NPB Mid-Season Update: Top Starting Pitchers

We’re about half way in the 2015 season. TDG Top 500 have been updated. Mid-season prospect rankings are coming. A little to many have changed since pre-season.

Things aren’t much different on the other side of the sea. Here  I going to take a look at some names I mentioned in my pre-season review for weeks to come. In this piece, I examined elite starting pitchers who possess future MLB rotation upsides.

Shohei Otani, RHP, Nippon Ham Fighters


The 6’3″ right hander has become the best hurler in the NPB. He’s leading the Pacific League in ERA (1.47), WHIP (0.79), and K/9 (11.18) by a country mile, not to mention that he’s trimmed the walks from 3.3 per 9 last year to just 2.5 so far in 2015. His 4.50 K/BB ranks 2nd among qualified Pacific League pitchers, only to Ayumu Ishikawa of the Chiba Lotte Marines, who is more than 6 years older than him. Better yet, he still hasn’t given up a single home run in 79.2 innings pitched.

On good days, he looks like he could be a top 15 starter in the MLB as of this moment. Featuring a fastball that averages around 95 MPH and slider and splitter/forkball that miss tons of bats, Otani dominates most NPB lineups. He’s tossed at least 5 innings in each of 11 starts and completed 2 of them. It’s notable that he hasn’t given up more than 2 runs in any of those outings, save for the one time he gave up 5, which was a result of poor managing in which his manager left him in after he showed a sign of exhaustion.

His biggest problem on the mound appears to be a series of leg injuries that caused his early exit in some of his starts. Since last June, he’s left with apparent right calf cramp more than a few times. In his penultimate start, he departed with a rolled right ankle. These issues could bother him for the foreseeable future, but he has time to overcome. It might be eating more banana because a monkey never cramps.

On the other hand, his two-way player experiment seems to have hit a wall. At the plate, he’s slashed a mere .176/.217/.318, and posted a less-than-ideal 35/5 K/BB ratio in 92 PA.Even though he’s launched 3 monstrous shots, there are holes in his swing.

Overall, he’ll be one of the 5 best pitchers in the world in his prime. Considering the fact that he won’t be 21 for another week (July 5th is his birthday), Otani will arrive in the majors just in time to reach the stratospheric ceiling.

Shintaro Fujinami, RHP, Hanshin Tigers

After a relatively slow start to the season, Fujinami took off mightily. Like his 2012 draft class peer Otani, the Osaka Toin HS product has cut the free passes by a substantial margin, gone from 3.53 in 2014 to 2.80 in 2015. From late May to early June, he had a 32-inning stretch where he didn’t give up a single run. At 21, he’s developed into one of the better pitchers in the Central League, as he currently ranks 5th in ERA (2.26), 3rd in K/9 (9.30), and 6th in K/BB (3.32).

He still runs into command problems from time to time, though, even when he struggles to hit his spot, he still manages to log quality innings while working 93-95 MPH. In yesterday’s outing, he hit 95 on the gun on his final, 119th pitch.

Fujinami isn’t as heralded as Otani, but he’s another young NPB arm with an MLB TORP ceiling.

Kenta Maeda, RHP, Hiroshima Carp

The 27-year old has continuously shown consistency on the mound. He’s struck out 91, issued 20 free passes, given up just 2 round trippers in 105.1 frames while employing a non-park adjusted ERA- of 62. Most people see him as a potential mid-rotation starter at the MLB level. With him getting another year closer to international free agency, Maeda’s days as a member of the Carp might be numbered.

Takahiro Norimoto, RHP, Rakuten Golden Eagles

Norimoto is another mid-20s right hander who’s showing consistency. In his 3rd season in the NPB, he’s put up an almost identical K/9 (9.06 in 2014, 9.00 in 2015), better ERA  (3.02, 2.75). He’s walked more batters per 9 (1.73, 2.08), but it’s not a concerning difference. It’s safe to say Norimoto has established himself as a second tier NPB starting pitching prospect, along with Kenta Maeda. Taking the fact that him being more than 2 years younger than Maeda, Norimoto has a chance to be a better pitcher when he heads to the majors.

The Author

Kazuto Yamazaki

Kazuto Yamazaki


  1. June 29, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Thank you very much for the update. In your best judgement, when can we expect Otani to leave Japan for MLB?

    • June 30, 2015 at 7:04 am

      After 2019 is my honest guess. It could get earlier if they make a significant change on the posting system.

  2. Jack
    June 30, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Great article, I love learning about potential transplants to the MLB. Outside of the draft. But I have one question and one comment.

    First, terrific use of penultimate in a baseball article. Second, who is the best bat in the NPB?

    • July 1, 2015 at 7:15 am

      Thanks for the kind words. To answer your question, Yuki Yanagita is the best bat in the NPB in my opinion. I’ll write about him sometime soon.

      • July 5, 2015 at 8:35 am

        Thanks a lot man. Do you live in Japan?

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