I’ve been thinking a lot about Masahiro Tanaka and how he might perform in year one of his newly-minted mega deal.
My theory is that observable skills are a better predictor of MLB success than statistics. As an example, a pitcher with good control of an obvious out pitch is a better bet than a pitcher who is good all around, but lacks a dominant skill. This might sound obvious, but the media and casual baseball conversation centers around Tanaka’s 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA, rather than his ability to suppress walks and home runs.
So, I took a look back on the group of starters that have moved from NPB to MLB on Major League contracts since I began writing in mid-2008.
|1st MLB Season||Pitcher||Strengths||Weaknesses||MLB fWAR|
|2014||Masahiro Tanaka||suppressed walks, great splitter, good slider, healthy||not quite Darvish||?|
|2012||Yu Darvish||dominant in every way year after year||The legacy of Daisuke Matsuzaka||9.8|
|2012||Hisashi Iwakuma||great splitter, groundball machine, limited home runs||injured in 2011, didn’t look like himself||4.8|
|2012||Wei-Yin Chen||lefty who at one time showed electric stuff, dominant in 2009||had regressed quite a bit by 2011||4.3|
|2012||Tsuyoshi Wada||decent control, decent changeup||undersized; poor fastball velocity; looked spent at the end of 2011||0|
|2010||Colby Lewis||phenomenal K:BB ratio, good arm||was improvement in control due to him or the league?||9.6 (post return)|
|2009||Kenshin Kawakami||great cutter, innings eater||not much upside beyond #3 starter||2.4|
|2009||Koji Uehara||phenomenal K:BB ratio, great splitter||injury history, could he handle starting?||8.8 (mostly in relief)|
My first reaction is that this is pretty good group. Wada was a bit of a bust, but he was injured. Kawakami comes the closest to being evidence of my theory, as he didn’t really dominate any statistical category, but I think he could have shown more if the Braves hadn’t buried him. The rest of these pitchers have either met or exceeded expectations since moving to MLB.
This seems to bode pretty well for Tanaka, as he shows two above average pitches and dominated a number of statistical categories in NPB. We’ll see how it bodes for the pitchers who are currently active in Japan in a follow up article in the next couple of days, assuming the writing gods smile upon me.