How good is Yoshinobu Yamamoto? Japan stats, pitch mix, MLB comparison and more to know about new Dodgers ace

For four years, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole owned the largest contract signed by a pitcher in MLB history at $324 million. Not only did that run end Thursday night, but it was ended by a pitcher who has yet to appear in an MLB game.

The Dodgers handed Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto a 12-year, $325 million contract, pairing him with two-time MVP Shohei Ohtani as their seemingly limitless offseason continues.

Yamamoto is far from the first Japanese free agent to attract massive interest from MLB teams, and he won’t be the last. When it comes to the most promising talents to come over from Japan, though, Yamamoto stands among the very best.

Here’s what you need to know about what Yamamoto will bring to the table for the Dodgers.

MORE: Dodgers’ projected 2024 rotation with Yoshinobu Yamamoto

How good is Yoshinobu Yamamoto?

While no one will know quite how Yamamoto’s talent will translate to the U.S., it’s clear he has the potential to be an ace.

Yamamoto has won three consecutive Sawamura Awards, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, posting an ERA under 1.70 in each of those three seasons. While he might not have the commanding frame that many starting pitchers do, Yamamoto doesn’t have a notable injury history.

Yamamoto primarily relies on three pitches, averaging just under 95 MPH on his fastball. He also works in a cutter as his fourth pitch. Velocity is part of Yamamoto’s game, but he doesn’t rely on overpowering hitters. Instead, an excellent splitter and terrific control give the 25-year-old an edge.

MLB is not the same as Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s top league. As The Athletic points out, there simply aren’t as many power hitters, the baseball is slightly different and pitchers typically start once per week rather than every five days. There is naturally some enhanced risk when bringing a player over to an entirely new league.

Even so, it’s been a smooth transition for most highly-touted Japanese pitchers who came over to America. Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish have a combined seven All-Star selections, while Ohtani has impressed on the mound when healthy enough to pitch. 

While Yamamoto has the largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, he’s not getting paid to be the best pitcher in baseball. At just over $27 million per year, Yamamoto’s annual salary is only $5 million ahead of what Tanaka received a decade ago. It ranks ninth among all pitchers in terms of average value. 

The total value is so high partly because Yamamoto is still just 25 and the Dodgers were comfortable committing to him through 2035. 

MORE: Updated look at Dodgers’ 2024 payroll

Yoshinobu Yamamoto stats

Season Record IP ERA WHIP K BB
2017 3-1 57.1 2.35 1.06 48 9
2018 6-2 77.0 2.10 0.95 69 23
2019 8-7 149.0 1.99 0.95 133 37
2020 8-4 126.2 2.20 0.94 149 37
2021 18-5 193.2 1.39 0.85 206 40
2022 15-5 193.0 1.68 0.93 205 42
2023 17-6 171.0 1.16 0.86 176 28
Total 75-30 967.2 1.72 0.92 986 216

Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitch mix

Here’s a look at Yamamoto’s arsenal as he joins the Dodgers.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto fastball 

Yamamoto used his fastball 48 percent of the time in Japan, averaging close to 95 MPH. Notably, Yamamoto’s release point is lower than most pitchers due to both his mechanics and his height.

While 95 MPH alone won’t blow anyone away, only 35 of 141 MLB pitchers who threw at least 1,500 pitches in 2023 averaged 95 MPH or more on their fastball, putting Yamamoto on track to start his career above average in that category.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto splitter

Yamamoto used his splitter 26 percent of the time in Japan, often on two-strike counts, and the results were excellent. Right-handed hitters posted a .324 OPS against the pitch, while left-handed bats had a .424 OPS.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto curveball

Yamamoto only throws his curveball 16 percent of the time, but it’s an extraordinarily effective pitch. It averages 77 MPH, which settles in as about the middle of the pack among MLB starters, but the movement is what had hitters fooled in Japan.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto cutter

Yamamoto’s cutter is featured less frequently, about 8 percent of the time. It averages 92 MPH but was his least successful pitch in Japan. The Dodgers could try to work on the cutter to give Yamamoto a deadly four-pitch mix, but three reliable pitches in his arsenal is more than enough to excite the franchise.

Best MLB comparison to Yoshinobu Yamamoto

There aren’t many excellent comparisons for Yamamoto because so many MLB starters have a larger frame, but Giants ace Logan Webb and new Cardinals starter Sonny Gray are interesting comparisons.

Webb is 6-1, three inches taller than Yamamoto, but he similarly doesn’t rely on velocity, averaging 92.6 MPH on his fastball, while displaying excellent control with just 1.3 BB/9 in 2023. Yamamoto should be more of a strikeout artist than Webb, considering he does throw harder than him, though the hope is also that he can be as durable as Webb.

Yamamoto could profile as a harder-throwing Gray, as the Cy Young runner-up averaged only 92.9 MPH but found effectiveness by limiting walks and severely limiting home runs. Gray still averaged nearly 10 K/9 over the last five seasons, even without relying on power, and his 5-10 frame matches up well with Yamamoto, who is even more slight at 176 lbs. 

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