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NPB news: June 12, 2023

Japan had no baseball on Monday, but there was news. Sponichi Annex reported this morning that Nippon Professional Baseball is looking into implementing a pitch timer as early as next season, something it dismissed adding last summer.

On Sunday, I presented the research to support my assertion that the Yomiuri Giants’ astonishing success at getting 1-0 called strikes was absolutely not a result of that team’s talent, but this morning I discovered an interesting trend in how Japanese umpires’ balls-and-strike calls changed after pitch tracking data began to be used to evaluate umps in 2018.

These two things may seem quite divergent, but they do converge around the idea of how Japanese baseball deals with subjective judgement calls. So let’s get to it.

Japan looks to speed up

A year ago, Japan’s rules committee opted to hold off on implementing MLB’s pitch timer and its associated rules to see how it flies overseas. Yet, the news is that having watched MLB’s nine-inning game lengths shrink by 30 minutes, NPB wants the rules committee to look into it, using the excuse that the 2026 World Baseball Classic is certain to have a pitch timer and it would behoove Japan-based players to get used to it before that.

Because NPB and MLB games beat to different drummers, literally, this news was met with some criticism from fans who feel their cheer songs and chants will be a victim of the need for speed. I’m no longer a part of that scene the way I was 30 years ago, but I shudder to think how my favorite oenka, like the theme from “Otoko wa Tsurai” being played on a trumpet when Nippon Ham’s Tetsuro Hirose would come to bat at Tokyo Dome, would be shredded. It was electric.

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