If this is the end of the line for Yoshinobu Yamamoto in Nippon Professional Baseball, he has gone out with a bang.
It was announced on Monday that Yamamoto had won his third consecutive Sawamura award. He has become the second pitcher in NPB history to three peat, joining Masaichi Kaneda (1956-1958) to do so.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto potentially leaving NPB in record setting fashion
Yamamoto had another dominant performance for the Orix Buffaloes. He posted a 1.21 ERA and a 0.884 WHiP over his 164 innings, striking out 169 batters with 28 walks. While he has struggled in his past three playoff appearances, Yamamoto has posted video game style numbers in each of the past three seasons. His 2023 campaign was just a continuation of his dominance.
In theory, Yamamoto would be a favourite for a record setting fourth consecutive Sawamura. He is 25 years old and at the height of his powers. He has been the most consistently dominant pitcher in the Japan Pacific League and is not showing any signs of slowing down. However, he is also expected to be posted this offseason, starting an impressive bidding war for his services. A move stateside may be the only thing that keeps him from surpassing Kaneda’s mark.
The awards certainly look great. And Yamamoto’s statistics in Japan are eye popping. But there is a difference in the talent stateside and in NPB, even if that gap is shrinking. There is also an adjustment period; between the different ball and adjusting to the culture, even the best Japanese players may not dominate from the start. Despite those caveats, there is little reason to believe that he will struggle in the majors.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto has won his third consecutive Sawamura award. If this is his last season in NPB, he is going out with a bang.