With the latest Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka set to make his leap over to Major League Baseball official sometime within the next month, there have been mixed reviews about what the team he signs with is actually getting. Is he an ace, or more of a two or a three? How much of a concern is his extreme workload in Japan? Is he the next Yu Darvish or is he the next Daisuke Matsuzaka?
These are all questions that Tanaka is going to have to answer for, and as he likely prepares to sign with a large market club, he’s going to be under a great deal of pressure to be the next Darvish, rather than the next fall-flat-on-his-face type like Dice-K was for the Boston Red Sox. While it’s going to be darn near impossible for him to live up to what Darvish has done in a short time, establishing himself as a top three or four pitcher in all of baseball, fans of the team he signs with can take solace in knowing that he’s unlikely to become the next Dice-K.
In fact, according to Gregg Doyle at CBS Sports, Tanaka is more Darvish than he is Matsuzaka. Tanaka brings youth to the table, at just 25. His 2013 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles featured a 1.27 ERA and six strikeouts for every walk. He won 24 of his 28 starts. His record did not include a single loss. There are certainly Darvish elements in there, from a numbers standpoint. But it’s important to keep in mind that Darvish he is not.
Tanaka isn’t as overpowering in the strikeout game. It’s extremely unlikely he’s going to come over to the bigs and put down 13 hitters per nine. There’s also the concern over his workload, as he’s thrown over 1,300 innings since the age of 18. There aren’t many warning signs in acquiring Masahiro Tanaka, but that’s one of them. While he may lean more to the Darvish side of things in terms of his success, they won’t be the same pitcher.
Of course, it’s always important to acknowledge that Masahiro Tanaka is his own entity. He is not Darvish nor is he Matsuzaka. He’s not an ace, but he’ll slot in nicely as a no. 2 or a no. 3. He doesn’t bring the heat like Darvish does, but his mixture of breaking stuff has him on track to be a very good top of the rotation pitcher. Regardless of what he turns out to be, Tanaka is going to be under tremendous pressure to perform, given the markets that are favored to sign him. As much as he may not be Darvish or Dice-K, the comparisons are going to be there, at least for the first full year.
The one comparison that can be made is the question of whether he can live up to the hype like Yu Darvish, or if he’ll succumb to it like Daisuke Matsuzaka.