Shinji Sasaoka (佐々岡真司)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 194 lbs.
- High School Hamada High School
Shinji Sasaoka was a six-time All-Star in Nippon Pro Baseball and also won a MVP award.
Sasaoka was picked by the Hiroshima Carp in the first round of the 1989 draft and would spend his entire 18-year career with the club. He debuted in 1990, going 13-11 with 17 saves, a 3.15 ERA and .224 opponent average. He made the Central League All-Star team and set a NPB record (since broken) with save points in 17 straight outings. He finished 5th in the league in ERA behind Masaki Saito, Masumi Kuwata, Masao Kida and Isao Koda. He lost out Rookie of the Year honors to Tsuyoshi Yoda.
Sasaoka not only didn't have a sophomore slump, but he had his best season in 1991. In 33 games, he worked 240 innings and allowed a 2.44 ERA, .215 average and 1.06 WHIP. He went 17-9 and fanned 213 to help Hiroshima win a title (their most recent one through 2011), getting the clinching victory on October 13. From April 24 to May 11, he threw 30 straight shutout innings. He led the CL in wins, batters faced (962) and ERA (.08 ahead of another Shinji, Shinji Imanaka) while falling 17 strikeouts shy of Kazuhisa Kawaguchi to deny him a pitching Triple Crown. He made both the All-Star team and the Best Nine, won the Sawamura Award and was named CL MVP. He struggled in the postseason, though, going 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in the 1991 Japan Series. He beat the Seibu Lions in game 4 but lost both game 1 and game 7.
In 1992, the Shimane native fell to 12-8, 3.38. Things got even worse in 1993 as he was 5-17 with a 4.33 ERA and .290 opponent average. He led the CL in hits allowed (206), runs allowed (93), earned runs allowed (88) and losses. He had a 7-9, 3.31 record and 6 saves in 1994, recovering his form to some degree.
Sasaoka won 7, lost 7 and saved 17 in 1995. He had a 3.05 ERA and .229 opponent average. He also was Hiroshima's Opening Day starter for the first time. Had he qualified, he would have finished 8th in the CL in ERA. In 1996, he had a superb year as a full-time reliever, going 5-7 with 23 saves, a 1.70 ERA, .217 opponent average, .99 WHIP and 71 strikeouts in 69 innings. He was the Opening Day winner and made his third All-Star team, the first since his huge 1991 campaign. He finished second in the CL in saves, two behind Kazuhiro Sasaki.
Shinji went 5-5 with 21 saves and a 2.65 ERA in 1997. He finished third in the league in saves behind two legends, Sasaki and South Korean great Dong-yol Son. In 1998, the Hiroshima hurler went 5-11 with 6 saves and a 3.79 ERA while moving back to the rotation part-time. He reached 1,000 career strikeouts when he fanned Tsuyoshi Shinjo in July.
Sasaoka had a 15-8, 3.27 record in 1999 on a 57-78 team; the team's other hurlers were thus 42-70. He was 5th in the league in ERA, between Takeo Kawamura and Kazuhiro Takeda and was 3rd in strikeouts (150), behind Koji Uehara and Kazuhisa Ishii. He led in both complete games (13) and shutouts (5). On May 8, he threw a no-hitter, the first by a Hiroshima hurler in 27 years (since Yoshiro Sotokoba). He also walked none but did hit a batter and Hiroshima made two errors behind him. At 31 years, 8 months, he was the second-oldest CL hurler (to that point) to toss a no-no. He made his 4th All-Star team as well.
The veteran got his second Opening Day start in 2000 and had an okay season (10-6, 3.97). He got his 100th career win (June 16) to become the 115th NPB hurler to 100, and also made the All-Star team again. He was 7-10 with 7 saves and a 3.59 ERA in 2001, making his 6th and last All-Star team and again serving as Opening Day starter. He was 10th in the league in ERA. In 2002, he was Hiroshima's Opening Day starter for the last time and posted a 8-9, 3.46 record. On September 4, he reached 1,500 career strikeouts by getting Atsushi Kataoka.
Sasaoka fell to 8-8 with 6 saves and a 4.89 ERA in 2003. On September 14, he reached 100 wins as a starter and 100 saves as a reliever, the second NPB pitcher to do so (5 prior pitchers had 100 wins and 100 saves, but four of the others without getting 100 starting wins). In 2004, he was 3-7 with 3 saves and a 3.87 ERA. He became the 75th NPB hurler to reach 500 career appearances.
Winding down now, Sasaoka was only 1-6 with a 6.33 ERA and .338 opponent average for the 2005 Carp. The year he turned 39, 2006, was somewhat of a rebound year as he was 8-8 with a 4.09 ERA. He was Hiroshima's #3 starter after Hiroki Kuroda and Sean Douglass. The old-timer struggled in 2007 (2-7, 6.50, .377 opponent average) and ended his playing career.
Overall, Sasaoka was 138-153 with 106 saves and a 3.58 ERA in 570 NPB games (303 starts). He struck out 1,806 in 2,344 1/3 IP and allowed a 1.25 WHIP. He tossed 17 career shutouts. At the plate, he hit .146/.187/.185.