Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Straight Asian Fastball

Pictured Hideo Nomo

"The Straight Asian fastball" is not a derogatory race thing, but instead a phenomenon associated with pitchers of Asian decent in Major League Baseball.  A lot of pitchers from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan struggle in MLB because they throw a fastball that lacks sufficient movement to get batters out.  It's the reason pitchers like Tomo Ohka and Sun-Woo Kim never lived up to their billings as prospects. I don't care how fast a pitcher throws, if the ball travels straight as an arrow then a Major League hitter will hammer it.

This type of fastball is not exclusive to just Asian pitchers as white pitchers such as former Blue Jays closer Billy Koch and Red Sox starter  Clay Buchholz possess fastballs like this.  In fact, Koch was a dominating closer for a year or two before hitters adjusted to the speed of his 100 mph fastball, and with little movement on the pitch, batters crushed it.

For some reason, the two seam fastball and cutter don't seem to be pitches that are routinely taught in Asian countries as they are in other ones.  These two pitches possess side to side movement that makes them very effective in the Major Leagues, which is why some of the best pitchers use them.  Without these pitches, Asian pitchers are immediately at a disadvantage because they only have the four seam fastball, and possibly because they practice and work so hard at perfecting pitching, it goes exactly where it looks like it will go.

It's like trying to watch "The Real World" after so many seasons.  You know what is going to happen each season: there will be a gay roommate, lots of alcohol, idiotic drunk behavior, a house hook up gone wrong, and of course racial tensions.

Japanese pitchers will commonly throw a fork ball to counteract the fastball, but if the hitter recognizes the fork ball and lays off the pitch then he can sit on the fastball.  Think about the most successful Asian pitchers in MLB and you'll realize most of them come out the bullpen.  That's because they see less batters and are more likely to get away with mistakes.

Former Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa, former Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, and former Dodgers closer and current Red Sox reliever Takashi Saito represent some of the most successful Japanese pitchers in MLB.

It's comparable to the teen celebrity effect.  At first teen celebrities have all this fan fare and seem so great, but after while we discover that they have flaws.  Then we get so saturated with media coverage of them that by their 20s they aren't considered special or interesting anymore.

Converesely few Asian starting pitchers have enjoyed success.  Even if they do in the beginning, it's fleeting as they struggle after a few seasons.  Hideo Nomo's intial star burned out as batters figured out his deceptive wind up, and Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang succeeded because of the great movement on his sinker ball, but he's pitched poorly since he lost the feel for it.  Even Dice-K who throws a two seam fastball gets hammered due to his lack of command for it.

Next time your team has a highly touted pitching prospect don't get too excited until you find out if he has the Straight Asian fastball or not.

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