Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Team Japan delivers a pitch against Team Mexico during the fifth inning during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
There have been 76 Japanese born players that have played in Major League Baseball. The first player to ever play in Major League Baseball was pitcher Masanori Murakami, who made his debut with the San Francisco Giants on September 1, 1964, and played one season for the Giants before heading back to play in Japan.
It would be another 30 years until there would be another Japanese born player in Major League Baseball, when pitcher Hideo Nomo made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 2, 1995.
Three of the seven Japanese born players currently on active rosters in Major League Baseball made their debut this year: Masataka Yoshida of the Boston Red Sox, Shintaro Fujinami of the Oakland Athletics, and Kodei Senga of the New York Mets, which all made their professional alignments in Nippon Professional Baseball before playing in the United States. Yu Darvish, Shohei Ohtani, Kenta Maeda, Seiya Suzuki and Yusei Kikuchi are the other listed Japanese born players that are currently in Major League Baseball.
A total of eight players who have played in Major League Baseball, three of whom are Japanese-American, were born in Japan: Dave Roberts, Jim Bowie, and Steve Chitren are Japanese-American, while Steve Randolph, Keith McDonald, Jeff McCurry, Craig House, and Bobby Fenwick were born in Japan.
There have been 15 Japanese-born players who have played in Nippon Professional Baseball and were selected as MLB All-Stars. They are: Yu Darvish (2012-14, 2017, 2021), Kosuke Fukudome (2008), Shigetoshi Hasegawa (2003), Yusei Kikuchi (2021), Hisashi Iwakuma (2013), Hideki Matsui (2003-04), Hideo Nomo (1995), Takashi Saito (2007), Shohei Ohtani (2021-23), Hideki Okajima (2007), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2001-02), Kodei Senga (2023), Ichiro Suzuki (2001-2010), Masahiro Tanaka (2014, 2019), and Koji Uehara (2014). Ichiro Suzuki is the only Japanese-born player to win the MLB All-Star Game MVP Award, which he did in 2007.
The 2023 World Baseball Classic showed where Japan now sits as a baseball country, after they won their third WBC title, the most since the event started in 2006. Japan is currently No. 1 in the World Baseball Rankings and is producing top talent outside of Nippon Professional Baseball through many industrial leagues, independent professional leagues, collegiate leagues, and top high school programs.
World Baseball Network has projected four players from Nippon Professional Baseball who will be eligible to be posted for Major League Baseball clubs to sign at the end of the 2023 season.
The NPB’s two All-Star Games are scheduled for July 19 and July 20. This is the 73rd NPB All-Star Game Series in the history of the league.
The first game of the All-Star Game Series between the Pacific League and Central League will be played at the Vantelin Nagoya Dome in Nagoya, Japan, home of the Central League Chunichi Dragons on July 19 at 5:30 a.m. EDT. The second game of the All-Star Game Series will be played at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima, Japan, home of the Central League Hiroshima Carp on July 20 at 5:30 a.m. EDT.
NPB-MLB Posting Players Watch Post-2023 Regular Season
Yoshinobu Yamamoto – SP, Orix Buffaloes
Yamamoto, 24, is playing in his seventh season in Nippon Professional Baseball with the Orix Buffaloes and was selected to his fifth all-star game in his career. This season, Yamamoto is 9-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 13 starts, throwing one complete game and pitching 93.1 innings, allowing 68 hits, two home runs, 12 walks, and striking out 103 batters with a 0.857 WHIP.
Back in March, Yamamoto pitched in the World Baseball Classic, appearing in two games and making one start, recording a 2.45 ERA and throwing 7.1 innings while allowing four hits, two earned runs, two walks, and seven strikeouts, posting a 0.82 WHIP.
Last season, Yamamoto went 15-5 with a 1.68 ERA, throwing four complete games along with two shutouts. In 193 innings, he allowed 137 hits, six home runs, walked 42, and fanned 205, helping the Orix Buffaloes win their fifth Japan Series title, beating the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in six games. He also threw a no-hitter against the Saitama Seibu Lions on June 18, 2022, throwing 102 pitches, walking one batter and striking out nine.
In 2021, Yamamoto was named to the Tokyo 2020 All-Olympic Team after helping Japan win their first gold medal in the Olympics at Yokohama Stadium. He made two starts, posting a 1.59 ERA and throwing 11.1 innings allowing seven hits, two walks, and 18 strikeouts.
During Yamamoto’s NPB career, he has won the league’s pitching Triple Crown, Pacific League MVP Award, Best Nine Award, Pacific League Gold Glove Award, been a Pacific League ERA leader, and won the Eiji Sawamura Award in back-to-back seasons in 2021 and 2022.
Yamamoto was also the ERA leader in the Pacific League in 2019 in the same season he was selected as an all-star for the first time.
In seven seasons, Yamamoto is 63-26 in NPB with a 1.93 ERA, pitching in 162 games with a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.51 through 826.1 innings. He’s thrown 13 complete games and seven shutouts while allowing 584 hits, 36 home runs, 190 walks, and 856 strikeouts and posted a 0.937 WHIP.
Yamamoto will be able to be posted after the 2023 regular season. R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports thinks he would likely be a No. 2 starter in MLB.
Yuki Matsui – RP, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
Matsui, 27, has played 10 professional seasons with the Golden Eagles and has been an All-Star in five seasons in NPB. Despite being left out of the All-Star Game this year, he is set to be posted after the end of the 2023 regular season.
Matsui led the Pacific League in saves in 2019 and 2022. This season, Matsui is 1-2 with a 0.57 ERA, throwing 31.2 innings and recording 22 saves, allowing 18 hits, two earned runs, one home run, five walks, 42 strikeouts while facing 118 batters and accomplishing a 0.726 WHIP with a 8.40 strikeout-walk ratio in 33 games.
Last season, Matsui appeared in 51 games with a 1-3 record along with a 1.92 ERA throwing 51.2 innings allowing 21 hits, four home runs, 19 walks, and 83 strikeouts obtaining a 0.774 WHIP.
During Matsui’s ten seasons all with the Golden Eagles he has recorded a 24-45 record accomplishing a 2.38 ERA starting in 17 games and finishing 95 games charting up 219 saves through 634 innings allowing 416 hits, 29 home runs, 287 walks, and 830 strikeouts.
Naoyuki Uwasawa – SP, Hokkaido Nippon Ham-Fighters
Uwasawa, 29, is playing in his 11th season in NPB with the Nippon Ham-Fighters and was selected to his third All-Star Game.
This season, Uwasawa is 6-6 with a 2.87 ERA through 15 starts, pitching one complete game shutout. In 106.2 innings, he’s allowed 88 hits, 11 home runs, 32 walks, and 75 strikeouts, recording a 1.125 WHIP and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 2.34. Last season, Uwasawa went 8-9, throwing 152 innings in 23 starts with three complete games and allowing 129 hits, 15 home runs, 50 walks, and striking out 127 with a 1.178 WHIP.
Uwasawa’s desire to play in Major League Baseball was made clear last December when he requested to be posted after the 2023 season.
Uwasawa has a career 67-59 record in NPB with a 3.20 ERA in 50 starts. He’s thrown 13 complete games and five shutouts, allowing 908 hits through 1,055 innings, giving up 91 home runs, 340 walks, and striking out 864. batters marking a 2.54 strikeout-walk ratio while placing a 1.183 WHIP.
Shota Imanaga – SP, Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Imanaga, 29, is playing in his eighth season in Nippon Professional Baseball, all with the Yokohama Baystars, and earned his second All-Star selection during the 2023 season.
This season, Imanaga is 6-1 in 12 starts, throwing two complete games and recording a 2.07 ERA through 87 innings, allowing 66 hits, 11 home runs, eight walks, and 95 strikeouts with a 0.851 WHIP and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 11.88.
Imanaga started the 2023 World Baseball Classic Championship Game at loanDepot Park against the United States in Miami, helping Japan win their third WBC title. During the World Baseball Classic, Imanaga pitched in three games, throwing six innings with a 3.00 ERA and allowing seven hits, two earned runs, two home runs, and striking out seven batters including a 1.17 WHIP.
Last season, Imanaga went 11-4 with a 2.32 ERA throwing three complete games with two shutouts pitching 143.2 innings allowing 106 hits, 14 home runs, 29 walks, and 132 strikeouts facing 560 batters while eclipsing a 0.940 WHIP.
Imanaga is eligible to be posted after the 2023 regular season to explore his options to play in Major League Baseball.
Imanaga’s career record in NPB is 63-47 with a 3.13 ERA in 155 games. He’s thrown 13 complete games and seven shutouts, and pitched 941.2 innings while allowing 775 hits, 108 home runs, 264 walks along with 942 strikeouts.
MLB Regulations for Japanese Posting System from MLB.com:
• For Major League contracts with a total guaranteed value of $25 million or less, the release fee will be 20 percent of the total guaranteed value of the contract.
• For Major League contracts with a total guaranteed value between $25,000,001 and $50 million, the release fee will be 20 percent of the first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the total guaranteed value exceeding $25 million.
• 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 next $25 million plus 15 percent of the total guaranteed value exceeding $50 million.
• For all Minor League contracts, the release fee will be 25 percent of the signing bonus. For Minor League contracts that contain Major League terms, a supplemental fee will be owed if the player is added to the 25-man roster.
• If a posted player signs a Major League contract that contains bonuses, salary escalators or options, a Japanese team may receive a supplemental fee equal to 15 percent of any bonus or salary escalators actually earned by the player, and/or 15 percent of any option that is exercised.
How to Stream NPB Games From the Regular Season Through the Japan Series Bwintv.net is a Korean language streaming website that will show Nippon Professional Baseball games throughout the 2023 regular season. Use Google Translate or Google Chrome to translate the website and make it easier to watch the games. Bwintv.net is a free site and you do not need to login to watch.
Correction: A previous version of this story listed Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s WHIP at the 2023 World Baseball Classic as 0.72, which was the WHIP recorded by Shohei Ohtani. Yamamoto’s WHIP at the WBC was 0.82, and the story has been corrected to reflect the correct statistics.