Masafumi Hirai

From BR Bullpen

Masafumi Hirai (平井 正史)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 1", Weight 213 lb.

Biographical Information[edit]

Masafumi Hirai is a former Pacific League Rookie of the Year.

The Orix Blue Wave took Hirai in the first round in 1993. He came to the big club for 8 games in 1994 and had a deceptive 1-3 record as his ERA was 1.80 and his opponent average .204. He became Orix's closer in 1995 and went 15-5 with 27 saves and a 2.32 ERA. He gave up only one home run in 85 1/3 IP. He was timed at 97 mph early in the year, which would be the best mark in his first 15 seasons. He set a Pacific League record for save points that stood for 7 years before Kiyoshi Toyoda broke it. He also led the PL in saves, made his first All-Star team, won Rookie of the Year honors and was named Fireman of the Year. He amazingly almost led the league in both wins and saves, as he was just one win behind leader Kip Gross. He struggled in the 1995 Japan Series, losing game 2 and game 3 to the Yakult Swallows, both in extra innings. Overall, he gave up five runs and three homers (to Doug Jennings, Takahiro Ikeyama and Hensley Meulens, after only one regular season dinger) in 4 2/3 IP. Orix fell to Yakult in five games.

In 1996, Hirai had elbow problems but still was 5-3 with six saves, a 2.50 ERA and .193 opponent average. He lost the closer job to Taira Suzuki and never became a closer again. In the 1996 Japan Series, he pitched 1 2/3 shutout innings (2 hits, walk, 3 strikeouts) and the BlueWave won their only title, beating the Yomiuri Giants. He even got a save in game one, relieving Suzuki in the 10th.

Masafumi was a swingman in 1997 and put up a 2-1, 3.98 record. Back in the bullpen primarily in 1998, he was 6-3 with a save, 2.48 ERA and .213 opponent average. He missed most of 1999 (0-1, 8.40, 13 BB, 25 H in 15 IP), 2000 (0-1, 3 R in 3 2/3 IP), 2001 (9 R in 9 2/3 IP) and 2002 (4 R, 8 H, 2 BB in 4 IP).

Orix then dealt him to the Chunichi Dragons for former home run king Takeshi Yamasaki, who would still have many years good ahead. In fact, the move turned out well for both players, as Yamasaki was named the PL's Comeback Player of the Year and Hirai won the Central League Comeback Player of the Year for 2003. In 40 games (20 starts), he went 12-6 with a 3.06 ERA and only 25 walks in 144 1/3 innings. He was second in the CL in ERA (.26 behind leader Kei Igawa), tied 5 others for the shutout lead (2) and tied Masanori Ishikawa for 5th in wins (the four pitchers with more all would spend time in MLB).

The Uwajima native went 5-6 with five saves and a 3.93 ERA in 38 games (10 starts) in 2004. He struggled in the 2004 Japan Series (7 H, 3 R in 3 1/3 IP) as Chunichi fell in seven to the Seibu Lions. In 2005, the veteran went 4-4 with a save and a 3.83 ERA in 55 relief outings. Hirai pitched 57 games in 2006 and was very effective (5-3, 2.20, .222 opponent average). He threw one scoreless inning in the 2006 Japan Series but the Dragons lost to the Nippon Ham Fighters.

In 2007, the 32-year-old right-hander was 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA. He threw 1 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings in the 2007 Japan Series, though he walked two. He won his second Japan Series as Chunichi beat Nippon Ham in five. Hirai struggled in 2008 for his worst performance in six years (1-1, 5.14, .310 average). He was 0-1 with a save and a 4.26 ERA in 25 games in 2009. He went 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 46 games in a resurgent 2010.

Sources include Japan Baseball Daily, Chinese Wiki Baseball