Free Agent Targets (kinda): Masahiro Tanaka

Free Agent Targets (kinda): Masahiro Tanaka

Pos: SP
Age: 25
B/T: R/R
2013 in a box: 212 IP, 183 K, 32 BB, 1.27 ERA
Suggested Reading Material: Fangraphs on Tanaka
Yakyu Night Owl on Tanaka’s baseball and social importance in Japan



Masahiro Tanaka is a Japanese pitcher who will draw frequent and unfortunate comps to other Japanese pitchers because, well, people are like that. As soon as someone fits a bin on the surface level we like to keep them in that bin as long as we possibly can. That being said, the Fangraphs article I posted up there posited that Tanaka comps with Hiroki Kuroda.

It works on a level, the stuff and size are similar, both are right handed and there’s the splitter thing that’s taken hold of Japanese baseball. Koji Uehara‘s work in the World Series is making him the most visible splitty guy but Kuroda and Diasuke Matsuzaka also featured the pitch.

So, if we work with that we have a 6-2 pitcher who throws in the lower 90s with a splitter and good command, and he comps favorably to Hiroki Kuroda who was great right out of the box.

Things I like:

Command – Tanaka’s walk rate is consistently under league average for the Nippon League. Last year Tanaka produced a 4.3 BB% while the league average BB% was 9.2.

The splitter – “…arguably the best splitter in the world.” – Ben Badler

#Want – Tanaka is a workhorse. He’s logged 1315.0 innings in the NPB all before the tender age of 26. In the Climax Series he threw 160 pitches in game 6 and threw 15 more in game 7 to help his team win. Dude wants the ball.

Things I don’t like:

#Want – Tanaka’s logged 1315 innings on his arm all before the tender age of 26. That’s fucking crazy. Also, he threw 175 pitches in two days.

Posting fee – Hey, you know what would be cool, if there wasn’t a posting fee and players could just go wherever the hell they wanted. It will never happen because owners stay rich by knowing how to manage money, but it’d be nice.


Tanaka is going to get paid. The Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs are all rumored to be in on him in some fashion. I wonder, given the arm workload, if he makes more sense for a team trying to win now rather than a team like the Cubs whose window won’t open for another few years (I think). I think Tanaka will be a great pitcher stateside; I think the splitter plays and he’ll put up good numbers.

However, I do have questions about how well his arm holds up over the long term. Is he a guy that falls off the table at age 29? As much as Tanaka comps to Kuroda I think there’s some interesting lessons to be learned from Dan Haren.

For 7 consecutive years Dan Haren threw 215 IP+ of high quality ball relying on a cutter, a sinker, a splitter, and great command. After an impressive workload Haren fell off at age 31 and is dealing with arm issues. Tanaka won’t be 31 for another five years but there are concerns that Tanaka’s arm is old as hell.

Should the Cubs sign Tanaka it will mean a lot about what they think about the pitcher, but it could also clues us in on where the organization think they are. The window might open sooner than we think if that’s the case.

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