There's no doubt the dead ball introduced this season is killing run production in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Slugger Alex Ramirez of the Yomiuri Giants said the Mizuno ball, which NPB made its official ball this year, has done more than frustrate hitters--it has changed the game.
"There's no way there's going to be any player this season who's going to have the same numbers, or close to the same numbers that we had last year," Ramirez told The Daily Yomiuri a week ago at Tokyo Dome.
A number of players, particularly Takeya Nakamura who has a Japan-best 33 longballs for the Saitama Seibu Lions, have dispelled that idea, but many more have been slowed by the low-impact Mizuno balls.
Ramirez's concern is that the balls, coupled with what players have said is a wider strike zone, are snuffing out scoring. Going into Wednesday's games, there were just three .300 hitters in the Central League--led by Giants teammate Hisayoshi Chono--and run production requires more strategy and risk-taking than skilled swinging of the bat.
Two-time MVP Michihiro Ogasawara of the Giants and last year's league MVP Kazuhiro Wada of the Dragons are prime examples of players who have been in a season-long funk at the plate.
Both entered the season hitting above .300 for their careers, but the now-injured Ogasawara is at .236, while Wada is at .231.
Offensive production across NPB is down 27 percent through the same number of games last year, and the rate of home runs is down 40 percent--from one every 40 plate appearances to one per 67. Ramirez points squarely at the Mizuno ball, which in testing last autumn carried 2.3 percent less, as the reason.
"To me, it's not a 50-50 thing, it's a 75-25 [thing], which is not fair for the hitters," Ramirez said about the double-whammy of new balls and a wider zone hitters are dealing with this season. "It should be fair for the pitchers and the hitters.
"The balls don't carry. You're not going to be able to hit the ball for a home run to the opposite field. You might see one or two guys...but most of the right-handed hitters, we have no chance hitting opposite-field home runs other than the guys playing in open stadiums like Yokohama and Jingu."
He said pitchers have adjusted to that by working the outside part of the plate more to further reduce power numbers.
Ramirez, an 11th-year player who started with the Yakult Swallows in 2001, is among a group of sluggers who have gotten a "rest" because their production has fallen off from career numbers.
Ramirez entered this season averaging 33.6 homers a season. He has 14--including his 350th since coming to Japan--with about a month left to play in the season.
The outfielder said he has called upon every morsel of hitting knowledge but is still baffled by the new balls.
"You can't adjust to these balls," he said. "You've just got to deal with it. There is no adjusting. There's no 'Maybe if I can get used to these balls, I can produce better.' You can't.
"Even though you try things--maybe try to hit the ball the other way, try to get a base hit and things like that--people don't see me as hitting base hits."
The Giants have long been a muscle-bound team that capitalized on marginal pitching at homer-friendly Tokyo Dome.
"Before, we had the advantage because this was a powerful team. You come to Tokyo Dome now and it can be a 1-0 game. Anybody can just come here and pitch a good game."
He said the Giants have had to adjust on the fly with a team built to bash.
"This was a team that was all about offense, especially here at home, but it's not anymore. We just have to try to do the little things to win games."
That has transformed the Venezuelan into a guy who has to settle for finding a hole.
"I just have to concentrate on getting my hits and my RBIs because that's the game this year."