When people hear that the New York Yankees signed a 25-year-old Japanese pitcher who has never thrown a pitch on a major league mound to a seven-year, $155 million deal with an opt out after the fourth year, many will surely shake their heads. Thankfully for Yankees fans, however, the pitcher in question is Masahiro Tanaka, who just so happens to have the potential to become the best Japanese pitcher in MLB history.
In his last season in NPB, the Japanese equivalent of MLB, the right-hander compiled an eye-popping 24-0 regular season record with 183 strikeouts, 0.3 HR/9, 1.4 BB/9 and a 1.27 ERA. While these numbers are already special, it is even more incredible considering that NPB has been known juicing baseballs so that batters would have an inherent advantage. After watching former major league failure Wladimir Balentien hit a league-record 60 bombs, it is clear they succeeded.
Of course, simply putting up great statistics in Japan is not always a great indicator of success stateside, but Tanaka also has the repertoire to back it up. Possessing an array of plus pitches that includes a fastball which sits in the low-to-mid 90s range, a slider that has been compared to that of Zack Greinke, an above average curveball and a splitter that has been described as the best in the world, Tanaka will not be beat up on by MLB hitters.
With control that has been compared to that of Greg Maddux, it would appear that the Japanese stud will be a hybrid of Yu Darvish and Hiroshi Iwakuma, but possibly even better.
His weapons will make it relatively easy for Tanaka to compete on a MLB mound, but the thing that may make him most successful is that the Yankees will be able to accommodate him culturally. Obviously, they cannot bring Japan to New York, but the team possesses two successful Japanese imports in Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda who know how to adjust and will take the youngster under their wings.
Considering that Yankees fans treated Kuroda, Ichiro and specifically Hideki Matsui like they were native sons of the Bronx, Tanaka has the ability to become a living legend at Yankee Stadium. This will require great performances, a championship or two and the willingness to leave his arm on the mound, but if he is the same guy that pitched in Japan last year, all of these things will occur in due time.