Analyzing Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s early returns for Dodgers

San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

Adjusting to a new environment is never easy, and one could only imagine trying to become accustomed to life in the big leagues after a career spent overseas.

Los Angeles Dodgers righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto has been lukewarm to start the season after signing a massive 12-yea,r $325 million deal this past winter. His early returns highlight the fact that, despite previous high-leverage experience, he is still an MLB rookie trying to find the right way to attack opposing hitters.

“He’s still trying to, you know, feel his way,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told after Yamamoto’s most recent appearance. “It’s only been four starts. So I don’t know why that first couple innings, why the pitch count gets up and he sort of settles in as the game progresses. I will kind of dig in on that. But I don’t know the answer right now.”

Last Friday against the Padres, Yamamoto surrendered three runs in five innings of work. All told, he slung a season-high 91 pitches. 

Dodgers right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto has been a mixed bag in 2024 debut

Through his first four total starts, Yamamoto has recorded a 4.50 ERA across 16 innings of work. According to Baseball Savant, the three-time Sawamura Award winner currently ranks in the 89th percentile in terms of fastball run value, but just the second percentile in terms of offspeed run value.

Despite that small-sample-size positive fastball run value, though, opposing hitters have recorded a .292 batting average against the pitch, while posting lower batting averages against his offspeed offerings.

One could argue that the data is somewhat encouraging, but given his four-seamer clocks in at around 95 miles per hour and currently has a Hard Hit% of 61.9% against it (as he ranks towards the bottom of the barrel in barrel percentage, it seems as though Yamamoto will need to adjust by trusting his offspeed pitches more often. 

His splitter, his signature pitch, should be particularly useful if he’s able to use it wisely. Presently, the pitch holds the worst value of his arsenal, though, and hasn't befuddled major-league hitters the way he'd hoped.

It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to consistently blow his fastball by hitters, but he can certainly keep opposing bats off kilter by mixing his pitches, and relying on the splitter to try to induce a weak ground ball. Such a plan could pay dividends for Yamamoto, who will continue to pitch only once a week while attempting to adjust to the MLB schedule.

The combination of Yamamoto’s contract and his past success in Nippon Professional Baseball raised expectations among Dodger fans. While the 25-year-old’s early returns have not been ideal, he may benefit from the passage of time and a dose of his patented deception.