By Erik van der Graaff, www.pitchscience.nl
This past Sunday, team ‘Samurai’ Japan won the Honkbalweek Haarlem after reaching the final for the third time in a row. This year, team Japan was represented by their Collegiate National Team. On request by Mister Baseball.com I interviewed Professor Kawamura, scout of the Japanese Collegiate National team and head coach of the Tsukuba University baseball team.
Prof. Kawamura starts our conversation by explaining that Japan College Baseball holds 380 members and over 29000 players. Out of all these players, initially 50 players were invited for a training camp, and after the training camp the final 24 men roster was announced in June. The main goal of this team is the World University Championships in Taiwan, in August of this year. As a preparation for Championships tournament, firstly the team travelled to South Carolina for the 42nd USA-Japan Collegiate series and secondly they played at the Honkbalweek Haarlem.
Throughout these preparation tournaments, the Japanese have two scouts employed. You might have seen them last week in the press box of Pim Mulier stadium in Haarlem. Mr. Kawamura and his colleague scouted every game using laptops, a video camera and a speed gun. Nothing special at first sight, however, prof. Kawamura completely wrote his own scouting program with VBA in Excel. The program allows for exact notation of strike location, hit location in combination with pitch types and ball velocity. I asked Kawamura what they are scouting for and for which elements they look in the players: “Our main purpose is the scouting of Japanese players. Before travelling to America and the Netherlands we had a training camp. During the camp, we took a variety of measurements of all players, therefore we know what to expect of all. As for the extension, there is this scouting. How much capacity does the main player have, and how much is it acceptable to the representative of another country? In addition, we are seeing changes in the state of mind.”
To assess their pitchers, this year the Japanese team brought a novelty with them. Obviously it can be expected of the Japanese to have some cool gadgets! The tool they brought is a baseball in which a sensor is integrated. The ball feels and weighs exactly the same as a regular baseball, but it is not. In the core of the baseball there is a 3D-movement sensor. The sensor is Bluetooth connected with an application on your phone. The applications displays and logs the speed, spin rate and spin angle of and total time of every pitch. Although velocity can be measured with a gun, the ball is much cheaper than a regular radar gun (and last for around 10.000 pitches). More interestingly than only speed, however, is the spin angle, this angle can tell you how the pitcher is releasing the ball and how efficient the grip is on commanding the fastball or applying spin to curveballs and sliders. In order to understand the relation between releases and spin more, Kawamura is performing some studies at his University of Tsukuba, where he is a full time professor, next to his job as baseball coach.
Great news for the Dutch team is that a couple of these balls will be made available for studies at the Baseball Science Centre NL in Amsterdam (www.pitchscience.nl).
Picture: Prof. Kawamura (left) scouting during team Kingdom of the Netherlands vs. team Japan. Photo: Erik van der Graaff