Tetsuto Yamada at bat for Samurai Japan.

The Best Second Baseman

As the 2019 regular season closes out it’s yet another season we were lucky enough to spend with one of the best second basemen to ever play the game. He’s been among the best since his third season, and first full season, of professional baseball and he’s never really looked back. Whether he’s manning the middle infield at Meiji Jingu Stadium or some other Central League park there’s no denying that each and every year Tetsuto Yamada proves he is among the very best that baseball has to offer.

This isn’t a career recollection piece, Yamada is still far too young for that. He was only 27-years-old at the conclusion of the 2019 Nippon Professional Baseball season. Rather, his 2019 alone is ample enough evidence that baseball fans are getting to witness greatness in its prime. As every year passes it’s more and more likely that Yamada will never bring his talents stateside, but to that I say, who cares? He’s great in Japan, and I get to see his greatness on display many times throughout the year and, really, I couldn’t ask for more than that.

In 2019 Yamada slashed .271/.401/.560 in 641 plate appearances. He cranked out 35 homers while also stealing 33 bases. He only struck out 11 more times than he walked, 121 to 110. Maintaining an ISO of .288 and K% of 18.9 is no small feat, but again, that’s a second baseman with an ISO of .288, just think about that for a second. His WRC+ of 157 was third-best in NPB among qualified hitters, and that is because Yamada hits for extreme power, gets on base a lot, limits his strikeouts, and once on base is a true threat with his legs.

While his UZR of 1.6 is decidedly in the average range, that’s perfectly fine. Yamada is an average to above-average fielding second baseman. To be perfectly honest, when you are as great with a bat in your hands as Yamada is you really only need to be an average fielder. That’s exactly what Yamada has been his entire career and he continued to be a second baseman who won’t make a lot of mistakes but also won’t truly wow people with his defense. Yamada has a weak area, but he makes up for it by being so far above the grade in every other category.

Where Yamada consistently shines brightest is on the basepaths. Being successful in 33 out of 36 stolen base attempts equates to a SB% of 91.7. That is a high number, high enough that it would rank among the 30 best single seasons in the history of Major League Baseball. That number is a mite better than Yamada’s career mark of 87.5. In the entirety of MLB history, only one player has stolen 100 or more bases and had a SB% that high, Chase Utley with the same exact 87.5. Knowing that Yamada has an elite Spd of 6.8 makes it a little easier to understand why he was able to string together 38 straight attempts without getting caught from August of 2018 until September of this year.

The native of the Hyōgo prefecture spent his 2019 season providing the same excellent baserunning and offense (with capable defense) that has been the hallmark of his career. He amassed 7.3 dWAR for an abysmal Tokyo Yakult Swallows club, and he did so in a relatively quiet fashion. That’s the problem with a player as across the board great as Yamada, what he does becomes old hat. There’s no spice to him posting yet another fabulous season because that’s just Yamada being Yamada. We shouldn’t be taking him for granted though, because a player as well rounded as Yamada is definitely not the norm. Alas, when the 2020 season kicks off he will still be one of the best baseball players on the planet and he will still be taken for granted. Sometimes that’s just how it goes with greatness.

Lead photo courtesy of Matt Roberts – Getty Images

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

5 Replies to “The Best Second Baseman

  1. What are the chances he eventually makes the move to MLB? And if he does, would it be for 2020? 2021?

    1. The chances are quite slim. I’m not sure how long his contract is for, but he’s never expressed deep interest to play stateside. Couple that with the fact that his contract is likely for multiple years and every year makes it less and less likely he would come over. I’d say that if he hasn’t made the jump by the start of the 2022 season, it’s not happening.

      1. First, thanks for the write up. I’m catching this late, but better late than never.

        Second, I suspect the commenter above has the same questions I have regarding service time. Before the virus, was he due to qualify for international free agency following the 2020 or 2021 season?

        Thanks again

        1. I asked Jim Allen, a fantastic reporter in Japan, and he said that there aren’t any service time requirements. Technically the Swallows could post him any year between November and December, they just haven’t chosen to do that and have given no inclination that they ever will. In that case, his contract isn’t over for a few more years.

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