Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s Workouts Are Unique, but Fundamentally Sound

Yoshinobu Yamamoto's workouts are singular, but mechanically sound.

In many respects, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is an enigma. Well, at least to those of us living outside of Japan. The 25-year-old signed the richest deal in MLB history for a starting pitcher despite never throwing a pitch outside of Nippon Professional Baseball and has drawn many a quizzical eyebrow raise due to his unique workouts.

But to a certain extent, the results speak for themselves. He’s a three-time MVP and Sawamura Award winner with a career 1.82 ERA and 9.3 K/9. Had he been a traditional MLB prospect, he undoubtedly would have ranked toward the top of the consensus board and likely would have been number one overall for at least the last couple of years.

Yamamoto possesses the raw stuff to be an elite MLB pitcher right from the jump. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he may already have the best splitter and curveball among MLB starters. He’s also never suffered a significant injury in nearly a decade of professional play. 

Yet, this hasn’t stopped some from fretting about his size

Yamamoto is listed at 5’10” and reportedly weighs less than 180 lbs, driving many to make comparisons to former San Fransico Giants ace Tim Lincecum. Lincecum’s flame burned intensely albeit briefly, winning two Cy Young awards and earning four All-Star nominations before his 28th birthday, at which point injuries beset his career.

To be clear, the only comparable characteristic between Lincecum and Yamamoto is their general size. Lincecum’s mechanics were infamously high effort, placing inordinate levels of torque through his trunk and hips and relying on significant trunk lean to thrust his arm forward with a whip-like action to produce velocity. It should come as no surprise to read that aberrant trunk and hip motions place increased stress on the elbow and shoulder, which may contribute to the development of certain injuries.

By contrast, Yamamoto’s mechanics are much smoother. They are a rare Monet compared to Lincecum’s kindergarten finger painting.

Yamamoto effortlessly transfers energy from his back leg, through his hips and trunk, and finishes with powerful and rapid lead knee extension. The hip and trunk combine to produce half of the force produced during pitching, with back leg drive contributing significantly to pitch velocity and may reduce injury risk. Additionally, lead knee extension velocity is associated with increased fastball velocity but not with increased torque on the inner elbow. These factors combine to produce near-perfect mechanics and are the result of his idiosyncratic workouts. 

Much has been made about Yamamoto’s propensity for throwing javelins and his contortionist yoga techniques, but these practices have helped the Japanese phenom achieve nearly unparalleled power and flexibility. 

The mechanics of throwing a javelin are, by and large, similar to that of throwing a baseball, with emphasis placed on efficiently transferring force from the powerful legs to a rotating trunk, and through the upper extremity. During a javelin toss, the hand and wrist are placed in a relatively neutral position as opposed to the pronated and extended positions, respectively, while throwing a fastball; however, lower and upper extremity muscle activation patterns are similar between both methods, indicating that performance of one is transferrable to performance of the other, at least to an extent. 

Javelins, both mini and full-sized, are also heavier than baseballs, imitating weighted ball training made popular by facilities like Driveline. Yamamoto’s yoga and handstand techniques build spinal flexibility and isometric core and shoulder strength, all of which have been staples of injury prevention and rehabilitation programs for decades. 

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as perfect mechanics and injuries will always be a lingering evil in the game of baseball. But Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s singular exercise regimen and ability to silkily transfer energy from his legs to his arm should mitigate any concerns one might have about his size. In many respects, they aren’t functionally different than many of the mainstream techniques used by other elite pitchers. They’re just unconventional.

Lucas Seehafer

Lucas Seehafer is a journalist and professor living in southern Minnesota. He is working towards a Ph.D. in Kinesiology and holds a graduate degree in physical therapy. He has had bylines appear on many websites including Baseball Prospectus, SBNation, FanSided, Forbes, and more.

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