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More than just a “throw-in”

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Jordan Yamamoto has really impressed in three starts with the Marlins. I think there’s reason to think he can keep this up.

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My dad and I have been going to Marlins games forever. Some of my first memories are of sitting in the hot box that was Pro Player Stadium and watching the Marlins with my family. For me, it’s a tradition as old as time.

One of the things that has always been a part of that experience for my dad and I is ripping open a bag of peanuts and showing the world how it’s done. The pile of shells the Budowsky boys can leave behind is a sight to behold.

Even today, peanuts and the Marlins go hand in hand, but now it has taken on a whole new meaning.

Since the new regime has taken over, there have been many a cliché used to belittle the returns the Marlins have gotten in the moves they’ve made. Examples include “garbage,” “a bucket of baseballs,” “pennies on the dollar” and my personal favorite, “peanuts.”

Not like “Peanuts” featuring Snoopy and Woodstock: like my family’s favorite ballpark snack peanuts.

Critics probably cited Snoopy’s excellent wOBA or wRC+ to argue he would’ve been more valuable to the Marlins than some of the guys they’ve acquired. I’ve also heard that Woodstock throws a nasty slider.

One group of additions in particular has taken on a life of their own with some (me) labeling them as “The Peanut Gallery.” Their names might be familiar: Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamot. The guys in the longdebated and highly criticized Christian Yelich trade.

But all of a sudden, these guys are looking less like peanuts and more like filet mignons.

We all know about the struggles that Brinson has had at the major league level. However, if you’ve been following his minor league stint, you’ll know he has made some adjustments and is hitting really well with Triple-A New Orleans right now (.291/.378/.535, 123 wRC+).

If you listen to my podcast, Earning Their Stripes, you’ll know about the great years that Harrison and Díaz are having. They are starting to look like future staples in the Marlins lineup.

But the guy I wanna talk about is right-hander Jordan Yamamoto. He was the least-hyped of the four young players at the time of the trade, labeled as the “throw-in” piece.

Nobody’s overlooking him anymore.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Yamamoto, or “Yams” as I affectionately call him, has been absolutely dominant in three starts since his surprise call-up to The Show. His promotion caught me off guard because I figured the first minor league arm up would be Zac Gallen, who has since joined the club and also impressed in his first start.

Limited to 13 regular season starts across three levels last year due to injuries, Yams was tremendous at every stop. In 68.2 IP, he posted a 1.83 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and 11.1 K/9. He never had a strikeout rate below 30.5% or a walk rate above 5.9%. Those results sent him rocketing up top prospect lists; entering 2019, he sat at No. 17 on the Marlins Top 30, according to MLB Pipeline.

Yams was good—though not great—this year at Double-A Jacksonville, posting a 3.58 ERA in 65.1 IP with a 1.19 WHIP, 8.82 K/9 and a 23.7 K% and a 9.3 BB%. However, the 23-year-old was the most major league-ready pitcher on the Marlins 40-man roster when José Ureña’s back injury created a rotation opening. His call-up was about convenience.

He has given the Marlins more than they could’ve hoped for.

After 14 scoreless innings of dominance in his first two starts, in which he only allowed five hits and four walks and struck out 12, Yams was up to his old antics again on Sunday in Philadelphia.

After walking the first three batters of the game, Yams was in early trouble, something we had not seen from him so far. However, he escaped allowing only a single that scored two and was in complete control from then on. After that inning. his line was very impressive the rest of the way (4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and his final line was more than respectable: 5 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 7 K.

Through three starts with the Marlins, Yams has a 0.95 ERA and a 2.45 Fielding Independent Pitching (adjusted to be on the same scale as ERA, FIP accounts for factors within a pitcher’s control rather than run prevention). He has only allowed seven hits, eight walks and two runs.

But perhaps the most impressive thing about Yams so far is the strikeout numbers. When we interviewed him for Earning Their Stripes, he told us he no longer saw himself as a “strikeout pitcher.” Instead, he believes he needs to use his arsenal to draw weak contact and get more ground balls. That is reflected in his strikeout numbers—8.82 K/9 in Jacksonville compared to 12.27 in 2018.

All he’s done since getting to the bigs is strike out 19 guys in three starts. He’s doing a lot of it with his offspeed stuff, which has really flashed.

I really think Yamamoto can find sustainable success as a major league starter. I’ve been very high on Yams since last year when I saw his ability to go out and rack up the strikeouts. If he’s going to be able to have days where he can draw weak contact and get guys out via the ground ball while also having days where he’s punching out somewhere around 10 guys, he can be a fixture in this Marlins rotation for a long time.

He’s not going to throw seven shutout innings every time he takes the mound. Realistically, he will rely on pitchability to limit the damage and eat up innings. That is very valuable out of a mid-rotation spot, which is where I project Yams’s ceiling to be.

I’ve always compared Yams to Kyle Hendricks because of the way that he is able to be effective without having a ton of velocity, instead using tons of movement and control to pinpoint his stuff and get guys out. He is not Hendricks, but he does have a lot of the same qualities. I think he can translate those qualities into a very nice career.

Yamamoto’s pitch arsenal so far with the Marlins
Baseball Savant

It’s way too early to determine anything about Yamamoto. I’m not gonna say he’ll be our future ace and I’m not gonna say he’ll be a total bust. His year so far has an eerily similar feel to how Pablo López exploded onto the scene last year, and I think we all expect that Pablo will be in this rotation for the long run.

If Yams can keep this up, he’ll be way more than just a bag of peanuts—he’ll be one of the staples of this organization for many years to come.