After a terrific nine-year run in Major League Baseball, veteran reliever Koji Uehara has returned to the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the team announced (link via the Japan Times). Carlos Yamakazi of the Tokyo Sports Press had previously tweeted that Uehara would sign there and that the deal would be announced today.
Now entering his age-43 season, Uehara began his professional career with the Yomiuri organization nearly two decades ago. Uehara spent 10 seasons with the Giants, making 205 starts and another 71 relief appearances as he worked to a 3.01 ERA with 8.0 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 112 wins, nine shutouts and 33 saves before making the jump to Major League Baseball after the 2008 season.
Uehara initially landed with the Orioles on a two-year deal prior to the 2009 season and turned in a solid but injury-shortened season as a starter. He moved to the bullpen full-time the following season and never looked back, establishing himself as one of the more effective relievers in all of baseball for much of the next decade.
From 2010-15, Uehara was something of a perennially underappreciated star. The righty twice posted a sub-2.00 ERA in that six-year stretch and averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings each season along the way. Overall, Uehara logged a stellar 2.08 ERA between the Orioles, Rangers and Red Sox in that time, and his K/BB numbers were particularly astonishing over that dominant stretch: 11.4 K/9 against 1.2 BB/9.
Perhaps his crowning individual achievement, though, was being named the 2013 ALCS MVP with the eventual World Champion Red Sox. Uehara’s postseason career featured 18 innings of 3.00 ERA ball with a 21-to-2 K/BB ratio, and he was utterly dominant in that 2013 League Championship Series, tossing six shutout innings with just four hits allowed, no walks and nine strikeouts against the Tigers.
Uehara was still effective in 2016-17 and still posted quality K/BB numbers, but he became more homer-prone in the two most recent seasons, averaging 1.5 homers per nine innings pitched between the Red Sox and his lone season with the Cubs (2017). The righty had been holding out hope for a big league opportunity and at one point said he was weighing retirement if such an offer did not materialize. However, Uehara recently indicated that he still had the passion and competitive drive pulling him toward the playing field and reconsidered interest from several Japanese clubs.
“There is only one thing for me to do, and that is to play my heart out,” said Uehara upon signing with the Giants (via the aforementioned Japan Times report). “Other Japanese clubs showed interest, but the Giants were the team whose approach was enthusiastic, and I am grateful.”
It seems likely that this reunion could spell the end of Uehara’s time in Major League Baseball, and if that’s he case he can look back with pride at what was an outstanding career in North America. In 480 2/3 innings, Uehara delivered a 2.66 ERA with 10.7 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 1.12 HR/9, 22 wins and 95 saves. Baseball-Reference pegged him at 13.8 WAR in his career, while Fangraphs’ RA9-WAR largely concurred at 13.7. In all, he earned just north of $50MM in his MLB playing career.
Le Grande Orangerie
Can Jake Arrieta be far behind?
Always loved Koji, he had a great career in the US
And same haircut throughout his entire career
I remember, it was easy to tell he was something special as early as April in the 2013 season. There was a game against the rays that was tied going into the ninth inning and Joel Hanrahan, our closer for the first month, walked the first two batters on eight pitches. Koji came in and struck out the side on 11 pitches from that point which was their 3-4-5. And then Shane Victorino wins it with a walk off infield hit against a typical Joe Maddon five infielder, two outfielder defense.
They were so hesitant to make him the closer because of health concerns but when Hanrahan and Bailey both went down with injuries and Tazawa couldn’t handle it mentally they had no choice but to run with it. Inning for inning, watching this guy was like watching Pedro in his prime. So fast and so dominant, I think he even had a stretch during the season where he retired 37 consecutive batters which is a 12.1 inning perfect game. Thanks for the memories Koji!
Koji Uehara was a great signing for the Orioles. He was one of the guys that was traded that helped get the Orioles back in the win column. Who knew the O’s would get a 50 HR 1st baseman and a bad starter turned solid RP.
Man I was hoping the Sox would bring him back. Can’t believe no on wanted him, he was decent last year.
Yeah he was good last year, shocked he didn’t get signed.
I wonder if he had major league offers but smaller than what he got from the Giants.
Thanks to Koji for what he gave to the Sox! My wife will miss him, for some whacked reason