Katsunori Hirai

From BR Bullpen

Katsunori Hirai (平井 克典)

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 183 lbs.

BR register page

Biographical Information[edit]

Katsunori Hirai has pitched in Nippon Pro Baseball.

Hirai was drafted by the Seibu Lions in the fifth round of the 2016 NPB draft, and he soon joined their bullpen as a rookie. He had a solid 2.40 ERA in 40 relief outings, and notched 10 holds.[1] He represented Japan in the 2017 Asia Professional Baseball Championship, and won Gold. Hirai was the main setup pitcher of the Lions in 2018, and he collected 21 holds with a 3.40 ERA in 64 games. He ranked 7th in holds (16 behind Naoki Miyanishi) and 5th in appearances (8 behind Ren Kajiya). In the 2018 PLCS final stage, he relieved Ken Togame in the 7th inning of Game 1 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda first but then allowed a single to Seiichi Uchikawa. Ryuya Ogawa replaced him and allowed a two-run double to Yuya Hasegawa, then Keizo Kawashima's single gave Hirai an earned run.He then recorded a shutout inning in Game 4, and pitched 1/3 of a inning with a single allowed to Tetsuro Nishida in Game 5. The Hawks beat the Lions in 5 games.

The Aichi native had his career year so far in 2019. He pitched an incredible 81 games with a 3.50 ERA and 36 holds, and ranked 2nd in holds (7 behind Miyanishi). He broke Kazuhisa Inao's Pacific League record for appearances set in 1961, and he was 9 games shy from beating Tomoyuki Kubota's NPB record.[2] He relieved Kota Futaki in the 5th inning of 2019 NPB All-Star Game 2, retired Ryutaro Umeno and Yota Kyoda then Koji Chikamoto hit a double. He forced Shuhei Takahashi to ground out, and Rei Takahashi replaced him.[3] The Lions won the pennant for the second straight year, and they met the Hawks in the 2019 PLCS again. Hirai relieved Ogawa in the 8th inning of Game 1, but he allowed back-to-back singles to Yuki Yanagita and Alfredo Despaigne after retiring Kenta Imamiya. Kaima Taira then relieved him, but Hasegawa hit a RBI single, and Hirai got the loss. Hirai's next appearance was in Game 2, but he still struggled. He relieved Ogawa after Yanagita drew a walk, and Despaigne singled before Akira Nakamura bunted. Shuhei Fukuda's double then drove in two runs. Hirai then walked Kenji Akashi, and finally retired Hasegawa to end this long inning. He pitched a shutout inning in Game 4, but couldn't stop the Hawks from sweeping the Lions. He won 35 points in the 2019 PL MVP Voting, finishing 7th, between Zach Neal and Masataka Yoshida and well behind Tomoya Mori's 1,189 points.[4]

Hirai slumped to 5-5 with a 4.18 ERA in 2020, and he decided to become a starter. He was a swingman in 2021, started in 11 of his 25 appearances, and recorded a 4.22 ERA. He improved to 6-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 2022, and started 13 games. When Taira was moved to the rotation in 2023, Hirai became a full-time reliever again. He notched 28 holds in 54 appearances with a 2.55 ERA, and ranked 2nd in holds (13 behind Luis Perdomo).

Hirai's repertoire features a fastball that peaks at 91.9 mph, a cutter, shuuto and a forkball.