Japan opts for slow and small

On Wednesday, Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Sadayuki Sakakibara said Japanese baseball is in no hurry to pursue its goal of more quickly played games if it means introducing a pitch timer.

For years, NPB has put up posters in every clubhouse and dugout urging teams to “Be Play Fasters!” And now when Major League Baseball has ostensibly come up with a solution in the form of the pitcher timer, demanding the batter and pitcher be ready to go for the next pitch in a hurry, NPB has no interest.

“Nothing has been decided, but I think the best thing is to play brisk games of baseball without a timer,” said Sakakibara, who added that he is in favor of requiring the next hitter to be in the box and ready to hit within 30 seconds.

This time last year, there was a ton of interest from Japan in the new rule from MLB, especially when the average time it took to play a nine-inning game dropped by 24 minutes in 2023.

You could hear the officials at the commissioner’s office drooling and preparing memos to the owners about this solution to their decades-long problem. Then after closer observation, the whole idea got tossed.

The pitch timer by itself is fine, and Japan would 100 percent on board if it weren’t for a crucial part of the rule that has nothing to do with the clock, the limit on pitcher disengagement.

The MLB rule allows a pitcher to leave the rubber twice each at-bat, either to take a breather or make a pickoff throw. Until the count resets because a runner advances a base or a new batter comes to the plate, any excess pickoff throws or fake pickoff throws or anything that takes the pitcher off the rubber will result in automatic balk.


While trying to explain why Japanese managers bring in the outfield prior to having the go-ahead run on third base with one or fewer outs after the eighth inning, I realized that the center of Japanese baseball is the belief that the test of a quality team is the ability to impose its will on opponents by meticulous execution of one-run tactics both on offense and defense.

Japanese teams practice executing one-run offensive tactics and defensive countermoves to the nth degree, The balance between sacrifices and bunt shifts, and stolen base attempts and holding runners is considered of vital importance to the defenders of faith who comment in the media about how Japanese are supposed to play baseball.

Limiting pitcher disengagements would upset that balance.

Import pitchers typically gain things in Japan, the knowledge that walks are frowned upon, and a slide step to discourage base stealers. If pickoff throws make base stealing a bigger and more effective weapon, it makes the sacrifice less important.

That cannot possibly be allowed.

Sakakibara said that Japan’s games are eight minutes faster this year, based on each team having played at least four games though Tuesday.


For one thing, we have a huge problem of sample size. On top of that, nine-inning games played prior to April 3 tend to be 2-1/2 minutes faster than regulation games played from April 3, simply because the weather tends to be colder.

Another reason is fiddling with the baseball. Since three PL clubs shortened the distances needed to hit home runs in their parks over the past decade, NPB has responded by deadening the ball sureptitiously.

Hone run rates have declined in each league every year since 2020. And all things being equal, a less lively ball means faster games. When the ultra-dead standard ball was introduced in 2011 along with reduced lighting due to the nuclear melt down in Fukushima, game times dropped by 13 minutes.

Some baseball people unfortunately seem to think that is their duty to deliver the game only in its purest form to the consumer, that any compromise that makes the contests more accessible to the paying customer is sacrilegious.

When managers discussed announcing their starting pitchers, Hall of Fame manager Katsuya Nomura said it was nonsense.

“You don’t tell your enemy when you are going to fire your missiles before a war,” he said.

Nomura is not alone in thinking Japanese baseball should be treated with the same kind of seriousness as war fighting, and for that reason, many Japanese practitioners will continue to pay lip service to the idea that the fans matter.

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