Greatest Japanese Players in Yankees History

With all of the hype surrounding Yoshinobu Yamamoto this offseason, now is a great time to examine some of the most significant Japanese players to wear the pinstripes.

The Yankees have historically hit the mark when scouting players from the island, but there have also been some notable failures. The Yankees picked up every player below via signing or trade with the hope that their efforts would deliver a World Series Championship to the Bronx, and in some cases, it was a resounding success.

Hiroki Kuroda

Photo by Rich Schultz

Born in Osaka, Japan, Kuroda was a pleasant surprise when the Yankees picked him up from the Dodgers after the 2011 season. He was the definition of consistency as he regularly pitched over 200 innings per year (except in ’14 when he pitched 199) and finished with a 3.44 ERA over three years in the Bronx. He finished every season with an ERA+ above 100 and a K/9 average 6.7.

Kuroda is seen as a success and a door-opener for another Japanese pitcher on this list.

Ichiro Suzuki

Photo by Associated Press/Elaine Thompson

Some people forget that Ichiro spent two years as a Yankee, and that’s a shame. He wasn’t quite the juggernaut he was during his almost 12 years as a Mariner, but he still managed to perform with a .281 BA with a .314 OBP. What else would you expect from a 10-time All-Star, former MVP, and one of the greatest hitters the game has seen?

Ichiro makes this list because he’s one of the best Japanese-born players of all time, and his efforts with the Yankees shouldn’t be disregarded.

Masahiro Tanaka

Photo by CNP/Ron Sachs

It’s Tanaka time. By far the most outstanding pitcher the Yankees have signed from Japan, Masahiro Tanaka was a fan favorite. Some fans questioned whether signing Tanaka to a 7-year, $155 million deal would be worth the money. These concerns were quickly put to rest.

Despite elbow injuries, he continued to return somehow better than before. Collecting two All-Star nominations while finishing his career with a 3.74 ERA and an ERA+ of 144, fans will remember Masahiro Tanaka as money well spent for years. If only he could have brought a World Series to the Bronx…

Hideki Matsui

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Known as “Godzilla” to baseball fans around the globe, Matsui is the top Japanese-born player that comes to mind for Yankee fans.

Matsui joined the Yankees in 2003 and made his presence known immediately, smashing a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium. He could do it all. On defense, Matsui was a solid outfielder that made some remarkable plays. On offense, he was a reliable hitter, never finishing with an OPS below .700.

He is fondly remembered for his stellar performance in the 2009 World Series, where he was named the World Series MVP after collecting eight hits over 13 AB, including three home runs and 8 RBI.

Jacob P.M.

Covering the New York Yankees - Find me on X/Twitter: @JacobBSpeaks

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