Posted by: Peter Waterman
As the owner of the #1 overall pick in a 14-team keeper league, where each team can keep 12 MLB players (so long as they remain under the points cap) and 4 minor league players, I have been playing closer attention to the Masahiro Tanaka reports that have been popping up. I have been offered deals by several owners for the #1 pick, with which I am assuming they are planning on drafting Tanaka.
While my team completely tanked last season, leading to a premature fire sale by me and slightly downgrading my keepers, I still think I have the makings of a competitive young team. Currently, my pitching staff is anchored by Stephen Strasburg and Mat Latos, while my young offense has Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Jason Kipnis. The addition of Tanaka with the #1 overall pick could give me 3 solid arms to build my team with.
Comparisons range from Hiroki Kuroda to Dan Haren (circa 2006-2011). I figured that the first place to start was to compare Tanaka’s NPB stats with other Japanese turned MLB pitchers. I chose to compare Tanaka with Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda using stats compiled from Baseball Reference.
Like Dice-K and Darvish, Tanaka began his professional career at age 18. Kurodo started at 22 and Nomo was 21 in his first season. Over 7 seasons, Tanaka compiled 99 wins, including a ridiculous 24 wins (and 0 loses) in 2013. This is 6 more wins than Darvish compiled over 7 seasons. Tanaka’s ERA stood at 2.30, which is second to Darvish’s 1.99. Tanaka’s K/9 was 8.5, which is less than Dice-K (8.7), Nomo (10.3) and Darvish (8.9). According to various scouting reports, Tanaka does not have the raw stuff that Yu Darvish has. Quite frankly, there are not many pitchers on the planet that have his stuff.
Tanaka possesses a fastball, slider and perhaps the best splitter on the planet, at least according to Ben Badler. He has the guts of Kuroda and is comfortable throwing any of his pitches in any count. He also has good command of the zone. He can touch 96-97MPH, though his fastball generally sits in the lower 90’s. A potential issue is that when he misses with a fastball it tends to be flat and could get hammered by MLB power hitters.
Looking back at an old scouting report on Daisuke Matsuzaka, there was a great line from a scout who said “He will be great at times, struggle at others” which sums up Dice-K to me perfectly. Scouts loved the fact that he was not simply a thrower and would mix his pitches, but he often got in trouble by nibbling too much and walking too many batters. Based on Dice-K’s BB/9 in Japan of 3.2, compared to Tanaka’s 1.9, I would conclude that Tanaka pitches to contact more than Dice-K did.
So, looking at how previous Japanese pitchers fared in season one of their MLB transition, what can fantasy owners expect from Tanaka?
- Hideo Nomo: 13-6, ERA 2.54, 191.1 innings, 236 K, 78 BB, 4 CG, 3 shutouts
- Yu Darvish: 16-9, ERA 3.90, 191.1 innings, 221 K, 89 BB
- Daisuke Matsuzaka: 15-12, ERA 4.40, 204.2 innings, 201 K, 80 BB, 1 CG
- Hiroki Kuroda: 9-10, ERA 3.73, 183.1 innings, 116 K, 42 BB, 2 CG Shutouts
As you can see, Japanese pitchers have had solid results in their first MLB seasons. Most fantasy owners would be happy with all of these seasons. But what about those Dan Haren comparisons?
The best MLB comparison for Masahiro Tanaka is Dan Haren circa 2006-2011. Great command and a 70 split
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) December 28, 2013
In those 6 seasons, Dan Haren pitched for Oakland, Arizona and the LA Angels. He compiled a record of 87-62, pitching 1,363 innings with 1,205 strikeouts. He was a 3-time all-star and finished in the top 7 in the Cy Young voting twice. Certainly these are results that fantasy owners would be very happy with.
Couchmanagers recently released their most up to date average draft positions, and Tanaka is now being drafted #91, right after Hisashi Iwakuma. This is typically a round 8 selection. At this slot he would be the 18th SP selected. He is selected just ahead of Gerrit Cole, who I am quite bullish on for 2014, and James Shields.
If I am dealing the #1 pick, I would be looking for a return of Gerrit Cole and something else. As this is probably a deal that would not get done, I am rolling the dice with the #1 selection and taking Tanaka. I am selecting Tanaka as a top 12-15 SP in keeper leagues. I think similar to Dice-K, he could be one year away from being an elite SP option.