According to a deal first reported by Nikkan Sports of Japan and reported in English by Patrick Newman of MLB tracker, the Milwaukee Brewers have added reliever Takashi Saito on a 1 year, $3 million contract. The deal was later confirmed by Fox Sports’s Ken Rosenthal.
Although Saito turns 40 in February, he was a very productive reliever for the Atlanta Braves in 2010. In 54 innings, Saito recorded a 2.83 ERA and a 2.43 FIP. Saito produced closer-quality peripherals, striking out 11.5 and walking 2.8 batters per nine innings. His fastball still shows life, sitting at 91.8 MPH on average, and he also uses a slider – his primary out pitch – as well as a curveball. All three pitches have been very effective for Saito throughout his career.
Saito probably becomes the most best pitcher in the Brewers bullpen with this move. Zach Braddock has the potential to put up similar numbers, and John Axford was impressive as a closer last year. However, Saito’s command outclasses both of these youngsters. Unfortunately, Saito’s age probably limits his ability to pitch on consecutive days, meaning that Axford will remain in the closer’s role and, ideally, Braddock and Saito make up a duo of relief aces.
Although the Brewers most recent experience with a quadragenarian reliever didn’t end well, we shouldn’t expect the same kind of implosion from Saito that we saw from Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman was coming off a season with a HR/FB below 4%, and although we couldn’t have seen his total collapse coming, there was also no way that he would manage to keep so many fly balls in the yard in 2010. Saito doesn’t have any of the telltale warning signs of a pitcher bound for collapse. He had a typical HR/FB% (7.4), an excellent swinging strike rate (12.4%), a typical BABIP (.308), and a middling strand rate (72.5% of baserunners). We should expect Saito to continue to pitch like a relief ace when he can make it to the mound. The real risk here isn’t collapse but injury.
At $3M, Saito is a great deal and bolsters a deep bullpen that needed more help at the top. Although there is some risk here, as there is with any 40-year-old player, that risk is far outweighed by the potential reward. The Brewers should expect 50-60 very strong innings out of Takashi Saito.