Going against conventional wisdom is considered “wrong” in Japan, as we were reminded on Tuesday, when Lotte Marines pinch-runner Koshiro Wada was thrown out trying to go from second to third with one out.
“You can’t make that kind of mistake as a pinch-runner. It’s a rookie mistake. He’ll learn.”–Akio Saito on Pro Yakyu News
Well, their derision was a little more nuanced, stating that the runner has to pay attention to where the ball was pitched and read the swing. This is great insight, but it masks the fact that Wada was not easily thrown out, and if he succeeds, he sets up a big inning with one out and runners on the corners instead of two outs and a runner on second.
The note was probably brought up because Wada was caught stealing to end a game over the weekend, and they PYN guys probably thought they needed to say something.
But if there were boneheads in this discussion, it was the TV guys. Wada’s play is the smart one to make in that case. It is only considered wrong for the same reason that batting your pitcher eighth is “wrong,” when it is creates more runs — not because it is objectively wrong, but because old players have decided its wrong, and no more discussion is permitted.
In the April 5, 2021, newsletter that only goes to subscribers, I wrote:
Japan’s small-ball mentality and obsession with not making mistakes skews our understanding of the costs and benefits of certain base-running tactics. Every loss of a lead runner is called a mistake and the runner is singled out for his mental error. Years ago, Bill James asked, “If a runner on second takes off for third on a grounder to short, how often does he have to make it for that to pay off?” He suggested the answer was not very often.
As best I can figure it, the answer in NPB is that with one out, a team will break even failing eight times out of nine, and six times out of seven with no outs, because success means more than just advancing the runner, which tends to be the focus in Japan, but also adding a runner on first and gaining an out. Doing it occasionally will force shortstops to check the runner at second more often, giving the batter an extra half second or so to get to first.
This is the kind of stuff that subscribers get, so I strongly recommend you do that now if not sooner.