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Atsushi Kataoka

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Atsushi Kataoka

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 2", Weight 205 lb.

Atsushi Kataoka was a five-time All-Star, playing primarily third base, for the Nippon Ham Fighters who later joined the Hanshin Tigers and made another All-Star roster.

In high school, Kataoka hit cleanup for the great PL Gakuen High School clubs that won the 1987 spring Koshien and 1987 summer Koshien. In college, he won a batting title in the Kansai Big Six University League and was repeatedly chosen to the Best Nines. He was picked by Nippon Ham in the second round of the 1991 NPB draft.

Kataoka made a fine debut, hitting .290/.342/.413 in 1992, then following with a .287/.380/.481 campaign as he almost doubled his walk total (33 to 63) and made his first Pacific League All-Star team. In '94, Atsushi batted just .219/.312/.350 in a major off-year. Moving to first base in 1995 as Tetsuro Hirose took over third, Kataoka only managed a .224/.330/.319 line but thankfully, the Fighters made a wise decision to stick with him.

In '96, Kataoka emerged as a star, producing at a .315/.408/.486 clip. He won a Gold Glove at first and made his first Best Nine. In the PL, he was second to Ichiro Suzuki in average and OBP (14 points behind). 1997 marked his second All-Star selection and he hit .286/.383/.447 with 17 homers and 81 walks. With the legendary 1B Hiromitsu Ochiai joining the team, he returned to third and won another Gold Glove there.

Kataoka's best season came at age 28-29 in 1998 with a .300/.434/.470 line. His 113 walks were a new Pacific League record, breaking Kazuhiro Kiyohara's mark of 105, though he was far shy of Sadaharu Oh's Nippon Pro Baseball record. He led the PL in OBP (23 points ahead of Ichiro and more than 50 over third place), made his third All-Star team, won his third and last Gold Glove and made his second and last Best Nine. His 89 runs were second in the league to Kazuo Matsui (92) and he drew 28 more walks than runner-up Yasuo Fujii.

In '99, he only drew 61 walks while hitting .274/.364/.444 and earning another All-Syar spot; he followed with his second-best year. As part of the "Big Bang Offense" along with Michihiro Ogasawara, Nigel Wilson and Sherman Obando, he set career highs in homers (21), runs (92) and RBI (97) in an offense-friendly year. He batted .290/.406/.484 with a league-leading 101 walks and had nine sacrifice flies to lead the loop. He made his fifth All-Star team that year.

Kataoka's production fell significantly in 2001 as he hit .254/.346/.424 with only 57 walks. He still smacked 16 homers but his doubles were almost half of his prior season's production.

Becoming a free agent, Kataoka signed with Hanshin Tigers. He only had 11 homers and 53 walks while striking out a career-high 110 times but still made his final All-Star team, this time in the Central League. He hit just .228/.317/.346 that season. He had one last resurgent season in 2003 with a strong .296/.366/.497 campaign in which he also showed fine defense (Kazuyoshi Tatsunami won the Gold Glove that year). He was 1 for 9 with two walks in the 2003 Japan Series.

Atsushi was moved to the bench in 2004 as Kentaro Sekimoto became Hanshin's starting third baseman. Kataoka showed good power and walking ability but hit just .205 so his .340 OBP and .364 slugging were merely okay for a bench player. In '05, he only homered once in 57 AB, slipping to .211/.370/.281 in fifty games as a one-dimensional offensive player. He went 1 for 5 with a walk in the 2005 Japan Series. His career line through 2005 was .272/.369/.426

After he fell even further in 2006 (.148/.205/.208 as of September 26) and announced he would retire at year's end. He was proclaimed as one of the biggest free agent busts in NPB history by Gary Garland, a Japanese baseball analyst. It was rumored that Kataoka would become an announcer.

Main source: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

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