An Ode to Takashi Saito

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.

Rk Player ERA+ IP From To Age G GS GF SV H R BB SO ERA FIP HR BF
1 Craig Kimbrel 233 348.1 2010 2015 22-27 355 0 294 225 193 70 130 563 1.63 1.72 18 1366
2 Mariano Rivera 205 1283.2 1995 2013 25-43 1115 10 952 652 998 340 286 1173 2.21 2.76 71 5103
3 Billy Wagner 187 903.0 1995 2010 23-38 853 0 703 422 601 262 300 1196 2.31 2.73 82 3600
4 Darren O’Day 185 443.2 2008 2015 25-32 459 0 118 14 335 123 111 431 2.31 3.36 41 1779
5 Takashi Saito 185 338.0 2006 2012 36-42 338 0 189 84 250 99 108 400 2.34 2.81 25 1363
6 Jonathan Papelbon 184 690.2 2005 2015 24-34 652 3 555 349 535 208 171 777 2.35 2.76 54 2786
7 Aroldis Chapman 181 319.0 2010 2015 22-27 324 0 221 146 169 81 155 546 2.17 1.97 17 1272

 

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.

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Mike L
Mike L
4 years ago

Nice piece and clip. Many thanks. Reminds me of one of the reasons I’m a baseball fan.

howard
howard
4 years ago

Saito might be the only player to have resurrected his career by leaving Japan to play in the US rather than the other way around.

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
4 years ago

Pitchers making their MLB debut at age 36 or older, listed by IP: 152 .. Connie Marrero (39) 78 … SAITO (36) 73 … Satchel Paige (41) 58 … Keiichi Yabu (36) 44 … Les Willis (39) 43 … Satoru Komiyama (36) 27 … Ken Takahashi (40) 21 … Masumi Kuwata (39) 20 … Joe Strong (37) 19 … Pat Scantlebury (38) NLB 19 … Otho Nitcholas (36) WWII 17 … Alex McColl (39) Over 5000 IP in the minors 11 … Buck “Leaky” Fausett (36) WWII (minor league 3B) 10 … Jason Lane (37) _______________________ By WAR: 3.2 …… Read more »

Doug
Editor
4 years ago
Reply to  Voomo Zanzibar

Here’s the top 10 in ERA+ for relievers aged 36 or older with 300+ IP. Rk Player ERA+ IP Years Age G GF SV BB SO ERA FIP Tm 1 Mariano Rivera 220 477.0 2006-2013 36-43 458 411 273 71 445 2.00 2.62 NYY 2 Takashi Saito 185 338.0 2006-2012 36-42 338 189 84 108 400 2.34 2.81 LAD-BOS-ATL-MIL-ARI 3 Tom Burgmeier 168 380.0 1980-1984 36-40 200 106 38 99 180 2.44 3.23 BOS-OAK 4 Larry Andersen 159 359.2 1989-1994 36-41 290 106 25 108 347 2.38 2.30 HOU-BOS-SDP-PHI 5 Hoyt Wilhelm 156 1456.2 1959-1972 36-49 670 449 170 442… Read more »

Doug
Editor
4 years ago

Under the category of meaningless trivia, Saito and Henry Blanco formed the eleventh battery since 1914 with pitcher and catcher both aged 40 or older. Here’s that list, showing the last game for each battery. Game Team Pitcher Age Catcher Age 1 1930-07-08 PHA Jack Quinn 47.007 Wally Schang 40.320 2 1945-06-05 BRO Curt Davis 41.271 Clyde Sukeforth 43.177 3 1948-08-20 PIT Fritz Ostermueller 40.340 Johnny Riddle 42.320 4 1989-07-24 CHW Jerry Reuss 40.035 Carlton Fisk 41.210 5 1992-09-27 BAL Mike Flanagan 40.305 Rick Dempsey 43.014 6 1997-07-05 CHW Danny Darwin 41.253 Tony Pena 40.031 7 2004-10-01 MIN Terry Mulholland… Read more »

Waterless O'Malley
Waterless O'Malley
4 years ago

Nice article. Remember well seeing Saito in spring training with the Dodgers when he first came over, throwing 95 with that killer slider, and thinking that somebody should make this guy a closer. Obviously great minds think alike, as that was exactly what the Dodgers did.