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Thursday, January 2, 2014

FANTASY BASEBALL WELCOME TO THE SHOW: MASAHIRO TANAKA SP

With the Japanese League finally posting top pitcher Masahiro Tanaka last week, it is only a matter of when and not if Tanaka will reach the majors leagues.  After the rapid success of Yu Darvish and to a lesser and still impressive extent Hyun-Jin Ryu and Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka carries with him more than a little hype heading into the fantasy baseball season.  So with that said let's take a closer look at Tanaka to see if in fact he will be more like those names listed above or if he could turn into a disappointment like Daisuke Matsuzaka. 

First digest this number for me:  24-0.  That was Tanaka's record last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese League.  Yes the caliber of competition is much lower than what is seen in the major leagues but anyone who goes 24-0 at ANY level surely has put up quite a feat.  And this came amid reports from some former major leaguers who played in Japan last season such as former New York Mets Craig Brazzell that Tanaka seemed "bored" due to his lack of challenges in the Japanese league.  While he doesn't have the explosive fastball that Darvish has, Tanaka's heater still reaches the mid-90's consistently and he too generated his fair share of strikeouts.  With so much unfamiliarity surrounding Tanaka and his repertoire, he could surely reach the 200-K mark right out of the gate.  Even more impressive, and what ultimately separates Tanaka from Matsuzaka, is the fact he has impeccable control as evidenced by a miniscule 1.4 walks per nine innings last season in the Japanese League.  Finally, Tanaka also has a mid-80's splitter that comes out of his hand like a fastball which further befuddles hitters and gains a bunch more strikeouts.  So the WHIP should be very nice and the ERA is likely to follow suit. 

As far as possible drawbacks are concerned, there is always some fear about a Japanese pitcher being able to hold up under the increased stress of pitching in the major leagues.  Japanese pitchers are used to throwing every six days as opposed to major leaguers tossing once every five.  There is a bit of a learning curve on how to handle such a load but that didn't stop Darvish, Ryu, and Kuroda from finding instant success.

Putting it all together, I will sign off on drafting Tanaka as a SP 2 despite my habit of avoiding Japanese imports their first year in the states.  While I worried about Darvish's control when he first came over, a fear that proved to be very valid as he had some really ugly games as a rookie with the walks, I have no such issues with Tanaka on that front.  Since Tanaka won't make things harder on himself by issuing walks, he will be able to unleash his other lethal stuff and thus be able to pitch at a high level I anticipate.  He will be a good one.

2014 PROJECTION:  14-7 3.33 ERA 1.15 WHIP 195 K

Be sure to check back for more of the starting pitching rankings as we move forward through the week.  Let us hear your thoughts.

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