Two surprises on this trek Eastward are familiar to Orioles' fans: Koji Uehara and Wei-Yin Chen. The former was a question mark due to his injury history and how soft he tossed. General opinion was that he could not start, which turned out to be true. What was not seen is how well he would be in throwing an inning here and an inning there. He turned into an incredibly useful pitcher and one that was able to net the Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter and first base revelation Chris Davis. The knock on the latter was potential injury risk and an inability to miss bats. Upon reaching this shore, he has turned into an average to above average pitcher. He does have some issues with endurance, but his stuff has risen to what is needed for this league.
A couple obvious transitions would be Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish. Although Matsuzaka fell apart after two seasons, his first two seasons were pretty solid. If you considered era, Yu Darvish has been rather equivalent to what Matsuzaka accomplished. We had projected Darvish to perform at this projection:
What he wound up doing?
per 200 IP K BB HR FIP WAR 15th 177 137 15 4.49 1.2 50th 209 106 12 3.47 2.8 85th 240 75 8 2.43 4.8
Darvish outperformed our projections for strikeouts and walks, but well underperformed for home run rate. In all, this wound up averaging everything out and our FIP results are almost right on point. This projection performance does not alone prove or disprove that this projection has much utility. However, it does seem to give a decent ballpark estimate of performance. With this in mind, we look forward.
K BB HR FIP Per 200 IP 249 84 20 3.27 Proj Pct 94 74 1 56
|RHP Masahiro Tanaka|
After a rather quiet offseason last year, another player is making noise about flying east and testing his mettle. That player is RHP Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka was the NPB pitcher of the year in 2011 and, after an undefeated 2013 season, may win the award again this year. Other winners of this award include Uehara, Darvish, Matsuzaka, and Hisashi Iwakuma. On the other hand, winners have also included Kenshin Kawakami. Below is his year by year performance.
Tanaka has become a more accurate pitcher than Darvish, but does not strike out as many players. Looking at his past three season, our projection model suggests this range of outcomes:
This is a rosier projection than the one that was generated for Darvish. Why? Walks. This model projects Tanaka to be much more capable of command than Darvish. So much more that Tanaka is able to make up for his lack of strikeouts. How could this make sense? Two seamers and splitters.
per 200 IP K BB HR FIP WAR 15th 177 80 18 3.79 2.3 50th 183 68 12 3.15 3.5 85th 210 48 8 2.34 5.5
Looking at the data from his games and the scouty report issued by Baseball America's Ben Badler, this is what it looks like to me. Tanaka uses a 4 seamer, 2 seamer, slider, and splitter. His 4-seamer can ramp up to the mid-90s, but has little movement on it. In the majors, it might be a show me pitch that could set up his splitter, but it would be a pitch that he could pay dearly for. His 2-seamer hovers around 90 and is a plus pitch. His slider is a pitch that I have heard mixed reviews on. Badler reported it as him hearing that it is capable of being a plus pitch. I have not heard anything as shining as that. The splitter though will be something to marvel at. It comes in around the high 80s. I'd expect his curveball and changeup to disappear if he comes state-side.
Among MLB squads, the Orioles' current composition relies heavily on the splitter. In fact, at 4.1% the Orioles are the team with the third most thrown splitters. Only the Red Sox and Cubs threw more splitters. Here is a top five:
I am not certain if there is any organizational tendency to focus on pitchers with splitters. If there is, then Tanaka would be someone to focus on. I would very much encourage the team to figure out what the contract numbers might shake out to be. A player who is worth at least 60 MM and at most 140 MM is a player that is likely worth having. The Orioles have not been mentioned as a likely destination. The Red Sox have been the team I have heard being interested time and time again. The Mariners have also been given some press, but they are always attached to Japanese players due to their ownership's close connection to Japanese interests.
Splitters Red Sox 5.9% Cubs 4.2% Orioles 4.1% Cardinals 3.4% Reds 3.0%
I'd offer a total package (any posting fees + salary) up to 120 MM. It may be a bit of a risk given that much of Tanaka's game seems situated around inducing poor contact, but I think it is a risk worth taking.