Yamamoto wins his third straight MVP, tying Ichiro

November 28th, 2023

There wasn't much of a mystery when Nippon Professional Baseball handed out its Most Valuable Player Awards on Tuesday night. That's because ace pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto found himself accepting the Pacific League MVP for the third straight year -- after already picking up his third straight Sawamura Award (the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award) earlier this offseason.

Yamamoto, who may be the most highly sought free agent pitcher this winter after he was posted by the Orix Buffaloes, earned 259 of the 267 first-place votes cast by members of Japan's baseball media after another fantastic season. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout split-finger, the right-hander went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA in 164 innings to earn the award. Perhaps most shocking, he gave up only two home runs in that time.

The victory tied Yamamoto with Ichiro Suzuki (1994-96) and Hisashi Yamada (1976-78) as the only players in NPB history to win three straight MVP Awards.

"He is a legend of the franchise," Yamamoto said about Ichiro, who starred with Orix when the club was known as the Blue Wave. "I'm happy to have done the same as him. Everyone looks up to him, and I'm one of those."

Perhaps even more shocking: Yamamoto thinks he still has a little more to offer.

"I can't quite say I left everything out there on the field, but I've had a terrific journey in pro baseball," Yamamoto said. "I'm very happy because it's important to me to continue to contribute."

The MVP Award wasn't the only hardware that the young pitcher showed off, though. Yamamoto also posted his World Baseball Classic championship ring on Instagram. Yamamoto struck out 12 batters in 7 1/3 innings for Samurai Japan during its championship run in March.

While Yamamoto will likely not be able to catch Sadaharu Oh's NPB record of nine MVP Awards, assuming he signs with an MLB team this winter, he'll be looking to add a Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award to his mantle next winter. With the hot stove warming up ahead of next week's Winter Meetings and rumors connecting Yamamoto to the Mets and Red Sox among other teams, we could have an answer on where the young pitcher will be playing soon.