By Tommy Rancel
The 2010 nightmare of Trevor Hoffman was not enough to scare off the Milwaukee Brewers from signing another 40-year-old reliever this off-season – this time Takashi Saito. In terms of performance, Saito is a much safer signing, since the righty has a more recent track record of success than Hoffman did, having been one of the best relief pitchers since coming to the United States in 2006.
After spending three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (much of it as a closer) Saito has spent the past two seasons as a set-up man in Boston and then Atlanta. Regardless of his role, he has been dominant over those five seasons. In fact, he is just one of six relievers in baseball to throw at least 250 innings with an ERA below 2.25 since 2006. You may recognize the other names on that list: Joakim Soria, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, and the two men he has set up for recently: Jonathan Papelbon and Billy Wagner.Of those names, only Saito and Wagner have done so with a strikeout rate of 11.0 or greater per nine innings.
Saito features a fastball, slider, and a curveball. He induces more swings and misses than league average with all three pitches, fueling his fantastic strikeout rate. He has also excelled at limiting walks and home runs allowed.
The one negative on Takashi Saito is health. Although he has pitched at least 45 games and topped 47 innings in each of his five seasons, he has dealt with a variety of ailments, including several arm issues. As he advances in age, those concerns will not go away; however, he did throw a respectable 99.2 innings over the past two years.
Saito won’t have the closer job to start, which severely limits his fantasy value in standard mixed leagues, even with his strong ratios. That said, if something should happen to incumbent closer John Axford, be it injury or ineffectiveness, Saito is the most likely replacement for saves.
Because of his fantastic peripheral stats, low ERA, and status as the Brewers’ plan B, Saito is still worth either a reserve-round pick in standard 12-team mixed leagues, and a slightly higher draft slot in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues. If your league counts holds, Saito’s value rises considerably.