YOSHINOBU YAMAMOTO
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Nickname:   N/A Position:   RHP
Home: N/A Team:   DODGERS - IL
Height: 5' 10" Bats:   R
Weight: 176 Throws:   R
DOB: 8/17/1998 Agent: N/A
Uniform #: 18  
Birth City: Bizen, Okayama, Japan
Draft: 2023 - Dodgers - Free agent - Out of Japan
YR LEA TEAM SAL(K) G IP H SO BB GS CG SHO SV W L OBA ERA
2017 -22 Orix Buffalos   164 797 550 205 42 5 0 0 7 58 24   1.84
2024 NL DODGERS   14 74 62 84 17 14 0 0 0 6 2 0.221 2.92
Personal
  • Yamamoto started his career back in 2017, one year after he was drafted by the Buffaloes in the fourth round of the Nippon Professional Baseball Draft. He was initially used as one of the club's mid inning relievers, but in 2018 he was made the club's set-up man. In 2018, Yamamoto finished second in the Pacific League and tied for 4th in the whole NPB with 32 "holds." 

    That year, he also finished with a 4-2 record, a 2.89 ERA, and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Not bad for a 19-year-old who had just pitched his first full season in the world's second strongest baseball league.  (Note: Experts agree that the NPB's skill level rest somewhere between MLB and Triple A.)

    It was clear that this kid had already compiled most of the intangibles to become wildly successful in the NPB, and representatives from Japan's National Baseball Team agreed, as they added him to their team for the WBSC Premier 12 tournament, which is a competition where the world's 12 highest ranked baseball nations compete for medals, similar to the Olympics. During the competition, in which Japan won gold, Yamamoto allowed one run in five innings and struck out six. 

    The next season, in 2020, Yamamoto continued his strong performance the previous season. He finished fifth in the league in ERA with a 2.20 and sported an 8-4 record and an incredible 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings rate.

  • Ohtani is arguably the face of MLB right now, and Sasaki has made international headlines. But neither of them has ever posted an NPB season on the mound as good as Yamamoto did in 2022. At age 23, he finished with a 1.68 ERA, a 0.927 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 193 innings across 26 starts, winning the Pacific League MVP and a Triple Crown of pitching.

    Those numbers were a slight downgrade from his previous season, in which he also won MVP and a Triple Crown with a 1.39 ERA. (Jack Baer and Zach Crizer - Mar 8, 2023) 

  • Giants president Farhan Zaidi traveled to Japan to do some early free agent browsing. Zaidi observed Yamamoto who did not have his best showing in Orix’s 8-5 victory, giving up five runs on 10 hits while striking out nine in seven innings. But the line score likely did nothing to damper enthusiasm for the 25-year-old right-hander, whose combination of stuff and command is otherworldly.

    Yamamoto is expected to be posted in a matter of weeks and might be the most coveted player on the free-agent market after Shohei Ohtani. “It’s been a pilgrimage over there from front-office people to see him,” Zaidi said of Yamamoto earlier this month while joining Alex Pavlovic’s Giants Talk Podcast. “He’s really one of the top starting pitchers in the world. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not.” (Baggarly - Oct 19, 2023 - The Athletic) 

  • Back home in Massachusetts after spending a season playing for the Saitama Seibu Lions in Japan, one of Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s former opponents has encountered constant questions from childhood friends and college buddies who want to know more about the star free-agent pitcher.

    Where does Yamamoto want to go?

    How good is he, really?

    Wherever Yamamoto signs, David MacKinnon, who reached the major leagues in 2022 with the Angels, expects success. 

    “He legitimately could win your Cy Young Award next year,” MacKinnon says. “Like, he’s that good. It’s not some scrub coming over here. He’s disgusting.

    “It wasn’t fun facing him. You’d go up there and it was like, ‘Maybe I can get a hit. Yeah, maybe. Maybe he makes a mistake today.’ Or it was like, ‘I just gotta grind out a walk.’ You were just trying to not go 0-for-4.”

    So far this winter, only superstar Shohei Ohtani has generated more buzz than Yamamoto. On a video call with Japanese reporters based in the U.S. last week, Joel Wolfe, a long-time agent with a history of representing stars, said of the fervor surrounding his client: “This is by far the player with the most interested teams that I have ever seen at the beginning of free agency.”

    Yamamoto has until Jan. 4, 2024 to sign with a Major League Baseball team after the Orix Buffaloes, his team in Japan, posted him. Per Wolfe, nearly half the league has checked in on him. Though the agent wouldn’t name specific clubs, the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Yankees, Mets and Giants headline the group of teams reportedly coveting Yamamoto. Projections anticipate him reeling in a long-term deal north of $200 million.

    A lot of the fuss surrounding Yamamoto stems from his age. Players traditionally do not reach free agency until they are around 30. Yamamoto stands out because he is only 25 years old. 

    There’s also this: Yamamoto can pitch like an ace, according to the consensus from a poll that The Athletic recently conducted about what to expect from him. 

    A group of eight people, including one former longtime teammate of Yamamoto, two players with experience against him and five scouts/executives who have heavily evaluated him, largely agreed that Yamamoto projects in the major leagues as a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.

    “He’s legit-legit,” said outfielder Brian O’Grady, who played for the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2022 after spending parts of the previous three seasons with three MLB teams.

    Translation: Yamamoto isn’t just a legitimately good pitcher. He is the kind of pitcher who can legitimately dominate.

    MacKinnon said, “He’s nasty. He’s smart. He’s just a really, really good pitcher.” 

    So how good will Yamamoto be? It’s always hard to tell. The questions from MacKinnon’s friends might as well serve as a microcosm of the industry. The outlook sure looks promising, though. But like every pitcher who comes from Japan, Yamamoto will have to acclimate to an array of different challenges such as different mounds, increased travel, better competition and more. The change in baseball texture alone may lead to other adjustments within his arsenal, too.

    With Yamamoto, there are at least a couple of absolutes: he will surely get paid a lot of money, and wherever he goes, he will experience an adjustment period. But those who have scouted him thoroughly are confident about another thing.

    As one long-time evaluator said, “His pitch-ability will allow him to expertly navigate all of those challenges.” (Sammom - Nov 27, 2023 - The Athletic) 

  • The most fascinating pitcher to take a major-league mound this season doesn’t possess a black book of secrets but a black bag.

    Within Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s duffel are his unorthodox tools of the trade. There is an assortment of miniature soccer balls and wooden blocks, along with a yoga mat and set of javelins that have been the talk of Los Angeles Dodgers spring training.

    They are all part of the training methods that helped make Yamamoto the best pitcher, if not the best player, in Japan by the time he was 22 years old. Now at age 25 and signed to a 12-year, $325 million deal — the most ever for a pitcher — he is the subject of curiosity and intrigue. That’s not just for how he will produce in the sport’s highest league, but how he manages to do it. There’s a rigidity and a fluidity to the zen of Yamamoto. A purpose behind every action, yet no firm requirements. Those grappling for comparisons will point to the likes of Tim Lincecum and Pedro Martinez, two right-handers who electrified the sport despite, as with Yamamoto, standing at less than 6 feet tall. 

    When Los Angeles landed Yamamoto, they sought to maintain what had made Yamamoto a three-time Sawamura award winner and MVP with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball. They asked about his overall methodology and brought in Yamamoto’s longtime trainer and guru, Osamu Yada (known as “Yada Sensei”) as a consultant.

    Their relationship, Yamamoto explained, started when he was just 18 years old. The pitcher needed someone to develop his mechanics. Yada brought much more. This spring, he served as a shadow by trailing 10 feet behind Yamamoto. The routine they have crafted works, Dodgers staffers said, because it suits him. 

    Roberts marveled at the fact that he hasn’t seen Yamamoto so much as pick up a weight, yet the pitcher still generates so much force. Gavin Stone, who like Yamamoto possesses below-average height for the position, spoke of having to down Chipotle bowls throughout the winter seeking to add weight to maintain his mid-90s velocity — only to watch Yamamoto generate similar numbers through his methods.

    “There might not be another dude that can do that,” Stone said.

    Bobby Miller, one of the club’s top prospects who imposes with his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame as well as his triple-digit fastball, has found himself searching for a consistent, repeatable routine. And while Yamamoto’s “way of throwing hard is different from how I throw hard,” Miller has been eager to learn from the discipline that appears tailored specifically to how Yamamoto moves.

    “His routine is down to a T,” Miller said. “It’s pretty wild.” 

    The methods certainly made an impression during spring training. Beyond simply joking about tossing the javelin around or seeing who else can complete a handstand (fellow newcomer Tyler Glasnow, despite being 6-foot-8, is one of the few), Yada’s teachings have been a subject of interest. The Dodgers are trying to both learn about their new pitcher and explore unventured frontiers in training. It’s not just pitchers. As Mookie Betts observed Yamamoto in action this spring, his curiosity kicked in. Through an interpreter, Betts began badgering Yamamoto and Yada with questions; a couple of weeks ago, he joined in. Betts’ work has centered around “a lot of breathing, kind of zen-type stuff.”

    “I don’t really know what it is, so it’s hard to explain what I’m doing,” Betts said.

    But, with Yamamoto’s track record, he’s eager to find out. 

    There is so much that makes Yamamoto unique. Watching him go through his intricate set of drills hints at why it works. Coaches and staffers marvel at his mobility and efficiency of motion as he tosses the javelin, then watch as those traits imbue his delivery. Carr raved about Yamamoto’s ability to significantly modify his delivery ahead of the 2023 season and produce even better results. That starts to make sense when watching the body control Yamamoto demonstrates as he slips off his flip-flops outside the Dodgers clubhouse and contorts his body into an array of positions with balance and ease.

    “Yamamoto’s superpower is clearly just extreme coordination, range of motion, the ability to move very, very fast in a tight window with extreme precision,” Hill said. 

    “I call him, ‘The Missile,’” assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness said. “He’s just a missile, coming right at you.”

    Off the field, missile he is not. McGuiness called Yamamoto “a vibes guy.” Teammates have noted the smile seemingly plastered on his face every time he’s not on the mound. Yamamoto laughs easily, and with his interpreter, Yoshihiro Sonoda, they acclimated quickly to their new environment.

    Yamamoto’s comments to the press have been brief and straightforward. The challenge of asserting his dominance in the sport’s best league entices him. His looming major-league debut has inspired a “cloud nine feeling,” and yet his motivation is clear.

    “I’m not a complete pitcher yet,” Yamamoto said.

    He, like everyone else, is eager to find out what this next step looks like. (Ardaya - Mar 15, 2024 - The Athletic)

    TRANSACTIONS

  • Dec 22, 2023: The Dodgers agreed to a 12-year, $325 million deal with coveted Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Dodgers are also on the hook for a posting fee of around $50 million to Yamamoto's former Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Orix Buffaloes. The deal includes a $50 million signing bonus, has no deferrals, and includes opt-outs after years six and eight.

Pitching
  • Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto is in the discussion of best pitcher in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league, and he could conceivably sign with a Major League team, if he so chooses.

  • The big thing that allowed Yamamoto to find early success as a professional was simple: he had already developed a strong arsenal of pitches. According to international baseball scout Kazuto Yamazaki, Yamamoto has been known to throw up to five pitches, and all with high proficiency. 

    Yamamoto has both a 4-seam 92-96 mph FASTBALL with riding, cutting life. He has a SPLITTER that is a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale with huge depth he can land in the strike zone or bury for chase swings. He mostly overwhelms batters with those two pitches. He also has a CUTTER. And he has a CURVEBALL, along with a SLIDER.

    Yamamoto's repertoire covers a ton of pitches that feature high velocity. According to Yamazaki, Yamamoto's 4-seam fastball has a peak velocity of around 97 miles per hour and an average speed anywhere between 92-95, which is par for the course for most pitchers in MLB today. The one thing that can be said about the heater that can't be said about most pitchers' fastballs in The Show, however, is that he hasn't been known to lose velocity, even deep into his games.

    Yamazaki noted in his scouting report that the pitch "hit 94 on the stadium gun on the 122nd pitch" during one of his evaluations. The other "fastball" type pitch that is worth a mention is his splitter. According to Yamazaki, this pitch has the potential to be "a future elite MLB put-away pitch" down the road, meaning this pitch could be used to get a lot of outs.

    Yamamoto's curveball is on the shortlist for the most pretty looking curveball in the game today, regardless of league. If you want a dictionary definition of the term "swords", or the moment when a hitter swings his bat in a foolish fashion, then just watch this kid throw a curveball.

    Yamamoto is durable despite his size with a fast arm and a clean delivery. He aggressively pounds the strike zone with above-average control and has a good feel for mixing his pitches. Yamamoto projects to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in MLB. His club, Orix, may post him after the 2023 season. (Geoff Pontes - Baseball America - March, 2023)

  • 2023 in Japan: Pitch Usage/Avg. Velo: Fastball 43.6% - 95.4 mph; Split 29% - 90 mph; Curve 25.5% - 77 mph; Cutter 9% - 93.4 mph.

  • He has been outstanding during his short career in Japan. He’s won Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League MVP award and what is their equivalent to the Cy Young award. Over his seven-year career in his homeland, he is 70-29, with a 1.72 ERA, and has averaged just over nine strikeouts to just two walks every nine innings. 

  • Yamamoto will be the most prized pitcher on the open market for two reasons. First, he’s posted better results in Nippon Professional Baseball than any pitcher who’s ever signed in the majors. Second, he’s only 25, making him an appealing option for teams that are both looking to win right away in 2024 and toward a sustained window of competitiveness beyond next year.

    Yamamoto has won the last three Eiji Sawamura awards — Japan’s version of the Cy Young Award — and twice been named the Pacific League’s most valuable player.

    Yamamoto works with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touches higher. His best secondary pitch is a splitter that dives off the table, and he utilizes an unorthodox grip on a tight curveball. Yamamoto has struck out opposing hitters about 50 percent more than the league average in Japan. (Britton/Gleeman - Nov 6, 2023 - The Athletic)

  • Fastball command jumps out as a major tool. Yamamoto’s minuscule walk rate in Japan (5.7 percent) resembles Tanaka’s impressive figure in NPB (5.2 percent) and the best marks from Darvish (6.6 percent) and Senga (9.3 percent). However, scouts cautioned that NPB offense was down in 2023, especially for power, and batters in that league swung early to avoid getting down in the count and becoming vulnerable to Yamamoto’s other weapons. Clearly, he will have to pitch more carefully to MLB hitters, which would theoretically lead to more walks, a scout said.

    Other scouts referred to Yamamoto’s pitch package as very good, noting he throws strikes and stays available even if there wasn’t any one particular aspect of his repertoire that was overly unique. In other words, unlike Senga, Yamamoto does not have a pitch that has garnered a nickname like Senga’s splitter or “ghost fork.” But the list of things he does consistently well is lengthy. His fastball checks in at 94-98 mph. He hits spots well. He works both sides of the plate with two-seamers in and cutters away. He weaponizes a curveball using a special grip — his thumb is more on top of the ball as opposed to spiking it — that produces a dramatic drop. And, like many Japanese pitchers, he utilizes a splitter that should perform well in MLB against batters who aren’t as familiar with it. 

    Yamamoto’s most distinctive feature may be his windup — he throws the ball with minimal lifting of his foot, works quickly and uses deceptive pauses. MacKinnon and O’Grady said Yamamoto does a good job of thinking ahead and using a range of speeds, even with the same pitches. For example, his curveball can go as slow as 75 mph, and he uses different sliders at different speeds. Whereas Senga possesses the better splitter, both MacKinnon and O’Grady said Yamamoto has a superior curveball and a better fastball. The way Yamamoto works down on the mound with extension gives the illusion of his fastball rising or jumping at batters. (Sammon - Nov 27, 2023 - The Athletic)

  • April 4, 2024: Yoshinobu Yamamoto's yo-yo curveball has arrived.

    We knew coming into Yamamoto's first season with the Dodgers that the curve was his signature pitch. We got a preview of how good that curveball could be in the World Baseball Classic and hoped Yamamoto could follow in the footsteps of longtime Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and his iconic curveball, Public Enemy No. 1. But now we can see his stuff side-by-side next to other big league pitchers for the first time. And what we're seeing is: Yamamoto's curveball already looks like one of the best in MLB. 

    Even in Yamamoto's rocky first outing in Korea, the pure stuff was there. Then, in his Dodger Stadium debut, the results came through. Yamamoto's curveball was Public Enemy No. 2.Yamamoto totaled 10 called and swinging strikes with his curveball against the Cardinals, making him one of four starters to reach double digits in a game this year. (Orioles ace Corbin Burnes has the most, with 13 on Opening Day.) Now let's put some numbers to that nasty stuff. Here's the Statcast data on Yamamoto's curveball as he enters the third start of his MLB career against the Cubs: 

    Velocity: 78.0 mph     Spin rate: 2,740 rpm     Vertical movement: 63.0 inches

    Horizontal movement: 13.1 inches     Induced vertical break: 17.1 inches of drop

    What really stands out about Yamamoto's curveball is the movement, in particular, the amount it drops.  There are two ways to look at that drop. The first is by measuring Yamamoto's curveball movement against other comparable MLB pitchers. Yamamoto's curveball generates an extra 7.7 inches of drop compared to the pitchers who throw their curves at similar velocities and release points. That puts him on top of Statcast's curveball drop leaderboard for starting pitchers.

    Curveballs with the most drop vs. average in 2024 for SPs with 10+ curveballs thrown:

    Yoshinobu Yamamoto: +7.7 inches vs. avg.       Dylan Cease:  +7.6 inches vs. avg.

    J.P. France: +7.1 inches vs. avg.        Hunter Brown:  +6.7 inches vs. avg.

    Max Fried / Joe Musgrove / Zack Thompson:  +6.0 inches vs. avg.

  • The way Yamamoto's curveball drops, he can start it at a hitter's eyes and still land it in the zone. He's going to freeze a lot of batters that way, and get a lot of called strikes and punchouts, the same way Kershaw does.

    Look at how Yamamoto struck out Matt Carpenter, a hitter who's seen plenty of Kershaw's curveball over the years. Yamamoto got him with a beautiful 77.5 mph, 2,818 rpm curve that dropped 63 inches — just enough to land perfectly in the strike zone for a backwards K.

    The other lens to look at Yamamoto's curveball is through his induced vertical break — the amount of movement Yamamoto generates from the way he spins his curve. Induced vertical break, or IVB, measures how much more Yamamoto's curveball drops than if he had released a pitch along the same trajectory, but without the spin he puts on his curve. You can use that number to compare Yamamoto to any other Major League pitcher, not just the smaller group that throws the curveballs most similar to his. Yamamoto is inducing over 17 inches of drop on his curveball. That's a lot of induced break. (D Adler - MLB.com - April 6, 2024)

  • 2024 Improvements: Yamamoto is still in the second full month of his major league career, and yet he has already evolved into a different pitcher, his pitch mix increasing from four to six.

    The four-seam fastball, the rainbow curve and the darting splitter continue to be his bread and butter. The cutter remains an intermittent weapon. Over his past four starts, though, Yamamoto has also unveiled a two-seamer and a slider against right-handed hitters. It's yet another dynamic for the 25-year-old right-hander whose early numbers -- 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA and a 5.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio despite an ugly major league debut -- are beginning to justify the hype he carried with him from Japan.

    "[He's] more than just a rookie," Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "This is a guy who's never been in the United States. He's learning the language, he's learning Major League Baseball, he feels like every time he goes out everyone expects him to throw a complete-game shutout. There's a lot on him. For him to go out there and do what he's been doing these first two months, I think it's special."

    Yamamoto occasionally flashed the two-seamer and slider in Japan, but as Dodgers assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness noted, "he honestly just didn't need it." Yamamoto won three consecutive Pacific League MVPs from 2021 to 2023, during which he posted a 1.42 ERA in 557 2/3 innings and mostly survived on three pitches.

    The Dodgers' initial focus was on making his transition as smooth as possible, which meant placing him on something close to the once-a-week schedule he was accustomed to in Japan and keeping his repertoire tight. Any tinkering would wait.

    "When he first came over to us, a big point of emphasis was just making sure he was comfortable -- getting used to the American ball, getting used to our catchers, just kind of how we go about things, the different talent level of lineups that he's facing," McGuiness said. "So he was really showcasing the main three early on. And the more and more we got to know him and he started to feel much more comfortable with his delivery, it just opened him up to really showcase his talent and skills to be able to do different things."

    Yamamoto allowed five runs and recorded only three outs during his major league debut in South Korea on March 21. He recovered admirably, posting a 1.64 ERA over his next six starts, but an ominous trend began to emerge: Right-handed hitters were faring well against him, slashing .281/.311/.491 through May 1. Against his fastball and curveball, those numbers jumped to .350/.357/.650.

    Yamamoto had the splitter and, to a lesser extent, the cutter as put-away pitches against lefties. But he needed more options against righties. The two-seamer could bust them in on their hands; the slider could tail away and make them chase. In recent starts, both pitches have been consistent weapons. Yamamoto barely used them while facing a lefty-loaded Cincinnati Reds lineup on Sunday, but he threw a combined 25 two-seamers and 20 sliders in starts against the Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks from May 7 to May 20, the vast majority to right-handed hitters.

    They went a combined 2-for-13 with four strikeouts against those pitches. In that stretch, their overall slash line against Yamamoto went down to .233/.250/.442.

    "He's always had all of these pitches," McGuiness said. "It was just a function of once his delivery is in a good spot to really showcase them in a game."

    The slider -- thrown in the mid-80s, about six ticks slower than his cutter but with significantly more depth -- first made an appearance against the D-backs on May 1. Yamamoto threw three of them, one of which badly fooled Christian Walker for a strikeout. When the D-backs saw him again on May 20, Yamamoto unleashed 11 two-seamers and 10 sliders, both season highs. Three of those sliders drew strikeouts, including one to the left-handed-hitting Joc Pederson.

    "There's tremendous aptitude there, and he's got a great feel for the baseball," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "I think it's just the awareness and the creativity that he has. And he's probably trusting some coaching. He saw that there was a need to change shapes with a couple of his pitches and has transitioned really well. The fact he's been able to do it as fast as he has is impressive, but not surprising."

    Dodgers hitters were blown away early in spring training by Yamamoto's stuff and command. A handful of starts into his major league career, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saw a pitcher who "got tired of being mediocre" and honed in on the details of his mechanics because of it. Easing into his major league career, Roberts said, "wasn't good enough for him." Effectively incorporating two additional pitches so soon is a perfect example.

    Yamamoto had been throwing two-seam fastballs in bullpen sessions since the early part of spring training but waited until the mechanics of his delivery were sound before unleashing the slider, a pitch historically troublesome on elbows. The shapes of those pitches are ever-evolving, as is Yamamoto's transition to the big leagues. He has continually worked on not leaking his four-seam fastball out over the plate, an issue that has led to a 48.5% hard-hit rate. Over time, McGuiness said, he's "learning what a good miss means" and how it can enhance his sequencing.

    He still has a lot to learn, but he's doing it quickly.

    "As we got to know him, that's something that really stood out -- his aptitude, his thoughtfulness, the questions he asked," Carr said. "You could tell he was a real student. I mean, there's so much intent with every throw that he makes. When he's playing long toss and you watch him, he's focused and intentional on every single throw he makes. So if those are your building blocks and you combine that with superior coordination, athleticism -- it's pretty exciting to feel like you can probably ask him to make some adjustments and he's going to be OK." (Alden Gonzalez - May 29, 2024)

Career Injury Report
  • June 15, 2024: Yamamoto was placed on the IL. He left his start after just two innings due to what was initially described as triceps tightness but was later diagnosed as a rotator cuff strain.