Kudoh with the Yokohama BayStars
|Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks – No. 81|
Born: May 5, 1963|
|NPB Pacific League debut|
|1983, for the Seibu Lions|
|Last NPB Pacific League appearance|
|2010, for the Saitama Seibu Lions|
|NPB statistics |
|Earned run average||3.44|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the Japanese|
Kimiyasu Kudoh (工藤 公康 Kudō Kimiyasu, born May 5, 1963, in Aichi Prefecture, Japan) is a Japanese former professional baseball pitcher and the current manager of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball. During his career, he recorded 224 career wins. Among other records, he was the oldest pitcher in NPB history to strike out 10 batters in a game, doing so at the age of 41 years and 11 months. However, despite all his accolades, he never won the Sawamura Award, given to Japan's top pitcher.
Rise to fame with Seibu
A 6th-round pick in the 1981 draft, Kudoh signed a contract with the Lions when his father was given a job by team owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi. Kudoh's breakout season was in 1985, when he went 8-3 with a 2.76 ERA, striking out 104 in 137 innings pitched. That year, he won his first ERA title. The very next season saw Kudoh make his first All-Star team. He improved his wins total to 10 and while his ERA increased to 3.22, he won the first of back-to-back Japan Series MVP awards.
1987: The First Sawamura Near-Miss
In 1987, Kudoh notched his first of three seasons with 15 or more wins (15-4, 2.41, 175 strikeouts). He also was a dependable innings-eater for the Lions, as he tossed a career-high 223 and 2/3 innings. The only other time he crossed the 200-inning plateau was in 1996 with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. Again he won the ERA title, an All-Star selection, and even led the league in wins, but would ultimately lose the coveted Sawamura Award to young Yomiuri Giants ace Masumi Kuwata (15-6, 2.17). However, in another matchup between the Giants and the Lions in the Japan Series (one of many between the two in the 1980s), Kudoh and his Lions would come out on top, and Kudoh won the Series MVP.
After the season, Kudoh was awarded with the Masutaro Shoriki Award, given annually to the player who was deemed to contribute the most to baseball in Japan. The award is given each year by the Yomiuri Shimbun, who owns the Giants.
For the next two years, Kudoh posted mediocre records (10-10, 3.79 in 1988, 4-8, 4.96 in 1989). The 1989 season was the first time in his career that he had a losing record, and would not post another losing season until 1996. He rebounded in 1990 with a 9-2 record, but missed significant time due to injury. It was the first time since 1984 that Kudoh failed to reach 100 innings.
1991 and the Second Sawamura Miss
Kudoh had his best season in four years in 1991. He posted a career high in wins with 16, and got his ERA under 3.00 for the first time since 1987 (2.82). In 175 and 1/3 innings, Kudoh struck out 151 batters. However, he failed to meet some of the criteria needed to win the Sawamura Award again, and he ended up losing out to Shinji Sasaoka of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. However, just like in 1987, Kudoh's Lions were victorious in a hard-fought Japan Series over Sasaoka and the Carp.
From Seibu to Daiei
For the next three years, Kudoh continued to pitch at a high level for Seibu. He once again lost out on the Sawamura Award in 1993, this time to Chunichi Dragons lefty Shinji Imanaka despite more excellent numbers from Kudoh (15-3, 2.06, 170 IP, 130 strikeouts). Also, he won his first Gold Glove in 1994. However, his contract was up at the end of the season. After 13 years with the Lions, Kudoh along with Koji Akiyama and Hiromichi Ishige were signed by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, who had been one of the worst teams in Japan for the better part of a decade.
1995–1999: Fukuoka Daiei Hawks
Kudoh's signing initiated a gradual turnaround by the long-hapless Daiei Hawks. Managing him was the legendary Yomiuri Giants slugger Sadaharu Oh. In 1995, Kudoh was pegged as the team ace and he responded, going 12-5 with a 3.64 ERA. Moving from outdoor conditions at Seibu Dome to the climate-controlled atmosphere of Fukuoka Dome was a shock for Kudoh, and he was victimized by awful run support in 1996. Despite lowering his ERA to 3.51 and pitching 202 and 2/3 innings (the second-highest total in his career), Kudoh lost the highest amount of games in his career, going 8-15.
For the next three years, Kudoh lowered his ERA, culminating in a spectacular 1999 for the Hawks, who became more competitive in each successive year. The Hawks ace, who was in a contract year, was 11-7, but had a 2.38 ERA to lead the Pacific League. He also threw 196 and 1/3 innings to pace the team. He also won the first game of the 1999 Japan Series against the Chunichi Dragons as he struck out 13 batters. Despite an inspired attempt to keep him, the Hawks could not retain Kudoh. Instead, he signed with the Yomiuri Giants, and was reunited with another former Seibu teammate, Kazuhiro Kiyohara.
2000–2006: Yomiuri Giants
Showing that he had plenty of good pitching left in him, Kudoh continued his winning ways, even after moving to the non-DH Central League for the first time. Having never had to bat in his first 18 seasons as a pitcher, Kudoh went 84 straight at-bats without recording a hit. However, he was signed for his pitching, and in 2000, Kudoh showed that his big contract was worth it. Despite throwing only 136 innings, he won 11 games and struck out 148 with a 3.11 ERA.
However, the real attraction in 2000 was when he ended up facing the team he had played for one year prior, the defending Japan Series champion Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. He was crushed in Game 1 as the heavy underdog Hawks chased Kudoh. However, the Giants won four straight games after losing the first two at Fukuoka Dome for Kudoh's 10th Japan Series victory.
The 2001 season was one to forget for Kudoh as he posted career-worsts pretty much across the board. He missed significant time due to injury and ended the season with a 1-3 record and an 8.44 ERA. He also threw a career-low 21 and 1/3 innings.
After putting up significant rehab time, the lefty rounded back into winning form in 2002. While he failed to win 10 games, the workload he was pegged with when he was signed was greatly alleviated thanks to a rejuvenated Kuwata and hotshot youngster Koji Uehara. He would work 170 and 1/3 innings, his highest total since '99. Also for the first time since the '99 season, Kudoh posted an ERA under 3.00 at 2.91. For the 11th time, he also was part of a Japan Series-winning team. This time, he was on the other side as the Giants defeated the Lions in the Japan Series for the first time since 1994.
The decline begins
For the rest of his career with Yomiuri, it was clear that the once-great lefty was in decline. The 2002 season was the last time that Kudoh would throw over 150 innings, and his ERA ballooned from the 2.91 mark in '02 to 4.23 in 2003. From '03 until 2005, he would see his ERA rise (4.67 in 2004, 4.70 in 2005). However, he did win at least 10 games in both years. His last season with Yomiuri saw him once again miss significant time. He only made 13 appearances and finished 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA. His contract was not renewed by Yomiuri, but Kudoh still felt a desire to pitch. In the 2006–2007 offseason, Kudoh would sign with the Yokohama BayStars.
2007–2009: Yokohama BayStars
After pitching in domed stadiums from 1995 to 2006, Kudoh was pitching in the open-air Yokohama Stadium, the first time he had pitched outdoors regularly since his last days with Seibu in 1994. The 2007 season was the first and only time that Kudoh pitched over 100 innings with the BayStars. As the team's #5 starter, not much was expected of Kudoh, yet he still went 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 19 appearances with the 'Stars. He also won at least one game for the 23rd consecutive season, breaking Tetsuya Yoneda's previous record of 22 consecutive seasons with a win.
2008–2009 and move to the bullpen
Despite off-season elbow surgery, Kudoh was still out to prove he had something left. However, he spent most of the season at ni-gun (Japanese minor leagues). He made a career-low 3 appearances and failed to record a win for the first time since 1984. However, he did set another record, becoming the longest-tenured player in Japanese baseball history with 27 seasons completed, breaking Katsuya Nomura's record of 26 seasons.
A new personal best for appearances was in order for Kudoh in 2009, in what was also his final season with Yokohama and 28th overall. Used as a situational lefty, Kudoh did not have much success, as he went 2-3 with a 6.51 ERA and the cagey veteran also managed to strike out 24 batters in 37 and 1/3 innings.
Return to Seibu and retirement
Knowing that he did not have much left, Kudoh decided to return to where it all began for the 2010 season. Also in a career first for him, he did not take his signature #47, but instead took #55, as his number was taken by another Seibu lefty, Kazuyuki Hoashi. The lefty had a small role in an injury-riddled Lions bullpen, but was ineffective again, as he went 0-2 with a 10.50 ERA in 10 appearances and just six innings. He did, however, extend his streak for the longest career in NPB history at 29 seasons. He was released at the end of the season.
After the season, Kudoh once again had surgery on his left shoulder and a calf injury, and did not pitch in 2011 despite expressing a desire to do so. He officially announced his retirement from baseball on December 9, 2011, at 48 years of age. He was courted by Yokohama to possibly be a player-manager, but ended up not taking the job.
With a high three-quarters delivery, Kudoh was a master at hiding the ball until release. While not a prolific strikeout pitcher (even he had gotten two times strike out titles in NPB), he was capable of getting men out reliably.
Never known for overpowering pitches even in his prime (he topped out at 148 km/h or 92 mph), Kudoh instead relied on an array of breaking pitches and pinpoint control on his straight (four-seam) fastball. Among his repertoire of breaking pitches were a late-breaking curveball, a slider, and occasionally he threw a sinker/shuuto.
Kudoh had his share of injuries, but the vast majority of them came late in his career, including endoscopic elbow surgery in 2008. By this time, he had already lost most of the velocity on his fastball and had to rely on veteran savvy and guile to get batters out.
His son is Asuka Kudoh, a Japanese actor.
Nippon Professional Baseball managers by team
|Central League||Pacific League|
|Shigekazu Mori (Chunichi Dragons)||Tadahito Iguchi (Chiba Lotte Marines)|
|Tomoaki Kanemoto (Hanshin Tigers)||Kimiyasu Kudoh (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks)|
|Koichi Ogata (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)||Hideki Kuriyama (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)|
|Junji Ogawa (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)||Junichi Fukura (Orix Buffaloes)|
|Alex Ramírez (Yokohama DeNA BayStars)||Hatsuhiko Tsuji (Saitama Seibu Lions)|
|Yoshinobu Takahashi (Yomiuri Giants)||Yosuke Hiraishi (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)|