Mar 22, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) throws against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Tanaka Still Learning to Pitch to “American” Hitters


I have been watching baseball all of my life, but not only in the U.S. I have watched games with talented Asian ballplayers in their leagues overseas. Why have I done this? I have because in order to learn more about the upcoming foreign players in the world such as Yu Darvish, Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, or Masahiro Tanaka, one must study their tapes of games against some type of competition. For Masahiro Tanaka, it was his stint with the Rakuten Eagles in Japan. We all know about Tanaka’s 24-0 record and very low ERA with the team, but that is not what we should examine before a player, like a pitcher himself, comes to America.

Since Tanaka is a pitcher, we should examine the hitters he faced in Japan. As we have seen from past and present Japanese players such as Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, their plate approach is very different from an American ballplayer’s approach. I have noticed that more Asian ballplayers will swing early in the count in order to keep pitchers off balance. Tanaka had great success with this notion because this allowed him to keep hitters guessing and improve his “stuff.” A first pitch fastball was limited for Tanaka, because that is exactly what hitters in Japan looked for. He could throw breaking pitches in the dirt and hitters would chase because of the “Asian” ballplayer mentality.

However, now that he is in America, Tanaka must adjust. Hitters will not chase first pitch breaking balls like they would in Japan (except maybe the free-swinging Braves). On Saturday night Tanaka, fell behind many of the Minnesota Twin’s hitters because they were patient and laid off his breaking pitches early in the count. The Twins outfielder Josh Willingham explained his first at-bat against Tanaka by saying, “I didn’t think he was overpowering, but I thought he had a lot of movement, which makes it hard as a hitter.’’

This is a simple problem for Tanaka that can be fixed very easily. He just needs to get ahead of hitters. Many major league pitchers have this problem. Luckily for Tanaka, it is his first year in the league and he will learn very quickly. He also has great teammates to talk to about American hitters in Derek Jeter and Brian McCann. Why these two? Well, Jeter is a legend. He has been around the game now for a while and advice from him is always good advice. Brian McCann is kind of obvious, he is a catcher. His job is to study opposing hitters and make sure he tells the pitcher the right pitches to throw especially because most of the time he calls his own game.

Tanaka will be fine, because remember it is New York. The fans will let you know what you are doing wrong. Yankees’ back-up catcher Francisco Cervelli said it best by saying, “I think during the season he’ll be more aggressive because 50,000 [fans] and it’s New York. The big leagues is hard when you get behind. You get hit.’’ Tanaka is lucky to have a ball club full of seasoned veterans who can help him along in his first year in the majors and in America.

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