The New York Yankees have geared up for a championship run in 2014 with the $155 million acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka. The team would love to get more than 15 wins out of the 25-year-old ace that went 24-0 in the NPB last year, but Tanaka shouldn’t get enough opportunities to do so if the Yankees plan on preserving him for years to come.
Tanaka has the cards stacked against him, as he arrives to the MLB having to face the challenges of a new ball, new workload and, most importantly, new opponents. Hiroki Kuroda will be able to aid Tanaka in his progression, but the Yankees must be wary of putting too much responsibility on the newcomer’s shoulders. CC Sabathia will still be the team’s workhorse and Tanaka shouldn’t be expected to be pitcher 1.b.
I expect the Yankees to give Tanaka many starts off in order to protect him. I don’t see the team going to the extent that the Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg when they shut him down, but I do believe that a cautious approach will be the most beneficial for both parties.
Tanaka pitched more than 150 innings every season in Japan and he eclipsed 200 innings twice. That is a lot of throwing for a 25 year old to have under his belt. The interesting aspect of those statistics is that the pitchers in NPB typically pitch once a week compared to pitching every five days in MLB. This means Tanaka has experience going deep into games, but of course, any accolades from Japan are completely meaningless to the Yankees.
Giving Tanaka a day off every three starts or so will help him ease into life in the MLB. In doing so, the Yankees will also have a careful attitude towards a young pitcher with a big contract.