Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes applauds fans after the Japan Series Game One at Jingu Stadium on October 22, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes has won his third consecutive pitching Triple Crown in Nippon Professional Baseball.
The star right-hander led all Nippon Professional Baseball pitchers with 16 wins, a 1.21 ERA, and 169 strikeouts. He is the first pitcher in NPB history to win three straight Triple Crowns.
Yamamoto also led Nippon Professional Baseball in the six pitching categories – he held opponents to a batting average of .198 and compiled a WHIP of 0.74, a FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 1.74, a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 22.2, a Win Probability Added (WPA) of 5.32, and a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 7.0.
Aside from winning his third straight Pitching Triple Crown, Yamamoto is the two-time reigning Pacific League MVP for 2021 and 2022, a five-time NPB All-Star, a two-time Pacific League Golden Glove Award winner, and won the last two Eiji Sawamura Awards in 2021 and 2022. The Eiji Sawamura Award is Nippon Professional Baseball’s version of the Cy Young Award.
Yamamoto has solidified himself as the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball in the last three seasons and is expected to be posted this off-season. Jon Heyman of the New York Post has listed the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals, among many others, to be in the mix for Yamamoto during the winter.
Yamamoto’s Major League Baseball contract is expected to surpass current Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle and former New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s contract in 2014. Tanaka signed a seven-year contract worth $155 million with the Yankees that year.
The 25-year-old helped lead Orix to a Japan Series championship over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2022, the fifth championship in team history and the first since 1996. The Buffaloes finished the 2023 season with a win-loss record of 86-53, good for first place in the Pacific League.
On September 9, Yamamoto threw his second career no-hitter, just the 10th pitcher to do so in NPB history. Orix defeated the Chiba Lotte Marines 4-0. Multiple MLB scouts and executives were in attendance, but Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman was the most recognizable face.
“I was nervous up until the last batter, so now I am relieved,” Yamamoto told The Mainichi Newspaper after the game. “From the time I stepped on the mound in the ninth inning, there was a lot of cheering, so it felt good pitching.”
On his way to the historic feat, Yamamoto used his 100 mph fastball and a nasty curveball to strike out eight Marine batters. Yamamoto’s first no-hitter was in June 2022 against the Saitama Seibu Lions.
With the 2023 Nippon Professional Baseball playoffs starting on Saturday, October 14, Yamamoto will undoubtedly get the start in the first game for the Orix Buffaloes. The Buffaloes have been awarded a one-win advantage and home field for the Pacific League Final Stage. They will face either the Chiba Lotte Marines (70-68) or the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (71-69), who will play a best-of-three series against one another in the First Stage.