From high school to pros, desperate need to improve constitution
Korean, even if there is a promising pitcher with fastball, 1st pitch
correction biased to put in right away
Sasaki, first year as a pro in Japan,
focus on pitching form correction… In contrast to Korea,
high school wooden bats ‘Geopo Drought’ are
urgently trying to guess… Pitcher growth is also hindered
“You have to use an aluminum bat like the US and Japan”
Rocky Sasaki (22, Chiba Lotte Marines), who is active as the 3rd starter for the Japan national team in the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), has thrown a fast ball over 160km since high school. He was nicknamed ‘the second Ohtani’. Sasaki, who caused a sensation in the Japanese baseball world, received the first nominations from four clubs and joined Chiba Lotte in 2019 after a lottery.안전놀이터
The following year, in 2020, the entire Japanese baseball world paid attention to Sasaki’s debut, but Chiba Lotte did not pitch Sasaki in the first team stage or in the second team official game. It was because Sasaki’s pitching form and the release point where he placed the ball were not constant, so it was judged that correction was necessary. As Sasaki’s body was still growing, there was also a consideration that he would use it in practice only after his arm muscles, which could withstand a fast ball over 160 km, were perfected. Even in 2021, his second year, he switched between the 1st and 2nd teams and threw only 63.1 innings in the 1st team.
For two years, Sasaki, who had not reduced his fastball speed of over 160 km and even mastered his pitching, exploded his potential last season, his third year, with just two pitches, including a forkball that reached up to 150 km. On April 10 last year, at the age of 20 years and 5 months, he achieved his youngest perfect game, and in this game, he set a world record of 13 strikeouts in a row and the most strikeouts in a single Japanese professional baseball game (19). In the next appearance, he continued his 8th inning perfect and 17 consecutive perfect innings, but as the game went 0-0, he did not put Sasaki on the mound in the 9th inning. This is the part where the consideration of the coaching staff, who put Sasaki’s arm health more important than the immediate record, stood out.
Even in his third year, Sasaki, who received inning management, started only 20 games and finished the season with an average ERA of 2.02 with 9 wins and 4 losses in 129.1 innings. Sasaki’s average speed of 158.4 km in 2022 was the second highest in the world among pitchers with over 100 innings, following Major League Baseball’s Hunter Green (Cincinnati Reds)’s 159.3 km. Thanks to his two years of hard work, the Japanese baseball world has acquired an ace that can command the international stage for the next 10 years.
One question I ask here. What if Sasaki was born in Korea? Is there really a club that can focus on remedial work without pitching a single game in his debut season for a player with as much potential as Sasaki?
Even in Korean high school baseball, there are often promising pitchers who throw fast balls that exceed 150km, although not as much as Sasaki. However, many of them lack the control to work on the professional stage. Usually, after becoming a professional player, they are coached in the direction of catching the ball, even if the speed is somewhat reduced. In other words, he is somehow quickly made into a pitcher who can be used on the first team stage. It takes a lot of time and effort to improve control while maintaining speed. In order to create a pitcher who will destroy the KBO league and become a super ace in international competitions, not a pitcher who can dominate the first team right away, patience, will, and investment from professional clubs are required.
The reason why the shock wave of this 2023 WBC early elimination is bigger than the previous two rounds of elimination in the finals is because I was able to personally confirm the gap with Japan. In particular, the gap between the pitchers was more noticeable. Korean pitchers destroyed themselves by giving up 9 4-balls, while Japanese pitchers who threw more than 155km continued to appear even after starter Yu Darvish (San Diego Padres). The Japanese national team can afford to use Sasaki against the Czech Republic and Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Orix Buffaloes), who won five gold medals as a Japanese professional baseball pitcher for two consecutive years, against Australia. This gap is likely to widen even more if the training system of Korean professional clubs fails to achieve dramatic constitutional improvement.
The Japanese baseball media ‘Full Count’ also criticized, “Why is Korea’s rival Korea weak?” The media said, “Korea hired 10 pitchers, but the only pitcher who could compete with Japanese other players was Kim Gwang-hyun until the second inning.” They are focusing on recruiting pitchers. Naturally, there are fewer places for domestic pitchers to gain experience.”
Proposals for amateur baseball reform were also raised during this tournament. Representatively, KBS commentator Park Yong-taek argued after the game against Japan that “aluminum bats should be reintroduced to high school baseball.” High school baseball in the U.S. and Japan still uses aluminum bats, but Korea introduced wooden bats in high school baseball in 2005 when the World Baseball Federation (WBSC) required wooden bats to be used in youth international competitions.
It is pointed out that as high school students who have not yet grown up use wooden bats whose repulsive force is not as great as aluminum bats, they only focus on hitting the ball instead of swinging freely, and as a result, ‘young giants’ cannot come out. In fact, last year’s KBO League home run king was Park Byeong-ho (KT, 35) in his late 30s, and Lee Jung-hoo (Kiwoom, 23) was the only player in his 20s who hit 10 home runs, excluding foreign players. Full Count also said, “The image of Korean baseball in the past was that a batsman wielding a bat vigorously, such as Lee Seung-yeop and Kim Tae-gyun, and a pitcher had a confrontation of power. However, there are currently no sluggers in the KBO league. He pointed out that the growth of young players was insufficient to the extent that Lee Dae-ho, who retired from active duty, was the league’s home run king and ranked 4th in batting average.”
The use of wooden bats also hinders the growth of high school pitchers. Since high school hitters are less likely to hit a home run, high school pitchers can get good results by throwing fast balls as hard as they can in the middle rather than developing precise control to hit the outside of the strike zone. As a result, the vicious cycle of overconfidence in one’s own skills and neglecting to improve control or develop various types of pitches is repeated. Commissioner Park argued, “After learning how to swing oneself from an early age using an aluminum bat, even if you become an adult and use a wooden bat, you can fully adapt to the professional stage.”