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Fantasy baseball impact of Yoshinobu Yamamoto signing with the Dodgers

One of the best pitchers in the world is headed to L.A., but how should fantasy managers approach the righty come draft time?

Team Japan pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto throws a pitch against Korea in a baseball semifinal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers have flipped the baseball landscape on its head over the past couple of weeks, following up the biggest free agent in baseball history (Shohei Ohtani) with the best pitcher on the market in Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto — a combined billion dollars across two historic contracts.

We’ve gone over the real-world ramifications of this deal from every angle, from what makes Yamamoto so special to where the Dodgers — and the pitcher’s other suitors — go from here to what this means for Los Angeles’ World Series odds in 2024. But what about the fantasy baseball side of things? What does this do for Yamamoto’s fantasy value, both next season and beyond? What sort of numbers can we expect him to put up now that he’ll call Dodger Stadium home? And where should you take him in fantasy drafts? Let’s break it all down.

Fantasy outlook after Yoshinobu Yamamoto signing

2024 projections

If you want a detailed scouting report on Yamamoto — and just why he commanded the biggest deal for a pitcher in MLB history — you can find one right here. For our purposes, though, here’s the skinny: With a mid-90s fastball that disappears above hitters’ bats, a curve that compares favorably to names like Kershaw and Wainwright and the sort of wipeout splitter we’ve come to expect from Japanese imports like Ohtani, Kodai Senga and Yu Darvish, Yamamoto brings three plus (at least) pitches to the table. Oh, and he pairs that arsenal with elite command: He put up a minuscule 1.5 BB/9 in NPB in 2023, only a little bit lower than his career rate of 2.0. Oh, and he’s just 25 years old, meaning he’s just entering his prime.

Really, the only arguments against Yamamoto are abstract ones: All pitchers involve at least some injury risk, and we don’t know how he’ll fare in the Majors because we’ve yet to see it. Neither of those reckon with who Yamamoto actually is as a pitcher; objectively speaking, there’s no reason to think he won’t have immediate success in the States. Yamamoto doesn’t quite have the strikeout upside of an Ohtani — his K/9 this past season was a healthy but not eye-popping 9.3 — but again, the stuff is there, the command is spectacular and he produces tons of weak contact.

So where does that leave us in terms of a projection? Yamamoto figures to be an elite ratios source, with his command keeping his WHIP down and a pitcher-friendly park like Dodger Stadium helping with run prevention. And given the work L.A. has done on its lineup, he should walk into at least 15 wins. The (very relative) strikeout upside, and how unlikely it is that the Dodgers push him towards 200 innings this season, probably keeps him below the elite pitching options like Spencer Strider and Gerrit Cole. Really, though, Yamamoto’s ceiling is right up there — with a floor of someone like George Kirby, but a version who strikes out around a batter per inning.

(Conservative) 2024 projections: 16-6/3.21/1.04/169 in 170 IP

Where should you draft him?

If the question is “where does Yamamoto rank among starters entering 2024?”, the answer is in the top 15 at worst — and more likely in the top 10. But drafts aren’t just about a straight ranking; they’re also about team need and positional value, and those affect where you should target not just Yamamoto but every other starting pitcher.

Every year, most fantasy analysts advocate taking at least one — heck, maybe even two — top starters in the first two or three rounds of your drafts. And every year, a ton of those top starters wind up underperforming; just ask Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Sandy Alcantara, Dylan Cease, Shane McClanahan and tons of others. You could’ve had a staff Sonny Gray, Justin Steele, Kodai Senga, Jesus Luzardo and Chris Bassitt — more than good enough to place well in your league’s pitching categories — and not taken an arm before the 50th pick overall. Pitchers are simply too volatile to invest so heavily in, and every year guys come out of nowhere to turn a huge profit (Kyle Bradish, anyone?); you’re far better off shoring up your hitting with three or four bats early in drafts, then starting to focus on your rotation in the middle rounds.

Okay, rant over, let’s get back to Yamamoto. In MLB’s new offensive environment in which baserunners can go hog wild, limiting men on base will be at a premium. And few pitchers are better suited to do just that than Yamamoto, given his excellent stuff and excellent command. Right now I have him as my 12th overall starter in redraft leagues, with a chance to climb a little higher as we get closer to next season. If you’re following my drafting advice above, that puts him between the fourth and sixth rounds. And hey, if the hype pushes him much higher than that, there will be plenty of other starters to take — like, for example, the actual George Kirby.

Dynasty outlook

At just 25 years old, Yamamoto is the rare free-agent pitcher just entering his prime. His relative youth and elite stuff give him excellent dynasty value, even if we haven’t actually seen him pitch in the Majors yet. I’d have him around 80th overall in my dynasty rankings, near pitchers like Senga and McClanahan and roughly equivalent to, say, Dylan Crews in terms of prospects.