Who is Yoshinobu Yamamoto and why does he receive $325 million from the Dodgers?


Yoshinobu Yamamoto might be the best pitcher alive right now. That's who he is, and that's why he will receive a 12-year, $325 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

If this seems hyperbolic to you, then you've come to the right place. You want to know who Yamamoto is and why he can afford guacamole at Chipotle like it's no big deal. He has never thrown a pitch in the majors; How can you be the best pitcher alive?

To be fair, that “could be” is working out a lot. Gerrit Cole is a marvel, as is Zack Wheeler. He can scroll through this list of highest WARs from the past three seasons and pick his personal favorite as “greatest living pitcher.” Don't forget Roki Sasaki, another professional Nippon baseball pitcher who you will be very, very, very, very familiar at this time next season.

But Yamamoto is in the conversation and that's why he got the contract he got. Let's meet Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

What did Yamamoto do in Japan?

Well, check this out: In 2017, he had a 2.35 ERA for the Orix Buffaloes. He had a .750 winning percentage. He struck out five batters for every batter he walked. He allowed 0.5 home runs per nine innings pitched.

That was his worst season in the NPB. Furthermore, he was an 18-year-old rookie. That partial season was probably his lowest point as a professional thus far.

As for the rest of the seasons, his career ERA in NPB is 1.72, if that gives you an idea. He has allowed 36 home runs in his seven-season career. That's fewer home runs than eight different MLB Hall of Famers have allowed in one season. season. In his 2023 season, Yamamoto pitched 171 innings and allowed two home runs. It's not a typo.

His career numbers:

1.72 professional effectiveness
.714 winning percentage
World League record 75-30
9.2 mil/9

Yamamoto turned 25 in August. So if the common preconception is that NPB is “Quadruple-A” in terms of his talent, somewhere between the majors and Triple A, what do you think of a prospect-age pitcher who doesn't that When you are in your early 20s?

You give him a $325 million contract and that's what you do.

What does Yamamoto throw?

Releases. Mostly good. Those who get outs, miss bats and avoid home runs.

But if you're looking for details, our own Eno Sarris has you covered and dove deep.

First, notice its compact movement. He's not going to bring that right arm all the way back, at least not yet. When he does, it's to take it into Tim Lincecum territory, with the ball held toward the ground at a 90-degree angle.

But when it's time to step up to the plate, that right arm rises quickly and becomes an ultra-short swing. He helps make his 90-to-90 mph fastball look even faster, as you can see by the breakaway swing above.

This video does a good job of breaking down how he gets that velocity, as well as his other pitches:

But back to Sarris' article. Here are his notes on Yamamoto's specific pitches, based on the StatCast numbers he posted in the World Baseball Classic:

• A four-seam fastball that's good enough to be a top-20 fastball in the majors.

• The most unpleasant divider in the world

• An elite curveball

• A cutter that is good, but needs improvement.

That's all very exciting, but it wouldn't work as well if you couldn't control where those pitches go. So, good news: your command is a rare elite. He's throwing above-average fastballs, world-class splitters and elite curveballs where he wants to throw them, in general. The combination of material and command gives him the opportunity to be special, starting on Opening Day.

Are there any good major league comparisons for Yamamoto?

Kevin Gausman is fine, due to the fastball and splitter combination, but he breaks down when you get to the third pitch. Gausman offers a show-me slider, while Yamamoto can turn to that elite curveball.

Roy Oswalt was of similar height (standing at 6-foot-0, but closer to 5-foot-10, with Yamamoto standing at 5-foot-10) and used exceptional command, control, and so on to be one of the best pitchers. of his generation. But he was a real sinker pitcher and not that much of an errant one.

Masahiro Tanaka is a bit taller than Yamamoto, but he had elite command and control, and the strength of his splitter-fastball combo is close to what Yamamoto offers. Still, height and span are big separators between the two.

The correct answer is no, there aren't many good comparisons between the major leagues. Gausman is the most obvious, but only seven pitchers in the majors threw a splitter more than 15 percent of the time last season: Gausman, Alex Cobb, Taijuan Walker, Kenta Maeda, Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Ryan and Tony Gonsolin. However, neither of them seem to be much of a comparison. Yamamoto is sui generis, and comparisons are not very useful. However, Gausman or Eovaldi are probably the best compositions. Considering they're both former All-Stars with some Cy Young Award votes in the past, that seems good.

What is Yamamoto like as a person?

English-language reports in the Japan Times and Japan News present him as a player beloved by coaches and someone who adapted extremely well to the NPB, despite being a teenager. He likes soft serve ice cream with soy sauce, which sounds fantastic. He's in the sweet and savory club, as everyone else in the world should be. He wants to go to Brazil. His favorite food is squid. His favorite color is red, which could lead to many unfounded rumors if the right person tweeted it.

Other than that, it's kind of a low-key mystery. However, I found this TikTok of him and turned it into a GIF.

It seems important.

There are no guarantees in baseball, especially for pitchers. The arms are idiots.

But when it comes to the type of bets teams should make? Here you have one of the best you can find. He's the age of a prospect with the resume of a future Hall of Famer, at least in Japan. Now that teams are adept at analyzing pitches, their shapes, and all that jazz, they've come to the conclusion that this guy can throw. And it represents a unique opportunity, considering his age. If you're wondering who Yoshinobu Yamamoto is, don't worry. He will soon look very, very familiar to you.

(Top illustration by John Bradford/The Athletic; photos by Lucas Stevenson and Eric Espada/Getty Images)

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