher’s slider, there’s a point where it sharply breaks—a corner. However, Imanaga’s slider lacks that and curves smoothly. Moreover, he can change the axis of rotation, controlling the timing and amount of break freely. He throws four different types of sliders: a count ball, a slider that subtly breaks in on hitters, one that bends sharply from the ball zone into the strike zone, and a slider that starts as a strike before breaking into a ball to induce swings and misses.

His control is outstanding as well. At his former team DeNA, pitchers weren’t used if they couldn’t consistently pitch inside to right-handed hitters, a philosophy that stemmed from the days of Manager Ramirez. Yokohama Stadium, their home ground, is compact, prone to home runs due to the sea breeze. Major League hitters, with their long limbs, stand farther from the plate, making the inside more accessible. Thanks to this adjustment, Imanaga can pitch inside effectively. By emphasizing this aspect, his changeup, with depth, becomes even more effective.”

What fosters his command of breaking pitches is the ideal pitching form unique to Japanese pitchers.

“The upper body lacks tension, shifting weight smoothly, and releasing in a blink of an eye. It’s a unique form akin to ancient martial arts, rare among Major League pitchers. Moreover, while it appears as a straight trajectory to the batter, sliders and changeups have trajectory changes resembling side-arm pitchers. It’s difficult for batters to anticipate, making it very challenging to strategize against.” (Tateyama)

Refining a few pitches to the utmost—Imanaga’s dominance, rightfully dubbed as a samurai, continues.

From the June 7-14, 2024 issue of FRIDAY


Photo Gallery1 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles