With the news that Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, there's no better time to actually look at the type of pitcher he is. Too often in sports it seems fans get overexcited about possible acquisitions to their team without ever bothering to find out what said player brings to the table. With very little accessible video of Japanese players on the internet the hype for these potential imports usually reaches pretty silly levels, leading fans to believe that the next Justin Verlander is coming to the MLB anytime a player is posted.
Of course I'm no Japanese baseball expert myself, but let's try and take a look at what Tanaka could bring to the table for the lucky team who wins this sweepstakes. The 25-year-old right hander from the Itami area of Osaka has been pitching professionally since the age of 18, when he started 28 games for Rakuten. There's always going to be concern about the miles on a pitcher's arm when he's had such heavy workloads so far in his career, with 1315 innings already under his belt.
Here's a nice snapshot of Tanaka's performance thus far in his professional career:
Tanaka stands 6'2" and weighs in a 205 pounds, which is comparable to a pitcher like Brett Cecil. Tanaka's delivery is similar to former Japanese import Yu Davish and has no obvious problems, although people have said his wide stride causes his pitches to have a flatter plane than you would expect from someone 6'2".
As most Japanese hurlers do, Tanaka throws a multitude of different pitches and has the ability to locate with all of them. His fastball sits low-90's and is pretty flat, often thrown up in the zone. That might be a concern in the major leagues as power hitters will be able to launch that high pitch into orbit. His two-seamer is similar to the shuuto thrown by most Japanese pitchers which is also known as the "reverse slider". His splitter is a big whiff pitch and runs in on a right-handed hitters' hands as you can see at the 36 second mark in the video:
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Tanaka's slider is arguably his best off-speed pitch and he throws it about a quarter of the time. The hard slider is effective against hitters on both sides of the plate and is easily thrown for strikes. There's a ton of sliders in this video as it's Tanaka's favourite pitch to throw when he needs a whiff:
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To round up his repertoire the right-hander also mixes in a more straight changeup, a loopy curve, and a rarely seen cutter. Like Darvish, Tanaka pounds the strike zone with a lethal combination of different pitches and while the stuff is not as electric stuff as the Texas Rangers ace, the command of it is pinpoint accurate. As the report I linked to early points out, a more accurate comparison to Tanaka might be Hiroki Kuroda of the New York Yankees as both pitchers rely on their "reverse sliders" and splitters to get hitters out, while their four-seam fastballs don't blow anyone away.
Personally I believe Tanaka will be a fine number two pitcher in North America, but he will have to rely on his command to get him out of innings. The chances for the Blue Jays to land him are very slim considering how many teams will be willing to drop huge amounts of money on the Japanese pitcher and Alex Anthopoulos' hesitancy to take huge risks on free agents. It would not surprise me in the least if he went to New York due to their need of a starter, the Yankees' limitless cash, and the familiarity of having fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda already playing there.