Yoshinobu Yamamoto

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Yoshinobu Yamamoto (山本 由伸)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Yoshinobu Yamamoto has won three Sawamura Awards and won an Olympic Gold Medal and World Baseball Classic with the Japanese national team.

Yamamoto's fastball hit 93 mph in high school. [1] The Orix Buffaloes took him in the 4th round of the 2016 NPB draft. [2] He started five games for Orix in 2017, going 1-1 with a 5.32 ERA in his Nippon Pro Baseball debut.

He moved to the bullpen in 2018 and was impressive enough to make the Pacific League team for the 2018 NPB All-Star Games. In Game 1, he relieved Yusei Kikuchi in the 3rd with a 5-3 lead. Tetsuto Yamada greeted him with a single; after he retired Norichika Aoki and Hayato Sakamoto, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo took him deep to tie it. Seiya Suzuki singled but he escaped further harm by retiring Wladimir Balentien. Mike Bolsinger took over in the 4th. [3] He became the first 20-year-old Buffalo hurler to pitch 50 games since Masafumi Hirai in 1995 and was the youngest player to register 30 holds in NPB history (he finished with 32). [4] For the season, he was 4-2 with a save and a 2.89 ERA. He got 70 votes for the 2018 Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award to finish 2nd, 42 points behind outfielder Kazuki Tanaka. [5]

Yamamoto pitched for Japan in their friendly exhibition against the Mexican national team in early 2019. [6] He returned to the rotation in 2019 after Chihiro Kaneko and Yuki Nishi left Orix and he was dominant at 8-6, 1.95 with a .96 WHIP. He had a three-inning save in 2019 NPB All-Star Game 1, the first time someone had done that since Hiroshi Takamura in 1996, relieving Yuki Matsui with a 4-1 lead and allowing two runs in three (on a Fumihito Haraguchi two-run shot in the 9th after the lead was 6-1). [7] He won the PL ERA title, .51 ahead of runner-up Kohei Arihara. [8] He was tied for 8th in wins and 5th in strikeouts (127, between Atsuki Taneichi and Kota Futaki). He was 11th in voting for the 2019 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award. [9] He did not get the Best Nine nod in the PL, which went to Kodai Senga.

The right-hander then made Japan's squad for the 2019 Premier 12. Now hitting 98 on the radar gun at his peak, he wound up back in the bullpen for Japan. His first outing came against Puerto Rico, relieving Kan Otake in the 8th with a 4-0 lead. He gave up a single to Edwin Gómez but Jack López hit into a double play and Yamamoto got Jay Gonzalez swinging. Yasuaki Yamasaki relieved in the 9th. He pitched five games in the tournament, posting a 1.80 ERA, tying Yamasaki for the team lead in games pitched. He also tied for the tournament lead in pitching appearances. He made his last appearance in the Gold Medal Game, replacing Hiroshi Kaino in the 8th with a 5-3 lead. He fanned Jung-hoo Lee, got Ha-seong Kim on a fly then whiffed Jae-hwan Kim before Yamasaki closed it out. [10]

He was 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA in 2020. He tied Senga for the strikeout lead (149), was second in ERA (.04 behind Senga) and tied for 7th in wins in another stellar campaign. [11] He was again 11th in voting for the PL MVP. [12] He started 2021 NPB All-Star Game 1 for the Pacific League, retiring all six batters (Sakamoto, Teruaki Sato, Suzuki, Kazuma Okamoto, Dayán Viciedo and Jefry Marté), fanning Sato; Tatsuya Imai relieved him with a 2-0 lead. [13]

Yamamoto was back with Japan for the Tokyo Olympics. He started against Bronze Medal winner the Dominican Republic (a team with numerous past major leaguers as well as some prospects) and pitched six shutout innings (2 H, 1 BB, 9 K) but was matched zero for zero by C.C. Mercedes. Koyo Aoyagi took over in the 7th. Facing South Korea with a spot in the Gold Medal Game for the winner, he threw five shutout innings and carried a 2-0 lead into the 6th but allowed three hits while retiring one as they closed it to 2-1. Suguru Iwazaki relieved and let an inherited runner score to tie it, but Japan prevailed and would go on to win Gold. He was second in the Olympics in IP (2 2/3 behind Mercedes), tied Eui-lee Lee for the most strikeouts (18) and had the second-best ERA among pitchers with 6+ IP (Sang-woo Cho was at 1.13; Nick Martinez was close behind at 1.64 to his 1.59). [14]

He was lights-out for 2021 at 18-5, 1.39 with 206 K in 193 2/3 IP, posting a .85 WHIP. He won a pitching Triple Crown, beating teammate Hiroya Miyagi for the ERA title by a whopping 1.12. He led in wins by 5 ahead of Miyagi and in strikeouts by 54 ahead of Takahiro Norimoto. His six complete games were double runners-up Imai and Kazuya Ojima. His four shutouts were double runner-up Ojima. [15] In Game 1 of the 2021 Japan Series, he got the nod against the Yakult Swallows. He pitched six fine innings (5 H, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 R) but was outdueled by Yasunobu Okugawa and Ryo Yoshida relieved him with a 1-0 deficit. Orix would rally to win the game. [16] While the Series was going on, he won the Sawamura Award as Japan's dominant pitcher. The last Orix winner had been Kaneko, seven years prior. It had been eight years since a Sawamura Award winner had such a low ERA (Masahiro Tanaka in that case) and ten years since one had struck out more (again Tanaka). He also was the first pitcher to win four Pitcher of the Month Awards since Tanaka and set a franchise record with 15 straight wins. [17] He was back on the hill for Game 6 of the 2021 Japan Series, down 3 games to 2. He struck out 11 and allowed one run in nine but was matched by three Yakult hurlers and gave way to Yoshihisa Hirano in the 10th; Yakult would win in 12. He won the Fighting Spirit Award as the MVP of the losing Japan Series entry and a Gold Glove [18] He was also the runaway winner of the 2021 PL MVP, with 283 of 286 first-place votes; teammate Yutaro Sugimoto had two and Miyagi one. [19]

On June 18, 2022, Yamamoto threw a no-hitter against the Seibu Lions. It made history by being the 4th no-hitter in NPB that year, the first time that had happened in a season; he was preceded by Roki Sasaki, Nao Higashihama and Shota Imanaga. [20] In 2022 NPB All-Star Game 2, he relieved Keisuke Honda in the third with a 1-1 game. Adam Walker hit into an error, then Yamada flew out and Munetaka Murakami singled. He struck out Teruaki Sato and retired Yusuke Ohyama to end the inning. Higashihama succeeded him. [21] His numbers for 2022 were very similar to '21: 15-5, 1.68, .92 WHIP, 205 K in 193 IP. He was among the PL leaders in wins (1st, 3 more than runner-up Kona Takahashi), ERA (1st, .26 ahead of Senga), complete games (4, 1st, one ahead of Takayuki Katoh and Naoyuki Uwasawa), shutouts (2, tied for 1st), innings (1st, 17 1/3 ahead of Takahashi) and strikeouts (1st, 32 ahead of Sasaki). [22] He was the first NPB pitcher to win consecutive pitching Triple Crowns. While he again carried Orix into the Japan Series, he was rocked in the 2022 Japan Series opener. He gave up a two-run double to Yakult's José Osuna in the first, and homers to Yasutaka Shiomi and Osuna, for four runs in four innings before leaving in the 5th with injury. He lost to Yasuhiro Ogawa. Orix would win the Series, though, with their ace sidelined. [23] He also was the runaway winner of the 2022 Pacific League MVP, with 255 of 267 first-place votes and 1,299 vote points; teammate Masataka Yoshida was next with 605 vote points. He and Murakami were the first pair of CL/PL MVPs to repeat since Sadaharu Oh and Hisashi Yamada in 1976-1977. [24] He also won a Gold Glove and a Best Nine again. [25]

Yamamoto made Japan's roster for the 2023 World Baseball Classic. [26] He dominated Australia in his debut, as he pitched 4 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts. Only Robbie Perkins collected a single off him. He got the win over Will Sherriff. He then relieved Roki Sasaki against Mexico in the 5th inning. Yamamoto retired Alek Thomas and Austin Barnes before walking Randy Arozarena, but he then forced Alex Verdugo to hit a grounder to end the inning. He retired all three batters in the 6th inning, and walked Alan Trejo after Luis Urías grounded out the next inning. The Okayama native then struck out Alek Thomas and Trejo was caught stealing 2nd. Yamamoto had trouble in the 8th inning as Arozarena and Verdugo hit back-to-back doubles to give Mexico the lead. Joey Meneses then singled and Yamamoto was replaced by Atsuki Yuasa. Isaac Paredes's RBI single gave Yamamoto another earned run, but Munetaka Murakami's walk-off double prevented him from getting the loss. Japan won the Championship. His 12 K were second in the event, one behind Miguel Romero. [27]

The ace of Orix was still productive in 2023 and he was selected into the 2023 NPB All-Star Game. He relieved Roki Sasaki in the 2nd inning of Game 1, retiring Kazuma Okamoto before Teruaki Sato hit a double. Yamamoto then struck out Seiya Hosokawa and forced Ryutaro Umeno to hit a infield fly to escape the jam.[28] On September 9th, he threw his second no-hitter against the Chiba Lotte Marines, and that was the 100th no-hitter in NPB history. He was also the first pitcher to complete a no-hitter in back-to-back seasons in two-league era. Yamamoto ended up 16-6 with a incredible 1.21 ERA, and won the PL pitching triple crown. He led the PL in wins (5 ahead of Kaima Taira and Sachiya Yamasaki), ERA (1.00 ahead of Kona Takahashi), winning percentage (.013 ahead of Miyagi), and strikeouts (12 ahead of Atsuki Taneichi). Yamamoto was the first pitcher ever to win 3 pitching triple crowns in NPB history, and he won his consecutively! His 1.21 ERA was the second-lowest in PL history; only Kazuhisa Inao had a lower mark at 1.06 ERA in 1956. He won his third straight Sawamura Award, and became the second player in NPB history to complete this achievement, following Masaichi Kaneda (1956- 1958). [29] He capped his season with a flourish in Game 6 of the 2023 Japan Series on November 4th against the Hanshin Tigers when he pitched a complete game 5-1 win, striking out a Japan Series-record 14 batters and walking none, thus forcing a decisive Game 7 in the Series. However, the Buffaloes were still beaten by the Tigers in Game 7 by a 7-1 score. He won the 2023 PL MVP in a landslide, with 259 first-place votes to 5 for runner-up Kensuke Kondoh. Ichiro Suzuki had been the last player to win three MVPs in a row in NPB. [30]

Following the Japan Series, the Buffaloes announced that they would allow Yamamoto to move to Major League Baseball via the posting system. [31] He was officially posted on November 20th, giving teams until January 4, 2024 to make offers. Once Shohei Ohtani signed his mega contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he became the main focus of hot stove league speculation, as there were at least a half dozen teams seriously interested in bidding for his services. But on December 21st, the winners were announced to be once again the Dodgers, with the two sides coming to an agreement on a $325 million deal over 12 years. The Dodgers would also need to pay the posting fee of $50 million, and the total amount included a signing bonus of $50 million, so the annual salary was $27 million. There immediately was speculation that Ohtani had lobbied his teammate from the Japanese national team to join him in L.A. Yamamoto made his debut with the Dodgers on March 21, 2024, starting the second of two games played against the San Diego Padres in a special season-opening series in Seoul, South Korea. He did not do very well as he gave up five runs in just one inning of work, giving up four hits, a walk and a hit batsman. The Dodgers managed to get back in the game, but never tied the score, so he was charged with the 15-11 loss. After that disastrous initial outing, he had to wait until March 30th to make his next start, but that one was more in line with expectations: against the St. Louis Cardinals, he pitched five scoreless innings, allowed just two hits, did not walk anyone and struck out five opponents. The Dodgers' bullpen was not as good, as they lost the game, 6-5, but that was the Yamamoto that fans wanted to see. He then recorded his first win on April 6th with another five scoreless innings, punctuated by 8 Ks, in a 4-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. After 14 games, he was 6-2 with an ERA of 2.92 when the Dodgers announced on June 17th that he would have to go on the injured list with a strained rotator cuff. He had left his start the previous day after just two innings with what was initially described as "forearm tightness", but obviously the injury was more significant and likely to keep him out of action for an extended spell. It was particularly damaging because he was pitching very well and proving very popular with the team's fan base: a couple of days before the injury, the Dodgers had brought out a 9-year-old named Keita, who was a dead ringer for him in terms of appearance and pitching style, to throw him the ceremonial first pitch on his bobblehead night.


Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "What Yamamoto's nasty stuff might look like in MLB", mlb.com, November 21, 2023. [1]
  • David Adler: "Get to know the newest Dodger, Yoshinobu Yamamoto", mlb.com, December 21, 2023. [2]
  • David Adler: "Yamamoto's multidimensional curveball already looks elite", mlb.com, April 5, 2024. [3]
  • Sonja Chen: "Dodgers get their ace, agree to $325M deal with Yamamoto", mlb.com, December 22, 2023. [4]
  • Theo DeRosa: "9-year-old throws 1st pitch to Yamamoto and delivery looks familiar!", mlb.com, June 13, 2024. [5]
  • Brian Murphy: "Yamamoto notches Japan Series-record 14 K's in 138-pitch CG", mlb.com, November 5, 2023. [6]
  • Juan Toribio: "Yamamoto greeted harshly in 1-inning Dodgers debut", mlb.com, March 21, 2024. [7]
  • Juan Toribio: "Yamamoto puts together masterpiece with 8 K's in first MLB win", mlb.com, April 6, 2024. [8]
  • Sarah Wexler: "Yamamoto placed on IL with strained rotator cuff", mlb.com, June 16, 2024. [9]

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