Taigen Kaku

From BR Bullpen


Taigen Kaku (郭 泰源) (Oriental Express) known as Tai-Yuan Kuo in Taiwan

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 160 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Taigen Kaku was one of the greatest foreign pitchers in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball and pitched 13 years for the Seibu Lions after a stint with Taiwan in the 1984 Olympics. Kaku was known for his fastball (once timed at 97 mph, the fastest in Asia at the time) and slider. He won his nickname Oriental Express because of his elite fastball. Orestes Destrade described him as having the best stuff on the dynastic Lions: "He was just nasty." (Quote from "Remembering Japanese Baseball" by Rob Fitts) He is the brother of Fu-Chia Kuo and uncle of Tzu-Sung Wang.

Kaku represented Taiwan in the 1982 Amateur World Series, 1983 Intercontinental Cup and 1983 Asian Championship. He completed the game against USA in the 1984 Olympics, and only allowed 2 runs because of John Marzano's two-run shot. He then pitched 4 2/3 innings with only one run allowed against Japan in the quarter-final. Taiwan lost to Japan in extra innings and won third place; baseball was not yet a medal event in the Olympics. The Lions then signed him in 1984 with a 80-million-yen signing bonus.

The Taiwan native joined the rotation as a rookie, and went 9-5 with a league-leading 3 shutouts and a 2.52 ERA in 1985. He was selected into the 1985 NPB All-Star Game, but refused to pitch due to a shoulder injury. He also completed a no-hitter, doing so on June 4 against the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He was the first foreign pitcher to throw a no-no in PL annals; Gene Bacque had done it in the Central League. Kaku suffered a shoulder injury in 1986, and became the closer after recovering. He notched 16 saves with a 2.91 ERA, and came back to the rotation on September. In the 1986 Nippon Series, Kaku started in Game 3 but allowed 4 runs in 4 2/3 innings and got the loss to Hiroshi Nagatomi. He then relieved Hirohisa Matsunuma in Game 6, pitched 3 1/3 shutout innings and collected a save. The Lions beat the Hiroshima Carp in 7 games, and Kaku won his first Nippon Series title.

Kaku was a member of the Lions' rotation in 1987, and went 13-4 with a 3.02 ERA. He was 7th in wins (6 behind Yukihiko Yamaoki) and 6th in ERA (.61 behind Kimiyasu Kudo). In the 1987 Nippon Series, Kaku started in Game 3, and completed the game with only a run allowed to beat Suguru Egawa and the Yomiuri Giants. He extended his solid pitching in 1988, had a 13-3 record with a 2.41 ERA and led the league in winning percentage and WHIP. He ranked 5th in wins, 2nd in ERA (.03 behind Hirofumi Kono) and 4th in complete games (6 behind Yukihiro Nishizaki). He completed 15 of his 18 starts. The Lions advanced to the Nippon Series for the third straight year, and Kaku started in Game 2. He allowed 7 runs to the Chunichi Dragons in 7 2/3 innings and got the loss. Kaku also met his countrymen Genji Kaku in this game, and they became the first pair of Taiwanese pitchers to pitch for both sides in Nippon Series; Genji got the win for Chunichi in that game. The Lions beat the Dragons in 5 games, and Kaku won his third Nippon Series title.

The "Oriental Express" didn't stop in 1989, as he collected 10 wins with a 3.27 ERA and a league-leading 1.11 WHIP. He was 9th in strikeouts (66 behind Hideyuki Awano) and 3rd in ERA (.77 behind Choji Murata). Kaku was selected into the 1990 NPB All-Star Game. However, he suffered a shoulder injury after the All-Star break, so he only went 9-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 1990; he pitched a shutout inning in Game 1 of the 1990 Japan Series. The Lions won the PL pennant again, and Kaku started in Game 4. He pitched 6 innings, only allowed 3 runs to beat Kazutomo Miyamoto and help the Lions sweep the Giants and won his fourth title.

The 1991 season was Kaku's career year. He was named Pacific League MVP after he went 15-6 with a 2.94 ERA and led the league with 4 shutouts. The ace of the Lions complete 9 straight games from July 30 to September 28, set the team record and ranked 2nd-longest in Pacific League history (1 game behind Keishi Suzuki in 1978). He finished third in the league in ERA (.24 behind Tomio Watanabe), 4th in wins (2 behind Hideo Nomo) and 4th in complete games (10 behind Nomo). Kaku also won the Best Nine for the only time and won a NPB Gold Glove. In the MVP Voting, he gained 89 of 135 first place votes. Koji Akiyama was next with 28 first-place votes. He didn't pitch well in the Game 1 of the 1991 Nippon Series, losing to Kazuhisa Kawaguchi and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp as he allowed 4 runs in 4 1/3 innings. He bounced back soon, only allowed one run in 5 innings in Game 6. The Lions beat the Carp in 7 games.

Kaku was still productive in 1992, and he had a 14-4 record with a 2.41 ERA. He became the fifth pitcher to complete a shutout in 3 consecutive games, on September 8, and won his second Gold Glove. He ranked 3rd in wins (4 behind Nomo), 2nd in shutouts and 3rd in ERA (.61 behind Motoyuki Akahori). The Lions won their sixth pennant in 7 years, and Kaku had a solid performance again. He beat the Yakult Swallows and Daisuke Araki in Game 2 with his 6 1/3 shutout innings; Tetsuya Shiozaki saved it for him. He didn't pitch in the rest of the series because he was hit by Jack Howell's comebacker, but the Lions still beat the Swallows in 7 games.

The Tainan native only went 8-8 with a 3.51 ERA in 1993. He started in Game 2 of the 1993 Nippon Series against Tatsuji Nishimura of the Swallows, but allowed 4 runs in 2 innings and got the loss. He bounced back soon, pitched 6 shutout innings and got the win over Nishimura in Game 6, but he couldn't stop the Swallows from winning the title in the next game. Kaku slumped to 13-5 with a 4.94 ERA in the next season, and he was removed from the rotation. His only appearance in the 1994 Nippon Series was in Game 4, and he allowed 2 runs in 2 2/3 innings and had a no-decision. The Lions were beaten by the Giants in 5 games.

Kaku came back in 1995, and attended the 1995 NPB All-Star Game; he allowed a run in 2 innings in Game 1. The veteran ended up 8-6 with a 2.54 ERA, and being 0.01 shy of winning his first ERA title, just behind Hideki Irabu. He struggled in 1996, and allowed 48 runs in 52 1/3 innings. Kaku became the first foreign player to lose "gaijin" status when determining roster limits (NPB limits the number of foreign players - those with 10 or more years in NPB are no longer counted as gaijin). It would be a decade before Tuffy Rhodes became the second such qualifier. However, he only pitched one more game for the Lions, then announced his retirement after the 1997 season.

Kaku became the manager of the Macoto Cobras of the CPBL in 2004, but he only managed them for 2 seasons. He then served as pitching coach for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from 2012 to 2014. He came back to the CPBL and became the bench coach for the Uni-President Lions in 2015 and managed them in 2016, but left the team after they only had a .458 winning percentage in 2016. He also managed Taiwan in the 2007 Baseball World Cup, 2007 Asian Championship, 2015 Premier 12 and 2017 World Baseball Classic and coached for them in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, 2009 Baseball World Cup, 2010 Haarlem Baseball Week and 2010 Asian Games. He was inducted into the Taiwan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.

Overall, Kaku was 117-68 with a 3.16 ERA and 1,069 strikeouts, pitched 1,682 1/3 innings in 13 years in NPB. His 117 career wins was the most for a gaijin in NPB history. He was considered the best Taiwanese player in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball by some; Shosei Go was also a long-time star in Japan but he was born when Taiwan was not independent, being part of the Japanese empire at the time.