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Masahiro Tanaka is really, really, really good

May 15, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT

Masahiro Tanaka AP

Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka tossed a complete-game shutout against the Mets last night, improving to 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA eight starts into his rookie season.

I watched the game and was incredibly impressed with how Tanaka was able to keep Mets hitters off balance all night. His slider and splitter are huge weapons, but when he needed it Tanaka was also able to blow an above-average fastball past hitters in key spots. He’s the real deal.

It’s early to start breaking down numbers, but so far Tanaka has a 66/7 K/BB ratio in 58 innings. That would be by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio ever for a 25-year-old pitcher who qualified for the ERA title:

MASAHIRO TANAKA  2014     9.43
Ben Sheets       2004     8.25
Walter Johnson   1913     6.39
Jose Lima        1998     5.28
James Shields    2007     5.11
Johan Santana    2004     4.91
Zack Greinke     2009     4.75
Roger Clemens    1988     4.69
Ervin Santana    2008     4.55
Pedro Martinez   1997     4.55

That’s a helluva list to be sitting on top of. Tanaka’s strikeout rate of 10.2 per nine innings would also rank sixth all-time among 25-year-olds behind only Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, Nolan Ryan, Tim Lincecum, and Yu Darvish.

New York paid $155 million over seven years for Tanaka, so it’s not as if they got some sort of incredible bargain, but that price tag factored in at least some uncertainty about whether he’d be an elite pitcher in the majors or merely a good one. Eight starts are still only eight starts, but my guess is that Tanaka’s price tag would be closer to $200 million now.

  1. nygf - May 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Recaps of the Mets W’s were buried so far in the “And That Happened” posts from the last few days I legitimately thought Craig forgot to include them. Yankees win is at the very top today, and I’m assuming there is at least another Tanaka post coming. What’d the Yankees fans used to say about the Red Sox back in the day? Pedro and pray for rain? Huh.

    Hope deGrom isn’t horrendous tonight and they take 3/4.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:18 PM

      Recaps of the Mets W’s were buried so far in the “And That Happened” posts from the last few days I legitimately thought Craig forgot to include them

      Probably b/c those games took for-f’ing-ever. Craig gets up way too early so the late games/west coast kind of get the short end of the stick.

      • nygf - May 15, 2014 at 12:19 PM

  2. proudlycanadian - May 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Tanaka has been excellent. Unfortunately for NY, the rest of the rotation has been spotty.

    • nbjays - May 15, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      Spotty is being nice.

  3. snipedanglecelly13 - May 15, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Dice k started off strong like this and look where he’s at now.

    • jdimauro36 - May 15, 2014 at 11:44 AM

      Your being funny right? Dice-K was not 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA. Get out of here man. Right now, Tanaka is the best pitcher in the league. Now maybe he slows down heading into the All Star break but still, dont compare him to Dice-K.

    • asimonetti88 - May 15, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      So because he’s Japanese we have to compare him to Dice-K?

      When’s the last time you compared an American pitcher to Rick Ankiel, just because he’s American?

      • senotonom205 - May 15, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        If we were comparing two Americans who both came from the same professional league before signing on with an MLB team, than yes it would be a fair comparison. For me, comparing Tanaka to Dice-K is not because they are both Japanese, its because they both came over from the same professional league before playing in the Majors. I don’t think that is an unfair comparison.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:25 PM

      Dice k started off strong like this and look where he’s at now.

      Through 8 starts, which conveniently works because both pitchers had a CG on their 8th start:

      Dice K – 5-2, 54 IP, 46 H, 25 ER, 18 BB, 52 K, 4HR
      Tanaka – 6-0, 58 IP, 46 H, 14 ER, 7 BB, 66 K, 7HR

      They are similar in that they struck out a decent number of people and pitched a lot of innings, but the walk rate was a portent of things to come for Dice K.

    • Jeremy T - May 15, 2014 at 12:33 PM

      Dice-K started off with a good W-L record, and pitched pretty well in his first start or 3, but by the time he had 8 starts (like Tanaka does now) he was 5-2 with a 4.17 ERA. This included a start where he allowed 7 runs in 5 innings with only 1 strikeout (http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200705030.shtml) and two other starts where he allowed 4+ runs. Dice-K showed flashes of brilliance in his first few starts, where Tanaka has been consistently fantastic. Of course, it’s still only 8 starts and he might fall apart, but you’d have to be trying really hard to annoy Yankee fans to get anywhere close to comparing Tanaka and Matsuzaka.

      • Jeremy T - May 15, 2014 at 12:35 PM

        Looks like I was a little bit too slow and citation beat me to it.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:43 PM

        Thing is, Dice K had the stuff to be successful, but he always drove the Sox managers/mgmt nuts b/c he was always nibbling on the corners. He never made the adjustment that Tanaka is making, that people will stop swinging at stuff off the plate.

  4. IsThird - May 15, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    If the Cubs had been able to sign him he’d been 1-5.

    • gatorprof - May 15, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      with a 2.15 ERA, 10+ K/9 IP, 9+ K/BB, etc.

      W’s are a small part of the story.

      • IsThird - May 15, 2014 at 12:07 PM

        Just pointing out his pitching would generate them the same amount of wins as Smardzija with the lack of run support. Wins as a team matter a whole lot more when you can’t generate many runs.

      • moseskkim - May 15, 2014 at 12:24 PM

        some pitchers can pitch well no matter what but i think most pitchers play better with run support. so not only wins but i think all other counting stats are affected in a positive way for tanaka. imagine grinding out games down 0-1, 1-2 or even up a run or so every single time out, knowing one mistake can either lose a game or drop you further

  5. asimonetti88 - May 15, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    He has a full arsenal of pitches and uses them to keep hitters off balance and in check. Credit him for having the ability to do it, also credit to the catchers for working with him to call good games to utilize those weapons.

  6. snipedanglecelly13 - May 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Dice k went 18-3 with a era under 3, he was supposed to be the real deal like tanaka is now.

    • anxovies - May 15, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      Dice K was a gimmick pitcher with rotator cup issues and the hitters caught up with him.

      • nygf - May 15, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        I imagine a rotating cup would be very difficult to deal with, in-game.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      Dice k went 18-3 with a era under 3, he was supposed to be the real deal like tanaka is now.

      he also only pitched 167.2 IP in 29 starts (slightly more than 5.2 IP/start) b/c he lead the league in walks with 94(!). He had an insane 80.6 left on base % that wasn’t sustainable, which is why his era was 5.02 in all other years.

    • ae02437 - May 15, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      …in 2008, his second year in MLB, and with 94 BB in 167.2 innings over 29 starts. His BB/9 was 5.0.

      That is not a typo.

  7. SBoy - May 15, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    He was compared to Darvish coming in… Most to all said not as good, if Tanaka keeps this up they will have to revisit this soon as he may compete/win rookie of the year and Cy young. RE: his success, keep in mind he plays in a hitter friendly park with not the best defense behind him.

  8. unlost1 - May 15, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    Me go peepee in your coke

  9. unlost1 - May 15, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    by the way, you could keep Mets hitters off balance all night if you threw it underhanded

    • Kevin S. - May 15, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      The same Mets hitters who put up 21 the previous two games? Sure, they’re a lower-tier MLB offense, but an MLB offense still.

      • 18thstreet - May 15, 2014 at 1:48 PM

        It’s still a funny line.

  10. uyf1950 - May 15, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    The things is if Tanaka was pitching for most any other team in baseball right now most of the fans here would tripping over themselves singing his praises. But because he’s a Yankee those same fans are looking for reasons he will fail. It comes with the territory of being a Yankee.on most of these threads.

    • 18thstreet - May 15, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      Are you not aware that everyone hates the Yankees? Is this news to you?

      To paraphrase Hyman Roth in a different context, “This is the life you have chosen.”

      • mikhelb - May 15, 2014 at 4:13 PM

        “everyone hates the Yankees”

        And yet they have the majority of fans in all of baseball outside of their city or “market”.

        So much that every single team in the majors counts the day before the Yankees visit them because they know their attendance will increase significatively with fans of Yankees attending.

      • 18thstreet - May 15, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        Everyone = everyone who is not a Yankee fan.

        Yankee fans, which includes those residing outside of the five boroughs, do not hate the Yankees. I could have sworn that went without saying, but Mikelb needed it spelled out.

    • mikhelb - May 15, 2014 at 4:16 PM

      And he is not going to win the AL Rookie of the Year, already there is noise that he was very good in Japan and a veteran, so it would not be fair to give award him “RoY”… same thing happened with Hideki Matsui, and yet Ichiro and Sasaki won the RoY award. In the case of Darvish, well, there was Mike Trout. In the case of Tanaka, well, there is Abreu, but still it looks that towards mid season the chatter about how Tanaka does not deserves votes, will increase.

      • 18thstreet - May 15, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        You’re right, and it’s crazy that he might be considered ineligible by some voters. (Although, you’ve got to admit that Abreu is amazing, too. So by September, maybe it will be more clear who deserves it.)

        I mean, the award is named for Jackie Robinson, who happened to play professionally outside of MLB before coming to the Dodgers. True story.

  11. r8rnuck - May 15, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    from an indians fan, this guy is legit. if you truly love baseball, then you can appreciate a good pitcher no matter what jersey they wear. 155 is a bargain in this new age of tv money.

  12. 18thstreet - May 15, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    Aaron, you’ve characterized Tanaka’s contract as a seven-year deal. Tanaka can opt-out after 2017. There’s every reason to think he would, if he keeps pitching like this.

    Option A: 4 years, $88 million. Likely to happen if he’s good.
    Option B: 7 years, $155 million. Likely to happen if he’s terrible or gets hurt.

  13. stabonerichard - May 15, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    Lima Time!!!

  14. nbjays - May 15, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    The funny thing is, as good as his K/BB ratio is right now, it isn’t even the best in his division.

  15. gomybirdsgo - May 15, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    He should probably have to face guys more than one game before we start talking about how great the guy is. The AL is playing catch up to him right now. But now that he has tape and people have seen him it’s not going to get any easier. I like him. I think he can be great. He’s great playing for my phillies in MLB the show :)

  16. youknowwhatsgoodforshoulderpain - May 15, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    To say the yankees didn’t get an incredible bargain is putting it gingerly. When the season started, the annual club investment in him averaged out to $25 million a year. At the beginning of the season, the highest paid baseball player, Ryan Howard, was making $25 million this year. This is the OPPOSITE of an incredible bargain. If you say he’s worth being paid $200 million for 7 years right now, you are saying he should cost the club $220 million over the next 7 years. That would make him currently the highest priced player in baseball, even after Kershaw’s stupidly overpriced deal (215/7), and that’s a guy who has already won the NL Cy Young award TWICE and is still in his prime at 26.

    Tons of ridiculous numbers are being tossed about by emotional people, sans rationale.

  17. renaado - May 15, 2014 at 8:59 PM

    I’ve always knew Tanaka have it in him. As a fan who watched and observed him throughout the years ever since he was a high school Baseball player, Im truly proud of him.

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