Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Lost In Translation

Certainly one of the most difficult challenges in professional sports is performing at the highest level while adjusting to a new culture. The prevalence of Japanese baseball veterans moving to the Major Leagues gives us some interesting data to observe.

Hitters, whether emphasizing speed or power, seem to do okay. Pitchers, on the other hand, have been maddeningly unpredictable (see: $46m disaster and Fat Toad).

Which brings us to the curious case of Hideki Okajima, the much less hyped of Boston's two Japanese pitching acquisitions this offseason, but arguably the more valuable. Okajima's star was born when he surprisingly closed out the first Yankee game of the year, and he went on to go 3-0 with 4 saves, allowing only 6 ER, 32 H and 12 BB, in his first 51 games of the year (55.1 IP).

But since then he is 0-2, allowing 7 ER, 12 H and 5 BB, in his last 10 games (10 IP), including allowing the game-winning HR tonight.

So what to make of the drop off in performance? One explanation could be that he's having trouble adjusting to an increased workload.

Since 2002 in Japan, Okajima never pitched in more than 55 games or logged more than 55.2 IP in any one season. So having busted through those barriers with more than a month left in the regular season, he is sailing into uncharted waters as far as recent history is concerned.

So much like the NBA rookie who "runs into the wall" in February or March as he adjusts to the rigors of his new travel and practice/game schedule, Okajima could be out of gas come October. For the sake and sanity of Red Sox Nation, let's hope that the Wizards of Yawkey Way figure out how to get Clay Buchholz on the postseason roster....

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