NPB Week: Yoshinobu Yamamoto
The international posting periods have begun! This week we look at 5 names from the NPB who could make an impact in the MLB.
The History of Yoshinobu Yamamoto:
Born on August 17th, 1998 the right-handed pitcher began his professional career just 3 days after his 19th birthday with the Orix Buffaloes in 2017.
That first season in 2017, Yamamoto had scant playing time as a still developing teenager, though his first experience in the NPB was as a starter. However, in 2018 the Buffaloes moved Yamamoto to the bullpen, where he shined. He became the youngest player in NPB history to record 30 holds, was the first 20-year-old since 1995 to pitch in 50 games, made his first All-Star game, and he finished 2nd in the Pacific League Rookie of the Year award.
In 2019, he transitioned back to being a starting pitcher and was an All-Star for the 2nd year in a row while leading the Pacific League in ERA by a considerable margin. He missed out on a Best Nine finish (losing out to Kodai Senga) and placed 11th in the MVP. In 2020 he continued to progress as a starter, finishing 11th in the MVP while ending in a tie with Kodai Senga for the strikeout lead, was 2nd behind him in ERA, and finished 7th for wins.
Yamamoto's best season came in 2021 as he took home the pitching triple crown while leading the Pacific League in Wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He finally passed Senga while making his 3rd All-Star Game and taking home the Eiji Sawamura, Golden Glove, Best Nine, and Pacific League MVP awards. In 2022, Yamamoto proved that season wasn't a fluke either. He pitched to a second consecutive pitching triple-crown (the first player in NPB history to do so) while winning his 2nd straight Eiji Sawamura Award, made it to his his 4th All-Star game, he pitched a no-hitter, and while he didn't show up for the Japan Series he did get his first ring.
The Stats of Yoshinobu Yamamoto:
Over his 6 seasons in the NPB (2017-2022), Yoshinobu Yamamoto has mostly pitched as a starting pitcher, but to be fair to him as he's progressed into an ace I'm going to separate his stats into pre- and post-becoming a true starter.
In his "pre-" era- or his first two years (2017-2018), Yamamoto pitched in 59 games to a 5-3 record (.625 WP%) and a 3.63 ERA over 76.2 innings. During this time, he had 32 holds and 1 save with a 1.239 WHIP (72 hits, 23 walks) and striking out 66 batters.
In his "post-" era- or the previous four years (2019-2022), Yamamoto has pitched in 90 games to a 49-20 record (.710 WP%) with a 1.75 ERA over 656.2 innings. During this time, he's pitched to 10 complete games and 7 shutouts (including a no-hitter) while pitching to a 0.912 WHIP (444 hits, 155 walks) and 687 strikeouts.
Overall, this translates to him pitching 149 games (92 starts), to a 54-23 record (.701 WP%) with a 1.95 ERA over 733.2 innings. He also has a combined 0.946 WHIP and 753 strikeouts.
I also wanted to quickly highlight his 2021 and 2022 seasons:
2021: 18-5 Record (0.783 WP%), 1.39 ERA, 193.2 Innings, 0.847 WHIP, 206 Strikeouts
2022: 15-5 Record (.750 WP%), 1.68 ERA, 193.0 Innings, 0.927 WHIP, 205 Strikeouts
Should The Yankees Sign Him?
I held some hesitancy towards Kodai Senga yesterday, even though he is the better proven talent in the NPB with many more accolades, a non-limiting factor with him not having a "posting period", and his apparent fire with trying 3 times to get to the MLB already. I don't hold that same inner turmoil around Yamamoto. He is the free agent pitcher to target. Not enough people are talking about him, and I am willing to put my money where my mouth is by stating now that he's going to have more success in the MLB than Senga. (As a disclaimer, I hope both become Yankees. I hope both are successful in the MLB.)
And yes, there are the same problems that are held with Senga and Yamamoto. Yamamoto has never pitched more than 200 innings in a regular season before. Yamamoto has never started more than 26 games before.
But, Yamamoto is also going to be 24 next season. He has plenty of time to develop in the MLB. The problem with Senga is that he's going to try to come over as a 30-year-old. Yes, in his prime, but his career is going to take a huge hurdle late. Yamamoto is young, he has time on his side. I personally believe that he's going to be able to handle it better. I think given how he's younger that will help his transition to the USA. He'll have a projection for a longer stay in the USA as opposed to a temporary stop halfway across the globe. He also doesn't have the injury history.
Again, I want both. I always want the hot topic Japanese player to come to the Yankees. Since Tanaka left, the Yankees have been missing that player and that population of fan. They need a good Japanese player again. And, I think Yamamoto would be perfect for that role.
Also: a special shout-out to Samurai Japan for beating the German Men's National team in the World Cup this morning! Here are those highlights: