Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the ace right-hander of the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes, and was the top pitcher for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics. He has four of the nine years needed for international free agency. Although Orix was one of the first franchises to use the posting system, when the BlueWave allowed Ichiro Suzuki to leave after the 2000 season, the club hasn’t posted anyone since.
The Buffaloes also played games with Yamamoto’s service time as a rookie, activating him for a handful of games, starting him and then sending him back to the minors for a few days. That means instead of the 40 days of service time he should have had as a rookie starter, he got five. Those could come into play if he misses five months due to injury in a season.
It’s just my guess, but I’ve been told he’s working on his English and intends to play in the U.S. majors. I see the end of the 2023 season as the most likely target for that process to start.
Updated: Nov. 22, 2021
Yamamoto got off to a slow start to the season, going 3-5 in his first nine starts, with two of those wins shutouts. After allowing a season-high six runs in six innings on May 19, he then started on eight-days rest, and with Japan manager Atsunori Inaba looking on, allowed two runs in seven innings against the Yakult Swallows without his best stuff.
The rest of the season, Yamamoto went 14-0 while allowing 12 runs, 11 earned over 122 innings for a 0.81 ERA.
Yamamoto got more swings and misses than any other starting pitcher in Japan, and also benefited from getting relatively little soft or hard contact, letting his fielders scoop up all those batted balls in the in-between sweet spot and produce a .740 DER, the best for any ERA-title qualified pitcher in either league.
Team: Orix Buffaloes
Pos: SP Born: Aug. 17, 1998. Throws: R
Led the league: Wins (2021), ERA (2019, 2021), Strikeouts (2020, 2021), Winning percentage: (2021)
Honors: Sawamura Award (2021), 2020 Olympic All Tournament Team RHP (2017)
Yamamoto is mostly about the fastball and splitter, but for the past three years, he has going more and more with a curve that has become really good.
|Pitch||Percent||Avg. Velo||Run value-100 pitches|
Pitches are graded 20-80 with 50 representing MLB average, 60 above average, 70 one standard deviation above mean, 80 two SDs above the mean. The numbers below are how a pitcher rates in Japan among the pitchers who threw at least 10 of that type of pitch in the season. They are rated by how often they are strikes, how often they are located on the corner, and how often they are missed.
- Fastball: Strikes 64% -0.6 SD, Corner 8%, +1.7 SD, Miss 9% +3.3 SD, Grade: 60.
- Split: Strikes 71% +4.1 SD, Corner 9% +3.0 SD, Miss 25% ++3.7 SD Grade: 70
- Curve: Strikes 68% +3.5 SD, Corner 6% +1.6 SD, Miss 11% +3.5 SD Grade: 60
- Cutter: Strikes 71% +3.8 SD, Corner 10% +2.5 SD, Miss 10% -0.8 SD Grade: 60
It’s fairly obvious from these figures that Yamamoto, even though he is right at the median for the percentage of pitches thrown in the zone, is close to the zone and getting tons of strikes.
He’s not the hardest throwing front-liner starter, that’s Kodai Senga of the SoftBank Hawks, but Yamamoto’s command is above average.
When Yamamoto got ahead in counts in 2021, he loved his fastball. The cutter was used largely to get back into counts and in full counts, while the curve was used more often 0-0, 1-1, and when ahead in counts.
Here’s one of his curves, thrown to Brandon Laird of the Lotte Marines.