Pitching By The Numbers: Projecting Masahiro Tanaka Critique


By: Matthew Greenberg

A recent article by Michael Salfino of Yahoo! Sports attempts to project how Masahiro Tanaka’s first season in the major leagues will go.  To do so, Salfino draws on history, assessing how past Japanese pitchers coming over to the United States have done in their first season in the States compared to their careers in Japan.  Based on the statistics, Salfino argues that because Tanaka will finish the season with a 3.4 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, 183 K’s and 15 wins in 200 innings; those numbers would best for the Yankees in every categories last season.  Simply put, I don’t see it going that well for Tanaka in his first season in the majors.

What Salfino fails to realize however, is that Tanaka is quite a different pitcher than most Japanese pitchers who have come over to the United States.  Unlike Yu Darvish, who arguably has the best arsenal of pitches in the major leagues, and Diasuke Matsuzaka, who could throw five plus pitches when he came over to the states, Tanaka only has three pitches that he can throw for strikes.  Additionally, while his fastball is certainly a plus pitch, the lack of movement is a major concern.  So, in reality, Tanaka’s best pitch, his splitter, is going to have to carry him through this season until his other pitches develop a little more.  That could be a major issue.  A splitter is only effective when hitters are behind in the count, and are likely to swing at pitches that end up out of the zone; without another great pitch, Tanaka’s splitter won’t be as effective as it was in Japan.

While I could see Tanaka as one of the top three pitchers for the Yankees this year, I don’t see him getting anywhere near the numbers that Salfino projects him for.  While the strikeouts might be there, because they have been for nearly every other top Japanese pitcher who has come over to the States, the ERA and WHIP won’t be that good.  In Yu Darvish’s first season in the majors, he had a 3.9 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP; that was after a career in Japan with a 1.99 ERA and a WHIP of less than one.  Tanaka, on the other hand, had a 2.3 ERA in Japan, with a WHIP of greater than one; to truly believe that Tanaka will be better than Darvish was in his first season, even after Tanaka’s historic year last year, is truly naïve.  Yu Darvish is a physical specimen with an unbelievable arsenal of pitches.  More likely, Tanaka projects with an ERA around 4, with a WHIP closer to 1.3, and likely somewhere in the mid-teens for his win total.

My Projections:  4.00 ERA 1.3 WHIP 175 K’s 15 Wins

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