Thursday, January 23, 2014
CAIRO tries to project Masahiro Tanaka for 2014
Part of the reason I created a projection system was to understand the factors to look at when a player like Mashiro Tanaka is making the move to MLB. I have no idea how valid the projections that will follow will end up being in the specific case of Tanaka, but building his projection is an interesting exercise in and of itself.
Tanaka’s projection is based on the principles that I discussed in this post. In a nutshell, I’m looking only at pitchers who were starters in NPB and came over to MLB and remained starters, and I accounted for the fact that they pitched in varying run environments both before and after they entered MLB. Tanaka’s raw performance in Japan blows away just about everyone who came over prior to Yu Darvish. Tanaka’s allowed runs at a rate of 54% of his leagues’ averages. For comparison’s sake, here are some numbers for the pitchers who have come over from Japan since 2007.
These are all rates based on batters faced. For everything except strikeouts, a lower percentage is better. Tanaka has pitched in a more advantageous environment for hurlers thanks to a smaller baseball and that needs to be accounted for. Comparing him relative to his peers is probably about as good of a method as any to do so.
One of the important things to remember when you look at a projection is that it’s an educated estimate with error bars. The more uncertainty we have in building it, the larger the error bars. Since Tanaka’s MLB projection is built exclusively on attempting to translate his performance in a different league, our error bars are big.
FIP: Fielding-independent pitching
RAR: Runs saved above replacement level using RA
WAR: Wins above replacement level (RAR divided by 10)
From what I’ve read, the Yankees have scouted Tanaka extensively. According to Brian Cashman they’ve been scouting him since 2007 and watched 15 of his games this year. Given the total outlay they were willing to give to Tanaka, it’s seems that their scouts think his stuff will translate to the majors well enough to put him at his 65% projection or better. Tanaka doesn’t have the velocity or diversity of pitches in his arsenal that Yu Darvish has, but he has much better walk rates. My concern would be that it is easier to exhibit control when the people you are throwing too aren’t as scary. It’s not as easy to get away with grooved pitched in the majors as it is in any other baseball league in the world.
Even though Tanaka’s fastball doesn’t measure up to Darvish’s, there’s more to pitching than velocity. Hisahi Iwakuma has been brilliant since coming to MLB and he barely averages 90 mph with his fastball. Hiroki Kuroda is another pitcher who doesn’t light up radar guns but has been very effective.
Tanaka is a risk. He’s supposedly a ground ball pitcher who will be pitching with a mostly horrific infield defense behind him. He’s thrown a lot of innings for his age. He’ll be transitioning to a new country. He’ll be asked to pitch on four days rest instead of the more typical 5-6 he pitched in Japan. If he gets hurt or he’s ineffective, the Yankees are going to be on the hook for seven years. If he turns out to be a legitimate number one type starter, he’ll probably be opting out after four seasons, but that’s the best case scenario for the Yankees because it means he’s been good enough to think he can get more than $22 million a year for more than three years.
Although the official contract is 7 years and $155M, it’s more realistic to think of it as a 4 year/$108M contract (including the posting fee) with a 3 year/$67M player option. Despite never throwing a pitch in MLB, Tanaka’s going to be paid like one of the top 10 starters in baseball. Will he be? I won’t even attempt to answer that. I’ll just say that he could be, and that instantly makes the Yankees a more interesting team in 2014.
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