On October 4th, former big league reliever Takashi Saito, at the age of forty-five, took the mound for one last time, struck out a batter, and called it a career — a long, respectable career that spanned over twenty-two seasons and seven teams.
I note that Toru Hosokawa, the batter, took a pair of “this guy is going to retire so let him have his moment now” swings. This is an usual sight in the NPB.
In his career, the right-hander accomplished many great feats — other than punching out Hosokawa, obviously. Some of those accomplishments make him a member of elite clubs. Let’s take a look at what he did.
First, here’s the complete list of pitchers who (have) amassed at least 300 innings and recorded an ERA+ of 180 or higher in their careers, as of the end of the 2015 season.
There are only seven, with most of them being household names such as Rivera, Wagner, Kimbrel, and Papelbon. Among the crème de la crème relievers, in the fifth spot, tied with Darren O’Day — another unexpected name — is Saito, who posted a spectacular 185 ERA+, meaning that he performed to an ERA that was eighty-five percent better than league average over his career.
Now, we’re moving on to the all-time career K-BB% leaderboard, again those who with at least 300 innings pitched. You can find Saito, who checks in at a superb 21.4, in the first page, in the twelfth place, right below Papelbon and above Matt Harvey and Pedro Martinez.
I know, relievers tend to strike out more batters and walk fewer than starters. And 300 innings is a rather small sample for career totals. In fact, there are several active pitchers who have logged less than three full years of playing time on the list.
But even for just over 300 innings, the Sendai, Miyagi native showed excellence during his big league time. And this is even more remarkable taking the fact that he burst onto the major leagues at the age of thirty-six into account.
Speaking of old, let’s revisit the all-time career K-BB% leaderboard, but limit to seasons at age thirty-six or older this time. After filtering by age, there’s only one name above Saito, and it’s none other than Randall David Johnson.
Again, he’s a reliever. But in some sense, no one, except for the greatest lefty in the history of the game, mowed down hitters more dominantly than Takashi Saito after turning thirty-six. And he resurrected his career after putting up mediocre-to-abysmal numbers in three consecutive years in Japan.
Additionally, in 2012 with Arizona, where a series of leg injuries limited him to a mere sixteen games, he made four appearances in the Arizona League on a pair of rehab stints. At forty-two, he was twenty-one and a half years older than the league’s average age for pitchers. This requires a laborious research to confirm, but it’s safe to say he was one of, in not the oldest, player ever to appear in a complex league game.
Saito has recently joined the Padres’ front office as an intern, so he’ll be around in the baseball world for some more time. But for now, I’d like to celebrate and remember the legacy of Takashi Saito, the pitcher. He was one hell of a good one. Fare thee well, Sammy.