Hayato Sakamoto

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Hayato Sakamoto (坂本 勇人)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Hayato Sakamoto set several "firsts" as a rookie in Japan and won a MVP 11 years later. He also was Asia Series MVP and hit the first home run in Premier 12 annals.

Sakamoto was born a left-hander but learned to throw right-handed because he had a hand-me-down glove from his brother. Hayato debuted as a pro with the Yomiuri Giants in 2007, going 1 for 3 with a steal, run and 2 RBI.

Sakamoto hit .257/.297/.353 in 2008 and made the Central League All-Star team. Sakamoto became the first rookie to be in the Opening Day lineup of the Giants since Hideki Matsui. On April 6, he hit a grand slam off Kenta Abe, becoming the youngest CL player to hit a grand slam. He started every game as a rookie, the first CL player ever to do so in their second year out of high school - only two prior players had ever done it in Nippon Pro Baseball, superstars Futoshi Nakanishi and Kazuhiro Kiyohara. In the process, he bumped All-Star Tomohiro Nioka from the shortstop spot. Sakamoto finished second in voting for the 2008 Central League Rookie of the Year Award, behind teammate Tetsuya Yamaguchi. He was 3 for 18 with a walk, double and homer in the 2008 Japan Series. The home run was the first by a teenager in the Japan Series since Kiyohara in 1986.

Sakamoto improved significantly in 2009, hitting .306/.357/.466 with 33 doubles, 18 home runs and 87 runs, making another All-Star squad. He tied Hirokazu Ibata for 4th in the CL in average behind Alex Ramirez, Seiichi Uchikawa and Michihiro Ogasawara. He tied Norichika Aoki and Tony Blanco for the league lead in runs scored, was second in hits (178, 8 behind teammate Ramirez), was 4th in doubles (behind Masahiko Morino, Tomoaki Kanemoto and Ramirez), was 6th in total bases (271), tied Aaron Guiel for 5th in strikeouts (101), was 10th in OBP and was 10th in slugging. He finished 6th in the voting for the 2009 Central League Most Valuable Player Award. He was named to the Best Nine as the league's top shortstop.

Sakamoto kept on rolling in 2010 with a .281/.332/.504 batting line, 31 home runs, 107 runs and 85 RBI. He led the CL in runs (two ahead of Matt Murton), tied Murton for 5th in doubles (35), was 4th in total bases (307, between Kazuhiro Wada and Murton), ranked 7th in homers (between Kenji Johjima and Blanco), tied for second in sacrifice flies (7, one behind Takahiro Arai) and was 9th in slugging (between Johjima and Blanco). He set a Giants record for homers by a shortstop but failed to make the Best Nine as Takashi Toritani was picked instead.

Offensive numbers were down in Japan in 2011 with a new standard baseball and Hayato hit .262/.313/.401. He was among the CL leaders in runs (69, 3rd after Aoki and Toritani), doubles (27, tied for 3rd with Shuichi Murata), hits (149, 8th between Toritani and Arai), total bases (228, tied for 5th with Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Wladimir Balentien), intentional walks (8, 1st) and strikeouts (91, 8th).

Sakamoto improved again in 2012, when the 23-year-old star produced at a .311/.359/.456 rate with 35 doubles, 16 steals in 17 tries and 87 runs. He was among the league leaders this time in almost every offensive department: average (2nd, .029 behind teammate Shinnosuke Abe), runs (1st, 3 ahead of teammate Hisayoshi Chono), hits (173, tied for first with Chono), doubles (1st, 3 over Wada), homers (14, tied for 6th with Chono and Shota Dobayashi), RBI (4th, between Ramirez and Blanco), steals (tied for 7th with Takahiro Suzuki), OBP (6th, between Wada and Hirokazu Ibata), slugging (4th, between Ramirez and Chono), OPS (3rd behind Abe and Lastings Milledge) and total bases (254, 2nd, 10 behind Abe). He helped the Giants to the 2012 Japan Series and 2012 Asia Series titles; in the latter event, he was named MVP, going 4 for 13 with 4 RBI.

He started at short for Japan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic; it was the first World Baseball Classic Japan did not win. He hit .231/.240/.360, the highlight being a grand slam off Berry van Driel of the Dutch national team. He drove in six runs in six games, tying Anthony Rizzo, Robinson Cano, Chono, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, Andrelton Simmons and José Miguel Fernandez for 9th in the event in RBI. He hit .265/.334/.394 in 2013, with 33 doubles and 24 steals in 28 tries. He was second in doubles (four behind Murton), second in steals (5 behind fellow future MVP Yoshihiro Maru), tied Toritani for 7th in total bases and was 8th in walks (between Arai and Morino). He struggled in the 2013 Japan Series (.200/.259/.280) and made an error in the finale that scored Ginji Akaminai with the winning run as Yomiuri fell to the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

The Hyogo native's 2014 batting line was .279/.344/.420; he hit 16 home runs, scored 82 runs and went 23-for-28 in steal attempts. He tied Chono and Aarom Baldiris for 8th in the CL with 29 doubles, was 9th in runs (between Shingo Kawabata and Mauro Gomez), tied Ryosuke Kikuchi for 5th in swipes and was 10th in walks (between Abe and Ryosuke Hirata). He was 5th in voting for the 2014 Central League Most Valuable Player Award, between Seung-hwan Oh and Chono, but lost out on a Best Nine spot as Toritani got picked. He was with Japan for the 2014 Nichi-Bei Series, including a two-run homer off Jeremy Guthrie, as Japan took the series for only the second time.

His numbers dropped off at the plate in 2015 (.269/.353/.401, 10 SB, 12 HR) though he drew 65 walks, tying Kosuke Fukudome for 5th in the CL. He got one first-place vote for the 2015 Central League Most Valuable Player Award. He made Japan's squad for the 2015 Premier 12, going deep off South Korea's Woo-ram Jung for the first Premier 12 home run ever. He hit .200/.235/.333 for the event but won the Outstanding Defensive Player award.

Hayato started 2016 NPB All-Star Game 1 for the CL and homered off Ayumu Ishikawa in the 4th for the game's first hit; he was 1 for 3 before Keiji Obiki took over in a 5-4 CL win. He was 0 for 3 in Game 2, before Obiki replaced him. He had a very strong 2016 - .344/.433/.555, 96 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 81 BB. He won the batting title (.009 ahead of Seiya Suzuki), the OBP title (.003 ahead of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo), was 4th in slugging (between Tetsuto Yamada and Jose Lopez), was 4th in OPS (between Suzuki and Balentien), was 4th in runs (between Maru and Kikuchi), was 3rd in hits (168, behind Kikuchi and Yohei Oshima), tied Chono and Tsutsugo for 3rd in doubles, was 8th in home runs, ranked 10th in RBI, tied for 8th in steals, was 4th in walks (between Maru and Kosuke Tanaka) and was 4th in total bases (between Suzuki and Maru). He won a Gold Glove and made the Best Nine; despite an impressive offensive season for a shortstop and a Gold Glove and batting title, he only finished 9th in voting for the 2016 Central League Most Valuable Player Award.

He was Japan's starting shortstop in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and fared better than four years prior - he hit .417/.481/.542 with 6 runs in 6 games. He tied for 7th in the WBC in runs, tied for 5th in hits (10, even with Carlos Beltran, Brandon Crawford, Yurisbel Gracial, Eric Hosmer, Francisco Lindor and Angel Pagan) and tied for 5th in doubles. He did not make the All-Tournament Team as Lindor was chosen at short. In 2017 NPB All-Star Game 1, he hit 3rd for the CL and went 1 for 3 with a steal and a run in a 6-2 loss; his hit was off Taisuke Yamaoka. Kosuke Tanaka replaced him at short. In Game 2, he took over for Tanaka in a 3-1 loss and grounded out against Yuta Kuroki in his lone plate appearance. He fielded .987, a new high for him, in 2017 and won a Gold Glove. He also hit .291/.372/.430 with 68 walks, 30 doubles, 15 home runs, 82 runs and 14 steals in 20 tries but Tanaka got the pick for Best Nine. He was on the CL leaderboard in average (9th, between Toritani and Yoshio Itoi), OBP (10th, between Fukudome and Brad Eldred), runs (8th, between Takayuki Kajitani and Yamada), hits (157, 6th), doubles (7th), steals (tied for 9th with Yamada), total bases (232, 8th) and walks (8th).

Sakamoto went 0 for 5 in the 2018 NPB All-Star Games, hitting 3rd in Game 1 and 1st in Game 2. He had a great year at .345/.424/.537 with 27 doubles, 18 homers, 61 walks and 87 runs. He nearly won his second batting title, losing to Dayan Viciedo by .003. He was 4th in OBP (between Yamada and Itoi), 8th in slugging (between Kazuma Okamoto and Balentien), 7th in OPS (between Viciedo and Okamoto), 6th in runs (between Viciedo and Suzuki), tied Kento Itohara for 10th in hits (152) and tied Ryutaro Umeno and Kikuchi for 10th in doubles (27). He made the Best Nine but again fared poorly on the MVP front, like his batting title season, not getting a 1st-place, 2nd-place or 3rd-place vote for the 2018 Central League Most Valuable Player Award though 14 other players did get votes.

He was 1 for 4 in 2019 NPB All-Star Game 1 before Yota Kyoda replaced him late and was 1 for 1 after succeeding Kyoda in Game 2. He showed a big boost in power in 2019 with 40 home runs. He hit .312/.396/.575 with 103 runs, 94 RBI and 77 walks. He was 5th in the CL in average (between Oshima and Ryuma Nishikawa), 4th in OBP, led in slugging (.010 ahead of Suzuki), 2nd in OPS (47 behind Suzuki), 2nd in runs (9 behind Suzuki), 2nd in hits (173, 1 behind Oshima), 2nd in homers (3 behind Neftali Soto), 1st in total bases (319, 28 ahead of Yamada), tied Okamoto for 4th in RBI and 5th in walks (between Maru and Munetaka Murakami). He was just 1 for 13 in the 2019 Japan Series as Yomiuri was swept by the Softbank Hawks; he ended the Series by striking out against Yuito Mori with a 4-3 deficit in the 9th and a man on. He was not the only Yomiuri star to be shut down by the Hawks hurlers, as Maru and Okamoto also sputtered. After little MVP support in his last two big campaigns, he was a runaway winner of the 2019 Central League Most Valuable Player Award with 261 first-place votes to 24 for Shun Yamaguchi and 1,403 vote points to Yamaguchi's 665. He also won a Gold Glove and made the Best Nine. Amazingly, he was the first shortstop in the CL's 70 seasons to win a MVP; the only PL shortstop to have done so was Kazuo Matsui, an indication that Japanese MVP voters were giving less weight to positional adjustments than MLB MVP voters.

In the 2019 Premier 12, Sakamoto won a world title with Japan after falling shy in his prior three tries. He produced at a .308/.333/.385 clip with 6 runs in 7 games. He was 4th in the event in runs (behind Suzuki, Jonathan Jones and Ha-seong Kim) and tied for 8th in hits (8, even with Hyun-soo Kim, Erik Kratz, Efren Navarro and Kikuchi). In the Gold Medal Game, he was 1 for 3 with a walk, double and two runs in a 5-3 win over South Korea. He did not make the All-World team as Ha-seong Kim was picked at short.

On June 3, 2020, he was one of two Yomiuri Giants players, with Takumi Oshiro, whose antibodies test for the coronavirus came back positive. This forced the cancellation of that day's practice game and the formal testing of everyone on the team who had been in contact with the players. He was hospitalized as a preventive measure, and the whole incident put the presumptive resumption of the NPB season, scheduled for June 12th, in question. He came back in time to reach 2,000 career hits later in the season, becoming the 53rd NPB player to do so, winning him entry in the meikyukai. A double off Albert Suárez was #2,000.