This picture taken on April 17, 2022 shows Lotte Marines’ Roki Sasaki pitching during the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) match between the Chiba Lotte Marines and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at ZOZO Marine Stadium in Chiba. (Photo by STRINGER/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)
STATS & ANALYSIS

A Beginner’s Guide to Roki Sasaki

Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki has thrown 17 consecutive perfect innings. Meet the 20-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines star pitcher.

If you haven’t been following Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s major league, we’ll forgive you. But it’s now time to pay attention, because Roki Sasaki is on one of the greatest pitching runs in any pro league — ever.

On April 10, the 20-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines ace had perhaps the most dominant pitching performance in baseball history, throwing a perfect game and tying the NPB record with 19 strikeouts against the Orix Buffaloes — including an unfathomable 13 punchouts in a row. It was the first perfecto in that league since 1994, a tour de force that made international news.

His game score of 106 would be the greatest game ever thrown in MLB history, beating out Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game in 1998.

If that wasn’t enough, Sasaki followed that up on Saturday with eight more perfect innings against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters with 14 strikeouts before being pulled in a 1-0, 10-inning loss. He’s retired an unbelievable 52 straight batters! The MLB record is 46, for context, set by the San Francisco Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit in 2014.

Let’s get to know Sasaki a little better, shall we?

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An incredible phenom

Sasaki certainly didn’t come out of nowhere.

Born in the northeastern Japanese city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture, Sasaki’s father was reportedly tragically swept away and killed in the March 11, 2011, tsunami that ravaged much of the area. Sasaki showed immediate promise in high school at Iwate’s Ofunato High, where he registered 101.3 miles per hour at a youth national team training camp.

At the Summer Koshien — the Japanese high school baseball equivalent of men’s and women’s basketball March Madness — during Sasaki’s senior year, he was held out of the regional final due to what his coaches called low bone density in his pitching arm in a controversial move to preserve his future. With MLB scouts very interested, Chiba Lotte won a four-team NPB lottery for the rights to sign him with the first overall pick, with the move paying enormous dividends in less than three years.

An insane skill-set

What makes Sasaki so dominant?

The 6-foot-2 righty regularly hits over 100 with his fastball and pairs that with a devastating splitter, or forkball, that viciously drops down at 91. Chiba Lotte shut him down for the entire 2020 season before making his NPB debut on May 16, 2021. After going 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings as a rookie, he’s taken baseball by storm in 2022. In 31 innings, Sasaki has fanned 56 with a 1.16 ERA, including just seven total hits and two walks allowed.

Sasaki must technically accrue nine years of NPB service time to be an international free agent, but if requested, the Marines could post him earlier. Nippon posted Shohei Ohtani in 2017 when he was 23, so there is certainly precedent for Japanese teams to do so.

If and when Chiba Lotte decide to post Sasaki early, he’s shaping up to be the most prized Japanese and international prospect since Ohtani. Until then, make sure to pay attention to Sasaki, because he’s currently one of the most dominant athletes on the planet.

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