Itoi with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
|Hanshin Tigers – No. 7|
|Born:July 31, 1981|
|March 27, 2007, for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters|
|Runs batted in||525|
|Career highlights and awards|
Yoshio Itoi (糸井 嘉男? Itoi Yoshio, born July 31, 1981 in Yosano, Kyoto, Japan) is a Japanese professional baseball player for the Hanshin Tigers. Itoi bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He played for team Japan in WBC 2013, and hit clean-up for Japan in games against Brazil (4th batter) and China (5th batter).
Itoi was a pitcher during his time as a student, and was the ace pitcher for Kinki University during his 4th year, where he finished the spring league with a 5-0 record with 2 shutouts, and won the MVP and Best Pitcher award. He was also included in the Best Nine. He finished his university career with a 9-1 record.
Nippon Ham Fighters
Itoi was drafted into the Fighters in the fall of 2003, and was considered a power pitcher, being able to pitch 151 km/h (94 mph) fastball but has control problems and were unable to muster up decent breaking balls. He was also marred with injury and spent 2 years in the ni-gun (Japanese equivalent of the minor league).
Although Itoi had problems developing as a good pitcher in the pros, his outstanding batting sense, running speed (50m in 5 seconds), and strong throwing arm prompted Fighters GM Shigeru Takada to convert him into an outfielder. Just 5 months after converting into an outfielder, Itoi won the Eastern League's Monthly MVP award, hitting .397 in September 2006.
Itoi collected his first hit and stolen base in Ichigun level in the 2007 season, but spent most time in Niggun, having only played 7 games at Ichigun level. In 2008, Itoi was the Opening Day's starting left fielder, but injury again put him out of action. He bounced back near the end of the season, however, and hit his first home run soon after. He was the lead off batter for Fighters during that year's Climax Series, and was defensively outstanding.
In 2009, Itoi replaced Hichori Morimoto as Fighter's everyday starting center field. He moved up the batting order as the season progress, hitting in the two-hole and even as the third batter when Atsunori Inaba was absent. Itoi won the Monthly MVP award in June, and was selected for the first time to play in the All Star Game. He ended the year hitting .306 with 15 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and a league high 40 doubles, and won his first Golden Glove award.
Itoi continued to be an integral part of the Fighters, winning his second Golden Glove in 2010 and ended the year hitting .309 with 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases.
After the NPB switched the official game ball into the pitcher friendly ball that lead to a league-wide fall in batting statistics, Itoi continued to flourish in the 2011 season, hitting .319 with 11 home runs and 31 stolen bases, and a league high .411 OBP (the only player with OBP of more than .400 that year in whole of NPB) mainly as the third batter. He won his third straight Golden Glove that year.
In 2012, Itoi switched from center field to right field as Taiwanese Dai-Kang Yang was slotted into center field. Itoi was not in his best during the first half of the season, hitting .289 with 2 home runs. He started to pick up in the second half of the season, hitting .380 with 3 home runs in September to win the Monthly MVP award. He ended the year with .304 batting average, 9 homers, 22 stolen base, and second straight year of league high .404 OBP, also winning his fourth Golden Glove. Itoi expressed interest at the end of the season to be posted to the Major Leagues, but was instead traded to the Orix Buffaloes in a 5 player deal on January 25, 2013.
Itoi was involved in a surprising 5 player trade at the end of the 2012 season, which saw him moving to Pacific League rivals Orix Buffaloes. He hit a homer against his former club Fighters on 11 May 2013 to join the ranks of players to have hit at least a home run against each NPB team. At the end of the 2016 season, Itoi announced his decision to test the free agent market. The Hanshin Tigers were the most persistent team, and after 9 days of negotiations, he agreed to leave his former club and move to the Central League.
World Baseball Classic 2013
Itoi was selected to play for Team Japan in the 2013 WBC, and started all 3 games as right fielder in the first pool round,batting cleanup in the first 2 games. He is amongst the most consistent batters for Team Japan, getting a hit in each game. During the second pool round, Itoi replaced the ineffective Hisayoshi Chono in center field and continued his batting consistency, hitting a double against Chinese Taipei (Also Team Japan's only second extra base hit up until that moment, with the other also provided by Itoi) and hit a 3-run home run in the mulling of Netherlands. In the semifinal round, however, they lost to upstart Puerto Rico 3-1, thus preventing the team from advancing to the Championship round.