Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be posted for MLB clubs to sign following the 2023 NPB Season. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
Yoshinobu Yamamoto threw a complete game in game six of the 2023 Japan Series to force a winner-take-all game seven, as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Central League champion Hanshin Tigers 5-1 and will likely be his final start as a pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball before being listed in the MLB-Japanese posting system for the 2023-24 offseason.
Game seven of the 2023 Japan Series will be played Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m. EST at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka, Japan.
Yamamoto threw all nine innings, allowing nine hits, one earned run, no walks, and 14 strikeouts through 138 pitches during Saturday’s win.
“I was able to calm down, I just went out there and gave it everything I had,” Yamamoto told the Japan Times.
Yamamoto retired 17 of the final 20 batters he faced during Saturday’s game six win of the 2023 Japan Series.
Yamamoto topped at 98 mph on his fastball late in the game on Friday night during his 133rd pitch.
Yamamoto was also using his forkball on Friday, showcasing his effective breaking pitches he could use in the mix should he sign with Major League Baseball club for the 2024 regular season.
Yamamoto, 25, was born in Bizen, Japan, and has played seven seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball with the Orix Buffaloes.
On Friday night, Yamamoto set a record for most strikeouts in one game during a Japan Series which was held by Yu Darvish in game one of the 2007 Japan Series and Kimiyasu Kudo from game one of the 1999 Japan Series when both pitchers had 13 strikeouts.
“I threw a lot of good breaking balls. Overall I think I had a good feel and good balance during the game,” Yamamoto told the Japan Times.
During the 2023 NPB season, Yamamoto won the Eiji Sawamura Award for the third straight season, the Japanese Pitching Triple Crown for the third straight season and was named to his fifth All-Star game during his professional career.
In 2023, Yamamoto posted a 16-6 record with a 1.21 ERA in 23 starts, throwing two complete games and one shutout. He threw 164 innings, allowing 117 hits, 22 earned runs, two home runs, 28 walks, and striking out 169 batters.
In Yamamoto’s seven seasons with the Orix Buffaloes, he has gone 70-29, posting a 1.82 ERA over in 172 games with 14 complete games and eight shutouts. He has thrown 897 innings, allowing 633 hits, 181 earned runs, 36 home runs, 206 walks, and 922 strikeouts.
Yamamoto helped Japan win the gold medal, beating South Korea 5-3 at the 2019 Premier 12 tournament. Yamamoto had five appearances out of the bullpen, posting a 1.80 ERA andthrowing five innings while allowing one earned run, no walks, and six strikeouts while facing 19 batters.
In the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Yamamoto helped Japan win their first gold medal at Yokohama Stadium against the United States. Yamamoto started in two games, with both starts resulting in no-decisions and a 1.59 ERA over 11.1 innings, allowing seven hits, walking two batters, and striking out 18 in route to the gold.
Yamamoto was also selected to the Tokyo 2020 All-Olympic Baseball Team during the Summer Games.
Last season, Yamamoto went 15-5 starting in 26 games, recording a 1.69 ERA with two shutouts and throwing 193 innings, allowing 137 hits, six home runs, walking 42 batters, and striking out 205, helping Orix win the 2023 Japan Series over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in six games.
During the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Yamamoto was a key factor in Japan’s third WBC title beating the United States in the championship game at loanDepot Park in Miami 3-2. He pitched in two games, recording a 2.45 ERA through 7.1 innings and allowing four hits, walking two, and striking out 12 with a 0.82 WHIP in the tournament.
Yamamoto has won the Eiji Sawamura Award, the Nippon Professional Baseball equivalent of the Cy Young Award in Major League Baseball, the last three seasons.
With the NPB posting season rapidly approaching, his third consecutive Sawamura award will likely drive up the price for an MLB club to sign the Japanese right-hander, possibly above the $200 million mark.
Masaichi Kaneda, who was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, is the only other pitcher to win the award three straight years, doing so from 1956-58 with the Kokutetsu Swallows.
Yamamoto has won the pitching triple crown in NPB each of the last three seasons, leading the league in strikeouts, wins, and ERA, and is a top candidate to win the MVP Award in the Pacific League, one of the two leagues in NPB, this season. He went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 164 innings of work this season.
Multiple MLB clubs have scouted Yamamoto in anticipation of making the Japanese star a lucrative offer to play in North America. New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was in attendance when Yamamoto threw a no-hitter in September.
Yamamoto looked shaky in the beginning of the 2023 NPB playoffs. In the first game of the Pacific League Climax Series, the Orix Buffaloes won 8-5 over the Chiba Lotte Marines, and Yamamoto threw seven innings, facing 32 batters and allowing 10 hits, two walks, five strikeouts, and five earned runs. He threw 5.2 innings and allowed 10 hits, four walks, seven strikeouts, and seven earned runs in game one of the 2023 Japan Series, which Orix lost 8-0 to the Hanshin Tigers.
The largest posting system contract in Major League Baseball history is current Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle and former New York Yankee Masahiro Tanaka, who agreed to a $155 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees in 2014. It seems likely Yamamoto’s contract will surpass that figure.
Since the beginning of the posting system in 1998, there have been 24 players that have made the switch from Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan to Major League Baseball in the United States. Generally speaking, pitchers have signed larger contracts than position players. Even future Hall of Fame outfielder Ichiro Suzuki signed with the Seattle Mariners for just three years, $14 million.
MLB teams will have 45 days to negotiate a contract with Yamamoto if and when he is posted. If a contract agreement is not signed within that time frame, he will return to the Orix Buffaloes for the 2024 season. As of today, that seems highly unlikely.
Below are the five most significant contracts given to pitchers via the posting system.
1. Masahiro Tanaka – Seven Years, $155 million with New York Yankees (January 22, 2014)
2. Yu Darvish – Six Years, $60 million with Texas Rangers (January 18, 2012)
3. Yusei Kikuchi – Four years, $56 million with Toronto Blue Jays (January 2, 2019)
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Six Years, $52 million with Boston Red Sox (December 14, 2006)
5. Kenta Maeda – Eight Years, $25 million with Los Angeles Dodgers (January 7, 2016)
This is the first time that both the Hanshin Tigers and the Orix Buffaloes have the same amount of runs at 19 entering game seven since the 1964 Japan Series which was the last Kansai Series between the Hanshin Tigers and the Nankai Hawks had 23 runs entering game seven.
The Hanshin Tigers have won six Central League championships and are aiming for their second Japan Series Championship since the 1985 season. The Orix Buffaloes have won 15 Pacific League championships and are one win away from their sixth Japan Series title in their franchise alongside winning the championship during the 2022 season.
Game seven of the 2023 Japan Series will be streamed for free on the Korean language streaming website https://nspotv1.com/ at 4:30 am EST. Use google translate to help navigate through the sports tab icon to click for the live stream.
Leif Skodnick and Conor Liguori contributed reporting.