Hisashi Yamada

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Hisashi Yamada (山田 久志)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Hisashi Yamada pitched in Nippon Pro Baseball for 20 years and widely considered the best submarine pitcher in Japan.

Yamada was drafted by the Nishitetsu Lions in the 11th round of the 1967 NPB draft, but he refused to sign. He improved in the Industrial League and the Hankyu Braves took him in the first round of the 1968 NPB draft. The 1968 draft of the Braves was thought to be the best selections ever in NPB history, as they selected four Meikyukai members in a year - Yutaka Fukumoto, Hideji Kato, Hiromitsu Kadota and Yamada. However, Yamada suffered a back injury and missed the 1969 season.

Although the Braves already had some solid pitchers like Takao Kajimoto, Tetsuya Yoneda and Mitsuhiro Adachi, Yamada still managed to join the rotation in 1970 and went 10-17 with a 3.19 ERA. He broke out in 1971 and won 1971 NPB All-Star Game 3; he allowed 2 runs in 3 innings to beat Masaji Hiramatsu and the Central League. The young submariner ended up 22-6 with a 2.37 ERA, and won his first Best Nine award. He led the Pacific League in ERA, WHIP and winning percentage, ranked 2nd in wins (2 behind Masaaki Kitaru) and 2nd in strikeouts (80 behind Keishi Suzuki). The Braves advanced to the 1971 Nippon Series, and Yamada started in Game 2. He allowed 4 runs in 7 innings and ended up with a no-decision. Yamada then started in Game 3 and he remained scoreless into the 9th inning. When he was one out away from his first Nippon Series win, Sadaharu Oh's walk-off 3-run homer rejected his bid. Yamada also relieved and collected 3 2/3 innings in Game 5, but couldn't stop the Yomiuri Giants from winning the title. He also won the Fighting Spirit Award as the MVP of the losing side.

Yamada didn't lose his faith with the failure of the Nippon Series, and won 20 games with a 3.08 ERA in 1972. He led the league in wins, ranked 6th in ERA (.72 behind Toshihiko Sei), 5th in Ks (38 behind Suzuki) and won another Best Nine award. He was also selected into the 1972 NPB All-Star Game, started in Game 2 and collected the win over Katsuji Sakai with 3 shutout innings. The Braves met the Giants again in the 1972 Nippon Series, and Yamada started in Game 1. He only pitched 4 innings, allowed 4 runs and got the loss to Tsuneo Horiuchi. His next appearance was in Game 4, but he allowed 3 runs in 5 innings and got another loss (to Katsuya Sugawara). In the last game of this series - Game 5, Yamada relieved Yoshihiro Kodama and pitched 3 shutout innings, but the Giants still beat them.

The young ace of the Braves slumped to 15-10 with a 3.57 ERA in 1973, and even led the league in homers allowed with 32. After this season, Yamada tried to learn how to pitch a sinker from fellow superstar submariner Adachi, but Adachi rejected him and said that "If you can deal with batters with your fastball, then don't pitch sinker". He was moved to the bullpen in the middle of the 1974 season, and ended up collecting 11 wins and 11 saves in 42 appearances (only 7 starts) with a 3.05 ERA. He was also selected into the 1974 NPB All-Star Games, pitched a shutout inning in both Game 1 and Game 2, and got the win in Game 1. Yamada slumped to 12-10 with a 4.32 ERA in 1975, and even led the league in earned runs. He still attended 1975 NPB All-Star Game 1, but allowed 4 runs in 2 innings. The Braves won the PL pennant again, and Yamada completed Game 2, only allowing a solo shot to Richie Scheinblum and he beat Kazushi Saeki and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He then started in Game 5 versus Saeki again, and won the game as he pitched 8 innings with only a run allowed. The Braves beat the Carp in 6 games, and Yamada finally won his first Nippon Series title.

In the spring training of the 1976 season, Adachi finally taught Yamada how to pitch his sinker, and Yamada ruled the whole league with his new powerful breaking ball. He was 26-7 with a 2.39 ERA, led the league in wins and winning percentage, ranked 4th in ERA (.57 behind Choji Murata) and 3rd in Ks (59 behind Murata). He won his third Best Nine, and took his first PL MVP award. He was also selected into the 1976 NPB All-Star Game, started in Game 1, pitched a shutout inning and ended up with a no-decision. With his solid pitching, the Braves advanced to the 1976 Nippon Series and met the Giants again. Yamada started in Game 1, pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed 4 runs, including Oh's two-run shot. He had a no-decision, and Takashi Yamaguchi collected the win. He started again in Game 3, pitched all 9 innings with only 3 runs to get the win over Hajime Kato. The ace of the Braves was sent to the mound again in the Game 5, but he allowed 4 runs in 4 innings and Clyde Wright beat him. He didn't get a rest and relieved Takashi Yamaguchi in the 7th inning of Game 6. Yamada pitched the last 3 innings, but gave up the walk-off hit to Shigeru Takada in the 10th inning. The Braves beat the Giants in the next game, and Yamada won his second title.

The Akita native was still productive in 1977, as he went 16-10 and won his second PL ERA title with a 2.28 mark. He also won his fourth Best Nine, collected his first Diamond Glove Award and won the PL MVP again. He attended the 1977 NPB All-Star Game of course, and started 2 shutout innings to get the win over Kenji Furusawa in Game 2. The strong Braves won the PL pennant again, and Yamada shined this time. Although he gave up two homers, to Oh and Isao Harimoto, he still completed the game with only those two runs allowed and beat Shigeru Kobayashi and the Giants in the series opener. He then relieved Mitsuo Inaba in the 5th inning of Game 4, ate the rest of the innings and got the win over Keishi Asano. In the 7th inning of Game 5, when Harimoto reached with a double, the Braves sent Yamada to secure their win. Yamada met their need and pitched two shutout innings to save Shizuo Shiraishi's victory and win the Nippon Series title. He was named the Most Valuable Player award of the Series.

Yamada didn't end his domination in 1978. He had a 18-4 record with a 2.66 ERA, ranked 3rd in wins (7 behind Suzuki) and 3rd in ERA (.64 behind Suzuki). Yamada also won his second Diamond Glove and his third PL MVP in a row. He was the first player to win a NPB MVP in 3 straight years, and is still the only pitcher to complete this achievement through 2022. (Ichiro Suzuki did it as a position player in 1996). In 1978 NPB All-Star Game 2, Yamada pitched 3 innings as the starter and collected the win over Kazuyuki Yamamoto. The star submariner led the Braves to win the PL pennant for the third straight year, and they met the Yakult Swallows this time. The Braves sent their ace to the mound in Game 1, and Yamada completed it. Although he allowed 5 runs, he still managed to beat Takeshi Yasuda and the Swallows. He had a complete game again in Game 5, but he allowed 7 runs and got the loss to Shinichiro Ihara. His next appearance was in Game 7, as he relieved Shouji Matsumoto and pitched 2 innings with a run allowed. Hiromu Matsuoka's shutout helped the Swallows won the title.

The 1979 season was still a productive season for Yamada. He collected a league-leading 21 wins with a 2.73 ERA, and became the first pitcher to led the league in winning percentage for four times. He also appeared in 1979 NPB All-Star Game 2, pitched 3 shutout innings and got the win over Senichi Hoshino. He started in Game 1 of the postseason, but he gave up a homer to Toru Ogawa and got the loss. The Braves were beaten by the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

Yamada slumped to 13-10 with a 2.96 ERA in 1980, and only went 13-12 with a 2.94 ERA in 1981. He collected his 200th career win on April 29, 1982, but Hiromitsu Ochiai also blasted 3 homers in the same game to get some of the attention. He tried to use a slider since 1983, and went 16-9 with a 3.10 ERA in that season. Yamada extended his solid pitching, had a 14-11 record in 1984 and led the Braves to the 1984 Nippon Series. He completed the opener against the Hiroshima Carp, but he allowed 3 runs and lost to Kazuo Yamane. Yamada then had another complete game with only 3 runs allowed in Game 4, but he collected another loss because Yamane also pitched well. His next start was in Game 7, but he allowed 3 runs in 6 innings and got the third loss. Yamada struggled in Nippon Series overall, and he held the Nippon Series record for most career homers allowed (23) and most earned runs allowed in a year (12).

The veteran submariner was still reliable in the next three years, as he went 14-4, 18-10 and 14-9 respectively and his ERA was never above 4.50. He also collected his 7th All-Star Game win in Game 1 of the 1987 NPB All-Star Games, and still hold the NPB record for most career wins in All-Star Games (through 2023). However, he was only 7-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 1988, and slumped to 4-10 with a 4.88 ERA in 1989. Yamada announced his retirement after the 1989 season, and became a coach. He was the bench coach for the Orix BlueWave from 1994 to 1996, and worked for the Chuinchi Dragons in the same position from 1999 to 2001. He also managed the Dragons from 2002 to 2003. Yamada was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. He also coached Japan when they won the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Overall, Yamada was 284-166 with a 3.18 ERA, struck out 2,058 and pitched 3,865 innings in 20 years in NPB. Through 2023, he ranks 7th in wins (116 behind Masaichi Kaneda), 6th in complete games (83 behind Kaneda), 27th in shutouts (54 behind Victor Starffin), 9th in innings pitched (1,661 2/3 behind Kaneda) and 19th in strikeouts (2,432 behind Kaneda). He was 142-132-6 as a manager.

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