Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 In Review - BBM

2023 was a kind of unremarkable year for BBM which in a way made it kind of remarkable.  BBM issued only 27 sets which is the fewest they've done since they only did 26 in 2006 (and almost half of the 50(!) they did ten years ago in 2013).  As far as I can tell, all the cards they issued that had a "cover date" of 2023 were actually released in 2023 which is a first at least for as long as I've been paying attention (and obviously I mean for any given year, not just 2023).

Almost all of BBM's releases in 2023 were what I refer to as their "perennials" - sets they issue every year.  There are now 25 of these - the three "flagship" sets - "1st Version", "2nd Version" and "Fusion"; the team sets for all 12 NPB teams - the Baystars, Buffaloes, Carp, Dragons, Eagles, Fighters, Giants, Hawks, Lions, Marines, Swallows and Tigers; the "Rookie Edition" (draft pick) set; the high-end "Genesis" set; the ultra-high-end "Glory" set and the two "Dancing Heroine" Cheerleader sets ("Hana" and "Mai").  They also issued two baseball specific box sets - "Icons" (with a theme of "Samurai" this year) and "Rookie Edition Premium".  They also issued three multi-sport sets that primarily featured baseball players - the "Farewell" box set for retiring baseball players and other athletes, the "Infinity" set and the ultra high-end "Crown" set.  The big changes for the year was that "Glory" went from being issued in December of the previous year to November of the current year.  This is only the second year that "Crown" has been produced.

The two non-perennial sets were the "Munetaka Murakami Shinka" box set that was dedicated to all 56 of Murakami's home runs from 2022 (plus a card for him winning the Triple Crown) and the latest installment of BBM's "Team History" sets - "Lions History 1950-2023".

I have to say I was a little surprised that BBM did not do some sort of box set celebrating the Tigers winning their first Nippon Series in 38 years.  I was also a bit surprised they only did one "Team History" set as they had done at least two in each of the previous three years.  At this point, however, there's only three teams left that they haven't done one of these sets for - the Fighters, the Eagles and the Baystars - and there's a possible reason for each of them to NOT have a set doen.  The Fighters have really only ever had one OB team set from BBM and that was celebrating the 10th Anniversary of them moving to Hokkaido, the Eagles have only been around for 20 years and the Baystars just had an OB team set done in 2019 for their 70th Anniversary.  That said, it wouldn't stun me for BBM to issue a "Team History" set in 2024 for either or both of the Eagles (celebrating their 20th season) or the Baystars (celebrating their 75th).

Card Of The Week December 31

Two weeks ago I did a Card Of The Week post about Norio Ichimura, the oldest player ever taken in the NPB draft.  Scott Kaneko left a comment asking who was the youngest player to be drafted.  I was kind of annoyed at myself because it's an obvious question that hadn't occurred to me.  

Luckily I vaguely remembered that I had done a post about the guy some years back because he'd been signed to a contract by the Mets.  It took a little bit of searching but I found the post fairly quickly.  The player's name was Kento Tsujimoto and he was taken by the Hanshin Tigers at the age of 15 years and about ten and half months in the eighth round of the 2004 draft.

Tsujimoto was born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture and played baseball as a youth.  Apparently he felt his junior high school team's practice was too tough so his parents sent him to go to school in the US.  After completing the ninth grade at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, he returned to Japan, declared for the draft and was selected by Hanshin.

He only pitched in five games with the farm team in 2005, posting an ERA of 11.37.  He didn't pitch at all the following year while the team wanted him to build up his body and this paid off somewhat in 2007 when he had an ERA of 3.24 in nine games in the Western League.  That fall the Tigers send him to pitch for the Waikiki BeachBoys of the Hawaiian Winter League and he went 1-1 with an ERA of 5.30.  He got into 11 games with the Tigers ni-gun squad in 2008 and posted an ERA of 3.65.

The Tigers released him after the 2008 season and re-signed him to a development player (ikusei) contract for 2009.  A back injury kept him out of action all year, however, and the Tigers released him again at the end of the season.  His final numbers in three years on the Tigers farm team were 27 innings pitched in 25 appearances, an 0-1 record, giving up 33 hits and eight walks while striking out 15.  His ERA was 5.33.

After attending the 12 team tryout and getting no offers, he traveled to the US to train with Keiichi Yabu and successfully tried out for the independent Golden League.  He was the top pick for the Maui Na Koa Ikaika.  He changed to a side arm delivery and had his most successful season as a professional, working out of the bullpen and going 3-2 with two saves and a 2.88 ERA while striking out 48 in 34 1/3 innings over 32 appearances.  

He had a tryout with the Tampa Bay Rays in early 2011 that didn't pan out but he signed a minor league deal with the Mets shortly after that.  I don't think he ever actually pitched in the Mets farm system, however, as he hurt his arm shortly after signing with the team and had to undergo surgery.  The Mets released him in early 2013 and I don't think he ever played professionally after that.  His Japanese Wikipedia page says he became a translator.

As you might expect, Tsujimoto didn't have a whole lot of baseball cards.  He's in the 2005 BBM Rookie Edition (#63) and 1st Version (#404) sets but almost all his remaining cards are from BBM's Tigers team sets from 2005 to 2009.  Here's the cards I have from his days with the Tigers:

2005 BBM Rookie Edition #63

2005 BBM 1st Version #404

2006 BBM Tigers #041

He also appeared in BBM's Brilliant Teenagers set, the 2014 edition of their then-annual "Historic Collection" set - I got his Tigers farm team stats off of the back of this card:

2014 BBM Brilliant Teenagers #019

Finally I don't believe that there was a team set for Maui in 2010 but there was one for Waikiki in 2007 and "Kent" Tsujimoto appears in it.  Scott was kind enough to mail me his card after I had answered the question about who the youngest player to be drafted was.  He told me he was pretty sure I didn't have this particular Tsujimoto card and he was right:

Thanks for the card, Scott, and Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Bowman & Chrome

I've been wanting to do a post about the Topps NPB issues from the last two months - Bowman, Topps Chrome and 206 - but it's been a busy couple of weeks.  I had gotten a bunch of cards from the sets two weeks ago from my friend Jason (who sells cards on Ebay as "JK's Card Shoppe") so it'll also be an opportunity to show off them.  I'm going to skip talking about the 206 set until next week though.

The Bowman NPB set was released in early November.  It's a 180 card set with the cards split up evenly between the 12 teams (as usual) whcih means there are 15 cards per team.  The base set cards are divided between 132 "regular" cards and 48 "prospect" cards (which are all labelled "1st Bowman Card").  I didn't do as deep of a dive into the checklist as I did last year but I'm pretty confident that (again) the "regular" cards include all 69 players who were taken in the regular part of last fall's draft while almost all of the "prospect" cards are players taken in the development player (ikusei) portion of that draft.

With 69 of the 132 players on the "regular" cards that only leaves 63 cards for veteran players which leads to some odd omissions.  It seems strange to me that a set that is supposed to be about up and coming players is missing both Chusei Mannami of the Fighters and Shoki Murakami, Central League MVP and Rookie Of The Year.  

There's some weirdness in the "prospect" cards as well.  47 of the 57 ikusei draftees appear in the set - only seven of the nine picks by the Giants and only six of the 14(!) picks by the Hawks are included.  What's weird or perhaps just annoying is that nine of the ikusei draft picks are no longer development players - Shinya Matsuyama (Dragons), Masanori Higuchi (Dragons), Takahiro Nakamura (Carp), Konosuke Tatsumi (Eagles), Hayao Matsui (Giants), Kyosuke Noguchi (Tigers), Hikaru Kimura (Hawks), Ryota Joko (Baystars) and Atsumasa Chano (Buffaloes).  Several of these players (Matsuyama, Nakamura and Chano off the top of my head) have already had cards in other sets that reflect them not being ikusei anymore.  Why does Bowman still have them as ikusei?  One of the things I've always liked about NPB sets is how up to date they are.  For example, BBM pulled cards for players in their 2021 Tigers and Marines sets when said players were traded and released respectively between the time the sets went to press and the sets were published.  There's really no excuse for Bowman not showing some if not all of these nines as 70 man roster players, especially Chano who was signed to an official contract in March before the season started.

The other weird thing about the "prospect" cards involves the one player included who was not a 2022 draftee,  The set also includes a card for Yukihiro Iwata of the Swallows who was a 2021 "ikusei" draft pick.  I have no idea why Bowman included him in this year's set but he's the only player who appeared on a "prospect" card in both the 2022 and 2023 Bowman sets.  And, yes, that means he has two cards labeled "1st Bowman" card - #BP-29 last year and #BP-2 this year.

OK, enough nit picking the set,  Here's the cards that Jason sent me:





When I wrote about the Bowman cards that Kenny sent me a few weeks agoNick Vossbrink left a comment wondering if the backs were still showed "minimal effort".  I think the answer is yes, the backs still pretty much suck but at least there's less white space on these:

The Bowman set also has an insert set featuring players on cards using the 1989 Bowman format.  I picked up one of these cards off of Ebay (but not from Jason).  Here's the front and back of it:


You can see all the Bowman cards over at Jambalaya.

I was pleasantly surprised in October when I discovered that this year's edition of Epoch's NPB Luxury Collection was not just an ugly parallel version of their NPB set but instead an interesting set in its own right.  Despite this, I still expected that the Topps Chrome set would be the usual ugly parallel version of Topps' NPB set from last May which I had MANY issues with.  Imagine my surprise when I took a look at the set over at Jambalaya when it came out in late November.

Topps updated the set.

Among my myriad complaints about the original set was that all the photos were taken last season, so uniforms were out of date, players who had switched teams in the off season weren't in the set, a player who had defected from Cuba and wouldn't be pitching in NPB WAS in the set.  Ultimately I had seven complaints about the set and I'm pleased (and astonished) to report that Topps pretty much fixed four of them.  The photos appear to be from this year, there's "action" photos of most of the rookies and new managers, there's a handful of players in the set who changed teams over last winter (Kensuke Kondoh, Tomoya Mori and Nobuhiro Matsuda) and Yariel Rodriguez is NOT in the set.  Now granted, I still find the "Chrome" finish on the cards to be very ugly but the rest of the set is a huge improvement over the earlier set.  I just wish they had put this effort into the original set.  Here's an example showing Takuya Nakamura's cards from both the original and Chrome sets:

Topps NPB #52 (left), Topps Chrome NPB #166 (right)

Jason had sent me the Chrome Nakamura along with a couple other cards:



The backs still suck though:

Jason also sent me a "green" parallel card of Akinobu Okada that's #'d to 99:

Topps actually fixed one more of my complaints about the original set - the "2001" inserts use green borders now like the original cards rather than the white borders that the earlier set used.  I don't have any of the Chrome "2001" cards though so I can't show it here.

Like the Chrome set, all of the Chrome NPB cards can be seen at Jambalaya.

RIP Carlos Pulido

Former Orix BlueWave pitcher Carlos Pulido has passed away at age 52.  Pulido was originally signed out of Venezuela by the Twins in the late 1980's and made the major leagues in 1994.  His final major league win came that year when he defeated Wilson Alzarez and the White Sox in the first MLB game in which both starting pitchers were from Venezuela.  The Twins let him go after the 1995 season and he moved through the Cubs and Expos organization before ending up in Taiwan with the Mercuries Tigers in 1998.  He left mid-season to join the Somerset Patriots of the newly founded independent Atlantic League and was picked up by the Mets' at the end of the season, getting into three games for Triple-A Norfolk.  The Mets released him shortly afterwards and he spent 1999 back in Somerset.

He joined Orix for the 2000 season and manager Akira Ohgi used him in multiple roles - starter, middle relief and closer.  He went 7-4 with 4 saves and a 5.26 ERA in 42 games and his 80 strikeouts were the most on the team.  He returned for 2001 and didn't have anywhere near as good of year, going 1-3 with an 8.35 ERA in 11 games before being banished to the farm team and released at the end of the season.

He spent 2002 in Mexico with Guerreros de Oaxaca before rejoining the Twins organization the following season.  Over the next two seasons he pitched fairly well at Triple-A Rochester but didn't excel in limited opportunities with the big league club and he was released after 2004.  He went back to Mexico and finished his career with two seasons in Oaxaca (2005 and part of 2006) and Acereros de Monclova (the rest of 2006).  He played for many years in the Venezuelan Winter League and holds their all time record for wins by a left handed pitcher.

Here's all the Japanese cards I have of him:

2000 BBM #87

2001 BBM Preview #P93

2001 BBM #226

2001 BBM "Late Series" #614

2001 Upper Deck #103

In addition to these five cards, he had cards in the 2000 Future Bee Power League Dream Stadium (#057) and Konami Field Of 9 Series Two (#FON00B600) sets.

Friday, December 29, 2023

2023 BBM Fusion

 2023 BBM Fusion Set Summary

Size: 144 cards numbered 1-99, TH01-TH24, 601-621
Cards Per Team:  Variable
Team Card Theme:  N/A
Number Of Leader Cards:  24
Checklists:  None
Subsets:  1st Version Update (21)
Inserts:  First Pitch Ceremony (30), Great Record (24), Legendary Player (12), Treasure (12, #'d to 25), Esperanza (24, #'d to 50)
Memorabilia Cards: There are three different types of autographed card available - "Team Pack Version" (cards in the style of the format for the autograph cards in the player's team set), "Autograph" and "Picturesque".  There are two versions of autographed cards for the "First Pitch Ceremony" cards as well - the "silver paper" version is the more rare of the two - not all the "First Pitch Ceremony" cards have autographed versions though.
Parallels:  12 regular player cards and one of the "First Pitch Ceremony" cards have a "secret" alternate photo version.  "Title Holder" cards have four parallels - "silver paper" (#'d to 200), "gold paper" (#'d to 100), "silver paper + holo PP" (#'d to 50) and "gold paper + holo PP" (#'d to 25).  "Great Record" insert cards have six facsimile signature parallels - "kiwi green" (#'d to 200), "gold" (#'d to 100), "holo blue" (#'d to 75), "holo" (#'d to 50), "red" (#'d to 25) and "royal purple" (#'d to 10).  "Legendary Player" insert cards have the same six parallels as the "Great Record" cards but they're not facsimile signatures - I think they're just the finish on the cards.  "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards have five parallels - "Holo PP" (#'d to 300), "Silver Paper" (#'d to 200), "Gold Paper" (#'d to 100), "Silver Paper + Holo PP" (#'d to 50) and "Gold Paper + Holo PP" (#'d to 25).
Notable Rookies: None

The 2023 edition of BBM's Fusion set, traditionally their final baseball-only set of the year, was released about a month ago.  This is the Ghidorah of BBM's annual sets with the base set consisting of three separately numbered subsets.  There's the "1st Version Update" which is numbered in continuation of the 1st and 2nd Version sets (#600 to #621 this time around), the "Title Holder" subset which is numbered TH01 to TH24 and the "regular" cards (which officially are known as the "Hall Of Fame" subset despite them not having any actual connection to the Hall Of Fame") which are numbered from 1 to 99.  To further confuse things, there's the 30 short-printed "First Pitch Ceremony" cards (which I have listed under the inserts above) which are numbered in continuation of the same subset in the 2nd Version set.

The 99 "Hall Of Fame" cards serve as kind of a season summary but it's really not that straight forward.  In general, each event from 2023 that is highlighted on a card is followed in the set by another card highlighting a related event in the past.  Sometimes there are multiple cards from either 2023 or the past in the sequence.  

If this is confusing (and I know it is), maybe I can clear things up somewhat with an example.  On August 18, Shuta Ishikawa of the Hawks threw a no-hitter.  This event is commemorated on card #75.  Card #76 commemorates the no-hitter thrown by Kodai Senga of the Hawks back on September 6, 2019.  The connection is not only are these two of only three no-hitters ever thrown by Hawks pitchers but they're also the only two no-hitters thrown by players who started their professional careers as ikusei players:

#75 (left) & #76 (right)

48 of the 99 "regular" cards feature events from the 2023 season although as usual I don't know what many of them are.  There's a card for the other 2023 no-hitter - Yoshinobu Yamamoto's - along with Yuki Okabayashi's hitting streak, Yuki Matsui reaching 200 saves and the game where Chusei Mannami both led off with a home run and ended the game with a home run.  There are several cards featuring a pitcher batting - Koyo Aoyagi, Masanori Ishikawa and Masato Morishita.  Many of NPB stars have at least one card in this subset - Tetsuto Yamada, Munetaka Murakami, Kazuma Okamoto, Shugo Maki and Takeya Nakamura, Shota Imanaga and Koji Chikamoto.  Yamamoto has two cards.  A number of the cards feature alternate uniforms.  Twelve of the cards have "secret" versions - short printed photo variations - but I don't have of them.  Despite there being 48 cards there are not an even number of cards per team.  I think the Tigers have the most cards with seven while the Marines only have two and the Lions have just one.  Here's some examples:








Of the 51 players appearing on the cards that commemorate something that happened before 2023, 46 of them are retired.  The five active players are Yasuaki Yamasaki of the Baystars, Naoki Miyanishi of teh Fighters, Yu Darvish of the Padres, Kenta Maeda of the Twins and Senga of the Mets (obviously the MLB players are depicted as NPB players).  Miyanishi's kind of unique in that he has cards in the set for something he did in 2023 and something he did in 2016.  Retired players include Sadaharu Oh, Koichi Tabuchi, Yoshio Yoshida, Hisashi Yamada, Eiji Sawamura, Shigeru Sugishita, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui and Takao Kajimoto.  There's two cards for Tetsuya Yoneda - one with Hankyu and the other with Kintetsu.  There are three foreign players - Leon Lee, Alonzo Powell and Randy Messenger.  There's a couple cards of pitchers batting - Maeda, Yoneda and Sugishita.  BBM again did a pretty good job digging up photos of the older players - I don't think I'd seen any of these photos before and for someone like Sawamura, that's pretty hard to do.  Here are some samples:






The Title Holder cards are a throwback to the Leader cards BBM used to include in their flagship sets between 1991 and 2013.  There are a total of 24 cards (numbered TH01 to TH24) that include the leader (or leaders) in twelve statistical categories for each league -  Batting Average, Home Runs, RBIs, Hits, OBP, Stolen Bases, ERA, Winning Percentage, Wins, Saves, Hold Points and Strikeouts.  If a player leads the league in multiple categories then he has multiple cards in this subset - for example, Yoshinobu Yamamoto has four cards since he led the PL in ERA, Winning Percentage, Wins and Strikeouts.  Kensuke Kondoh is on three cards and Shugo Maki and Katsuki Azuma are on two.  You'll notice I said "are on" rather than "have" for those guys - if more than one player tie for the lead in a category they all appear on the card.  There are three cards that show multiple players this yea, including the PL Home Run card (which has Kondoh and two other players on it) and the CL Hits card (which has Maki and one other player).  Here's a couple so you can see what they look like:



The "1st Version Update" subset features cards of 21 players who were either not included in this year's 1st Version set or the "1st Version Update" subset from the 2nd Version set or were traded since their earlier appearance.  Actually, I think there's only one guy - Shingo Usami - in that category.  Usami appeared in 1st Version as a member of the Fighters but was traded mid-season to the Dragons for Yuji Gunji.  Gunji is also in the subset but did not appear in either of the two previous sets.  Normally there's a handful of foreign players in this subset but this time around there's only one - Leandro Cedeno of Orix.  This means there's several foreign players this year like Alen Hanson of the Fighters who do not have cards in BBM's flagship sets.  Other players appearing in this subset include Takayuki Kajitani of the Giants, Kohei Azuma of the Buffaloes and Shingo Ishikawa of the Marines.  The cards are numbered 601 to 621 in continuation of the 1st and 2nd Version sets.  Here's a couple examples:




The "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards are short printed and not considered part of the base set but I decided to get them anyway.  I ultimately spent about 7500 yen for the Fusion base set, inserts and "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards and about two thirds of that were these cards.  If you're not familiar with this subset, it features various Japanese celebrities throwing out the first pitch at a ballgame.  I've mentioned a couple times recently that I had thought I could skip these a few years back but have ultimately decided that I still want to get them.  As usual I don't know who many of these people are but it's always kind of entertaining researching them.  There's three cards for members of the Idol group ≠ME - Shiori Nagata, Momo Sakurai and Moeko Kanisawa - along with a bunch of other Gravure Idols - Yuko Ogura, Yuuka Kikuchi, Megumu Nakazato, Sarina Soda, Chihiro Kawakami, Risa Yukihira, Ano, Hazuki Mukai, Yuzuki Hidaka and Hiyuka Sakagawa.  There's also voice actress Saki Fujita, voice actress/singer Yuri Komagata, enka singer Midori Oka, model Airi Tanaka, kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjūrō XIII, actress Anna Yamada, Track & Field athlete Sae Takemoto, announcer Ayae Hakamada, "Seidokaikan Karateka" Nobuaki Kakuda, model Nicole Fujita, singer-songwriter Masashi Sada, YouTube pianist Harami-chan, actress Wakana Matsumoto, actress Haru and (of course) Gravure Idol, tarento and sportscaster Ami Inamura.  There's also the comedy duo U-Jikuji and Lin "Mizuki" Xiang, cheerleader for the Rakuten Monkeys of the CPBL.  A third of the people in this subset have appeared in previous subsets - Ogura and Kakuda were in the 2005 2nd Version set, Haru was in the 2010 2nd Version set, Fujita was in the 2017 2nd Version set, Soda and Hidaka were in the 2019 Fusion set, Kawakami and Yamada were in the 2022 Fusion set and Risa Yukihaira was in this year's 2nd Version set.  Ami Inamura has been in six previous sets - 2016 2nd Version, 2016 Fusion, 2017 2nd Version, 2017 Fusion, 2018 Fusion and 2021 2nd Version.  The cards are numbered FP31 to FP60 since this is a continuation of the "Ceremonial First Pitch" subset from this year's 2nd Version set.  Here's the card of Lin Xiang - wearing a Rakuten Eagles jersey as opposed to a Rakuten Monkeys one - as an example:


BBM did a "secret" version of Haru's card.  The new photo depicts here taking part in the "Fox Dance" at the same Fighters game that she threw out the first pitch at.  Here's both versions of the card:

#FP60 normal (left) and "secret" (left)

I don't normally pick up parallel versions of cards but my friend Jason sent me a couple.  Here's the "Holo PP" parallel of Megumu Nakazato's card and the "Silver Paper" parallel of Momo Sakurai's card:



It's really hard to tell from the scan that Nakazato's card has a holographic finish showing little hearts.  The silver tint on Sakurai's card is a little more visible.

The Fusion set traditionally has two non-premium insert sets and I picked up both of them with my set.  The less interesting one (to me anyway) is the "Legendary Player" insert set which features 12 OB players - one from each team (with Kintetsu represented in place of Rakuten).  Each player also has a "regular" card although it may not be for the same team.  For example, Kimiyasu Koudoh appears as a Yokohama Baystar in the regular set but is a Seibu Lions in this insert set:


The three MLB players I mentioned earlier - Darvish, Maeda and Senga - are all included in this insert set along with Hideki Matsui, Chihiro Kaneko, Hiroo Ishii and Randy Messenger among others.

The more interesting insert set (and the reason I pick these up every year) is called "Great Records".  This is a 24 card set that features two players from each team who achieved some milestone during the 2022 season.  Actually I say "players" but there's a cards Marines mascot Mar-Kun performed in his 2000th game in June.  Other milestones commemorated include Yoshisa Hirano's 250th save, Naoya Masuda's 200th save, Yuki Yanagita's 250th home run, Takayuki Kishi's 150th victory, Shota Inamaga's 1000th strikeout, Kazuma Okamoto's 200th home run and Yohei Ohshima's 2000th hit.  Here's a couple examples:



As always all the cards from the set can be seen over at Jambalaya.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Yoshinobu Yamamoto Of The Los Angeles Dodgers

Last week former Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed a 12 year, $325 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Since the Buffaloes had posted Yamamoto (rather than him being an international free agent), Orix will receive a posting fee in the neighborhood of $50 million.

Yamamoto played high school ball at Miyakonojo High School in Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu.  I don't think his team made it to Koshien while he was there but he was still well regarded enough for him and three other high school players from the region -  Yugo Umeno, Masumi Hamachi and Ryu Ota* - to be dubbed "The Four Kings Of Kyushu".  As the 2016 draft approached there were rumors that he had a foot injury and was going to play in the corporate leagues which scared teams away from drafting him.  He was eventually taken by the Buffloes in the fourth round.

*Umeno and Hamachi would be drafted in 2016 by the Swallows and Tigers respectively while Ota would play for JR East in the corporate leagues for three years before being drafted by the Giants in 2019

He made a handful of starts with the top team in 2017 before spending most of 2018 working out of the bullpen.  The free agent defections of Chihiro Kaneko and Yuki Nishi before the 2019 season opened up a spot in the rotation for him and he made the most of it.  His win-loss record was a modest 8-6 (last place Orix went 61-75-7 that season) but he had Pacific League leading ERA of 1.95 with 127 strikeouts and only 36 walks in 143 innings over 20 games.  Orix finished last again in 2020 but Yamamoto went 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA, 149 strikeouts (most in the PL) and only 37 walks in 126 2/3 innings in 18 games.  

In 2021, Yamamoto and the Buffaloes embarked on a remarkable three year stint.  His win-loss record was 18-5 in 2021, 15-5 in 2022 and 16-6 in 2023 and he posted ERAs of 1.39, 1.68 and 1.21 in those three years.  He struck out 206 batters in 193 2/3 innings in 2021, 205 in 193 innings in 2022 and 169 in 164 innings this past season.  He's won the "Pitching Triple Crown" (leading the league in wins, ERA and striekouts) in the Pacific League the past three years along with three consecutive Best 9 awards, three consecutive Sawamura Awards and three consecutive Pacific League MVPs.  He led Orix to the Pacific League pennant and Nippon Series all three of these seasons and they won the championship in 2022.

He's a five time All Star - 2018-19, 2021-23 - and he'd be a six time All Star if there'd been All Star games in 2020.  He's thrown two no-hitters - one in 2022 and the other in 2023, making him the first pitcher in Japan to throw no-hitters in consecutive seasons since Tadashi Kameda did it in 1940-41 as well as the first pitcher in over 50 years to throw multiple no-hitters.  He's played on Samurai Japan for the last three major tournaments - the 2019 Premier 12, the 2020(1) Tokyo Olympics and the 2023 World Baseball Classic - and helped them win all three championships.

His first baseball card was #051 in the 2017 BBM Rookie Edition set.  He also appeared that year in BBM's 1st Version set (#157), Buffaloes team set (#Bs22) and Fusion set (#81) as well as Epoch's Buffaloes Holospectra set (#16).  His first Calbee card didn't come until Series Three in 2018 (#168).  He didn't have a card in BBM's 1st Version set in 2018 but has been in every 1st & 2nd Version set and Fusion set ever since.  He's also a card in every Calbee set (although sometimes only a subset card) since 2018, every Epoch NPB set since 2018 and every Topps NPB set since 2021.  He's appeared in both the 2019 and 2020 Calbee Samurai Japan sets and several of Topps' WBC sets this year.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2017 BBM Rookie Edition #051

2017 BBM 1st Version #157

2018 Calbee #168

2018 BBM Buffaloes #Bs20

2019 Calbee "Exciting Scene" #ES-04

2020 Epoch Buffaloes Rookies & Stars #03

2020 Calbee Samurai Japan #10 (Gold Signature Parallel)

2021 Topps #GP-12

2022 Konami Baseball Collection #202200-R-B018-00

2023 Epoch NPB #005

The last two BBM Fusion sets have each included a card dedicated to his no-hitter from the respective year:

2022 BBM Fusion #60

2023 BBM Fusion #85