Buffaloes ace Yamamoto named best pitcher in Japan for 2nd year in row

Courtesy of the Orix Buffaloes
Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto has been named the top starting pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball for the second year running.

This is only the sixth time that a player has won consecutive Sawamura Awards since its inception in 1947 in honor of legendary Yomiuri Giants hurler Eiji Sawamura. It has been awarded annually except for a handful of years when no pitcher was deemed worthy.

The award selection committee made the announcement for the 2022 regular season in Tokyo on Monday.

Jiji Press
Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches against the Saitama Seibu Lions at Belluna Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, on June 18, when he threw a no-hitter.

Yamamoto’s strong regular-season performance, including a June no-hitter, contributed to the club’s Pacific League title for the second straight season. The Buffaloes are currently battling the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Japan Series for the second year in a row. Yamamoto started Saturday’s Game 1 loss to the defending champions.

The 24-year-old right-hander went 15-5 with a 1.68 ERA and 205 strikeouts, leading all pitchers in NPB to win the pitching Triple Crown. With 26 appearances and a .750 winning percentage, Yamamoto met five of the seven benchmarks for the award, the other two being complete games and innings pitched. His season was similar to his award-winning 2021, when he went 18-5 with a 1.39 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 26 games.

Yamamoto will receive ¥3 million and a gold goblet.

“As this award evaluates performance over a single season,” Yamamoto said, “not only does it motivate me, but it also makes me very happy.”

The only pitcher to win the award over three consecutive years is the winningest pitcher in NPB history, the late Masaichi Kaneda. The southpaw won the honor from 1956 to 1958 when the 400-game winner was pitching for the then Kokutetsu Swallows.

Pacific League pitchers were first eligible for the Sawamura Award in 1989, and Yamamoto is the first pitcher from the league to receive the honor back-to-back. The previous pitcher to win the award two years in a row was Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano in 2017 and 2018.