also known as Masaaki Saitoh
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 198 lb.
- High School Kawaguchi Municipal High School
Saito starts his career
Masaki Saito was one of the elite pitchers in Nippon Pro Baseball in the 1990s. The first round draft pick of the Yomiuri Giants in 1982, he spent his entire career with the franchise before retiring in 2001. He made his debut with Yomiuri in 1984 and went 4-0 with a 3.07 ERA, used primarily as a reliever. In 1985 Saito became a swingman and went 12-8 with 7 saves, a league-best 4 shutouts and a 2.96 ERA. At the age of 20, he finished third in the Central League in ERA. 1986 saw a decreased role for Masaki, as he went 7-3 with one save and a 2.40 ERA in 35 games, again moving out of the regular rotation. He only pitched 6 games for the Giants the next year, allowing 14 hits and 4 homers in 5 innings, with an ERA of 18.00. Saito went 6-3 with 3 saves and a 1.89 ERA in 1988, his last and most successful year as a reliever.
Saito emerges as one of the great Central League hurlers
In 1989 Saito moved into the rotation for good and become a star. He went 20-7 that season with a 1.62 ERA. He set an NPB record with 11 consecutive wins during the year and led the Central League in wins (tied with Takashi Nishimoto), shutouts (7), complete games (21) and ERA. He made his first All-Star team, his first Best Nine and won his first Sawamura Award. A year later he was the Central League MVP after a 20-5, 2.17 season. He again led the league in wins, shutouts (6), complete games (19) and ERA and also won a Gold Glove and led in innings (224). The Pacific League's Hideo Nomo beat him out for the Sawamura that season. 1991 was an off-year for Saito (11-11, 3.38) but he recovered in 1992 with a 17-6, 2.59 campaign. He led the league in wins for the third time, won a Gold Glove, made the Best Nine for the third time and pitched 5 shutouts for his fourth time leading in whitewashes.
At the age of 28 in 1993, Saito slipped again, this time to 9-11 with a 3.19 ERA. Despite one of his worst years, he still had the 6th-best ERA in the Central. In 1994 Saito was part of a fine Yomiuri staff that led the team to a Japan Series title; he had a 14-8 record and 2.53 ERA, finishing third in the league in ERA, tied for third in wins and second with 169 strikeouts. His 5 shutouts made him a five-time leader in that category. He returned to the All-Star team that year.
Saito won his second Sawamura Award in 1995 with an 18-10, 2.70 season. He led the Central League in wins for the fourth time, in innings (213) for the second time, in strikeouts (187) for the first and only time, complete games (16) for the third time and in shutouts (6) for the sixth time. He won his third Gold Glove, made his fourth Best Nine and his fourth All-Star team. He finished second in the loop in ERA. 1996 was another great year. In one of his six opening-day starts, he threw a one-hitter against the Hanshin Tigers. It was the third consecutive season in which he threw a shutout in Yomiuri's first game. He led the CL in shutouts a seventh time with 4, but this time Ken Yamasaki tied him for the lead. Saito also led in ERA - at 2.36 he was .69 better than the #2 man that year, Balvino Galvez. He tied teammate Galvez for the most wins (16), though his 4 losses were 2 less than Galvez had. He was second in the league with 158 strikeouts. He became the only Central League pitcher to date to lead the league five times in wins and three times in ERA. He won his 4th Gold Glove, 5th Best Nine, 5th All-Star spot and most impressively, his third Sawamura Award. That tied him for the most career Sawamura Awards with fellow legends Shigeru Sugishita, Masaichi Kaneda and Minoru Murayama.
Injuries began to hamper Saito's effectiveness at the age of 32 in 1997 and he would never lead the league in anything again. He was 6-8 with a 4.11 ERA that year, his highest mark in a season with more than 5 innings. He made his final All-Star team in 1998 with a rebound 10-7, 3.08 season. He was 9th in the league in ERA and arguably the top Yomiuri starter. In 1999 the veteran moundsman was 5-2 with a 4.66 ERA and rookie Koji Uehara had clearly became the team's ace. Masaki only made five appearances in 2000, but they were dandies. He went 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA, just 20 hits allowed in 32 1/3 innings and struck out 20 while walking just 4. He finished his career in 2001 at 2-2 with a 4.32 ERA, working out of the bullpen at times again.
After retiring, Saito became a coach with Yomiuri.
Saito was 180-96 with 11 saves and a 2.77 ERA in his NPB career. He ranks 22nd all-time in ERA (as of 2005) among pitchers with 2,000 or more innings and is 21st in shutouts. Presumably his .652 winning percentage is among the best ever. As mentioned, he is one of just four 3-time Sawamura Award winners and is the only CLer with 5 win titles and 3 ERA titles. While his career counting statistics are limited by a somewhat short career of a starter (only about 10 full seasons) his peak performance and rate statistics are very impressive. His 7 shutout titles are also apparently a record. He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Main source: japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland