Coming in as the first relief pitcher on our Rant Sports MLB Top 50 Players countdown is Koji Uehara, the Boston Red Sox’s dominating closer.
After spending 10 years in the professional Japanese league with the Yomiuri Giants, Uehara made his way to the United States and started the 2009 season with the Baltimore Orioles. After a stint with the Texas Rangers, Uehara finally made it to Boston in 2013. Uehara is not a breakout star as he has been a solid pitcher for several years, but the 2013 season was by far his most impressive performance in a five-year MLB career.
Finishing the season with a nearly immaculate 1.09 ERA in 73 appearances and throwing 74.1 innings made for an extremely impressive year. Uehara is the only reliever in MLB history to have an ERA that low, a WHIP under .600 and to record over 100 strikeouts in a single season. Craig Kimbrel’s 2012 season came incredibly close as he posted a 1.01 ERA, a .654 WHIP and had 116 strikeouts, but Uehara’s statistics stand near the top of all-time closer performances. Not even the greatest of all time, Mariano Rivera, ever finished a single season with an ERA under 1.38 nor a year with a WHIP better than .665.
At 38-years-old, Uehara is certainly not a young pup, but he proved he can still be a shutdown closer in the majors. As Uehara and the Red Sox head into 2014 hoping to repeat as the World Series champions, the Japanese hurler will need to play a vital role in that run in order for it to be a success. Look for Uehara to capitalize on the momentum and have another great year next season.