Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes ended on Wednesday when the Japanese righty agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees. The contract includes an opt-out clause that he can exercise after the 2017 season.

Tanaka went 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles. Last season was easily his best in Japan, as he went 24-0 with a sensational ERA of 1.27. Though this is not enough to convince some Yankees fans that his story won't be different from that of their last major Japanese pitching acquisition, Kei Igawa.

When the Boston Red Sox signed former Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year deal before the 2007 season, the Yankees retaliated by signing a less talented Japanese pitcher, Kei Igawa, to a five-year deal.

Igawa imploded immediately, going 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) for the Yankees in 2007 before being sent to the Minor Leagues. He would only appear in the Majors one more time, in 2008, where he gave up 6 earned runs in 4 innings pitched over 2 games. It is fair to call Igawa's contract a disaster.

The reason Tanaka will do better in the Major Leagues is simple: he is better than Igawa. Yes, it sounds like lame reasoning, but it makes more sense than meets the eye. Igawa's best season in Japan was 2002, when he went 14-9 with a solid 2.49 ERA as well as 206 strikeouts and only allowed 15 home runs. In his final season in Japan, 2006, he again went 14-9 and put together another stellar ERA of 2.97.

Tanaka's best season (besides 2013) was 2011, where he went 19-5 with a ridiculous 1.27 ERA and a WHIP of 0.875. In 2013 he was unbeatable, literally. The Golden Eagles' ace went 24-0 and again posted an ERA of 1.27.

One of the major differences between Tanaka and Igawa is their ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. Both were very good in Japan, but Tanaka was much better.

Igawa gave up 15 home runs in 2002, his best season. In 2011 and 2013, Tanaka gave up a combined total of 14 and in his worst season, 2007, he gave up 17. This would be his career high.

Igawa would give up 15 home runs in 67.2 innings pitched in 2007 with the Yankees.

Aside from the ERA difference, Tanaka also walks far fewer batters than Igawa did.  In his final five seasons in Japan, Tanaka only walked 35-plus hitters in a single season once. In Igawa's last five seasons before making the transition to the Major Leagues, he walked less than 50 batters only once.

Also, Tanaka will use more off-speed pitches in the Major Leagues. Tanaka throws a decent slider, a fastball that can reach the mid to upper 90's, and a devastating splitter. According to Fangraphs, Igawa only threw a fastball, a cutter, and a changeup during his time in the big leagues.

Masahiro Tanaka and Kei Igawa are not even on a similar level.

One final thought for those who are concerned about Tanaka's lack of strikeouts. His 183 strikeouts this past season outnumbered the Yankees current star Hiroki Kuroda's Japanese high by 18.

Don't worry about the strikeouts.


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