He’s going to be one of the most talked about free agents in baseball this offseason, so you better check out a Yoshinobu Yamamoto scouting report sooner rather than later. Obviously, it’s too soon to know if he’ll end up being one of the greatest starting pitchers in MLB history. But outside of Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger, Yamamoto might be the best free agent available on the market.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto Scouting Report
Baseball fans will get to know Yamamoto a little better next season when he’s pitching in the big leagues. But we wanted to share a little more about him before his free agency kicks into high gear and several teams start making bids for him.
For instance, what are Yamamoto’s pitches and what makes him such a special talent? That’s why we put together a Yoshinobu Yamamoto scouting report with everything you need to know about him.
Yamamoto has been with the Orix Buffaloes of the NPB since 2017 and has put together a resume that’s almost too good to be true, especially since he only turned 25 this past August. He’s been an NPB All-Star five times and led the league in ERA three times. Yamamoto also has two no-hitters on his resume, one in 2022 and one in 2023.
Over the last three seasons, he’s been Japan’s best pitcher by a wide margin. Yamamoto has won the pitching Triple Crown in each of his last three seasons, winning Japan’s version of the Cy Young (the Eiji Sawamura Award) all three seasons. He even won league MVP honors in both 2021 and 2022, outshining all of Japan’s position players. Team-wise, Yamamoto helped lead the Buffaloes to the 2022 Japan Series title despite losing the series in seven games in 2023. He was also a part of the Japan team that won Olympic gold in 2021 and won the World Baseball Classic in 2023.
By the Numbers
For Yamamoto, stats say a lot about what makes him so special. Since making his debut for the Buffaloes in 2017, Yamamoto has posted a record of 70-29 with a 1.82 ERA in the NPB. He’s thrown 897 innings during that time, striking out 922 batters to have a little more than a strikeout per inning while also producing a WHIP of 0.94.
It’s also worth noting that NPB hitters are more concerned with making contact than MLB hitters, so pitchers averaging a strikeout per inning isn’t as commonplace. In fact, Yamamoto’s strikeout rate of 26.4% in Japan is significantly higher than the NPB average of 19.3%.
Obviously, Yamamoto’s numbers are impressive, although the scouting reports from Japan are another reason why MLB teams are high on him. He has three pitches that could be considered above-average or even plus pitches in the big leagues. First, there is his fastball, which sits around 95 mph but can sometimes move into the upper 90s.
However, Yamamoto’s velocity is just part of his appeal. His curveball is also considered among the best in the world because of its spin rate. Yamamoto is also able to throw it for strikes or leave it out of the strike zone to get hitters to chase it. Finally, he has a devastating splitter that he can throw nearly as fast as his fastball but with more movement, giving hitters fits.
In addition to three elite pitches, Yamamoto will sometimes mix in a slider or a cutter, both of which are rarely used. More importantly, he has excellent command of his three pitches, which is shown by his career WHIP of 0.94. Yamamoto has also shown durability both in games and during the course of a season. In each of the last three seasons since the shortened 2020 season, he’s thrown at least 160 innings.
He was also asked to throw 138 pitches in Game 6 of the Japan Series this past season and was still throwing in the upper 90s toward the end of his outing. Despite an unusual delivery that combines short arm action with a long stride, Yamamoto shows good mechanics and the ability to repeat his delivery, which is why he’s able to command his pitches and be consistent.
A matter of concern
Despite his brilliant stuff, there is still some element of uncertainty with Yamamoto. For starters, while he’s well-built and takes care of his body, Yamamoto is just 5’10’’ and listed around 175 pounds. Obviously, the likes of Pedro Martinez, Tim Lincecum, and Marcus Stroman in today’s game are proof that undersized pitchers can reach great heights in the big leagues. However, Yamamoto’s size is at least a slight concern, especially since he’s going to be getting a long-term deal.
Meanwhile, Yamamoto will have to adjust to the differences between the NPB and the big leagues. For instance, the ball is a little bigger and less tacky, although Yamamoto threw MLB balls during the World Baseball Classic. Perhaps more importantly, starting pitchers only work once per week in Japan whereas most MLB teams utilize a five-man rotation and can’t always give starters extra rest.
For example, the Mets had to continuously manipulate their rotation in 2023 so that Kodai Senga only made three starts on what MLB starters would consider “regular” rest. Senga, despite getting some down-ballot votes in the Cy Young race, was noticeably less efficient in those three starts than he was the rest of the year, struggling to adapt to the big leagues in that regard during his first season. It’s fair to wonder if the team that signs Yamamoto will have to take similar measures to give him extra rest during the season.
Modest concerns aside, there is every reason to believe that Yamamoto can become one of the elite pitchers in the big leagues.
He’s younger and arguably more accomplished than Senga, who was an all-star and runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2023 while also getting some Cy Young consideration. That alone should show just how high of a ceiling Yamamoto has if he can make a smooth transition to the big leagues. When all is said and done, Yamamoto has a chance to be more successful in the majors than any other Japanese pitcher, which would be no small feat.