Let’s Remember Some Dodgers: Brian Falkenborg & Takashi Saito

As much as I may write these just to keep this site updated, it seems like these posts coming out alongside Dustin’s 2021 MLB Draft Profiles have a nice balance of the past and future.

Dustin obviously puts in an incredible amount of research into that series, while I simply get to look up how impressive or terrible some of the numbers are for guys who didn’t have that type of data available on them (or it just wasn’t acknowledged as much) at the time they played for the Dodgers.

One of these two (it was originally set for three until I got really caught up in the research of the others) absolutely qualifies on the more positive side of that, because I knew how good he looked for his run as a Dodger but did not realize just how impressive it was.

Brian Falkenborg

The good, however, is not where I am going to start. Instead, I am going to start with one of his teammates, albeit a very brief one.

Falkenborg’s first stint with the Dodgers, and probably his entire career as a whole is actually impressive. Drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft, Falkenborg started 64 of his first 69 games as a professional in Baltimore’s organization.

After making his major league debut and throwing 3 scoreless innings across two games in October 1999 for the Orioles, he missed the entire 2000 season due to Tommy John surgery and was released. After three years in the minors with Seattle, Falkenborg signed with Los Angeles in November 2003.

Soon after he debuted with Las Vegas, Falkenborg joined the Dodgers for his first appearance in the majors since 1999. After allowing 2 hits, 2 walks and a run to the Mets on April 27, he threw 6 scoreless innings across three games in May before he was sacrificed for 3 2/3 innings against the Phillies on May 19. With Hideo Nomo leaving the game after just 1 1/3 innings due to a split nail, Falkenborg allowed 8 runs on 8 hits, 3 walks and a hit batter against Philadelphia. During the outing, he did reach base for the first and only time in his major league career as half of his 6 career PAs came in the game. Drawing a 2-out walk against Eric Milton (himself a member of Let’s Remember Some Dodgers fame) with Jose Hernandez on first, Falkenborg scored on a Cesar Izturis home run (!!!) before returning to the mound and immediately giving up a two-run homer to Pat Burrell.

A 4-inning appearance on May 28 against the Diamondbacks, the result of Wilson Alvarez leaving after just 2 innings due a strained hip, was Falkenborg’s final for the Dodgers in 2004 as he allowed 3 runs.

The two outings would be the longest of his career in the majors, with Falkenborg spending time with the Padres and Cardinals in 2005, just the Cardinals in 2006 and then back to the Dodgers in 2007.

Brian Falkenborg (via)

Recalled from Triple-A in late June, Falkenborg threw 11 2/3 innings across 16 games with a 6.17 ERA before he landed back with the Padres after being designated for assignment.

That’s where his career gets a bit more interesting as he headed to Japan in 2009 to pitch for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. According to this story, Falkenborg started throwing his splitter much more often upon arriving in Japan and finished with a 1.70 ERA across 275 2/3 innings during his six years for the Hawks and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. His grip was also the inspiration for Masahiro Tanaka to start throwing the pitch as well.

A two-time All-Star in Japan and a Japan Series champion, Falkenborg was a teammate of D.J. Houlton (yet another member of the Let’s Remember Some Dodgers family), Yhency Brazoban, Vicente Padilla and even Brad Penny for a very short time while with the Hawks and Andrew Jones with the Golden Eagles.

Takashi Saito

One other teammate Falkenborg had with the Golden Eagles was Saito, who was also with the Dodgers in 2007. Dustin encouraged me to include Saito here and I really hadn’t realized just how much time had passed since he pitched for the Dodgers.

And while I was aware how good he pitched for them, I did not expect him to land atop these two lists on FanGraphs.

I made the requirement just 50 innings pitched with Dodgers and had to go all the way back to 1915 to find someone who could knock him off the top of the FIP list, while going all the way back to 1884 still left Saito atop the ERA list. If you drop it down to 40 innings, Victor Gonzalez takes over the ERA lead and he’s just seven innings away from 50 for his career with the Dodgers so far.

Beginning his career in 1992, Saito spent 13 years in Japan before heading to the United States just before turning 36 years old. A starter for much of his career, primarily with the Yokohama BayStars, Saito joined the Dodgers on a minor league contract just before spring training in 2006.

With Brazoban and Eric Gagne injured, Grady Little quickly turned to Saito as the team’s closer and most-trusted reliever. Throwing 78 1/3 innings in 72 appearances, Saito finished with a 35.3 K% (best in the league among pitchers with his inning total) as he hit 107 for the season. Add in a HR/FB% of 3.7 (tied for second-best) and a 32.9 CSW% (Called Strike Plus Whiff Rate) behind Francisco Liriano and Francisco Rodriguez, and Saito instantly became one of the league’s best pitchers. He finished the year 7th in Rookie of the Year voting and 8th in the Cy Young voting while accounting for 3.1 WAR.

While the K% and HR/FB rates dropped a little in 2007, Satio’s ERA dropped to 1.40 as he finished the year with a 92.9 LOB% and 39 saves. He still finished second in the league with a 33.3 K% and led the league with a 27.8 K-BB% and a .151 AVG. An All-Star for the first and only time in the majors, Saito needed just nine pitches to retire the three batters he faced in the 2007 All-Star Game.

Now at 38 years old, a sprained elbow cost Saito nearly two months of the season, with him finishing his third and final year with the Dodgers at 47 innings and 45 games. Once again when he was on the mound he was incredibly effective, with a 2.3 HR/FB%, a 30.5 K% and a 2.49 ERA/2.00 FIP. That was of course until the playoffs when Saito’s only appearance in 2008 included allowing 2 runs to the Cubs without recording an out. While that game was already over, and ended up a 10-3 win for Los Angeles, Saito was left off the NLCS roster

From there, the Dodgers elected to non-tender him in December 2008 and he left for Boston. Signing a 1-year deal with a team option, Saito recorded another low ERA in 2009 but slipped in a few other areas prompting the Red Sox to decline a $6-million option. From there it was a 1-year deal with Atlanta, where he pitched pretty well in 2010 before starting to slip with the Brewers in 2011 and really falling off with the Diamondbacks in 2012. Saito returned to Japan and spent three years with the Golden Eagles before retiring at 45 years old, with the final out he recorded below.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree.