Many companies, in a practice known as “work sharing,” are changing the criteria needed to fill positions so they can retain them, such as by having two part-time employees do a job formerly done by one full-timer.

To keep one of Japan's most prestigious baseball awards alive, the sport may also need to rethink the criteria to qualify for it.

This year, nobody was named as the recipient of the Sawamura Award, the greatest honor for a pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

The award, established in 1947, was named after Eiji Sawamura, a legendary right-hander who reigned supreme in Japanese professional baseball in its early period.

It was the first time in 19 years that no pitcher’s records for the season were deemed good enough for the special honor.

The standards for the award for starting pitchers are extremely high. To qualify, a pitcher needs to notch 15 or more wins and throw at least 10 complete games.

In the old days, some pitchers chalked up 30 or more wins. Today, however, pitching a complete game is a rare achievement in professional baseball.

A strict division of labor among pitchers has long become the norm, who are grouped into three main categories of starters, set-up men and closers.

This season, some teams used setup men as starting pitchers and starters as relief pitchers.

The changes in pitchers' roles that have been made over time have been natural responses to risks of injuries and other problems.

The Sawamura Award is Japan's equivalent to the Cy Young Award in Major League Baseball. Established in 1956, the prize is given annually to the best pitchers, whatever their roles. Some relief pitchers have won it.

Last year, three National League pitchers who amassed 18 wins were passed over for the Cy Young for the New York Mets' Jacob deGrom, despite his not-so-impressive record of 10 wins and 9 losses.

What set deGrom apart from the pack was his outstanding “quality start” record. A starting pitcher accomplishes a quality start when he completes at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs.

This relatively low-key statistic is now viewed as a better indicator of the quality of starting pitchers’ performances than their win-loss records.

Meeting the standards for the Sawamura Award is obvious proof of a pitcher’s stellar achievements.

But it doesn't look likely that many of today's pitchers will be able to fill those shoes.

While maintaining respect for the award's tradition, it is probably time for the NPB to start discussing new criteria and a new selection process for it to boost its value further.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 27

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.