Yukinaga Maeda (Choco) (前田 幸長)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 10", Weight 155 lb.
- High School Fukuoka Daiichi High School
- Born August 26, 1970 in Tsukushi-gun, Fukuoka Japan
He began his Nippon Pro career with the Marines, with whom he pitched from 1989 to 1995. In his first season, he made 17 appearances (seven starts), going 2-3 with a 6.94 ERA. He got his nickname "Choco" due to the number of chocolates female fans sent his way.
He went 8-13 with two saves and a 3.99 ERA in 1990, completing eight of his 20 starts; he made 33 appearances overall. In 1991, he went 8-11 with two saves and a 3.86 ERA in 30 games (22 starts), bringing his ERA down for the third season in a row. He also completed 10 games that year. He allowed a Pacific League-leading 30 home runs. He earned his only All-Star honors the next year as he went 9-14 in 28 games (26 starts) with a 3.95 ERA in 1992, again completing 10 games. He led the league with 12 wild pitches. The following season, he posted a 9-12 record with a 4.15 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) and in 1994 he struggled mightily, going 4-10 with a 6.20 ERA in 23 games (18 starts). 1995 was his final year with the Marines - he went 3-6 with a 5.10 ERA in 17 games (nine starts) that season.
Chiba Lotte then dealt Maeda with Sadaharu Hiranuma and Kazutoshi Higuchi to the Chunichi Dragons for Toru Nimura, Tadaharu Sakai and Yasushi Yamamoto. From 1996 to 2001, Maeda pitched for the Dragons. In his first season with the team, he posted the first winning record of his career, going 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 17 games (13 starts). His fortunes reversed in 1997 as his record was only 2-13 and his ERA jumped to 5.06. Though his 1997 season was lackluster, it is notable as he pitched his 1,000th inning that season. In 1998, he converted to relief pitching and performed well, making 36 appearances and going 4-2 with a 2.34 ERA. The following year, he made 25 appearances (starting four games) and went 2-0 with a save and a 2.63 ERA. In the 1999 Japan Series, he faced four batters, allowing two hits, a walk and a run as Chunichi fell to the Daiei Hawks. He was used as a starter in 12 games in 2000, going 5-4 with a 3.78 ERA - overall, he made 41 appearances that season. He pitched his final season for the Dragons in 2001, going 4-10 with a 3.41 ERA in 36 games (13 starts).
In 2002, he signed with the Yomiuri Giants, with whom he pitched until 2007. He did not start a single game with the club - he was used entirely as a reliever during his tenure with the team. In his first season, he made 53 appearances, going 4-4 with a save and a 2.74 ERA, walking only 6 in 46 innings as a LOOGY. In the 2002 Japan Series, he allowed one run in one inning but Yomiuri beat the Seibu Lions to give Yomiuri its only Japan Series title. He went 5-2 with three saves and a 3.15 ERA in 50 appearances in 2003 and in 2004, he went 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA in 44 appearances, walking two in 41 2/3 IP. His ERA shot up to 4.65 in 2005, as he went 0-0 in 50 relief appearances that season. One notable point from his 2005 season is he struck out four batters in one inning, becoming the 11th Nippon Pro pitcher to do so. Once again in 2006, his ERA ballooned to 7.23 in 28 relief appearances. He went 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in 15 games in 2007 as a sidearmer.
He moved overseas for the 2008 season, pitching for the Oklahoma RedHawks in the Pacific Coast League. He made 36 relief appearances with them, going 5-3 with a save and a 4.55 ERA. In 55 1/3 innings, he struck out 58 batters. He held left-handed batters to a .205 average but righties hit .299 against him.
In a 19-year Nippon Pro career, Maeda made 595 appearances and went 78-110 with nine saves and a 4.17 ERA. Among his other pitches, Maeda threw a knuckleball. After retirement, Maeda was a commentator for Kyushu Asahi TV.