Would you ever consider allowing a 21 year old pitcher to throw 165 pitches in a start?
What if that pitcher was also your team's prized possession: the ace of your staff?
Didn't think so.
But apparently, it's ok if you're in Japan.
Last night, Yu Darvish tossed 165 pitches over 8 frames.
Yes, you read that right. 165 pitches over 8 frames.
He also ended up giving up 5 runs (all earned) on 11 hits (1 grand slam), 5 walks, and 8 strikeouts. That grand slam was hit by light-hitting Tasuku Hashimoto in the top of the fourth with 2 outs. It also happened to be the third straight fastball Darvish had thrown to Hashimoto (150km/h - 93mph, 153km/h - 95mph, 150km/h - 93mph).
So this wasn't an easy 165 pitches (if such a thing even exists). This was a laborious 165 pitches.
Here's a break down of the number of pitches he threw per inning. I also included the top speed he reached in each of the innings. He was still hitting the glove pretty hard in the later innings. The last fastball he threw hit 148km/h on the gun.
1st 20 pitches (maxed out at 151km/h); 20 overall
2nd 13 pitches (maxed out at 151km/h); 33 overall
3rd 14 pitches (maxed out at 151km/h); 47 overall
4th 37 pitches (maxed out at 153km/h); 84 overall
5th 13 pitches (maxed out at 149km/h); 97 overall
6th 19 pitches (maxed out at 150km/h); 116 overall
7th 21 pitches (maxed out at 150km/h); 137 overall
8th 28 pitches (maxed out at 149km/h); 165 overall
In looking at the breakdown, I'd have to say that Darvish probably should have come out after the 6th inning. At the top of the 7th, the Fighters were still down 5-2 without much of any cause to think that they would come back. Afterall, the Fighters have the worse team batting average in the NPB (.251) and have scored far and away the fewest runs as a team in the Pacific League (326). The Fighters weren't really built to score a ton of runs anyway. There strength lies in pitching (PL best 3.43 team ERA).
So then why was he left in there? Was there no one available in the pen?
No, this wasn't about the bullpen. This was all about Darvish wanting to keep throwing.
"I've been training to throw 200-250 pitches."
The manager, Masataka Nashida, wanted to yank Darvish after the 7th innning, but Darvish insisted on going out for the 8th. Despite the fear of injury, Nashida allowed him to pitch another inning.
"I thought 140 pitches would be enough, but then I asked Darvish how he felt after he returned to the dugout in the bottom of the 7th. He said he wanted to keep pitching. I was really worried about an injury, but because he's the ace of the staff and because he's going to be representing Japan in the Olympics, I felt it was ok to put him out there for another inning."
Only in Japan.
And then you have Masayuki Kakefu, a former infielder for the Hanshin Tigers between 1974-1988. He was an All-Star in his own right, accumulating 1,656 hits, 250 doubles, and 349 homers over 1,625 games and 6,574 plate appearances. He lead the league homeruns 3 times (1979, '82, '84), won the Diamond Glove Award (now called the Golden Glove Award) 6 times (1978-79, 1981-83, '85) and the Best Nine Award 7 times (1976-79, 1981-82, '85), and was an All-Star 10 consecutive seasons.
Kakefu recently spoke at a seminar and lamented at how short careers are for baseball players. He apparently feels that players starting their careers too quickly as the cause. I wasn't there at the seminar so I'm not quite sure if he was talking about playing careers in general, or about professional playing careers, but in either case, I think there is something to be said about how much pressure younger players must have in Japan.
14th Annual Heart Rehabilitation Conference
The Life of a Pro Baseball Player: Struggles with Injuries
High school competition is fierce in Japan -- the National High School Tournament takes place ever summer (which is in it's 90th year). And most every player that gets to the NPB has performed at the National High School Tournament at some point, which means they've also been under pressure to perform on a national stage from as early as 15 or 16 years of age. I'm guessing that many have heard by now how Daisuke Matsuzaka once threw 250 pitches during the 1998 tournament just before his 18th birthday. A few years later, in the 2006 Tournament, Yuuki Saito would go on to set tournament records pitches (948) and innings (69). Incidentally, Saito passed up on his chance to enter the NPB so that he could attend Waseda University and join their college baseball program. Over 131.1 innings he's given up 94 hits (2 homers), 34 walks, struck out 117, and has a 1.30 ERA to go along with an 11-4 record.
So are careers, as Kakefu says, short for Japanese ball players because they start so young? Or because of negligence on the manager's and coaches for not knowing just how much these young players should pushing themselves? Or is it a combination of both?
I'll tell you this much: it'll be interesting to see how Darvish pitches during his next start, which I guess will be at the Olympics. And while it's hard to guess whether or not overwork ultimately led to Masahiro Tanaka recent injury, his workload has also been quite heavy.
Before I end this, I'll leave you with a few more interesting facts.
2007 (under Trey Hillman)
207.2 IP, 2969 pitches - 14.3 pitches per inning / 114.2 pitches per start (entire season)
149.2 IP, 2162 pitches - 14.5 pitches per inning / 113.8 pitches per start (after first 19 games)
2008 (under Masataka Nashida)
156.2 IP, 2259 pitches - 14.4 pitches per inning / 118.9 pitches per start (19 games)
186.1 IP, 3109 pitches - 16.7 pitches per inning / 111.0 pitches per start (entire season - 28 games)
113.1 IP, 1972 pitches - 17.4 pitches per inning / 109.6 pitches per start (after first 18 games)
127.1 IP, 2059 pitches - 16.2 pitcher per inning / 114.4 pitches per start (18 games)
Source for quotes: Nikkan Sports
Thanks to my gf for the image of Kakefu.