In 2008 Sports Illustrated published an in-depth article on the life on Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang, appropriately entitled, Chien-Ming Wang has a secret. In his native country of Taiwan, the former sinker-baller was a celebrity. He couldn’t get out of his car in Taiwan without getting mobbed by worshipping fans. Yet when he walked down the streets in New York City, he was barely bothered; no one hounded him or even recognized him. The piece delved into his personal life, as well as how he developed his signature pitch.
It was an interesting story on the foreign pitcher. One a reader could thoroughly enjoy.
Yesterday the Yanks landed 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, luring him to the Bronx with a pact worth $155 million over seven years; thus snagging the hurler from the Rakuten Eagles. Tanaka has put up staggering numbers in Japan since his debut in Nippon Pro Baseball in 2007, winning several awards and attaining superstardom along the way.
This writer does not in fact know whether or not Tanaka can walk down the streets of Tokyo without being mobbed. Only time will tell if he will be able to take a stroll in Times Square without the hassle of adoring fans and media. But over the next seven years, rest assured, we’ll learn a lot about this newcomer.
What we do know now is that he was 24-0 in NPB last year with a microscopic earned run average of 1.27. Over the last three seasons alone he piled up 53 wins and only lost three games, posting an ERA of 1.44. For the sake of getting too analytical, most folks are predicting his WAR to have impressive range, meaning he will be worth a heck of a lot of victories throughout his Yankee tenure.
His total WAR is going to be 16.8 after seven years.
No! It’s got to be 6.8 per season.
Thanks for your input, Twitter.
Notwithstanding the ever-glorious, overanalyzed “wins above replacement” stat, his regular numbers from the Far East are unheard of here in the United States – and even in Japan, those numbers leap out at you, giving a lot of pundits and writers the impression he is separated from the pack of aces.
Take for example Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was a well-sought-after pitcher during the 2006-07 offseason. His best season in Japan (pitching for the Seibu Lions) was the year right before he signed with Boston, being 2006.
Dice-K’s numbers that season: 17-5, 2.13 ERA, 186.1 innings pitched, and 200 strikeouts. His transition to Major League Baseball wasn’t anything special, going 15-12 with an ERA of 4.40 his first season in Beantown with the Red Sox, which was of course ’07. His workload got a bit heavier that year (204.2 IP) but the number of Ks was consistent; in fact, one more than his previous season at 201 strikeouts.
His claim to fame was his 2008 season in Boston when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, which could be attributed to a lighter amount of innings – 167.2. His K total also fell to 154 strikeouts. From there, the “Dice Man” became nothing to write home to Japan about.
Point being Dice-K is not exactly comparable to Tanaka. Neither is Kei Igawa (a teammate of Matsuzaka’s from the Seibu Lions) who the Yanks acquired prior to 2007. Igawa’s best year in Japan came in 2003 when he was 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA; 206 IP, amassing 179 strikeouts. It’s also worth mentioning he never won more than 14 games in a single season for the Lions after ‘03.
That being said, Igawa never made a difference in New York. Before he was let go he finished with a 2-4 record in pinstripes, a 6.66 earned run average, and he struck out just 53 batters.
In other words, he was a bad investment. Igawa’s ERA describes his time in New York perfectly, being the mark of the devil, and for the record, there’s no chance he was mobbed by fans. Frankly, if Yankee fans were to have seen Igawa in the street (that is if they would have even recognized him to begin with) they probably would have thrown eggs and tomatoes at him.
And no, he cannot be compared to Tanaka.
Even the great Yu Darvish cannot truly be compared to Tanaka. His best season for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters was 2011, the year before he came to the states and joined the Texas Rangers. In ’11, Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA; 232 innings pitched and a mind-blowing 276 strikeouts.
While 18 is a strong number in terms of win total, it’s not quite on par with Tanaka’s 24 from last season, although Darvish’s first two seasons in MLB weren’t bad:
2012: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 232 IP, 221 Ks.
2013: 13-9, 2.83 ERA, 209.2 IP, 277 Ks.
And while we won’t know what Tanaka’s numbers will be over the course of his first two seasons in pinstripes for another couple years, we do know his numbers were better than Darvish’s were overseas.
Hisashi Iwakuma, a Japanese starter who joined the Seattle Mariners in 2012, only mustered up 29 wins over his last three seasons in Japan (2009-11, for the Golden Eagles) – a far cry from the 53 Tanaka has racked up over his last three seasons pitching in the land of the rising sun.
It’s quite possible Tanaka is the best Japanese-born starting pitcher we’ve ever seen – at least that’s what the numbers suggest. Better in his native Japan than Matsuzaka; better than Igawa, better than Darvish, better than Iwakuma – and maybe even better than Hideo Nomo.
Nomo was MLB’s first notable Japanese import, and he pitched for the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1990-94. The most wins he notched in a single season in the Far East: like Darvish, 18. Again, not as many as Tanaka’s 24.
The truth is we won’t know how well his stuff will translate from NPB to MLB until we receive a sample size, which could be a year or two. Yet if his numbers, compared to the other Japanese-born starters, are any indication, he will surely succeed. He could potentially go soaring above and beyond the realm of accomplishments of the other Japanese pitchers.
And if Tanaka does indeed dominate, there’s a good chance he won’t be as lucky walking down the streets of New York as Wang once was. The man from Japan might just become a little too popular to go unrecognized in the city that never sleeps.
But that all depends on how he does. And you can bet your life Yankee Universe will be watching.
“What a mix we have goin’ on for the last two innings.
Sitting alone upstairs, owner Gary Wheeler…reportedly has already sold his ball club, the Tigers, to the corporate group in the box to his left.
Now an unconfirmed report beginning to ripple the water…that the corporate’s first business…would be to trade Billy Chapel when the season is over.
So as so often happens in a ball game, there are so many other undercurrents; so many more things that meet the eye.” – Vin Scully in “For Love of the Game” (1999)
The biggest move the Yankees made last off-season was the signing of Rafael Soriano – and some might argue that it wasn’t even a big signing at all. Aside from that and maybe the minor acquisition of Russell Martin, the Yankees who are normally alive during the winter meetings were basically dormant.
The same can be said about this off-season, thus far.
Baseball’s winter meetings kicked off this past Monday in Dallas and there has not been much to report on as far as the Bronx Bombers are concerned. The Yankee brass has not yet signed or agreed to terms with any of the top free agents.
It doesn’t mean they haven’t tried however, winning the bidding to first negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old middle infielder possesses a lifetime batting average .302 with 149 career home runs, 664 RBIs, and has stolen 134 bases in his career in the Far East.
How that will translate in the United States remains to be seen – as does whether or not the Yankees will sign him. Sources at the meetings said the Yankees may not even land him, despite winning the right to talk with him before any other team.
I mean really, what’s the point of signing him anyway? Unless they believe Nakajima is Derek Jeter’s heir, then why negotiate with him and attempt to sign him in the first place, especially when starting pitching is more vital to the Yankees than another infielder.
If they do sign him, it could mean the end of Eduardo Nunez’s Yankee tenure, one way or another. They could potentially package Nunez in a trade for a starter, then utilize Nakajima as a backup infielder.
Speaking of starting pitching, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are both off the market, as they have signed lucrative deals with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Buehrle followed his former manager Ozzie Guillen to South Beach for a contract worth four years and $58 million.
Meanwhile Wilson left the Texas Rangers for the Angels, a division rival. I suppose five years and $77.5 million will make him a richer and happier man – along with having Albert Pujols as a new teammate.
Pujols is coming off statistically his worst season: 147 games played, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .299 batting average. He is probably the only player in baseball who could call that his worst season, because any average player would kill for that kind of “off year.”
Yet he recovered with a remarkable postseason; five homers, 16 RBIs, .356 BA, and his second World Series ring. And after all that, “Phat Albert” took his talents to the west coast.
It surprised me, considering Pujols is basically the face of the Cardinals’ organization. He will probably be considered a legend in St. Louis for years to come, despite his abrupt and rather unceremonious departure. He now has the opportunity to make himself a legendary name in Anaheim.
Remember: Reggie Jackson’s number is retired in both New York and Oakland.
But I digress; back to the subject at hand: the Yankees and starting pitching. They may have lost out on Buehrle and Wilson but the Bombers may have one last chance to make a splash and sign a big ticket free agent starter:
The 25-year-old phenom holds a professional record of 93-38 with an ERA of 1.99, and has collected several accolades in Japan including the Pacific League MVP twice (’07, ’09).
Last year I interviewed Brian Sweeney, a former Seattle Mariners reliever who played with Darvish in Japan on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Sweeney called Darvish “a classy individual” and “an excellent player.”
Any team could always use a classy and excellent player. He’ll most likely fit in wherever he lands.
ESPN insider Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Yankees feel “lukewarm” about bidding on Darvish. Rightfully so, considering the Yankees have had bad luck with highly-regarded Japanese starting pitchers in the past.
Hideki Irabu was thought to be a one of the best hurlers in the Far East, having led the Pacific League in wins (15) in 1994 and ERA in 1995 (2.53) and 1996 (2.40). He also led the PL in strikeouts in 1995 and 1996 (239 in ‘95 and 167 in ‘96).
Those league-leading numbers didn’t help him when he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in the U.S. – and those nice stats were far from everyone’s mind when then-Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called Irabu a “Fat, p***y toad.”
Kei Igawa was another pitcher the Yanks had on their radar and eventually signed for five years and $20 million. They had such high aspirations for him, taking his numbers in Japan into account: 86-60, a 3.14 ERA, and 1,174 Ks.
His overall numbers at the MLB level in the U.S., dating back to when the Yanks signed him prior to 2007: 2-4, 6.66 ERA and just 53 strikeouts.
Igawa obviously did not turn out to be what the Yankees had hoped for. In the eyes of most Yankee fans, the team spent $20 million for two wins and a minor league starter.
That being said, anyone can understand the Yanks’ reluctance to go after another Japanese starter in Darvish. If the Bombers do go after him and he happens to land in the Bronx he will be expected to accomplish a lot. Maybe not 20 wins in his first season, but a convincing winning record and a low ERA are not out of the question.
And that can be said of whatever team he goes to, not just if he goes to the Yanks.
We probably won’t know for a long time where Darvish will go – and we’ll have to wait even longer to find out if he lives up to the hype.
I don’t usually agree with people associated with the Red Sox – very rarely does that ever happen. But Boston manager-turned-baseball analyst Terry Francona said probably the smartest thing an analyst can say about the winners and losers of the winter meetings:
“Winning the winter meetings doesn’t mean winning the pennant.”
Francona should know that better than anyone. Looking at last year, the Red Sox won big at the winter meetings and didn’t even make the postseason, suffering a gigantic September collapse.
The Red Sox spent a fortune and signed big ticket free agent after big ticket free agent, only to choke worse than Mama Cass did on that…ham sandwich.
Bottom line: on paper does not win ballgames. I hope the Angels and Marlins both understand that.
As for the Yankees: they have a chance to make a splash – and even a chance to make a blockbuster trade – before they head to Spring Training.
But at least for now, like last year, all is quiet on the Yankee front.
On Tuesday the Yankees played the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win. Today the Braves gained a measure of redemption, beating the Yankees 6-2 in an exhibition at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Tied at two heading into the top of the seventh, Yankees’ reliever Steve Garrison imploded. The Braves scratched four runs across the plate to take lead and eventually the game. Brent Clevlen singled to score Diory Hernandez to give Atlanta a 3-2 edge. Matt Young followed with an RBI single which plated Brooks Conrad, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.
Later in the frame Wilkins Castillo grounded out to short, allowing Clevlen to cross the plate. Ed Lucas topped out the huge inning with a single to score Young, giving the Braves six runs in the game.
The Braves scored their initial run in the top of the first on a single by Chipper Jones to score Martin Prado. Jordan Schafer clubbed a solo homer in the second to give the Braves their second run.
The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on a long solo home run over the right field wall off the bat of Jorge Posada. In the bottom of the sixth, Alex Rodriguez grounded to third, which allowed Andruw Jones to score, tying the game at two.
Tommy Hanson made the start for Atlanta and turned in a good outing. He tossed four innings and gave up one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two.
Phil Hughes started for New York. He pitched four innings, and gave up two earned runs on seven hits. He walked one batter and K’d two.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· First off, thoughts and sympathy go out to all affected by the earthquake in Japan. An 8.9 on the Richter scale? – Now that is serious. Yankee pitcher Kei Igawa was permitted to leave the Minor League training facility in an attempt to contact his loved ones in Japan. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Takashi Saito was also allowed to leave camp, concerned for his relatives back home. We as Americans are left praying and hoping everyone in the Far East will be OK. I can’t help but think of Hideki Matsui, too. I am praying for him and everyone else in Japan. May God be with all of them during this crisis.
· Phil Hughes has a 5.00 ERA this spring. Today he fell behind a few hitters and surrendered a home run, also allowing seven hits and nine total base runners. Was I impressed? Not really. Did he look sharp? Not really. Am I concerned? A little bit. A lot of people jump all over A.J. Burnett’s back for having a poor record and an inflated ERA last season – and rightfully so, Burnett had an off-year.
But what they don’t realize, or seem to remember, is that Hughes pitched to a 4.19 ERA last year (about one run lower than Burnett, who notched a 5.26 ERA) and lost the deciding game of the American League Championship Series. His record last season was 18-8, which is probably why everyone is quick to forgive him. I’m just worried Hughes had a “fluke year” in 2010 and will not be as effective in 2011. His arm seemed to tire towards the end of last year and if it happens again, it could cause some problems for the Yankee rotation.
· Derek Jeter had a hit today and his average is now at .333. It’s good to see the Captain hitting above .300 again and I’m sure he will continue to work on the stride adjustment.
· It was documented that Mark Teixeira is in mid-season form. The slugging first baseman is batting .364 this spring and was 1-for-3 today. The Yanks need a lot of production out of Teixeira this year and right now he is proving that there are no carryover effects of his injuries last year – the hamstring and the broken toe. Traditionally he is a slow starter, but maybe he can leap that hurdle this year and have a big month of April.
· Jorge Posada’s home run today was a BOMB. At 39 years old he is still showing that power he has generally possessed throughout his career. Today he homered from the left side of the plate and the ball would have landed in the second deck at Yankee Stadium, had the game been played there. Although he probably won’t catch at all this year, he might still see some field time. In yesterday’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies, he played first base.
· Regulars Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher did not play. Granderson and Swisher played in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays, as the Yanks were in split squad action. Granderson was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Swisher was also 1-for-3 with an RBI.
· Although Granderson and Swisher both had good days at the plate, the other squad lost to the Jays, 10-3.
· Austin Krum made a diving catch to rob Ed Lucas of a hit in the sixth inning. Highlight-reel worthy catch, if I do say so myself. Joba Chamberlain tipped his cap to Krum – and his line: one inning pitched, no runs, two hits, no walks, and one strikeout. Chamberlain’s spring ERA is now 3.60.
· Rafael Soriano made his second appearance of the spring today. He tossed a perfect fifth inning, striking out Brooks Conrad and Martin Prado while getting Chipper Jones to ground out. Soriano will be the eighth inning setup man and I am really excited for him. He looks as though he will be lights out.
· Soriano will be setting up the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who has yet to throw a pitch in a game this spring. He will however get his first spring action on Sunday, according to the YES Network.
· Ivan Nova started against the Blue Jays today. His line: three innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits, two walks, one K, and he gave up a homer to Jose Bautista. He’s been fairly solid up until now. He can bury one shaky start. He has to come out strong next time to stay in contention for a spot in the rotation.
· Steve Garrison will not make the team. Not after today. But I have a feeling he wasn’t making it anyway. He recorded the loss and basically blew the game against the Braves.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-3 without a hit today at the Blue Jays. His batting average has dipped below .200 and yes, I am a little worried about that. Especially now that he has a chance to make the team because of Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury.
· Behind the plate for the Braves today was Brian McCann. He threw out Jeter and Justin Maxwell trying to steal. The guy has a great arm.
· Former Yankee Scott Proctor got the win today, even though he blew a save. He is now 1-1 this spring, trying to resurrect a career torn down by arm problems. He has Joe Torre to thank for that. On a side note about Proctor – he really resembles WWE superstar John Cena. It’s uncanny how they look alike.
· The Yankees are now 6-7-2 in Grapefruit League play.
· Tomorrow the Yankees will visit the Washington Nationals. On Sunday they will come back to Tampa to play the Minnesota Twins – which is also the next televised game on the YES Network.