Akira Eto (also transliterated as Akira Etoh)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 209 lb.
Akira Eto was the top slugger in the Central League for several years before Hideki Matsui took over that role. After solid part-time work in '92, Eto emerged as a star for the Hiroshima Carp in 1993 when he hit .282/.387/.529 with 88 runs, 34 homers and 78 walks; he led the league in home runs, made his first Best Nine and his first All-Star team. In 1994 Eto improved to .321/.418/.590. He again was voted the Best Nine third baseman for the Central and made the All-Star team. He finished tied for second in average (.003 behind leader Alonzo Powell), 2nd in OBP, tied for 3rd with 83 runs and 3rd with 28 home runs. That August he tied a Nippon Pro Baseball record with 16 homers in a month. He had been leading in the batting race entering the final day of the season and started the day on the bench. After Powell rapped out hits in his first two tries, Eto entered but went 0 for 2 and couldn't catch the Chunichi outfielder.
'95 saw Eto continue his dominance with a .286/.396/.608 season. He led the league in slugging, was second with 92 runs, first with 39 homers, second with 90 walks, led with 106 RBI and of course made the Best Nine and All-Star teams once again. In 1996 he was having his best season yet (.314/.431/.616) but a bad bounce caused a broken jaw in August, ending his year. He led in OBP by 22 points, was 3rd in slugging and won his only Gold Glove.
Eto faded after that, but remained a solid threat throughout the '90s - 27 or 28 homers each year and an OBP over .370. He made the Best Nine in 1998 and was an All-Star in '98 and '99. In '97, he finished 3rd in the league in walks. In '98, he was second to Matsui in homers (34-28) and walks (104-97).
As a free agent, Eto moved to the Yomiuri Giants in 2000 and joined Matsui and Yoshinobu Takahashi in a homer-happy attack that led to Eto's first Japan Series trip and first victory. Eto hit .256/.340/.508, the lowest OBP since his rookie campaign, and hit 32 homers (3rd behind Matsui and Roberto Petagine). Eto again was also the Best Nine representative at 3B in the Central. He had a similar season stat-wise and award-wide the next year but with more contact - .285/.381/.518, 30 HR, 73 BB, 87 RBI. He made his 6th and final All-Star team and his 7th and final Best Nine.
Eto's fade from superstar to star to solid contributor continued in 2002 when he fell to .242/.322/.406 with 18 HR, his worst year yet. He was also moved from 3B to 1B as age was catching up. The Giants, no longer relying as much on Eto, won another Series. 2003 was a bit of a bounce-back; in reduced action Eto hit .268/.319/.480 with 17 HR (just 5 other extra-base hits) in 269 AB.
Eto's declining skills were becoming more and more evident. In 2004 he hit only .227/.324/.392. He was also becoming a bench player, getting just 101 PA as a pinch-hitter and sub to Petagine (now with Yomiuri) and Hiroki Kokubo. 2005, as of late September, has Eto at .184/.230/.305 with no homers in 87 AB, a far cry from arguably the most terrifying Central League power hitters of the mid-90s.
Following, the 2005 season, Eto was traded to the Seibu Lions as compensation for losing free agent closer Kiyoshi Toyoda to the Yomiuri Giants. Seeing limited action, he still was one of the team's two most-used DHes, splitting time there with Jeff Liefer. He batted .242/.342/.419 with 5 home runs in 124 AB in 2006.
Overall Eto ranks 20th in career home runs in NPB (354), tied for 6th in grand slams (12) and 22nd in walks (899) through 2006. It does not appear that he will increase his standing in any of these categories significantly before he retires.