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Baseball’s Best Young Hitter and Pitcher Play in Japan

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More than most seasons, the 2022 MLB campaign is a collection of remarkable individual feats. Aaron Judge has set his sights on 60-odd homers and leads both leagues in long assists. Shohei Otani performs weekly bilateral miracles for the second year in a row. Judge and Paul Goldschmidt fight for the triple crown. Albert Pujols on his way to 700 homers looks like his old one Рdamn it young himself while Justin Verlander fishes lowest ERA qualified AL/NL over 36 starter who is not called Cy Young. On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, four rookie players Julio Rodriguez, Adley Rutchman, Michael Harris II and Steven Kwan passed the four bWAR threshold, becoming the best of all time; Jeremy Pe̱a can put a record five. (In that case, another strong start from Spencer Strider would bring the total number of WAR rookies, including pitcher and position player, to six, the most since 1934.) Nearly every major end-of-season honors race will include a runner-up , which won easily in many other years.

This makes it all the more surprising that the most sensational statistical feats of the year may not be achieved by big companies—at least American ones. Japan’s top league, known as Nippon Professional Baseball, is home to two phenomena whose records and predictions compare favorably with those of any of their contemporaries in the US. Munetaka Murakami, third baseman for Central League’s Yakult Swallows, leads each Triple Crown category and tied with Judge Homer for Homer, approaching Japan’s single-season home run record. Rocky Sasaki, starting pitcher for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League, had almost consecutive perfect plays in April—he pulled eight innings in a second perfect start, retiring a record 52 consecutive batters—and posted an unparalleled scoring record. dominance of the test as a whole. Based on performance relative to their respective leagues, Murakami is about the peak of Barry Bonds and Sasaki is about the peak of Pedro Martinez. They have two of the best seasons in almost 90 years of Japanese professional league history, and they do it at a ridiculously early age.

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Murakami is 22 years old and Sasaki is 20. Their combination of precocious skills and unparalleled performance, according to the journalist, Jim Allen, raised the excitement around them to a level unmatched by any of the recent Japanese superstars who would go on to flaunt their pieces in the States. “No one their age has ever done anything like what they have done, so the anticipation and hype [are] through the roof,” says Allen, who has covered Japanese baseball since the early 1990s. No qualifying leagues or continents needed: Murakami and Sasaki are the best young hitters and pitchers respectively in the world. “You’re right to focus on the two of them as elite players under 23,” says MLB’s director of scouting. “It’s so interesting to see what they’re doing.”


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Breaking down what this duo did, let’s start with Murakami, because as incredible as Sasaki is, Murakami’s season is unmatched this side of Sadaharu Oh (who holds the record for career home runs with 868). Put it this way: Murakami, a 2017 first-round pick and 2019 Central League Rookie of the Year, earned the Central League MVP award last year when he hit .278/.408/.566 with 39 homers played in all 143 Yakult games, as well as 167 wRC+ and 6.5 WAR published (according to website NPB statistics). However, he is on track to be around 75 percent more valuable this year.

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Murakami, who was in high school called “Baby Higo Ruth” – “Higo” being the former name of the Kumamoto prefecture where he was born – released a stat this season that most closely resembles Ruth’s best performance. The headline states that he hit 55 home runs, placing him second on the NPB leaderboard in a single season with The O (1964), Tuffy Rhodes (2001) and Alex Cabrera (2002). Above him is only Vladimir Balentien, who scored 60 points for the Murakami Lastochki club in 2013. Murakami is close to breaking Balentien’s record and only needs one redhead to break O’s record for a player of Japanese origin. Whatever the case, his homer total matches his jersey number he was given when he joined the Swallows, in honor of Oh’s record and Hideki Matsui, who was the last Japanese-born player to turn 50 before Murakami.

Murakami, who received a new nickname this year – Murakami-sama, or “Mura-god”, has already set several records: he became Jr NPB player to hit 40 homers (surpassing Oh and his Hall of Famer Koji Akiyama) and the first to go deep in five consecutive plate appearances. And while a shorter season in the NPB may prevent Murakami from hitting as many homers as Judge—even though he proved resilient once again, missing just one contest—he outpaced Judge by the same number of games.

Like Judge, who boasts the highest single-season wRC+ among qualified hitters since Bonds, Murakami is not just a homer machine; he is an extremely versatile hitter, as evidenced by his .337/.472/.761 slash lines in 551 plate appearances (with 12 stolen bases to boot) and his August streak of 14 consecutive plate appearances, one modest NPB record. Also like Judge, he’s head and shoulders above the biggest home run threats, though at 6ft 2in, that’s not quite as literal. Hotaka Yamakawa of the Seibu Lions of the Pacific League is second in the NPB with 39 round-trip games, but closest “rival” Murakami in the Central League has 27, less than half of Mura-god’s total. According to OPS, the nearest qualified hitter is more than 250 points south.

No wonder Murakami hits the ball with blisters, which is another thing he shares with Judge. According to DeltaGraphs, no NPB player with at least 200 plate appearances has a higher hitting rate, and his homers usually go over the wall leaving plenty of room. “I can’t think of a single one where I said, ‘Oh man, is that going to be Homer? Oh, it just slipped away,” says starter Swallows. Sai Sneed, who joined Murakami’s team last year after playing for the Astros from 2019 to 2020. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this ball is absolutely smashed. How far is he going to go? On August 26, Murakami hit a homer, which propelled his bat to 193 kilometers per hour, or 119.9 miles per hour, according to the team batting data Sneed referred to. Since Statcast began tracking MLB bats in 2015, only Giancarlo Stanton (in 2018 and 2020) and Judge (in 2017) have hit homers this hard. Sure, NPB’s TrackMan system might give slightly different readings from Statcast, but Murakami’s face looked completely tattooed.

While Oh and Matsui hit most of their long balls, as did most of the hitting home runs, southpaw Murakami sent over half of his homers to the left or center. The oppo shot he took on his 55th birthday testifies to his great power to all fields as shown in this spray chart from DeltaGraphs.

“We’re playing in a pretty small stadium,” says Snead. “It doesn’t matter to him. What checks outside. Meiji Jingu Stadium, home of the Swallow, is Homer is the happiest park in the NPB, but Murakawa hit 33 of his 55 homers. on the road– including seven in 44 cymbals (and 36 bats) at the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons dome, least Homer-friendly NPB park.

Murakami’s superiority in all areas is reflected in his superiority on all types of pitches. According to DeltaGraphs, Murakami leads NPB qualified hitters in per-step performance against four seamers, sliders, splitters and cutters, while ranking well above average for weights, curves and changeovers. It also has no weak spot in or around the strike zone. As Sneed says, “I’m always looking to see if a guy has a hole? Is he struggling with something inside, struggling with rotation in a certain place? … And I didn’t see any. … Not that he just hit the ball up or just hit the ball down or anything like that, he covered everything. … Left-handed, right-handed, the guy who throws soft, the guy who throws hard.” It’s true: Murakami’s heatmap (which shows above-average runs per 100 pitches) is red almost everywhere. Mura is truly a god.

“What impresses me is that he does what he does in big situations against very, very good hands here,” Snead says, quoting Murakami’s opponent. hit from one of Japan’s top pitchers and “true MLB member” SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Sengi (who will probably become real MLB hand next season). “He doesn’t do it against a guy who clears in the seventh round in a lopsided game. He does it against dudes“. Sneed knows what he would do if he was one of the guys who had to face his partner. “If I played against him, I joke with the guys on the team that I would say from the mound: “Hey, put him on, four [balls]put it on,” he says. Because there is no safe place to go to see him.

What makes Murakami’s monster season even more striking is that, despite Murakami’s own best efforts, the number of attacks in Japan has dropped significantly. Not…



Source: www.theringer.com

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