Although Masahiro Tanaka has brought a fun media frenzy to Yankees’ camp this spring, there is still no telling of whether or not he’ll be able to be a Major League-caliber starting pitcher. The early reports out of Tampa say that his bullpen sessions have looked terrific, and that catchers Brian McCann and Austin Romine are mesmerized by his much-talked-about “devastating” splitter.
However, he has yet to face one single Major League hitter in any sort of game situation and until he does, he has to remain a $155 million question mark in my eyes. Most baseball experts see few reasons why he could fail in New York, and if Fantasy Baseball is your thing, most sites rank him as a top-20 starter. But in this day-in-age, sabermetricians and computers are dominating the sport, and they may be where you’ll find the most logical projections for the Yankees’ 25-year-old Japanese import.
ESPN’s Dan Szymborski, using his program which he calls “ZiPS”, based his view of Tanaka by translating his insane 2013 NBL stats - 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, serving up 6 homers allowing and 32 walks in 212 innings - to if he had pitched against Major League hitters in a neutral ballpark. ZiPS said that the stats would’ve instead been 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA, serving up 17 homers and allowing 41 walks in 193 innings.
Szymborski’s ZiPS clearly suggests that Nippon Professional Baseball is far inferior to Major League Baseball, and few people argue that point. He himself said that Japanese baseball is, “…above Triple-A but below the majors…a little closer to Triple-A than to the majors.”
Of course, Tanaka’s ZiPS-induced 2013 season still would’ve been impressive and certainly an ace-quality campaign, in fact not too far off from what CC Sabathia used to contribute early on in his Yankee career. But what do other “programs” say about Masahiro?
Actually, nothing far too different. And that’s great if you’re a Yankees fan.
Brian Cartwright’s “Oliver” program envisions Tanaka going 17-6 with a 2.59 ERA, allowing 15 home runs and striking out 193 in 205 innings — again, ace-like numbers, to an even further extent.
In case you’ve never heard of Cartwright, he analyzed Yu Darvish the very same way when he came over to Texas in 2012. He called for Darvish to sport a 2.57 ERA with a 2.0 BB/9 and 9.6 K/9, and in two full seasons, Darvish has a 3.34 ERA with a 3.8 BB/9 and 11.2 K/9. While the ERA is off, Cartwright did project Darvish to be an ace, and he certainly is that for the Rangers.
Then we reach the more widely-known Fangraphs “Steamers” program. While giving more of the benefit-of-the-doubt to the opposing hitters, they still view Tanaka as a solid starter as well, seeing a 13-11 record with a 3.71 ERA in his future, allowing 21 home runs and striking out 156 in 192 innings.
Of course, in the coming days there will be many more predictions and projections of what Masahiro Tanaka will wind up being for the Yankees. He could be their next ace, or their next big free-agent flop. Only time will tell, but so far, I’d have to say I like my chances of seeing the former outcome come to fruition rather than the latter.