- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 187 lb.
Akio Saito made six All-Star teams as a pitcher in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Saito debuted with the Taiyo Whales and would spend his entire career with the club (though they became the Yokohama BayStars at the end of that run). In 1977, he went 8-9 with a 4.39 ERA and .288 opponent average. He still won the Central League Rookie of the Year Award. He improved to 16-15, 3.14 with four saves in 1978. The Whales workhorse led the CL in innings pitched (241), complete games (12 in 26 starts; he also relieved 21 times; he tied Akio Matsubara and Osamu Nomura for the lead here), batters faced (1,001) and strikeouts (162). He was third in ERA behind Hisao Niura and Takenori Emoto and made his first CL All-Star team.
In 1979, the Tokyo native fell to 11-6, 4.03. He was 14-17 with a 3.78 ERA in another busy year (17 CG, 247 1/3 IP) in 1980. He led the league in losses, hits allowed (245), walks (72), runs allowed (111) and earned runs allowed (104). In 1981, he was 5-15 with 10 saves, a 4.31 ERA and .295 opponent average. He again lost the most games in the Central League. He did make his second All-Star team.
Moving to relief practically full-time (he started one game that year) in 1982, #17 had one of his biggest years. He was 5-6 with 30 saves, a 2.07 ERA, .221 opponent average and 1.07 WHIP. He led the CL in ERA (by .29 over Suguru Egawa) and saves, but lost Fireman of the Year to Kazuyuki Yamamoto. Saito made his third All-Star team. In 1983, he was a bit less dominant (10-8, 22 Sv, 3.57). Had he qualified, he would have ranked 8th in ERA. He led in saves and won Fireman of the Year as well as making the All-Star squad again.
Akio was 11-6 with 10 saves and a 4.88 ERA for the 1984 Whales, surrendering a .313 average. He was back in All-Star form in 1985, going 9-5 with 18 saves, a 2.13 ERA, .229 average against and 1.05 WHIP. He was just one save behind leader Kiyooki Nakanishi and would have led in ERA had he qualified. Saito was sharper still in 1986, going 5-6 with 23 saves, a 1.85 ERA, .219 opponent average and .96 WHIP. He somehow failed to make the All-Star team. He did lead the league in saves and won his second and last Fireman of the Year Award.
Saito moved back to the rotation primarily after that. He had a 5-4, 3.49 record in 1988. He won his 100th game on July 3, the 96th NPB pitcher to do so. He also became the first right-handed hurler in NPB to reach both 100 wins and 100 saves. He was 8-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 1989; had he qualified, he would have ranked 10th in the league in ERA. He won 10, lost 7 and had a 4.07 ERA in 1990, walking only 39 in 150 1/3 IP.
The veteran hurler was 4-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 1991 and 3-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 1992 (11 BB in 91 1/3 IP). In his final season, 1993, the 38-year-old surrendered 13 runs (9 earned) on 20 hits in 10 2/3 IP.
He retired with a career record of 128-125 with 133 saves in 601 NPB games (218 starts). He struck out 1,321 and walked 619 in 2,173 1/3 IP while allowing 2,177 hits (225 home runs). Through 2010, he still was 14th in NPB annals in saves (between Akinori Otsuka and Yoshitaka Katori).
After his playing career ended, he was a commentator for Fuji TV and coached for the BayStars.