Yoshihiro Maru (丸佳浩)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 10", Weight 176 lb.
- High School Chiba Keizaidai Fuzoku High School
Yoshihiro Maru has been a MVP outfielder in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Maru was taken by the Hiroshima Carp in the third round of the 2007 NPB draft for high schoolers. He missed time his first year in the minors with injuries to his elbow and toe and a norovirus. He hit .277 with 21 steals in the minors in 2010. He was called up to Hiroshima later in the year. In his debut, he pinch-hit for Ren Nakata and was retired by Marc Kroon. His first hit came off Takehiko Oshimoto, singling as a pinch-hitter for Keisuke Imai. He was 3 for 19 with two walks, a steal, a run and a RBI in 14 games for the Carp in 2010.
His first NPB homer came off Tomokazu Ohka on April 19, 2011. He became Hiroshima's starting center fielder that year, unseating Soichiro Amaya and Masato Akamatsu. He hit .241/.319/.359. He was 4th in the Central League with 105 strikeouts (between Takahiro Arai and Shuichi Murata). In 2012, he batted .247/.353/.353 with 14 steals in 20 tries, splitting CF with Amaya and Akamatsu and backing up Jun Hirose in RF.
By 2013, he was back in a starting role in center, usually hitting leadoff or second. He produced at a .273/.376/.425 clip with 85 walks, 14 home runs, 82 runs and 29 steals but was caught 15 times. He won a Gold Glove after fielding .992 (albeit with just one assist); Sho Aranami and Hisayoshi Chono were the other CL Gold Glove winners. He made the CL leaders in runs (tying Chonost for second behind Wladimir Balentien), doubles (25, 9th), triples (5, 1st), steals (1st, 5 over Hayato Sakamoto), caught stealing (1st, 6 more than anyone else), walks (4th, between Shinnosuke Abe and Kazuhiro Wada), strikeouts (103, 6th, between Balentien and Chono) and OBP (6th, between Murata and Wada). He made his first CL All-Star team. In 2013 NPB All-Star Game 1, a 1-1 tie, he started in center and hitting 7th. He flew out against Mitsuo Yoshikawa, singled off Shohei Otani and flew out against Toshiyuki Yanuki. He moved to LF later in the game when Yohei Oshima took over in center. In Game 2, he entered late in a 3-1 win over the Pacific League and did not get to the plate. He started Game 3, a 3-1 loss, in left field, hitting 6th. He flew out against Hiroshi Kisanuki in the second, doubled off Sho Iwasaki in the 5th and scored the lone CL run and was retired in the 7th by Yanuki and in the 9th by Koji Aoyama.
Early in 2014, he became the Carp's regular #3 batter. He hit .310/.419/.491 with 30 doubles, 5 triples, 19 home runs, 100 walks, 106 runs and 26 steals in 37 tries. He fielded .993 and this time also had 8 outfield assists. He was the 22nd player in NPB history to reach triple-digits in walks. In the 2014 NPB All-Star Game 1, he led off and played CF for the CL in a 7-0 win. He fanned against Takayuki Kishi, Yuki Nishi and Hiroyuki Fukuyama before doubling off Michael Crotta in the 7th and coming around to score. He was then retired by Tatsuya Sato. In Game 2, a 12-6 loss, he again started in CF but dropped to 8th in the order. He was retired by Takahiro Norimoto, Ryota Igarashi and Yoshihisa Hirano before Oshima pinch-hit for him. He finished the year all over the CL leaderboards: 9th in average (between Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Shingo Kawabata), 2nd in OBP (only .0003 behind Balentien), 8th in slugging (between Hector Luna and Hatakeyama), 3rd in OPS (behind Balentien and Tetsuto Yamada), tied for first in runs (with Yamada), 8th in hits (166), tied for 6th in doubles (with Mauro Gomez), tied for second in triples (four shy of Takayuki Kajitani), tied for 9th in homers (with Abe), 3rd in steals (behind Kajitani and Oshima), 2nd in caught stealing (one behind Oshima), led in walks (13 over Takashi Toritani) while falling to a tie for 9th in whiffs (with Yamada and Balentien) and 5th in total bases (263). He won his second Gold Glove and made the Best Nine as one of the CL's top three flyhawks (alongside Yuhei Takai and Matt Murton). He got three second-place votes for the 2014 Central League Most Valuable Player Award.
With Samurai Japan for the 2014 Nichi-Bei Series, he went 3 for 13 with a RBI triple, playing center when Yuki Yanagita was in right. He also was with Japan for the 2015 Global Baseball Match against Team Europe, going 0 for 3 with a walk, playing left when Sho Nakata manned first. In 2015 NPB All-Star Game 1, he replaced Takahiro Suzuki in left field in the 6th, singling off Hideaki Wakui and being retired by Naoki Miyanishi in a 8-6 win. He started game 2 in left and led off, but went 0 for 4 in a 12-8 loss. He was the last batter in NPB to face Masahiro Yamamoto, grounding out against the 50-year-old on the last day of the season. In the 2015 season, he struggled, hitting .249/.361/.413. He still had 28 doubles, 19 homers and 94 walks, but his steals were down (15 in 22), his strikeouts were up (143) and his average was obviously down. He still tied Kosuke Fukudome for 9th in OBP, was third in runs (after Yamada and Kawabata), tied Gomez and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo for 7th in doubles, tied Brad Eldred for 6th in home runs and led in walks again (5 more than Toritani). He fielded .996, with 273 putouts, 6 assists and one error. He won his third straight Gold Glove, joining Oshima and Fukudome.
Maru hit .291/.389/.481 with 30 doubles, 8 triples, 20 homers, 23 steals in 32 tries, 98 runs, 90 RBI and 84 walks in 2016. He was 3rd in the CL in runs (4 behind Yamada and Kosuke Tanaka, 5th in OBP (between Fukudome and Arai), 10th in slugging, 5th in hits (162, between Chono and Murata), was second in doubles (2 behind Murata), tied Seiya Suzuki for second in triples, missed the top ten in homers by two, was 7th in RBI (between Suzuki and Murata), placed 5th in steals and was third in walks (behind Yamada and Tsutsugo). He won a Gold Glove and joined Suzuki and Tsutsugo in the Best Nine outfield. In 2016 NPB All-Star Game 1, he was 1 for 4 as the CL leadoff man and center fielder in a 5-4 loss. In Game 2, started in center and hit third for the CL. He homered off Shohei Tsukahara in the 3rd for a 3-0 lead; Balentien pinch-hit for him in the 7th. The game wound up a 5-5 tie. He hit .333/.440/.476 in the 2016 Japan Series but Hiroshima fell to the Nippon Ham Fighters; he homered off Yohei Kagiya in game 6, the last contest.
In 2017 NPB All-Star Game 2, he replaced Tsutsugo in left late in a 6-2 loss and grounded out against Yuki Matsui in his lone at-bat. In Game 2, a 3-1 loss, he started in center and hit 2nd but was 0 for 4 with two whiffs in a 3-1 loss; he moved to left when Oshima entered in center and took LF Alex Guerrero's spot in the batting order. For the 2017 season, his batting line was .308/.398/.505. The multi-tool threat had 109 runs, 35 doubles, 23 home runs, 83 walks and 92 RBI while his steal total was down a bit (13 SB, 3 CS). He led the CL in runs (four ahead of Tanaka), tied José López for the most hits (171), was 4th in doubles (between Masayuki Kuwahara and Tanaka), ranked 8th in circuit clouts (between Yamada and Kajitani), was third in RBI (after López and Tsutsugo), was 5th in average (between Tomohiro Abe and López), was 4th in walks (between Tanaka and Fukudome), was just behind Tanaka in OBP (both rounded to .398, Maru up a bit, Tanaka down a bit) and was 7th in slugging (between Balentien and Toshiro Miyazaki). He won another Gold Glove, made another Best Nine (alongside Suzuki and Tsutsugo) and easily won the 2017 Central League MVP, with 196 of 286 first-place votes and 1,134 vote points to 381 for runner-up Kazuki Yabuta (Tomoyuki Sugano was second in first-place votes at 40).
Maru was again dominant in 2018 despite missing time with a hamstring injury: .306/.468/.627, 39 HR, 130 BB, 109 R, 97 RBI, .996 fielding percentage. He was second in runs (21 behind Yamada), second in homers (two behind Neftali Soto), 4th in RBI (between Dayan Viciedo and Soto), first in walks (24 more than Yamada), first in OBP (.030 ahead of Suzuki), second in slugging (.017 behind Soto) and first in OPS (39 ahead of Suzuki). He joined Suzuki and Soto in getting the Best Nine honors and won another Gold Glove. He struggled in the 2018 Japan Series, though; in game 3, he became the 6th player to fan four times in a Japan Series game. He homered off Livan Moinelo in game 5 but finished the Series at .160/.185/.360 with 12 K in 25 AB as Hiroshima fell to the Softbank Hawks. He easily won the 2018 CL MVP award, with 241 first-place votes (221 ahead of runner-up Daichi Osera) and 1,314 vote points (Osera was next at 482). He was the first repeat MVP in the CL since Alex Ramirez 9 years prior and the first Japanese native to repeat as CL MVP since the legendary Sadaharu Oh in the late 1970s. He became a free agent at year's end.