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Japan thinks they can hurry along the game
2006-01-25 13:01
by Bob Timmermann

Jim Allen of the Daily Yomiuri writes about rules changes in Japan designed to speed up the game.

The key changes:
At the first managers' meeting of the year, Nippon Professional Baseball's skippers agreed to begin each team's turn at bat within 2 minutes 15 seconds of the other team's final out. Managers will also strive to limit the time needed for pitching changes to 2 minutes 45 seconds.

Last year on a trip to Japan, I saw three games and wrote about on

Game 1 lasted 3:28.
Game 2 lasted 4:20 and was a nine-inning game.
Game 3 lasted 3:59, but went 10 innings.

The fastest average time for any team in Japan last year was 3:10.

While it is admirable that Japanese baseball officials think they can speed up the game by making the hitters and pitchers get going faster, there is still one problem that can't be solved by a time limit. That problem is that Japanese pitchers throw a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone. There are usually lots of walks in each game. Or at least full counts.

Limiting the pitching changes to just 165 seconds will present some logistical challenges since most Japanese parks have bullpens underneath or outside the stadium. Most fans can't tell whose warming up or if someone is warming up. But it's a safe bet that unless the ace of the staff is pitching, someone will be warming up by the fifth inning. And because Japanese rosters are more like hockey rosters where you can activate and deactivate pitchers when they're healthy, managers always have bullpens that resemble late September games. And Japanese managers are obsessed with getting platoon advantages.

So if you're in Japan and plan on going to see a game (and you should), just prepare yourself for a long night. Don't worry, the stadiums have numerous vendors to ply you with food and drink throughout the night. Just remember that there are no paper towels in the bathrooms to dry your hands.

Allen also has an article with a Japanese perspective on the WBC. I liked this passage Japan, given its culture of arm abuse lobbied for zero pitch counts ...

2006-01-25 16:05:24
1.   Jacob L
I had been under the impression that weren't that many pitching changes in Japanese baseball.

Also, is it true that ramen is the traditional ballpark food in Japan? If so, it makes me want to go to a game there more than anything else. Are there hot soup incidents when foul balls are hit into the stands?

2006-01-25 16:24:41
2.   Bob Timmermann
I had been under the impression that weren't that many pitching changes in Japanese baseball.

I've got some scorebooks I can show you.

And ramen is quite popular at games. Although not as popular as beers. People tend not to get by foul balls because there are high screens along the foul lines that keep most foul balls out the stands. If the balls do go in to the stands, the ushers blow whistles to warn people to look up.

2006-01-25 16:47:11
3.   Jacob L
The whistle thing is a freaking great idea. That means, however, that they have to employ people as ushers who can actually track the flight of a batted ball.
2006-01-25 16:59:17
4.   Bob Timmermann
Trust me, they do. They have lots of ushers. There is no job that the Japanese economy cannot overstaff.
2006-01-26 04:24:19
5.   Gary Garland
They've been trying to shorten games for years and those measures haven't panned out in NPB. It's like the 20 second rule in MLB. When was the last time you saw THAT enforced?

Typically what happens is that NPB passes a new rule and the players and umpires, once the regular season begins, ignore it. The exception has been the high strike, but that hasn't really speeded things up all that significantly.

One reason, perhaps, is that umpires don't get the protection over there that they do in MLB. So the umps will look to manage possible points of conflict as much as possible so that they don't get their ribs broken, like what then Chunichi outfielder Takayuki Onishi did to plate umpire Atsushi Kittaka (Onishi was suspended for a week and got a fine) a few years ago.

Bob is right in that too many Japanese pitchers nibble after getting ahead of the hitter. Finishing hitters early in the count isn't something that is taught in Japanese baseball, part of it, I think, due to the fact that most Japanese pitchers don't have that dominant hard heater in the mid to high 90's and not many of them throw sinkers, so they are less willing to challenge hitters in the strike zone, especially in band boxes such as Yokohama Stadium and Hiroshima Municipal Stadium.

On the Japanese overstaffing thing, I've seen that up close and personal. It's unbelievable.

2006-01-26 09:21:12
6.   Bob Timmermann
Even the Japanese pitchers who have come to MLB have always been putting up big pitch counts. Nomo and Ishii would be out there forever when they were on the Dodgers.

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