There is a special reason for recruiting a ‘troublesome’ superstar

Posted Posted onAugust 20, 2023 Comments0

In this year’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), a foreign player who is considered the greatest player in its 88-year history is playing. This is Trevor Bower (32), a right-handed pitcher for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. He debuted in the major leagues in 2012, and through 2021, he had 84 career wins and an earned run average of 3.79. In 2020, when the season was shortened by 60 games per team due to Corona 19, he won the National League Cy Young Award with an average ERA of 1.73 in 11 games. It is an award given to the pitcher who has performed the best in both leagues.

NPB had a foreign player system from 1936, the first year. After that, many players went through, but there was no big player like Bower. In the 1980s and 1990s, when the bubble economy was in full swing, major league stars stepped on Japanese soil, but there was no Cy Young Award career ‘pitcher’. Don Newcomb, the first Cy Young winner in 1956, played for NPB before Bower. However, when Newcomb joined the Chunichi Dragons in 1962, he signed as a fielder, not a pitcher. As a pitcher, he only pitched in one game. He was a player whose prime was already over in terms of skill.

Yokohama DeNA Baystars pitcher Trevor Bower pitches in a game on May 3. ©Kyodo News

Unlike Newcomb, Bower is playing in an era of sports science in which baseball players in their 30s are still in their prime. Bower’s four-seam fastball average speed in NPB this year is 151.9 km/h. Faster than in Major League Baseball in 2021. Even so, the reason he chose the Japanese stage was because he couldn’t play in the major leagues anymore. Bower signed a three-year, $102 million (approximately 130 billion won) contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021. However, he only played until June, as his assault on a woman issue arose. Although he was ultimately acquitted of the charges in the prosecution’s investigation, the Major League Secretariat issued a heavy punishment, and the Dodgers released Bower in January of this year. No major league club showed interest in him, who was branded as a ‘accident’.

But why did Yokohama make the decision to recruit Bower, who caused the unfortunate incident? He was recently told by a person he had contacted with the Yokohama club. He asked the parent company, DeNA, “Can Bower bring positive changes to the team?”, and the club staff said “yes”. There was more than expected about grades.

Bower is notoriously geeky, but he’s serious about baseball. He majored in mechanical engineering at UCLA. Since he was an amateur, he was fluent in pitching data and biomechanics, which were common in American baseball at the time. Finding the optimal pitching combination to deal with batters in his own pitching form and building a body that can handle it well is the path to success as a baseball player for Bower, who is relatively weak in athletic ability. People from the Yokohama club highly valued this.

Since the 2000s, the major leagues have undergone drastic changes due to the spread of pitch and batted ball tracking data and the development of biomechanics. In the field of pitching, progress has been made, such as improving speed, developing pitch design to find an effective pitching repertoire, and developing new pitches such as sweepers. NPB is also embracing these changes. Yokohama, the parent company of the IT company DeNA, is considered the most innovative club in the Central League.

In 2021, Yokohama introduced a motion analysis device called ‘Optitrack’ to the 2nd Army camp. When a pitcher pitches while wearing a suit with 39 sensors, analysis is performed with motion capture. You can visualize which parts of your body are being powered. In 2020, the previous year, Labsodo, a tracking device that measures ball rotation speed, and Edgetronic, a high-speed camera that shoots 700 frames per second, were introduced. In addition, 41 cameras are installed in the 2nd team stadium and training ground to film and analyze play videos and provide feedback to the players.

Bower is more accustomed to using such equipment than anyone else. The ‘sweeper’, a modified slider, is now a popular pitch in the major leagues. The ball that Shohei Otani caught the last strikeout in the final match of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March was a sweeper with a big bend. In Korea, NC Dinos former major leaguer Eric Peddy is commanding the KBO League with this ball. Bower completed the sweeper in 2018, recording the first ERA of his career in the 2-point range. When completing the sweeper, the equipment that helped him was Edgetronic, which can analyze the relationship between pitching grip and rotation.

An official from the Yokohama club said, “There was an atmosphere among young pitchers who wanted to improve their baseball skills using equipment and data. I expected Bower to help them grow.” It is said that such a relationship is actually taking place. In Yokohama, which uses Yokohama Stadium, which is advantageous for batters, as its home stadium, the team color has traditionally been tagotwozer. As of August 2 this season, Yokohama has an ERA of 3.23. It is the best record since 1972. Bower also made his NPB debut in May and had a sluggish ERA of 6.86, but since June he has been pitching well with a 2.16 ERA in nine games.메이저사이트

Darvish and Ichiro’s argument

Professional baseball players are experts. He is very proud of his field. As grades lead directly to salary, he prefers proven, existing methods rather than experiments. Japanese baseball is known as a league that is particularly conservative. In order for innovation to occur in this environment, the role of star players who will serve as role models becomes important. The Yokohama club expected Bower to play that role.

There is already such a role model in Japanese baseball. Pitcher Darvish Judah, who has a career record of 93 wins and a 1.99 ERA in the NPB, and 103 wins/3.57 in the major leagues. Darvish, who is of Iranian origin, is known as ‘Bangol’ in Japanese baseball. Since entering the major leagues in 2012, he has been criticizing the outdated training methods of Japanese baseball. The ‘weight training controversy’ with Ichiro Suzuki in the mid-2010s is representative. NPB has traditionally been passive about weight training. Korea is far behind in this field. However, after Darvish emphasized the importance of weight training, perceptions changed. Seito Uchida, an expert in pitching and training theory, said in an interview in March of this year, “The controversy at the time caused a change in perception of weight training.” As a result, the pitcher’s speed increased, and it is believed that it led to this year’s WBC championship.

An official from the Japanese national baseball team, Samurai Japan, said, “The pitchers of the national team asked Darvish a lot of questions. Darvish was also willing to give an answer to his juniors.” NPB hitters such as Munetaka Murakami, who hit 56 homers last year, often asked major league superstar Shohei Ohtani about his opinion on strength training. Ohtani, like Darvish, is not good at making direct statements. However, he agrees with Darvish that Japanese baseball should become more scientific.

The KBO League is not far behind the NPB in terms of hardware. Samsung Lions installed a tracking system called Trackman in Lions Park in 2018. In NPB, Rakuten Golden Eagles was the first to install this system in 2015. The Lotte Giants introduced equipment similar to Yokohama’s OptiTrak in 2019. Last year, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) attempted to integrate the tracking systems that each club had individually contracted with. Mokdong Stadium, where the national high school baseball tournament is held, is also equipped with Trackman equipment. However, dramatic changes like NPB have not yet occurred in the KBO league. Cha Myung-joo, director of the Korea Baseball Softball Association (KBSA), said, “In the end, what matters is people, not numbers.” The cases of Bower, Darvish, and Ohtani show how important the ‘good influence’ of superstars is in innovation in professional baseball.


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