MLB/ Shortstop difficult adjustment for Japanese players
BY NAOFUMI MURAKAMI CORRESPONDENT (The Asahi Shimbun on line – abridged)
NEW YORK--It is not unusual anymore to find Japanese players in the major leagues. But there is one position that is considered very difficult to succeed at--shortstop.
Both Japan and the United States have the same expectations of shortstops--to field the ball as quickly as possible and throw out runners. But there seems to be a different perspective in how to handle a grounder to the hole.
In Japan, it's typical to catch a grounder facing front toward the incoming ball. There is more focus on the stability gained from not using the back of the hand to catch the ball. But in the major leagues, the backhand catch--in which the shortstop grab grounders to their right side with one hand by stretching out their arm with the glove--is mainstream. There is a risk of the ball bouncing off the glove, but the shortstop can get into a position of throwing the ball faster because of the lack of unnecessary moves.
The big hurdle for Japanese ballplayers is the throw from deep in the hole--when throwing the ball from unnatural positions, such as after a backhanded catch or throwing without stepping.
There is a clear and large gap in shoulder strength between Japanese ballplayers and players from North, South and Central America. When there is a need to throw a beeline to first base without a bounce, Japanese players tend to send a soft one-bounce throw. That's a fatal move for a shortstop, because if the throw is even 0.1 seconds late, a runner can reportedly cover about 60 cm along the basepath.