Tag Archives: sacrifice bunts

Musings 4-16-21

Ishikawa needs more will power?

Former BayStars manager Akihiko Oya is another one of the guys on Pro Yakyu News I’m very fond of personally. He had this to say about Hawks Opening Day starter Shuta Ishikawa (1-2) who has pitched well and should not been the losing pitcher on Thursday, but well them’s the rules.

“Ishikawa didn’t pitch badly, but… It may be harsh, but if you’re the Opening Day starter, you’re going to face other teams’ Opening Day starters, so you have to go out there with the willpower to not allow the first run. If you can’t do that, you can’t win.”

–Akihiko Oya

Certainly, it’s great to be able to shake off disappointment, but he was marginally outpitched on Friday, and surrendered one run because of a mental error that turned a first-inning fly out into a leadoff double.

There’s certainly a desire to ascribe failure to lacking sufficient willpower, but it’s basically just something to say.

Lions going small

Oya also commented on something I’d noticed this past week.Since 2015, the Seibu Lions have been last in the PL in sacrifice hits every year. Their trademark has been pitching badly while their hitters made opponents’ pitchers look even worse.

Sosuke Genda, their No. 2 hitter kind of fits the stereotype of the Japanese No. 2 hitter, as a speedy left-handed-hitting middle infielder, who can bunt, but is probably too tall and too good a hitter to play there if his principle role is to make outs.

His six sacrifices are the most in either league.

That’s the objective truth, and I know that neither Tsuji nor Lions GM Hisanobu Watanabe is a huge fan of the sacrifice bunt, so I’m going to look at another reason for the shift, a belief in the pitching that has been missing for years.

Through Friday, the Lions’ 59 runs allowed are the fewest in the PL, and it is possible that like manager Trey Hillman’s 2006 Nippon Ham Fighters, who won the PL with pitching and defense and the worst offense in the league, the Lions–who are currently missing several key offensive players — are exploring different ways to win.

Of course, that isn’t the answer you’ll hear on TV. There it’s about the team suddenly realizing they’ve been doing it all wrong for years, and that the real secret to success is bunting until you can’t bunt no more.

“What a departure from the (big-inning) Seibu approach we’re used to. Of course, some of it may have to do with the quality of the pitching in this game with Kona Takahashi against Ishikawa. They bunted, and bunted and kept bunting, trying to scratch out that next run. They were relentless, even bunting the runner into scoring position with one out, like they really wanted to get one more run. This is not like Seibu at all, executing a one-run, technical approach. What a wonderful game.”

–Akihiko Oya

Hey I love bunts more than many people. A good bunt is poetry in motion and it’s a great tool to have available to you when one run will decide the game, but Japanese baseball’s foundation is really about what works against 7-year-olds, hit it to the left side of the infield, induce errors, and pressure the other kids into making mistakes.

Following dogma is seen, not as being unimaginative, but as having superior willpower to win, which is the defense of the mad bunting crowd: “teams that eschew the bunt in search of a big inning are trying to take shortcuts, they’re not THAT interested in scoring.”

Fujinami’s homer

A point by former Yakult Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka illustrated one of the things I love about Pro Yakyu News: the stories the guys come up with to break down events in the game.

Fujinami ripped at a 3-2 fastball down the pipe in an at-bat that improved after his teammate swiped second. Instead of flailing at pitches out of the zone as pitchers are liable to, Fujinami dug in with a runner in scoring position and worked the count full. Ishikawa, who is a low-velocity control guy, took a chance that Fujinami couldn’t hit a pitch down the middle, challenged him and lost.

Then and now

The sacrifice as religion

When asking why Japanese baseball considers batting the pitcher eighth an egregious mistake, I was confronted with the fact that the practice was once very common before it became eradicated in the 1970s. This happened about the same time as the game’s most unique batting styles were pushed out and the sacrifice bunt became as much a ritual as tactic.

Robert Whiting said he didn’t recall when these changes occurred precisely but pushed back against my assertion that the Yomiuri Giants under manager Tetsuharu Kawakami didn’t bunt THAT much.

He replied in an e-mail:

“Kawakami may not have bunted as much as other managers but he still bunted a lot, 100 times. Leadoff hitter would get on, Shibata Doi would sacrifice him to second.”

My memory is worse than Bob’s even though he’s a few years older than me, but I cheat by having a database. Kawakami once bunted 100 times, in 1966, although that was one of his two best seasons, his team finishing 13 games in front in 1965 and ’66.

During the 5 years of box scores I have for Kawakami’s Giants (1961-1963, 1968 and 1969, his No. 2 hitter bunted in the first inning 22.5 percent of the time when the leadoff man was on first base. The rest of the CL did that 21.5 percent of the time. So he was pretty normal.

Anyway, the point I was making was not that Kawakami didn’t bunt, because he bunted about as often as his contemporaries, but rather that his disciples, Tatsuro Hirooka and Masaaki Mori, spread this lie that the Giants won BECAUSE they executed the sacrifice, and Japanese baseball listened.

In all the other box scores I have since then, since 1999, teams have bunted with the runner on first with no outs in the first inning about 50 percent more often than Kawakami did, and they don’t do it nearly as often as they were doing in the mid 1980s, when Hirooka, Mori and another of Kawakami’s players, Masaichi Kaneda, bunted far more than the league norm in the Pacific League.