Many of you who subscribe to pitch counts and coddling players will be surprised to hear a 16-year-old pitcher in Japan, Tomohiro Anraku, threw 772 pitches in a tournament.
Throw until the arm falls off.
That's not an entirely hyperbolic sentiment when you consider the report from Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan on the latest Japanese wunderkind who recently threw an obscene amount of pitches in what Baseball America cites was nine days' worth of games.
According to Passan, Anraku—a name that means "comfort"—was tasked with carrying the brutal load during the latest national high school baseball tournament, noted as an event as highly prized as America's World Series.
During the final game Wednesday, Anraku, whose fastball reached 94 mph earlier in the tournament, labored to crack 80. It was his third consecutive day starting a game and his fourth in five days, and those came after his first start of the tournament, in which he threw 232 pitches over 13 innings.
I will let all of those figures sit with you a while. Americans may be renowned for excess, but when it comes to pitching, a far more sensible approach has always been the norm.
From Little League pitching limits to pitchers like Stephen Strasburg whom are brought along after injury with kid gloves, we tend to treat arms with caution for fear of the next injury.
Not in Japan.
Passan paints quite the picture, one most baseball fans have heard about in passing but will no doubt be astonished to hear once again in this case.
Anraku the Monster
You might question why coaches would allow such an endeavor or why a 16-year-old phenom would acquiesce to such demands. Consider the chasm in baseball culture is as wide as it could be when it comes to this particular sport.
Anraku's coach at Saibi High School is Masanori Joko, and he believes he is looking out for his young pitcher, giving him a chance at great honor.
Joko made sure to limit his young star through the season until his coming-out party of sorts at Koshien Stadium, where the tournament was held. In some respects, the coach's gamble paid off. Consider this interesting part of the report:
In Japan, there is no greater compliment for a baseball player than to be called Kaibutsu. It translates to Monster. It is reserved for big, strong players who perform at otherworldly levels during Koshien. If you're too handsome or waifish, they'll call you Prince or some other nickname. Monster is special.
The Japanese media, in light of the amazing pitch total, have now taken to calling the 16-year-old Kaibutsu. The small little phrase means a great deal in regard to fame and riches.
It seems Daisuke Matsuzaka was once labeled with the affectionate term, and he went on to get selected No. 1 overall by the Seibu Lions, but more on him in a second.
Passan offers that this kid went from anonymous pitcher to a national hero, making him the target of a great many professional teams that will now pay handsomely because of such a feat.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and a Great Debate
Passan is also careful to offer up former Red Sox star and current Indians minor league pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka as a prime example.
He was once heralded as Kaibutsu for his effort in throwing 250 pitches over 17 innings in a past tournament, and he would go on to receive fame, riches and an MLB debut to much fanfare.
While the Indians recently re-signed Matsuzaka, it's clear he is not the same man who initially made his debut in American baseball.
Some might point to the fact the Japanese star threw far too much prior to coming to the majors, but Matsuzaka would be the first to say he wasn't throwing nearly enough for his American team, as he stated in 2009.
On the other end of things, there is Yu Darvish, who is now trying to build on a remarkable MLB rookie campaign with the Texas Rangers. The 26-year-old played in the same national high school baseball tournament as well as Japan's professional league, but he had a far different experience, as Passan notes.
Farsad Darvish (Yu Darvish's father) was born in Iran and went to school in the United States, and as much as Japan has influenced him in more than two decades living there, the mentality of Koshien – costs be damned – made no sense to him.
Don Nomura, an adviser to Darvish and one who is also highly critical of the pitch total of Anraku, describes his time with Darvish's father. "The father was very protective. Here comes the parental guidance, the Western mind. I've known the father since Yu was in high school. We talked about being abused."
Fortunately, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, a team managed by American Trey Hillman, drafted Darvish. The current Rangers star still pitched a heavy load, but Fighters pitchers, unlike most in Japanese baseball, threw just once a week.
It remains to be seen if that kind of small change will make a huge difference for his MLB career.
Uncertainty, Exhaustion and Opportunity
Passan points to a study by the American Sports Medicine Institute that states, "After following nearly 500 baseball players for a decade it found pitching more than 100 innings in a calendar year increased risk of significant injury – either elbow or shoulder surgery or something that ended a career."
As noted, the sample size is small, but that doesn't mean research director Dr. Glenn Fleisig isn't extremely concerned. "This is completely off the charts. It goes against everything we do in sports medicine in America."
For the moment, American and Japanese baseball cultures will have to agree to disagree, because pitchers like Anraku will keep on pitching for glory and gaudy accolades.
As for this particular stint at Koshien, Anraku fought just to hit 80 on the gun in his final game. By the sixth inning, he had reached 109 pitches and would go on to allow nine runs. Ultimately, his team would lose 17-1.
The kid better get his rest, because he has another Koshien tournament later this year, and because he is a junior, he qualifies for two next year as well.
After that, assuming a healthy arm, he has Nippon Professional Baseball to look forward to.
Until then, he will keep throwing and fans will continue cheering. Across the pond, baseball fans will be shaking their collective heads.
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