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Why is Japan so good at baseball?

¿Por qué los japoneses son buenos en béisbol?

Why is Japan so good at baseball?

Japan won the 2023 Word Baseball Classic Championship. This was the third time that Japan won the WBC championship. Perhaps it is just not luck that Japan won 2023 WBC championship considering the fact that they have won three times so far.

Why is Japan so good at baseball? Have Japanese baseball players been good throughout the history?

Japanese professional baseball teams were not strong at all in the early years.

In the beginning:

In 1934 The MLB team that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmy Foxx, the three greatest home run hitters at that time, and Lefty Gomez, the king of fastballs, came to Japan with Connie Mack, a wise and bright general. The Japanese professional team challenged the MLB team for the first time in history. They lost all 16 of their games.

Japanese people never imagined that Japanese baseball players would make it in the MLB before Hideo Nomo joined Dodgers in 1995.  It was a big surprise for people in Japan that Japanese players can actually make it in the major league.

Is it the classic case of “Americans invent and Japanese make it better”?

Americans are known to have great inventors. It used to be said that Japanese make things invented by Americans better. Baseball is one of the sports that were born in America.  Maybe the same thing can be said about baseball?

Here are some reasons why Japan is good at baseball.

The large population of baseball players

Japan has a population of over 120 million, and the country’s population itself can be said to be very large. Therefore, compared to other Asian countries/regions with smaller populations than Japan, such as Taiwan and South Korea, where there are professional baseball teams, the number of people who play baseball itself is larger, and since more people are interested in baseball, the fan population is also larger, which can be said to support the professional baseball industry as a whole economically as well.  The market is so large that helps to attract young talented sports players to baseball.

ID Baseball

ID baseball is a baseball theory proposed by Katsuya Nomura when he was manager of the Yakult Swallows, a professional baseball team from Tokyo. According to Nomura, ID stands for Import Data.

“ID baseball” is a means for managers to build a team and for players to play in a scientific and logical manner, making full use of statistics and data, rather than relying on experience and intuition. The foundation for this approach was the “Thinking Baseball” taught by Don Blazer, a former MLB player who was a colleague of Nomura’s during his days with the Nankai Hawks.

This concept has had no small influence on the entire world of professional baseball in Japan.

Hideki Kuriyama, the manager who led Japan’s national team to victory in 2023 WBC, played under Nomura when he was a player at Yakult Swallows. While Kuriyama is well-versed in this Nomura-style data-based baseball, he also did some unorthodox things when he was the manager of Nippon Ham Fighters, a team which Shohei Ohtani belonged to, such as making Ohtani a two way player, and he also led Team Japan to victory in the 2023 WBC with a strategy that was contrary to the data-based strategy.

Therefore, even though it is true that data-based baseball has raised the overall level of baseball in Japan, the WBC championship was the result of Kuriyama’s unconventional leadership that was not based on common sense, theory, or data.

Manager Kuriyama has always believed that in baseball it is okay for unique players to play an active role.

Baseball is a sport that uses tools

Japanese are generally small. A small body is a disadvantage in many sports involving physical contact. However, baseball is a sport that uses tools.
Therefore, not having a large body is not always a disadvantage.
For example, dexterity of the fingers can be a major factor in breaking pitches, etc., not body size.

Baseball is a slow sport with lots of time to think

Baseball is a sport that requires a lot of thinking before taking action and it is sometimes even referred to as a sport of intelligence or a sport of intervals. In some sense, it is quite similar to some board game like chess. In other words,  No other sports have intervals like the way baseball does. This “importance of intervals” may be something that appeals to the mind of the Japanese and they are also good at thinking making use of intervals. This could also explain why Japan loves baseball so much and why baseball is so popular in Japan.

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