On Wednesday, the New York Yankees made their huge splash signing of the offseason by inking Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka to a reported seven-year contract worth $155 million.
Before the 25-year-old has even thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues he’ll be one baseball’s highest paid hurlers, and New York fans are left wondering if they will see another Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu.
The Yankees famously paid $26 million just to negotiate with Igawa, then signed him to a five-year, $20 million. He would appear in 16 games, starting in 13, and notch a 2-4 record and 6.66 ERA in two seasons. Irabu posted winning records in his three years with the Yankees, but his fitness and preparation was often questioned.
Now, Tanaka has even bigger dollar amounts and expectations to fill.
Like the Dodgers, Cubs and White Sox, the Yankees had seen Tanaka go a perfect 24-0 this past season with the Rakuten Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League, on top of his three straight years of impeccable hurling with ERAs of 1.27, 1.87, and 1.27.
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But will those numbers translate well once he crosses the Pacific?
Tanaka’s most recent performance against MLB competition came in 2013’s World Baseball Classic. In four appearances, he gave up 10 hits, three runs, two earned, and struck out 12 batters over seven innings of of work. As referenced by ESPN the video below shows Tanaka fanning the heart of Cuba’s lineup for six strikeouts.
The next video shows Tanaka striking out the last two batters in the final inning of the Eagles first ever Japanese World Series title last year.
Both clips show a talented and confident pitcher with a fastball regularly touching the mid-90s. A breakdown from Baseball America shows Tanaka’s full arsenal, including a “vanishing” splitter and a slider.
While his velocity is excellent, Tanaka’s fastball must come down for it to work in the Majors, and he’ll have to tighten up his windup and follow through on his splitter, according to Baseball America.
Tanaka does have solid command of his pitches. He works the corners very well, and can go out and away to make batters chase.
The Yankees needed to make a serious move to bolster their rotation, especially for someone to support C.C. Sabathia, and Tanaka does have the talent to develop into a solid major league pitcher. Assuming his career 1,315 innings over eight years haven’t caught up yet.
Tanaka will also be under the tutelage of third-year Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who squeezed out 71 wins from Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and Hiroki Kuroda, the third most in the Majors last season.