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The JPBL veteran had a dominant rookie campaign with the DBacks
2017 Rating N/A
2018 Rating 7.72
2018 Performance: 75 G, 66.1 IP, 2.44 ERA, 178 ERA+, 3.69 FIP, 1.3 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR
2018 Salary: 3M
2019 Status: Signed, 3M
Yoshihisa Hirano , (Yoshi) had one of the most successful rookie campaigns by a Japanese reliever in history. But we’ll get to that in a minute
Featuring a two pitch repertoire of four-seam fastball and a devastating splitter, which he distributed almost evenly, the 34 year old stepped right into a prominent role in the Diamondbacks bullpen. Entering most frequently in the 7th or 8th innings, often with men on base, Yoshi was both unflappable and fearless. While his fastball averaged a respectable 92 MPH, and is an effective pitch he can command on either side of the strike zone, his 84 MPH splitter was the show stopper. He had a 20% Whiff percentage on the pitch and fully 2/3 of balls in play off the splitter were hit on the ground.
Knowing he could get a swing and a miss or a ground ball with the splitter at any time, he posted some really impressive numbers:
Rather than clog up the post with a bunch of embedded videos that slow the page to a crawl, here is a link to the MLB.COM video search page where I simply typed in Hirano. There are a slew of Yoshi highlights there and they are fun to watch.
Yoshi was by far the most consistent reliever in the DBacks bullpen in 2018.
Through July 8th he appeared in 44 games, threw 39.1 IP and had a 1.36 ERA and a .557 OPS against. This included a scoreless June of 14 G, 12.1 IP.
He had a rare blip on July 11th, getting lit for 4 earned runs while retiring just 1 batter in a 19-2 loss in Colorado.
However he immediately righted his ship, and from July 13 thru September 11, 25 appearances, he had just a 1.21 ERA . In total, through September 11th he had appeared in 70 Games, and thrown 62.1 IP with a 1.88 ERA and a .585 OPS against, allowing 2 or more earned runs just twice all year. With the season all but over, and most likely fatigued a bit after a heavy workload his first full season in the majors, Yoshi had a couple of poor outings on September 12th and 24th that drove his final season ERA up to 2.44, 178 ERA+. As good as those number are, it’s easy to see how his season was even better than that.
As mentioned at the beginning, Yoshi’s season was among the best of any Japanese reliever ever to debut in the United States. Below pic shows top 17 or so rookie seasons from Japanese born players. (Will show better on laptop than phone) The Original Report Link shows all 33 relievers born in Japan rookie years. After a wave of Japanese relievers from 2004-2007 there hadn’t been a season this good from Japan in over 10 years.
The only caveat with Yoshi is that his 3.69 FIP as over a full run higher than his ERA. However as long as he has that splitter and can dial up a groundball or strikeout when he needs it most, I’m confident he can continue to beat that FIP. Think prime Brad Ziegler.
As you can tell from this glowing review, Yoshi was one of my favorite DBacks in 2018. I loved his confidence and attitude from the get go. I enjoyed watching him interact with his teammates and showing off his wit and intelligence. One of the joys of the season was getting to know and make friends with some of the Japanese beat writers who worked out of Chase Field this year, specifically to follow Yoshi. Their obvious pride in their countryman was inspiring as well, and he didn’t let them down. I look forward to more great performances from Yoshi in 2019 and beyond.