The man behind the curtain

Tsutomu Jinji
Tsutomu Jinji, Ph.D., shown at December’s baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas.

Yusei Kikuchi gets all the credit for remaking himself on the mound the past three seasons. But when he decided he wanted even more to work with before he moved to the major leagues, he called on Professor Tsutomu Jinji, and his company, Next Base Inc. Working with TrackMan data, Kikuchi began absorbing more and more information about his pitches and mechanics in 2019.

In my Kyodo News interview you can find HERE, Dr. Jinji talks about Kikuchi’s dilemma last season — What to do when you suddenly have Japan’s top left-handed fastball but your strikeout pitch has always been your slider.

Jinji began working in pro baseball with the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles in 2015, where he was brought in by the team’s owner to work with pitchers only to get caught in the crossfire from coaches who treated him like an intruder. He went through a version of that with Kikuchi, when the pitcher added the TrackMan analysis to the discussions he had with his regular catcher, Ginjiro Sumitani.

“His catcher would say, ‘That pitch was good,’ but when we compared that to the data to reach a consensus, it resulted in disagreements,” Jinji said.

“Kikuchi would say, Ginjiro said it was like this, but ‘how was it really?’ And that’s how the conversations would begin. We reconciled his feel for the pitch, the catcher’s sense of it and the TrackMan data. Up until then, it was just those two guys, but after we added another tool to translate what happened, he (Kikuchi) came to believe that TrackMan was more accurate than his catcher’s senses. Eventually, he was able to use TrackMan to express his feel for his pitches.”

Jinji called Kikuchi a fast learner and attacked new information the way he’s tackled the English language and learning about nutrition and conditioning. Jinji suggested that some of that had to do with his background, coming from the same school attended by Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani.

“Hanamaki Higashi High School is one of the schools that demand their players think, and more players from such places seem to be better at acquiring other knowledge,” Jinji said.

The idea that players should be taught to think for themselves is just now building some momentum. While Kikuchi is more of the lead-by-example type, he is symbolic of the movement that DeNA BayStars cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is now advocating.

You can read more on the Kyodo News website.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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