Great feature by Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated on Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old pitcher the Yankees signed from Japan:
In Japan, a new baseball is a thing of beauty, honoring the
country’s regard for packaging aesthetics as well as the sport.
Each ball is wrapped in a shiny square of silver foil, which
preserves the leather’s tackiness. Unlike major league baseballs,
which need to be rubbed with a special mud to be deemed
game-ready, a Japanese baseball is used immediately after it is
unpackaged. It is a man-made pearl. Its built-in tackiness plays
to the high art of pitching — the veneration of touch, feel and
spin and those who master the craft.
In the U.S., we now take it easy on young pitching arms, severely limiting the pitch counts and innings. In Japan, they throw long and hard:
The innings and pitches just kept piling up. In one stretch of
five starts in 2009, at age 20, Tanaka threw 124, 137, 142, 125
and 137 pitches. Angels ace Jered Weaver hasn’t thrown 124 pitches
in a game that many times in his entire eight-year career,
covering 231 starts. Two years later, in just the second week of
spring training, Tanaka threw 520 pitches over five throwing
sessions that spanned seven days, capped by a 207-pitch bullpen
only two days after a 120-pitch session.
Explained Tanaka after his 207-pitch marathon, “I wanted to find
out if I could keep pitching using the [right] form despite
throwing a lot of pitches. I wanted to throw a session where I was
tired from the start.” […]
By the time Tanaka put himself up for auction in Beverly Hills,
he’d thrown 1,315 total innings through age 24, a workload unheard
of in the majors for any young pitcher over the past 40 years. The
last player to be worked that hard that young was Frank Tanana,
who debuted in 1973 at age 19 and whose shoulder was shot by the
time he was 25.