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A Brief Introduction of Yoshinobu Yamamoto


Yoshinobu Yamamoto; Photo via Orixbaseballclub

The 2023-2024 MLB offseason is well underway. This time of year is extremely exciting for baseball fans, as everyone is awaiting free-agent contract signings and blockbuster trade packages. Another important part of any MLB offseason is the posting of Japanese professionals to be signed by MLB teams. Last year, we saw Kodai Senga and his signature “ghost fork” come from overseas to pitch for the Mets. Senga would go on to lead that Mets pitching staff. He posted a 2.98, 4.5 bWAR, and finished second place in NL Rookie of the Year voting. This season, the overseas talent is stronger than ever. There is one international prospect that everyone knows around baseball. He is thought to be the best Japanese pitching prospect of all time. His name: Yoshinobu Yamamoto.


Yamamoto blessed baseball fans early in 2023 with several appearances in the World Baseball Classic. He and Shohei Ohtani led Team Japan to the WBC championship with a victory over Team USA. It was this tournament where much of Yamamoto’s fame was kickstarted. His pitching talent was on full display, carving up some of the best baseball talent in the world. However, the best part about Yamamoto is arguably not his pitching. It's his age.


Yamamoto started pitching in Japan’s NPB league in 2017 when he was 18 years old. He is now 25 years old with 7 professional seasons under his belt. This experience and age combination sets Yamamoto apart from pitchers like Kodai Senga. Senga is now 30 years old, and he will have a shorter time frame to potentially dominate the MLB. Yamamoto’s youth and dominance of the NPB have MLB front offices frothing at the mouth for a chance to sign this sort of talent.


Yamamoto’s pitching statistics are just absurd. Through 967.2 professional innings, he has a 1.72 ERA. Just that on its own should be enough to convince anyone that Yamamoto is the real deal. He has recorded 14 complete games, with 8 of those being shutouts. His WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is comfortably below 1, sitting at .915. In the 2023 season, Yamamoto pitched 171 innings and had a 1.16 ERA. In fact, since 2019, Yamamoto has had only one season with an ERA above 2.00. This instance occurred in 2020 when he pitched to a 2.20 ERA in only 126.2 innings, a much smaller sample size than usual. These numbers are otherworldly, and they reveal a lot about the type of athlete that Yamamoto has turned himself into.


Statcast data on Yamamoto’s pitches from the WBC is small in sample size, but the numbers point to a pitcher who has big-league stuff with the potential to overwhelm professional hitters in the U.S. His fastball proves to be an effective tool at inducing whiffs. This pitch averaged 95.3 mph, with a max of 96.9 mph. The key to this pitch’s effectiveness is its vertical drop, or lack of it. Major-league fastballs with very little drop have proven to be the most dominant pitches in the league. Spencer Strider is a great example of this, and he is setting strikeout records with ease for Atlanta. Yamamoto’s average vertical drop is just 13.2 inches. David Adler of MLB.com compared Yoshinobu's fastball shape to Kevin Gausman’s in 2023. Gausman averaged 14 inches of drop on his fastball, with similar average velocity. Gausman struck out 237 batters in 185 innings, while also placing third in AL Cy Young voting. For the young Yamamoto to be compared to an established pitcher like Gausman is a healthy sign of how Yamamoto’s fastball will play in the MLB.


Yoshinobu’s fastball is far from the only tool in his kit. He has 4 other pitches, each of which are impressive on their own. A rapid-fire listing of these pitches, listed from most used to least, is a great way to get a sense of Yamamoto’s arsenal: Curveball, 77 mph average, with 2,809 average rpm and 65.8 inches of vertical drop. Splitter, 89.8 mph average, with 1,522 average rpm and 32.8 inches of vertical drop. Cutter, 93.2 mph average, with 2,470 average rpm and 18.3 inches of vertical drop. Yamamoto also will “mix in a rare, mid-80s ‘sweeper’ style of slider,” according to Adler. The comparisons that Yamamoto has earned based on these pitches’ data points are Clayton Kershaw’s curve, Shohei Ohtani’s splitter, and Gerrit Cole’s cutter. Having even one of these names listed as a comparison for one of your pitches would be an honor, but Yamamoto continues to impress by being compared to many established stars. Again, all of this limited data is only from the WBC tournament, but even this small sample size is more than enough to be excited about.


Based on the stats and advanced metrics we have on Yamamoto, it is no surprise that the hype surrounding him grows each day. Any MLB team that signs him adds a starter with five MLB-ready pitches and 7 professional seasons under his belt. Yamamoto’s contract will be on the higher end for Japanese players, and it very well could set the record for the most lucrative for a player coming from the NPB. With a lot of this offseason’s attention being placed on Ohtani and his free-agent sweepstakes, it's nice to take a step back to admire another talented player in the mix. Taking a deeper look into Yamamoto reveals another dominant athlete ready to make a real impact in the 2024 MLB season and beyond.



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"Yamamoto Yoshinobu Orix Buffaloes 20220514" via Orixbaseballclub licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

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