Connect with us

MLB

Free Agent Pitchers: Getting to Know Masahiro Tanaka

XN Sports previews free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

There are still plenty of free agent pitchers available and we took a closer look at what might be the best big league pitcher available in Matt Garza. However, Garza may not be the best overall free agent pitcher in this class because of a Japanese import who is about to make history: Masahiro Tanaka.

Ever since it was announced that the posting fee that is to be paid to Tanaka’s Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, was capped at $20 million, it seems that every Major League Baseball team is interested in signing the Japanese standout. So far, the teams that have been linked to Tanaka are as follows:

Entering his age 25 season for the 2014 campaign, and add the fact that many teams will be making a bid on Tanaka, many believe that he will most likely sign a contract worth well over $100 million (not including the posting fee owed to the Golden Eagles). Bob Nightengale states that the pitcher should expect to be making a minimum of $17 million per year in the majors. Besides the relatively low posting fee, what has gotten MLB teams optimistic on trying to reach a deal with Tanaka? For that, we will take a look at his last three seasons pitching in Japan:

Masahiro Tanaka: Stats in Last Three Seasons

Year

Age

W-L

ERA

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

H/9

2011

22

19-5

1.27

27

226.1

9.6

1.1

6.8

2012

23

10-4

1.87

22

173.0

8.8

1.0

8.3

2013

24

24-0

1.27

28

212.0

7.8

1.4

7.1

The traditional numbers shows a pitcher that has dominated his league, accumulating 53 wins in the process. Not shown is the 30 complete games he racked up in that time span. Plus, other than 2012, he has proven to be an innings eater. A pitcher that has no problem eating up innings and finishing up games? Tanaka’s throwback game would be some sort of rare commodity in the American game. And he’s doing all of this before hitting the age of 25.

So maybe Tanaka deserves the big paycheck he’s about to receive. Well, the raw output shows a pitcher with a declining strikeout rate, but it’s hard to ignore the low amount of walks and hits given up, a credit to his good control and command. But Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci warns about Tanaka’s high innings total, describing it in terms of historical proportions. He notes that the 1,315 innings pitched by Tanaka through the age of 24 are only matched by former big leaguers Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven. Though he’s only 25 and teams seem to think that the youth and potential is worth the bidding war that is about to ensue in the next month or so, the high pitch count (Verducci also cites a high school tournament where Tanaka threw 742 pitches in five games) and innings pitched could be more of a warning to MLB teams than a sign of his durability.

Jeff Sullivan, of FanGraphs.com, describes Tanaka’s repertoire as being equipped with a low-90s fastball, effective slider, and a splitter that he’s more than willing to throw at a high rate. Ben Badler of Baseball America, is cited as describing Tanaka’s splitter as “the best splitter in the world.” Because of his stuff and the mileage on his arm, he has been compared to Hiroki KurodaHideo NomoYu Darvish, Kenshin KawakamiDaisuke Matsuzaka, and Fernando Valenzuela

It remains to be seen if Tanaka can prove to be a good long-term investment, but if we were to use the Yu Darvish comparison, the first couple of years might be worth the gargantuan investment that MLB teams will have to risk for the services of the 25 year-old. As mentioned, his stuff, especially his splitter, might streamline very well in the majors. Plus having outstanding control and command of his pitches makes him a hot commodity.

However, the fact that Tanaka may not rate as an ace pitcher in the big leagues despite getting paid like one, all signs point to Tanaka not being worth the price of admission. Furthermore, pundits and fans alike have seen what happens to pitchers that get overworked at a young age. If we’ve learned anything about free agency is that all reason and rationale thought is thrown out the window. In a race to purchase hype for next season and teams flexing their financial muscle, an eagerness to succumb to the market garners top priority.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

2 Comments

More in MLB