Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Five Starting Pitching Free Agents To Pursue

Who are the best free agent starting pitchers the Pirates should pursue?
Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during
Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
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Number One: Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Who doesn’t want Yoshinobu Yamamoto on their team next season? Yamamoto is a superstar pitcher in Japan, having pitched his entire career with the Orix Buffaloes. Yamamoto entered the 2023 campaign as the NPBs best pitcher. But not only has he solidified that title, he’s surpassed it in any way imaginable. 

Yamamoto is having an unbelievable season in Japan. In 171 innings, Yamamoto has a 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 6.29 K:BB ratio. Yes, you read that right, a 1.16 ERA. He is in prime Bob Gibson territory. He has allowed just two home runs all year, and has a walk rate of 4.2%. Put it like this: Yamamoto is within a half run of Gibson’s 1968 season, and has a lower walk rate than Greg Maddux had throughout his entire career. It also helps that Yamamoto is a decent strikeout pitcher with a 26.7% K-rate.

The right-hander has some of the best athleticism you can get from a pitcher. He’s been able to translate that into outstanding command. Keep in mind that this will be his third straight season with a sub-6% walk rate. Yamamoto throws hard, sitting in the mid-90s but can reach back and hit 98-99 MPH when needed. Even then, his fastball is a potential plus-plus pitch because of his ability to manipulate it. His best secondary is his splitter, but his curveball also is a plus offering, and his cutter looks like an average pitch.

While Imanaga consistently posts ERAs under 3.00, Yamamoto consistently posts ERAs under 2.00. This is now the third straight season Yamamto has posted an ERA below 2.00, and the fourth overall time he’s accomplished this in his career. His highest single-season ERA is from the 2017 season when he was an 18-year-old rookie. Despite his age, he still had a quality 2.35 ERA. That’s how good Yamamoto has been; his worst single-season performance still saw him have a sub-2.50 ERA, and he was just 18.

Yamamoto is probably going to cost a lot. I’d estimate him to receive a contract similar to that of Masahiro Tanaka, which was a seven-year/$155 million contract. Still, the Pirates have hinted at being aggressive in the professional international scene this winter. In my opinion, Imanaga is much more likely, but I do believe the Pirates will give an honest effort in going after Yamamoto.