Yukihiko Yamaoki (山沖 之彦)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 198 lb.
Yukihiko Yamaoki was a two-time All-Star in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Yamaoki was MVP of the Tokyo Metropolitan University League as a senior; overall, his college record was 22-22, 2.29. The Hankyu Braves took him in the first round of the 1981 draft. He went 7-15 with a save and a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 1982, leading the Pacific League in losses. He turned his record around in 1983, going 15-8 with two saves and a 3.48 ERA. A workhorse, he completed 16 of 30 starts and worked 233 innings. He was among the PL leaders in ERA (7th, between Tadashi Sugimoto and Keishi Suzuki), wins (tied for 3rd with Masayuki Matsunuma and Yutaro Imai, behind Osamu Higashio and Kazuhiro Yamauchi), complete games (tied for 3rd, behind Suzuki and Hisashi Yamada), innings pitched (3rd), hits allowed (6th), walks (79, 4th) and strikeouts (143, 1st by 27 over Shoji Kawahara).
The Kochi native fell to 11-8, 4.10 in 1984; pitching mostly in relief, he notched 15 saves. He tied Tamotsu Nagai for the league lead in games pitched (48), was second in saves (3 behind Yasujiro Suzuki), led in save points to win Fireman of the Year Award honors, led in wild pitches (6) and finished third in strikeouts (121, trailing Yoshinori Sato and Yamauchi). In the 1984 Japan Series, he won games 2 and 6 in relief and saved game four, but the Braves still lost to the Hiroshima Carp in 7 games. He allowed one run in 10 2/3 IP for the Series and won the Fighting Spirt Award as MVP of the losing side. It would be his lone Japan Series.
Yamaoki was 7-14 with six saves and a 4.83 ERA in 1985. He tied Tatsumi Murata for second in the PL in losses, behind only Shuji Fujimoto. His decline continued into 1986 (1-5, 5.88, .316 opponent average). In 1987, though, the big righty went 19-10 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, making his first All-Star team in the process. He led the PL in wins, four more than anyone else. He also tied for fourth in shutouts (3), was second in innings pitched (245 1/3, behind only Hideyuki Awano), second in hits allowed (230, behind Takanori Yamauchi), fifth in strikeouts (155) and third in ERA (trailing Kimiyasu Kudoh and Higashio).
Yukihiko reversed course, and went 7-12 with a 4.98 ERA and .302 opponent average in 1988. He tied for fourth in the league in earned runs allowed (79), tied for fourth in shutouts (3), tied for 6th in losses (with Awano) and was 5th in homers allowed (26). A year later, he was 11-6 despite a 5.28 ERA; he tied for 8th in the PL in victories.
He made his second PL All-Star team in 1990 and finished the year at 13-8, 3.74. He turned in a solid season in 1991 (9-7, 3.30) but feuded with new manager Shozo Doi over the next several years. He finished 9th in the league in ERA and 4th in hits allowed (170). In 1992, he was 4-3 with a 3.65 ERA in eight games. He saw minimal action in 1993 (1-1, 1.88 in 5 G) then was 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA in 1994.
Yamaoaki signed with the Hanshin Tigers as a free agent but missed much of 1995 with injury and retired, having never played in a game with them in NPB. He was the first NPB free agent to sign a deal and never appear for his new team. He later was a commentator for Sun TV, J-Sports and KBS Shiga.
Overall, Yamaoki went 112-101 with 24 saves, a 3.92 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 327 NPB games (244 starts). He had 72 complete games and 11 shutouts, while striking out 1,051 in 1,764 innings. Through 2011, he ranked among the career NPB leaders in wins (tied for 95th), wild pitches (41, tied for 59th), runs allowed (843, 84th) and earned runs allowed (769, 74th).