Pitch Counts in Japan

A post I wrote last week over at NPB Tracker got me thinking about how many pitches NPB starters actually throw, so I queried the data I’ve collected for this season. Here are the results:

Name Avg Pitch Count
Hideaki Wakui 129.62
Yu Darvish 128.58
Kenta Maeda 123.23
Takayuki Kishi 118.69
Shun Tohno 116.83
Toshiya Sugiuchi 116.62
Satoshi Nagai 116.50
Masahiro Tanaka 116.38
Hisashi Iwakuma 114.38
Yoshinori 113.56
Yoshihisa Naruse 113.38
Kazuki Kondo 110.75
Chihiro Kaneko 110.54
Darrell Rasner 110.20
Wei-Yin Chen 109.67
Yasutomo Kubo 109.08
Kan Ohtake 109.00
Shunsuke Watanabe 106.00
Keisaku Itokazu 106.00
Tsuyoshi Wada 105.92
Kyouhei Muranaka 105.73
Shouhei Tateyama 105.00
Masanori Ishikawa 105.00
Kenji Ohtonari 103.42
Eric Stults 102.11
Kazuyuki Hoashi 101.85
Bob Keppel 101.64
Hiroshi Kisanuki 101.38
Kenichi Nakata 101.33
Naoyuki Shimizu 100.62
Kazuhisa Ishii 100.45
Tomokazu Ohka 99.83

Some observatons…

To put this in a little perspective, Justin Verlander leads all MLB pitchers with an average of 112.44 pitches per start. If Darrell Rasner were throwing 110 pitches per game in MLB, he would be second on the list. MLB’s top innings eater, Roy Halladay, averages 107.56 pitches per game.

Yu Darvish has seen his pitch counts increase a bit, from 117.3 last season to 128.58 this season. Hideaki Wakui is a workhorse; his average was about the same last season, when he had three(!) outings of 160 or more pitches. Kenta Maeda is enjoying breakout results this season, and has been rewarded with a heavy workload. According to my data, he averaged 102.54 pitches per start last year.

Overall, though, this isn’t as “bad” as I expected. I thought we’d see more guys in the 120’s. NPB teams typically use six-man starting rotations, and teams almost always get one off day per week, which amounts to six days between starts. There are a number of heavy So far this season, there have been 51 appearances of 130 or more pitches, and four of 150 or more (two each by Wakui and Darvish, plus one by Yuta Ohmine).

I anticipate that a significant chunk of American fans reading this will have some degree of a negative reaction to this. I don’t necessary see it that way. My thoughts on the subject are evolving as I learn more and gather more empirical data, but for now I look at this mostly as a cultural difference, though one with some risks. Japanese starters are conditioned to take the ball once a week, and incented to go deeper into games. I will be watching the top ten guys on this list a little more closely though.

Thanks to the great David Appelman for the MLB pitch count data.

Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at npbtracker.com, and on Twitter @npbtracker.

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Doug Gray
12 years ago

It is all about conditioning. Kids in America start seeing pitch counts at age 8 or 9 and thus, never will build up the arm strength needed to throw like this. It didn’t used to be this way and coupled with better offensive lineups, its why we don’t see guys throwing 300 innings or 140 pitch complete games every week/season. In Japan, they don’t exactly have the same pitch counts growing up and the guys who have the arms that can survive the grinder do build up the arm strength to be able to do this.

12 years ago
Reply to  Doug Gray

The problem isn’t necessarily pitch counts at the younger ages …

When I was a kid we’d go out and play baseball all day long, then go to our youth league games. I’d bet there were some days when I threw over 300 pitches per day. The difference is 200 or so of those were to my buddies playing rag ball or whatever “me versus you” game we could come up with for fun.

Now, our 9yo’s are on travelling teams playing 50 some games per summer.

It’s not the total pitches thrown, it’s the intense “game pitches”. Furthermore, many young kids are making 2 (or more) starts oer week in highly competitive games.

Lots of research on this, and it’s all interesting.

12 years ago
Reply to  CircleChange11

Let me correct that, Since I was outside from 10AM to 7PM playing baseball, with much of that time throwing a baseball or tennis ball against a brick wall (often as hard as I could imitating different pitcher’s deliveries), I’d bet I averaged 300 pitches per day.

This subject was discussed at another site discussing this very same topic, and I found that many guys my age had a very similar background … and none of us had arm problems in college, despite being starters one day, and pitching in relief the next day or the day after.

The generation before me, were likely doing the same … playing baseball all day long. That’s where comments from the likes of Bob Gipson regarding throwing as often as possible sound so foreign to us today. Because the landscape has changed, we assume kids should pitch in games all the time to build up arm strength. That’s the mistake.