Welcome to Smash Or Pass, a new offseason series in which we’ll examine various free agents and trade targets to determine whether they make sense for the Red Sox. Today, we’re taking a look at one of the most hyped-up pitching sensations in recent memory: Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
Who is he and where does he come from?
Yamamoto hails from Bizen, Japan, where he’s been tearing up the NPB for the Orix Buffalos, and with team Japan for international competition.
What position does he play?
Like Ohtani, he’s a starting pitcher. Unlike Ohtani, that’s it.
Is he any good?
If you look at his numbers in Orix, it’s hard to believe they’re even real. In his last three seasons, he’s pitched 550.2 innings with a 1.44 ERA, 9.5 K/9, and 2 if not 3 Sawamura Awards (the NPB equivalent of the Cy Young). He’s won the pitching triple crown three seasons in a row, leading the NPB in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He tossed no-hitters in each of the last two seasons. This past season alone, he also led the league in BAA, WHIP, FIP, K/BB%, WPA, and WAR — and not by a little. This is beyond top-level talent. To put this in perspective, it’s better than Daisuke Matsuzaka and Masahiro Tanaka coming out of Japan. He’s been in the spotlight for years before becoming eligible for MLB free agency, showing out in the WBC as well.
His pitch mix is as varied as can be. According to JapanBall.com, he throws a four-seamer, a forkball, a curveball, a cutter, and an occasional two-seamer and slider. More often than not, he uses the four-seamer, forkball, and curveball get him through the bulk of games. His fastball clocks in at 95, up to 98. His forkball is his next fastest, averaging in the high 80s, and his curveball—which is a 12-6 (described like a yo-yo at times) and didn’t allow a homer all season—lands in the 70s.
He’s not big, standing at just 5-foot-10, but it doesn’t matter when you have an arm like his.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Fastball & Curveball, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 2, 2021
Also see his unique curveball release.
One of the prettiest RHP curveballs in the world!
Yamamoto: 16-5, 1.42 ERA (170 innings) and has won his last 13 decisions.
Leads NPB in nearly every major pitching category. pic.twitter.com/GgeQul7q27
Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.
16-6, 1.21 ERA, 169 Ks, 164.0 IP, .88 WHIP, 0.1 HR/9, 9.3 K/9
Why would he be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?
If you’re looking at someone who could step in and be your no. 1 starter for at least five seasons, it’s Yamamoto. It allows you to continue to let Brayan Bello develop into your no. 2 arm without the pressure of having to anchor your rotation. It sets the tone for how the rest of the rotation works. It’s a starter who will not just eat innings, but devour them and leave no crumbs for your bullpen, something that felt like a pipe dream for the 2023 Red Sox where the pen had no break.
Why would he not be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?
Honestly...I don’t have an argument here. Like Ohtani, he would step onto this roster and immediately be the Opening Day starter, Alex Cora’s comments about Chris Sale be damned. Unlike Ohtani—where not only will he not pitch the entirety of next season and have lingering injury doubts about his arm—Yamamoto has been durable. If nothing else, the Red Sox need healthy starting pitchers. No starter between Sale, Bello, Corey Kluber, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock and James Paxton stayed healthy for the whole of the 2023 season.
What will he cost?
Not as much as Ohtani, but he certainly will be racking up the Brinks trucks pulling up to Fenway Park. Like Masataka Yoshida last year, Yamamoto has to be posted by Orix. Per MLB.com on the NPB posting rules, “For Major League contracts with a total guaranteed value of $50,000,001 or more, the release fee will be 20 percent of the first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the next $25 million plus 15 percent of the total guaranteed value exceeding $50 million” What does this mean for the cost? Think of it this way. The Red Sox paid Yoshida $90M and Orix (by coincidence) $15.4M as a posting fee. Yamamoto could easily cost $200M or above. That’s a posting fee on top of that of more than $30M. If ownership and the new baseball czar are going to make a splash in free agency, this will be it. Obviously, there are other good starting pitchers on the market that we’ll cover in this series, but Yamamoto certainly would take the cake.
The biggest caveat here is if ownership steps up to the plate with a massive offer, are they going to be stingy in other areas? Will it hamper their ability to improve the overall defense and clarify other positions, such as second base and your corner outfielders? Knowing FSG, it very well might. I could make the argument about how they spend so much at Liverpool during the summer transfer window they almost owe it to the Red Sox to offer the same, but from what I believe, they treat the two as very separate entities and not beneficiaries under the whole of the FSG umbrella.
Show me a cool highlight.
Do you want to see a masterclass of pitching? Just watch his no-hitter from this season.
Smash or pass?
The competition will be beyond fierce. The Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies, Padres, Giants, Royals, and even more could likely be in on the 25-year-old. The Red Sox have a short but somewhat successful history of cultivating strong Japanese talent, from Dice-K, Junichi Tazawa and Hideki Okajima. Yoshi was his teammate in Orix and could help in recruiting. Then again, Kodai Senga could very well do the same for the Mets. The Red Sox certainly aren’t the most successful franchise (on the field of late) that will be going after Yamamoto. But: there’s a path. Ownership has to be willing to spend. The new head of the front office has to have a clear vision for immediate success or as fast a turnaround as possible. No matter what, though, this is the kind of talent needed to succeed. If this isn’t the hardest of smashes, I don’t know who else is on the market.