Japan with 160km, Korea with 150km too… Mound desperately needs ‘speed revolution’
At the 2nd World Baseball Classic (WBC) held in 2009, the average speed of fastballs by Korean pitchers was 146.3 km/h. It was second among the countries advancing to the quarterfinals, and there was not much difference from the leader Japan (average 146.9km). In the tournament, Japan won the championship and Korea won the runner-up.
In the 5th WBC in 2023, 14 years later, Japanese 안전놀이터pitchers recorded an average fastball speed of 153.5 km per hour. It is in second place, slightly behind the Dominican Republic (average 153.7 km). Korea has rather regressed to 145.9 km. It ranked 16th out of 20 countries that participated in the competition. In the group stage, it was only ahead of Australia (17th, 144.7km), Czech Republic (19th, 139.6km), and China (20th, 138.4km), who were in the same group.
At this year’s WBC, Japan reached the top for the third time after 2006 and 2009. On the other hand, Korea was eliminated in the first round three times in a row following 2013 and 2017. At one time, Japanese baseball regarded Korea as an ‘enemy’ and ‘rival’. However, the difference in level is too great to be called a rival now. Now, the difference in fastball speed between Korea and Japan (7.6 km) is greater than the difference between Korea and China (7.5 km).At this year’s WBC, Japanese pitchers’ speed and pitch surprised the world. Shohei Otani (LA Angels), who doubles as a pitcher, and Roki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte), who wrote a perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball last year, easily exceeded 100 miles (about 161 km). Both pitchers threw 100+ mile balls a total of 58 times in this tournament. In addition to them, most Japanese pitchers used fastballs in the range of 150 km. Among Korean pitchers, Lee Eui-ri (KIA) and Kwak Bin (Doosan) threw balls in the 150km range. But it didn’t work out at all. A fast ball that doesn’t cross the strike zone is useless.
● Korean baseball relies on foreign pitchersEven before the opening of the tournament, the Korean pitching staff was evaluated as ‘the weakest ever’. I had to pick Kim Gwang-hyun (SSG) and Yang Hyeon-jong (KIA) while hearing the voice, “How long will you be Gwang Hyeon-jong?” I had no choice. Seven of the top 10 ERA last year were foreign pitchers. Clubs are also eager to select foreign pitchers who can be used as their full potential rather than fostering young pitchers. A scout for a club in the metropolitan area said, “Currently, the KBO league ranks differently depending on whether foreign players are active. The ‘one-two punch’ of most teams is foreign pitchers. The future of Korean baseball is darker,” he said.
Japan is the exact opposite. Last year, all 10 players in the top 5 in the Central League and Pacific League ERA were Japanese pitchers. Foreign players mainly came out as bullpen pitchers.
Even under similar physique conditions, Japanese pitchers throw the ball faster and more accurately because they have applied various advanced technologies such as the ‘tracking system’ to well-equipped basic equipment. Shota Imana (DeNA), a left-handed pitcher who started for the U.S. game, threw a fast ball in the early 150km range despite being 178cm tall. His fastball, which was around 140km in high school, became faster as he focused on flexibility exercises and muscle strengthening after joining the pros.
Even in Korean baseball, pitchers who throw fast balls in the 150km range have been steadily produced recently. The task given to Korean baseball is how to refine them and develop them into pitchers with both pitch and speed.