Norimoto entered 2016 as one of the better-known assets currently playing in Japan. Currently he stands as a defacto #2 to #1a of Shohei Ohtani (RHP, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters) and #1b of Tomoyuki Sugano (RHP, Yomiuri Giants). He’s got a potent three-to-four pitch mix and is a guy that has a chance to pitch consistently with above-average command. Drafted out of college by the Eagles, he does not have the same time in the league that Masahiro Tanaka (RHP, Yankees) had at this age, however the stuff is comparable to Tanaka’s, as is the aggressive approach on the mound.
Unlike a lot of Japanese pitchers, Norimoto is not a nibbler – he tends to pound the zone with fastballs and then take hitter out of the zone with the slider and forkball. He has seen his K’s/9 rise in each of this first four season, and outside of his rookie campaign in 2013, he’s put up over 200 K’s (204, 215, 216 each of the last three seasons). On top of that, he has been a model of durability and consistency innings-wise, with 170 innings his rookie year followed by 202.2, 194.2 and 195 innings over the next three seasons. He does have some effort in his delivery, but is an excellent athlete and has shown the ability to throttle up and back and repeat consistently. Looking at their stature, power stuff and effort levels, I see Norimoto comparing well to (a pre-injury) Sonny Gray (RHP, Athletics), but ultimately Norimoto profiles/projects to be the better of the two righties.
Despite his aggressiveness in the zone he doesn’t walk many (2.3 BB/9 this season—which was his highest since his 2.7 BB/9 mark his rookie year). These sort of numbers stand out no matter where one is pitching, however in such a contact-heavy league like the NPB, consistently punching out 200-plus hitters a year is a significant accomplishment, and something that will translate well to the U.S. game. Only Yu Darvish (RHP, Rangers) and Hideo Nomo (RHP, Dodgers) routinely struck out 200-plus batters per year in Japan before coming over, and both of those guys saw a rise in their K rates once they toed a big league mound.
Norimoto sits 90-to-94 mph with his fastball, but has been up to 96 mph for me in the past. His slider is plus and probably the pitch he has the most feel with. He will add and subtract and change the shape depending on the situation, and dial up hard ¾ bite to put hitters away. He also sports a plus forkball which rivals that of former teammate Masahiro Tanaka (RHP, Yankees). In years past it has been the FB/Sld/Fk combination with the curveball mixed in, but recently has started using a circle changeup as well – and has seen it become a solid, above-average offering.
Going into the 2017 WBC, I expect Norimoto to be part of a formidable Japanese rotation and slot in right behind Ohtani and Sugano. Norimoto has a few years left before free agency (approximately four more seasons), but is on a team that is no stranger to the posting system and it’s likely he’ll made available within the next three years. It looks like Ohtani may be posted after next season, so it would make sense to see Norimoto’s name pop up in the winter of 2018.