Yoshihisa Hirano Signs With NPB’s Orix Buffaloes (www.baseball-reference.com)

is heading back to Nippon Professional Baseball, as the Orix Buffaloes announced that the right-hander has signed a one-year deal.  According to The Mainichi and other news outlets, Hirano will earn approximately $1.4MM, plus the contract also contains incentive bonuses.

Hirano (who turns 37 in March) rose to prominence over 11 seasons with the Buffaloes from 2006-17, posting a 3.10 ERA, 22.09 strikeout percentage, and 5.7 walk percentage over 974 2/3 innings.  After transitioning into relief pitching in 2009, Hirano became one of NPB’s top closers, racking up 156 saves during his previous stint in a Buffaloes uniform.

Hirano came to North America after signing a two-year, $6MM deal with the Diamondbacks in the 2017-18 offseason.  The transition was initially smooth, as Hirano posted a 2.44 ERA over 66 1/3 innings out of Arizona’s bullpen and finished sixth in NL Rookie Of The Year voting in 2018.  Some elbow problems hampered Hirano in 2019, however, and after signing a free agent deal with the Mariners last winter, his arrival to Seattle’s Summer Camp was delayed by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

All told, Hirano delivered a 3.69 ERA over 131 2/3 innings in the Show — not bad results for a pitcher who lacked a big fastball, and posted only a middle-of-the pack 23.5K% and 14K-BB%.  Hirano induced a lot of soft contact from hitters and had a 47.3% grounder rate over his MLB career, though home runs became an increasingly larger issue for the righty.

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