Jordan YamaGOATo?

by | Jun 21, 2019 | MLB, Pitching

When the Marlins traded Christian Yelich to the Brewers before his 2018 MVP season, Jordan Yamamoto was among the currently controversial return. This year, every player the Marlins received in that deal is trending the right way. Lewis Brinson is slashing .297/.391/.542 with 8 home runs over 47 games in Triple-A New Orleans along with an almost 7 percent improvement in strikeout rate and a huge jump in his walks. At the same level, Isan Diaz is slashing .283/.366/.522 with 14 home runs and Monte Harrison is slashing .287/.381/.480 with 8 home runs and 20 stolen bases (all stats up to June 20).

While all those numbers are encouraging, performance in the Major Leagues is what will dictate how the trade worked out and ultimately help the Marlins in a potential playoff run. Interestingly enough, RHP Jordan Yamamoto is the one making waves.

Considered a “throw-in” at the time of the trade, Yamamoto also had the slimmest of chances of the “Yelich group” to get to the Marlins roster this year, never having pitched above the Double-A level. A mix of being on the 40-man roster due to Rule-5 eligibility, a couple of injuries, some great timing, and a 2.69 ERA in 134 innings spanning from the R Gulf Coast League, the A+ Florida State League, and the AA Southern League changed that.

The consensus was that Elieser Hernandez and Zac Gallen were the next pitcher’s in line to fill potential holes in the starting rotation. One day prior to Ureña’s scheduled start, and just two after Zac Gallen’s last start, the news broke that Ureña would be placed on the injured list. Hernandez had already thrown in Caleb Smith’s place, so the next choice was Jordan Yamamoto since he was already on the 40-man roster. That decision paid off.

Just one day after getting off bus going from Jacksonville to Birmingham, Yamamoto pitched 7 masterful shutout innings in Miami versus the St. Louis Cardinals. Not many were expecting Yamamoto to dominate and take a long-term spot in the rotation, but his brilliant debut started a conversation. The Cardinals lineup features a variety of big names like Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna, and Matt Carpenter. The concern was that after the Cardinals got a few looks at him, they’d be ready to pounce in the next matchup. That did not happen. Yamamoto went to Busch Stadium and dominated the Cardinals again, throwing another 7 shutout innings. Those two starts are among the most exciting for the Marlins this season.  He also made some MLB history in the process.

What do we make of this?

Yamamoto is often cited as an analytics type pitcher. Scouts haven’t really fallen in love with his profile, but he has outperformed his scouting report at each level he’s pitched in.  His fastball hovers around 89 to 92 mph, not particularly impressive velocity, but its above average spin rate helps it play up. His change-up has good movement and he can locate it well to play off his fastball. His most impressive pitch is his curveball, another pitch with above average spin rate that is just pure filth.

The issue I see with Yamamoto is that, for his stuff to play up well in the big leagues, he will have to command his fastball very well. While he has certainly shown the aptitude to do so, he has also shown lapses in command in the Arizona Fall League and early this year in Double-A. What I love is his ability to throw any pitch in any count and mix things up for hitters. He does a good job keeping hitters off balance, so he doesn’t give up as much hard contact as one would generally expect from a pitcher with that fastball velocity.

Expect the Marlins to remain cautious with Yamamoto. He only threw 68 2/3 innings in 2018. At the same time, expect him to keep getting starts as long as he continues to impress. Craig Mish mentioned this week on the Swings and Mishes podcast that the Cardinals are amongst the worst offensive teams in the month of June. That shouldn’t take much away from his historic debut, but it does place some more stock in his start coming up against the Phillies on the road.

Temper expectations, the league always adjusts. We will see what Yamamoto is about once he gets a chance to adjust back.

At the same time, have fun with this. After spending the majority of this decade lacking starting pitching across all levels, the Marlins have guys like Yamamoto, Gallen, and Hernandez filling in and dominating for a rotation that was already great. The Marlins have a myriad of starting pitching options on its way. They may be closer to contention than most would think.



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