Now that the New York Yankees landed arguably their no. 1 free agent target in Masahiro Tanaka, it is time to look at what the righty might bring. This is a tough one to try and predict since Tanaka has not thrown a pitch in the big leagues and on top of that, he is pitching in the hardest division in MLB, the AL East.
Not making it easier is the fact that it has been a mixed bag when it comes to pitchers from Japan transitioning to the U.S. to pitch in the big leagues. When you look at Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Yu Darvish, the Yankees can’t be positive about what they will be getting from Tanaka. However, with Tanaka’s pedigree and incredible level of success in Japan’s NPB, the Yankees can be at least a little optimistic.
So, what is a reasonable expectation for Tanaka in his first full season in the United States? Let’s first look at what Darvish did in his first season with the Texas Rangers since people have been comparing Tanaka to Darvish. In 2012, Darvish posted 16 wins with a 3.90 ERA while striking out 221 batters in 191.1 innings pitched. He recorded 10.4 K/9 and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Now, obviously Darvish is considered to be one of the best pitchers in the game as he improved his overall numbers, but that was a pretty good rookie season. Tanaka will most likely not have that good of a rookie season, but he will probably be pretty good. What will Tanaka’s numbers look like at the end of the 2014 season? I think a pretty reasonable projection would have him recording 15 wins with a 3.75 ERA, while logging 175 to 190 innings pitched and a 7-9 K/9.
Even if Tanaka posts an ERA close to 4.00, it would have to be considered a successful rookie campaign. He will get tons of run support with a stacked lineup and will need time to adjust to the AL East. I also would not be surprised if Tanaka struggles during the first couple of months of the season and finishes strong in the last month or two, just like Darvish did a couple of years back.
This is an exciting time for the Yankees, and there is a good chance that Tanaka will live up to the hype.