Current status: Yamaguchi reportedly signed a three-year contract worth 700 million yen, roughly $6.5 million, when he joined the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent following the 2016 season. On Monday, Nov. 18, the Giants announced they were breaking with the club’s longstanding policy of ridiculing the posting system and prohibiting players from using it to post Yamaguchi.
His posting application was filed on Dec. 2.
Team: Yomiuri Giants
Pos: RHP Age: 32, he’ll be 33 on July 11, 2020.
League leader: Wins (15 in 2019), Strikeouts (186 in 2019)
Yamaguchi was the Giants’ standout starter in the 2019 regular season, reaching double digits in wins for the second time in his career. The son of a former sumo wrestler, the right-hander was taken in the first round of the 2005 high school draft.
He had success for several seasons as the BayStars’ closer, but suffered a crisis of confidence in his fourth season in that role and ended up on the farm team where he went back to using his secondary pitches more. He was converted to a starter in 2014, in perhaps the one astute move made by former DeNA skipper Kiyoshi Nakahata.
With the Giants, Yamaguchi’s splitter has come into its own, and this season he not only executed it well but also incorporated it into his entire mix better so that batters were going after it out of the zone more than ever and coming up empty more.
He missed bats on 13.5 percent of the swings against him, according to Delta Graphs, the highest percentage of any NPB pitcher with 80-plus innings under his belt in 2019 with most of those misses coming out of the zone.
What Yamaguchi threw in 2019
- Fastball 43.7 percent (probably a career-low), avg velocity 145.1 kph
- Splitter 26.6 percent
- Slider 20.2 percent
- Curve 8.2 percent
- Two-seamer 1.2 percent
On a pitch-per-pitch basis, his splitter, again according to Delta Graphs, was the most effective in NPB among pitchers with 80-plus innings.
Although his fastball is not an out pitch for him, Yamaguchi’s success with his splitter this season and to a lesser extent his slider is probably related to an uptick in four-seam fastball velocity.
He appears to have value as either a back-of-the-rotation starter or a bullpen guy, largely because he has not established his current level of success and because of the incident.
On Aug. 18, 2017, Kyodo News reported the following:
According to police and other sources, Yamaguchi had been out drinking and visited the hospital early on the morning of July 11 to have an injury to his pitching hand treated.
The pitcher has been fined 1/300th of his salary from July 11 through Thursday and will be docked the same amount each day of his suspension. The total cost of his outburst to him will likely be in excess of 100 million yen (roughly $917,000).
He is accused of shoving a male security guard in the chest, causing him to crash into a desk, leaving bruising on his lower back that lasted for two weeks. He also reportedly damaged a door at the hospital.
“I am truly sorry for having caused such a situation through my bad behavior,” Yamaguchi told a press conference at the team’s offices in Tokyo.
The incident aside, Yamaguchi is pleasant and straightforward with the media, and I have no reason to doubt he is anything but a good teammate. At the time of the incident, he was coming off poor performances and reportedly the pressure of playing for the Giants got the best of him.