As if landing the biggest free agent in baseball history wasn’t enough for Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers, they went and grabbed the other hottest name on the market for good measure. Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto is reportedly following in Shohei Ohtani’s footsteps, heading to Los Angeles on a 12-year, $325 million deal and putting a bow on what has to be one of the best offseasons for any team in the history of the sport.
Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in agreement on an 12-year, $325 million contract, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 22, 2023
If you’ve paid any attention to the Hot Stove in recent weeks, you’ve likely heard Yamamoto’s name more than once; with Ohtani off the market, the right-hander quickly became the most sought-after player available, and just about every big-market club entered the bidding war for his services.
But just what makes him so special? Why were so many teams excited to throw the bag at a guy who’s never thrown a Major League pitch? We gave you a preliminary scouting report back in November, but now that Yamamoto is headed to L.A., let’s break down what Dodgers fans can expect from their newest addition and why he’s such a great get for Friedman and Co.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto scouting report
Put simply, guys with Yamamoto’s track record, at Yamamoto’s age, don’t hit the open market very often. Yes, Yamamoto has spent the past seven seasons pitching in Japan, and yes, hitters in Nippon Professional Baseball aren’t quite what they are in the Majors. But NPB is also widely regarded as the second-best professional league in the world, and even adjusting for competition level, Yamamoto has been unbelievably dominant: He’s pitched to a 1.72 ERA during his time with the Orix Buffaloes, including a 1.21 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 2023 — the capper on a remarkable three-year run in which the righty went 49-16 with a 1.44 ERA and 580 strikeouts while winning three straight Sawamura Awards (the NPB version of the Cy Young). Oh, and did we mention he’s also thrown a no-hitter in each of the past two seasons?
Yoshinobu Yamamoto just tossed the second no-hitter of his career.— Tyler Milliken ⚾️ (@tylermilliken_) September 9, 2023
The things I would do to see him in a Red Sox uniform… hasn’t allowed an ER in his last 42 IP.
All it costs is money and you’re in the perfect spot to spend. Just turned 25 last month.pic.twitter.com/PO8yfTlqCJ
That is elite performance no matter the league, and it certainly bodes well for him as he gets set to make the leap to the Majors. For comparison’s sake: Yu Darvish posted a 1.72 ERA in 1,024 innings in his final five seasons in Japan, while former Yankee Masahiro Tanaka had a 1.79 ERA in 956 innings. Not every Japanese ace survives the transition — just ask a Yankees fan about Kei Igawa or Hideki Irabu — but it’s rare for a pitcher who’s been this dominant to not find success.
It helps that those numbers more than backed up by watching Yamamoto pitch, and by looking under the hood at the quality of his stuff. Yamamoto certainly has the sort of wipeout splitter that we’ve come to expect from big-time Japanese pitchers like Darvish, Tanaka and Kodai Senga; just look at this thing drop off the table:
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Wicked 91mph Splitter. (8th K in 4IP) pic.twitter.com/nS7twhZJV5— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 12, 2023
The righty’s bread and butter, however, is his mid-90s fastball, an offering tailor-made for the modern game. Yamamoto is small for a starter, listed at just 5’10 and 176 pounds. But he generates electric arm speed, and that helps produce a shape and ride on his heater that consistently has opposing hitters swinging through it. His Statcast data from his performances with Team Japan at this year’s World Baseball Classic bear this out: Yamamoto’s fastball averaged a well-above average 11 inches of run and just 13 inches of vertical drop, giving it the impression of rising as it reaches home plate. The result? Lots of this:
Combining that fastball and splitter would be good enough. But Yamamoto takes it one further, mixing in a snap-dragon curveball that looks like the Clayton Kershaw of Japan.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, striking out the side with three beautiful curveballs pic.twitter.com/dnVBJ2VGpG— David Adler (@_dadler) April 14, 2023
Again, Statcast data can help us compare the pitch to some of the best in the Majors. Here’s how Yamamoto stacks up:
- Yamamoto’s curveball: 77 mph, 65.8” drop, 14.2” break
- Kershaw’s curveball: 73 mph, 67” drop, 4” break
- Fried’s curveball: 74 mph, 67” drop, 9” break
- Wainwright’s curveball: 72 mph, 68” drop, 17” break
- Darvish’s curveball: 76 mph, 62” drop, 11” break
Nearly as much drop as Kershaw or Wainwright’s signature yakker but swooping break and a few ticks more of velocity? Yes please.
For those keeping score at home, that’s three plus (at least) pitches, plus a harder cutter he can mix in to keep lefties off-balance. You can never say for sure how a pitcher will react to a new league and new environment, but all the subjective and objective evidence we have suggests that Yamamoto compares favorably to guys like Ohtani and Senga — pitchers who started overwhelming hitters immediately upon coming to the States.