Siberian Baseball

Saturday, April 08, 2006

What the hell are they teaching you in Japan?

I tuned in to the Mariners/A's game tonight to see Felix Hernandez give it a run in the new season. While he pitched well, especially for a 19-year-old, his pitch counts were way out of whack.

He had something in the neighborhood of 80-plus pitches in the fifth inning after some long at-bats against a few particularly tough Oakland veterans. Good for them.

Still, the curveball he was working before he was taken out was some nasty, nasty shit. The added bonus is that he's locating it for strikes which is worth noting, and fantasy managers should sleep a little better tonight.

On the other end of the battery, Kenji Johjima was worth watching again tonight. After a hot start power-wise (a few homers to start the season, including his first which was juuuuust over the right field wall) I watched a bit closer tonight to the defensive side of his game.

Glen Kuiper, Tim Roye, and Hank Greenwald are listed as the A's announcers, but I can't fully confirm this right now. If they are, great job. They were the ones who broke down Johjima's defensive shortcomings and did so in a manner that wasn't homerism or trying to undermine the opposing franchise.

Imagine that.

The main point they were making is that Johjima has a hard time framing pitches. In short, that means moving your catcher's mitt as little as possible to try and sell the umpire on the fact that the pitch was right where you wanted it and that it was in the strike zone right where your glove is now.

Really good defensive catchers can pull balls back into the strike zone and will shift their entire bodies inside or out to try and enhance the optical illusions that the ball is right on the corner, even if it came in a few inches low or wide. It's pretty simple in theory.

Here's where the A's crew came in, though. They correctly pointed out the pattern of Johjima stabbing at balls with his mitt, really doing his pitchers a disservice. If you are a catcher who keeps doing this, you will have a hard time finding a seat on the team bus and if it keeps up, a job.

OK, hold your left hand out in front of you if no one is watching and make an "L" with your thump and index finger like you're getting ready to catch a pitch. Imagine that pitch is coming in at 95 miles an hour and that it's coming in a lot lower than it should. Johjima's main problem is that he's throwing his hand out there and coming at the ball from the top.

The preferred method that allows you to frame pitches better is to back your mitt up a bit and try to catch the ball with your palm up. Instead of swatting down over the ball, imagine taking that "L" and flipping your hand over quickly like you were getting change at a cash register.

It might not seem like a big deal, but it is.

In Friday's game, Hernandez was run a batter or two - maybe an inning - early because the borderline pitches weren't going his way. When you have a rookie who needs to earn close calls and the catcher isn't framing pitches well, that pitcher is going to have to work a lot harder to get clear of innings. Add another batter an inning and that's roughly 20-25 pitches over five innings.

Johjima won seven Gold Gloves in Japan - after seeing Friday's game, I have no idea what the Japanese standards are. Granted, the Gold Gloves wouldn't really take that into account, but it should look at catchers as a whole defensive picture.

Finally, the really baseball nerd portion of the post.

Top of the sixth, bases loaded, two out and Hernandez has already been shown the showers for the evening. The A's broadcasters have begun to pick up on the framing problems by Johjima and are in the "watch on this pitch" portion of the game.

Nick Swisher is up and Julio Mateo is pitching. Johjima stabs a ball down and Oakland's booth show how when the ball crossed the plate, it was knee high. This is ball seven or eight they've seen that has been caught sloppily.

Mateo has 160-something games under his belt, but I'm pretty sure he sees what his catcher is doing and on the next pitch, he picks a target 8 to 10 inches higher than his last pitch and it's enough that Swisher tees off on it, nearly hitting a grand slam.

When you watch SportsCenter Saturday morning, this is the play where Frank Thomas scores from third and Milton Bradley misses the bag on his way home, has to back track and gets caught in a rundown. The two pitches leading into that play though are the important part for Mariners fans, though.

After something like seven catchers in two years, they assumed Johjima would be another diamond from the island like Ichiro has been. I think he's a good catcher and have both on my fantasy team, but unless his handling of that pitching staff improves, there's going to be a riot in Seattle.

With an iffy pitching staff, they need all the help they can get. A catcher who prolongs innings and takes strikes from those pitchers, tiring them out prematurely, frustrating them and making them choose poor locations for the pitches is going to be the quick way out of town.

Keep an eye on him this weekend - this seems like an easy problem to fix and probably just one of those things that he's forgetting in the whirlwind of his first season in American pro ball. Even so, it made for an interesting sub-plot Friday night.

Well, interesting to baseball nerds like me.

(Photo from


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