Dodgers' pitching model suits Yamamoto perfectly

March 3rd, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Yoshinobu Yamamoto will make his second Cactus League start for the Dodgers here on Wednesday against the White Sox. And manager Dave Roberts said that Yamamoto’s starting slot going forward will fall every “six, seven or eight days.”

If you’re the dot-connecting type, you might note that the Dodgers’ season opener against the Padres in Seoul, South Korea, is on a Wednesday (March 20), and their domestic Opening Day against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium is the following Thursday (March 28).

So if we follow that thread, one could speculate that Yamamoto is due to duel for the Dodgers in their dual openers.

But Roberts wouldn’t touch that one.

“I did give some other days,” he said with a laugh.

Fair enough.

But this schedule stuff underscores an important point about Yamamoto’s transition to MLB, which is that, in addition to embracing his unique training methods and being adaptive to an early pitch-tipping issue (more on this in a bit), the Dodgers are especially well-situated to accommodate the type of schedule Yamamoto was accustomed to in his native Japan.

“It doesn’t necessarily give me an advantage to do the exact same rest period as in Japan,” Yamamoto said through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. “But if I can do it, that’s good.”

There was a time, not long ago, when MLB teams used Spring Training to evaluate, assemble and schedule the five or six arms that they hoped to get roughly 1,000 innings from over the course of the season.

Those days are gone.

The 2024 Dodgers are an especially notable example of the modern mindset in which teams know they’re going to need way more arms to get far fewer innings. Last year, the average number of starters per team was 12.7, and the average total workload for starters per club was 832.8 innings.

You can expect something along those lines from these Dodgers.

They are projected by FanGraphs to have the highest rotation wins above replacement in MLB. But Yamamoto, who pitched once per week as opposed to once every fifth day in Nippon Professional Baseball, is the only arm projected for as many as 150 innings.

With the Dodgers managing the workloads for the oft-injured Tyler Glasnow and James Paxton, the recovering Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw and youngsters like Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan (who is currently out with general soreness), the goal is high-end inventory, not high innings marks.

That’s been the Dodgers’ pitching plan for a while.

“I think we've shown that we will do what we have to do to win games and make sure guys are in positions to be successful,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said. “Some of that has been because of injuries, some of it's been because of the depth. … We look at the schedule very carefully and understand what we have and where we can buy some days here or there, and then you build the depth around it.”

So whereas a pitcher coming over from Japan was once expected to adjust to the traditional MLB starters’ schedule, now the Dodgers are mimicking Yamamoto’s norm.

It’s part of an overall embrace of the Yamamoto experience. As he adjusts to a new league, a different ball and increased travel demands, the Dodgers are doing everything in their power to let Yamamoto be himself. That includes making way for his yoga sessions, handstands and javelin and soccer-ball tosses.

“I’m getting all the support I need,” said Yamamoto, “from the whole organization and also my teammates and the staff.”

Right now, that support extends to a potential pitch-tipping issue that SportsNet LA identified during Yamamoto’s first Cactus League start against the Rangers. It was noted, with the help of the center-field camera, that Yamamoto’s glove moved differently for his split-fingered fastball than his other pitches -- an issue that opposing teams could potentially exploit.

Prior was aware of the issue.

“Everything matters,” Prior said. “But what the solution is sometimes isn’t always as black and white. You have to weigh the cost of -- if you make moves, does that change the delivery, change the stuff? That’s not unique to him. … This is something we’re on top of daily with everybody.”

For his part, Yamamoto said that pitch-tipping is “not really a big concern.”

And neither, it appears, is the adjustment to the MLB schedule on a Dodgers team ready to embrace his once-a-week workload.