On a night where the Boston Red Sox are running away from St. Louis in pursuit of their third World Championship in the past ten years, I write about the foreign player that so many teams covet, Masahiro Tanaka. Let me just forward my congratulations to the Red Sox though, who certainly were deserving of the World Series victory. Here's hoping that it'll be the Dodgers turn next year. Now Boston, please don't destroy your city tonight.
No matter what sabermetricians say about how meaningless a pitcher’s Won/Loss record is, A 24-0 record is indicative of an amazing season. Scratch that, amazing isn’t the word to use, “historically spectacular” is what it is, and it doesn’t matter what league it happened in either. You throw Koufax in his prime in the Japanese league (NPB) and he probably doesn’t go 24-0. He might finish 21-3 or 22-2, but 24-0 is simply out of this world.
|Masahiro Tanaka pitches during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)|
There’s no arguing that 24-0 is a statistical anomally and certainly a lot of luck and decent run support is needed in order to achieve such a record, but there’s no hiding the career marks of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 24 year old pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. His record is 99-35 with a lifetime 2.30 ERA including 53 complete games over 6 seasons. Add to that 18 shutouts, an 8.5K/9 rating and less than 2 walks allowed per 9 innings. He has a 1.108 lifetime WHIP and a 2013 season WHIP of a microscopic 0.943.
So when the word from the hot stove is that the Dodgers may consider trading a slew of prospects for David Price or opt to pay a bunch of cash for Tanaka, the decision to make is a no brainer. You keep what you have of the farm system intact and get the young phenom from Japan.
With the Dodgers recent history of delving into the bidding wars of foreign players, it looks as if the organization has figured out that this is the way to build the franchise on the major league level without decimating the farm system in the process. Puig, Ryu and now Alexander Guerrero have joined the forty man roster without the cost of giving up one prospect. It would be foolish for the Dodgers to change their tactics and start peddling off the likes of Zack Lee and Josh Pederson for an expensive player like Price.
For a team with gobs of money, this is the way to go as posting fees don’t factor into the luxury tax penalty equation either. The Yankees are certainly going to bid high and attempt to lure Tanaka to the Bronx, so Colletti and his team have their work cut out for them in attempting to land this extraordinary talent.
One thing is certain though and that is a rotation made up of Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Tanaka and Beckett will be easily the most formidable in the major leagues. Dodger management has to be extremely enthused about the prospect and eager to get this done.
Factor in that Tanaka has won two more post season games and that record of his is 26-0 on the season now. There are those that say his stuff is inferior to Yu Darvish, and that may be true, but one thing that can’t be denied is his pinpoint control and footage of him shows that he can throw strikes in specific regions of the zone with Maddux-like precision. His fastball is sitting at around 93 MPH with high velocity ranges of his four seamer at 95-96. His splitter has been rated with a score ranging between 68-72 on the scouts 20-80 scale measuring stick. It is extremely effective with late downward action that fools hitters into thinking it’s a fastball. He also throws a slider and an effective curveball as well. There is one report that lists a forkball in his arsenal that he’ll use against left handed hitters only. His changeup is there too, but is seldom used.
Interestingly as Tanaka’s strikeout rate has reduced the past two years, his win totals have risen substantially. As he has matured, he’s learning how to pitch more efficiently and get outs off of batted balls instead of relying on the strikeout. Here is an interesting assessment from a month ago from an anonymous U.S. scout based in Japan:
“He is better than Darvish because he’s a strike thrower. Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like Kuroda, he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches, but when it gets to (stone)-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.” (Link to Scouting Report found HERE).
There are scouts that claim Tanaka throws that splitter with the exact same arm slot and arm speed of his fastball, but it comes in at 84-87 MPH vs. the 92-94 MPH that his two seamer is. His mechanics are solid and generate maximum velocity. Though he has a lot of innings on that arm through 6 seasons, it is suggested that his proper mechanics have paid dividends in keeping Tanaka injury-free.
|Tanaka celebrates his 21st consecutive win, an NPB record (photo by Kyoto News/AP)|
Like many Japanese pitchers, he has that quirky delivery. He starts slow, then almost comes to a stop before finishing quickly. It’ll take time for major leaguers to adjust to that.
An excellent assessment on Tanaka’s skillset is found at THIS BLOG, that deals primarily with Asian talent and their MLB potential.
If the Dodgers are able to pull off this acquisition over the Yankees, it may be as big as the Ryu and Puig acquisitions from last year of not bigger. Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times reports that Tanaka prefers the Yankees or the Dodgers as his ultimate destination. Perhaps the Dodgers and their recent success and roster primed to make a run for a championship will be the tipping point that brings Tanaka to Los Angeles.