Major League (MLB) Shohei Ohtani (LA Angels)’s run is amazing again this year. On August 10th, Ohtani, who won 10 regular season wins, wrote baseball history once again. Ohtani in 2023 is the only player in MLB history who has simultaneously achieved 10 wins and 40 home runs in a single season. It is no exaggeration to say that 2023 is a season for Ohtani, by Ohtani, and for Ohtani.
There was a rival who once competed for the throne of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) with such Ohtani. This is Shintaro Fujinami, who joined the Oakland Athletics and currently plays for the Baltimore Orioles. A Koshien superstar, he was the same age as Ohtani and was the motivation to join the pros. He was simultaneously drafted by four teams in the 2012 draft. According to Baseball America, an American baseball magazine, many scouts rated him as “a better player than Ohtani.”
Soon after, the futures of the two diverged sharply. The past, of course, is not much different in 2023, which is running side by side in MLB. No, to be precise, the results on one side are horrendous.
Fujinami announced that he would advance to the MLB after the 2022 season. Auckland answered Fujinami’s cry. In January, Fujinami signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with Oakland through the posting system.
The atmosphere was good until the test match. In his first game, which attracted attention for his confrontation with Ohtani, he pitched 2 innings, 1 hit and no runs. After that, he showed ups and downs, but finished the exhibition game with an average ERA of 3.86 with 20 strikeouts in the final 18 and 2/3 innings.
Fujinami’s 100-mile (161 km) fastball seemed to work in the MLB. However, he was soon nicknamed ‘the worst pitcher in the league’.
In his first four starts, Fujinami gave up a whopping 24 points. His earned run average reached 14.40. He has been consistent even after moving to the bullpen. He continued to have a double-digit earned run average, and it wasn’t until July that he barely got down to single digits.
At the time of the posting contract, Auckland showed confidence in Fujinami’s pitch. According to The Athletic, an American sports media outlet, they have been closely observing Fujinami since high school. Since August of last year, I have watched every single match of Fujinami’s starting pitching, and positive reviews have been steadily coming and going within the team.
Auckland, which believed in Fujinami’s potential, continued to give him a chance even while he was sluggish. It was for the same reason that he was considerate by guaranteeing six days of rest by starting every Saturday at the beginning of the season.
In Auckland’s strong faith, Fujinami tried to change the situation. Obviously the pace was slow. However, little by little, the results began to change. Fujinami’s performance in July was 12 appearances, 14 1/3 innings, 19 strikeouts and 5 runs allowed. Looking at his range a bit more, he has changed 180 degrees with an earned run average of 3.86 in 30 and 1/3 innings in the last 28 games (as of the 20th).
On May 15, Oakland bullpen coach Mike McCarthy spoke in detail about Fujinami’s changes in an interview with local media, the San Francisco Chronicle. First of all, Fujinami focused on only three pitches: a four-seam fastball (four-seam), a splitter, and a cut fastball (cutter). From April 27, when he went down to the bullpen, four-seams, splitters, and cutters accounted for 95 percent of all pitches.
He also tweaked his pitching form, which had been pointed out since his days in Japan. According to McCarthy, Fujinami put more effort into taking a straighter movement than before while firmly fixing his left foot, the foot he was stepping toward the home plate. In the process, he abandoned the windup position he started facing the batter. He instead added a double-kicking move based on situations with no runners.
Further, from a biomechanical point of view, Fujinami throws the ball with awareness of the correct energy transfer in his pelvis-shoulder-elbow sequence. Even on rest days, he focused on simulating on the mound without the ball and finding that feeling. It was a clear contrast from the past, which initially focused on ‘visible movements’ such as the release point and the stride of the front foot.
As a result, since May 28, when he started double-kicking, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball has risen from 97.1 to 99.5 mph. The release point, which was shaking up and down and left and right, has also changed to be much more stable than before.
Former Hanshin Tigers pitching coach Kiyooki Nakanishi commented on Fujinami’s changed pitching form in an interview with the Japanese media last July, saying, “Currently, the balance between the upper and lower body is well-balanced, so the weight transfer seems to be better than before.”온라인바카
In a stable pitching form, Fujinami’s walks per 9 innings decreased from 7.81 to 4.01. During the same period, Fujinami, who had a strike zone pitch rate below the league average of 47.7%, has transformed into a pitcher with a 51.6% pitch that exceeds the league average (49.2%).
Fujinami’s season ERA is still the second highest among pitchers with 60 or more innings. However, the recent performances were clearly markedly different from the previous ones.
And the Baltimore Orioles, who are aiming for fall baseball for the first time in seven years, bet once again on a ‘coin’ called Fujinami. On July 20, Oakland and Baltimore officially announced the trade of Fujinami. After his transfer, his average ERA is still close to ‘unfinished stone’ at 6.00, but he is showing potential as a joker card, such as recording a hit rate of 0.146.
Will Fujinami be able to help Baltimore advance into the postseason while maintaining the changed look to the end? Perhaps sooner or later we will see Fujinami stepping into the major league postseason faster than his rival, Ohtani.