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Entries in Yu Darvish (21)

Monday
Dec302013

Masahiro Tanaka, Statistically Speaking

Let the bidding commence! Nippon Professional Baseball's Rakuten Golden Eagles officially posted Masahiro Tanaka last week, opening the door for MLB clubs to land the two-time winner of the Sawamura Award, Japan's Cy Young equivalent. Tanaka will undoubtedly sign the richest contract ever for a Japanese player coming stateside, as the new posting agreement between the leagues essentially allows all MLB teams to pay up to a $20 million fee to the Eagles for the right to negotiate a free agent contract with the 25-year-old ace (the fee is refunded to teams that don't sign him). Previously, the posting fee was uncapped, with teams bidding blindly against one another for the exclusive right to negotiate with the player.

So, why will Tanaka soon blow past Yu Darvish's $56 million cut from the Texas Rangers and potentially ink the first $100 million (posting fee excluded) deal for a Japanese player? He possesses premium stuff, complementing his low-to-mid-90s heat with a devastating splitter, a tight slider and an occasional curveball. His stats are pretty impressive, too, as Tanaka compares quite favorably to other starting pitchers who have made the jump from Japan to the majors.

To see how Tanaka stacks up with the likes of Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Hideo Nomo, I found the ERA, strikeout, walk, and home run rates for Japanese starters during their last three seasons before arriving in the majors. I then compared them to the NPB league average over that time frame and placed the stats on a scale where 100 is exactly average, north of 100 means the pitcher is above average in that category and under 100 means he's below average. I weighted the stats to put more emphasis on the pitcher's most recent work (50 percent weight to his last season in Japan, 30 percent to the second-to-last year, and 20 percent to the third-to-last year). The numbers aren't park-adjusted, so keep that in mind as you look at the table below (Miyagi Baseball Stadium, Tanaka's home park, appears to suppress home runs).

Tanaka has done a better job of preventing runs than all other Japanese imports, posting an ERA that's 136 percent better than the league average. His strikeout rate, which has dropped three years running, is actually pretty modest (30 percent above average). But he's a stud when it comes to throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park. Tanaka has the best walk rate (137 percent above average) this side of Colby Lewis, and only Darvish surrendered fewer home runs.

There's another Japanese starter with sparkling numbers who could be posted this winter: Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda. The 25-year-old probably doesn't excite scouts as much as Tanaka, considering his skinny frame, high-80s-to-low-90s velocity and decent secondary stuff. While his K rate is low (17 percent above average), Maeda boasts quality control and is fairly stingy with the long ball.

Masahiro Tanaka vs. other NPB aces

It's useful to see how Tanaka compares to fellow NPB aces, but this table shows that stats alone certainly don't predict how successful a pitcher will be in the states. Nomo walked everybody in his home country with his tornado-like windup, yet he holds the record for most career Wins Above Replacement (21.7) among Japanese-born pitchers. Kuroda (19.4 WAR) will likely surpass him next year. Who could have predicted that, considering his good-not-great work with the Carp in his early 30s? If there's one universal truth in baseball, it's this: pitchers are a strange, unpredictable lot.

To be more like Darvish than Dice-K, Tanaka will have to answer a number of questions. Can he make the transition from pitching on six days' rest to four? Will his heavy workload in Japan (1,315 innings pitched) affect his stuff and durability down the road? Why is he missing fewer bats in recent years? It will be a while before we know the answers, but one MLB team -- the Yankees? Cubs? Dodgers? Astros? -- is about to make a nine-figure wager that Tanaka's stuff and statistical track record will make him a star.

Friday
Sep132013

Slip slidering away

The slider is a great pitch.
It's the fastest breaking pitch thrown, but not as fast as a four-seam or two-seam fastball. It is faster than a curveball with a later horizontal break.
This season, batters are hitting .207/.249/.335 against the slider.

Pitchers who love the slider

Pitchers who have thrown the most sliders through 9/12/13
P
Yu Darvish (TEX) 1169
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 1108
Ervin Santana (KC) 1143
Bud Norris (BAL) 995
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 810
Ricky Nolasco (LAD) 832
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 747
Mat Latos (CIN) 726
Kevin Correia (MIN) 715
Matt Cain (SF) 748

Throwing it doesn't mean throwing it well

Half of the top 10 have a higher BAA
Pitchers who have thrown the most sliders through 9/12/13
P AVG OBP SLUG
Yu Darvish (TEX) 1169 .151 .212 .236
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 1108 .215 .282 .321
Ervin Santana (KC) 1143 .170 .204 .307
Bud Norris (BAL) 995 .259 .295 .378
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 810 .275 .357 .468
Ricky Nolasco (LAD) 832 .181 .208 .295
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 747 .263 .297 .410
Mat Latos (CIN) 726 .182 .207 .268
Kevin Correia (MIN) 715 .267 .306 .462
Matt Cain (SF) 748 .194 .234 .325
I hope you notice there are some very good pitchers on this list
2013 pitchers (min 400 sliders)
P PA AVG OBP SLUG
Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) 505 131 .288 .313 .520
Dylan Axelrod (CWS) 515 137 .288 .350 .512
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 810 252 .275 .357 .468
Homer Bailey (CIN) 464 131 .273 .290 .414
Lance Lynn (STL) 444 134 .273 .331 .430
Dillon Gee (NYM) 495 139 .272 .288 .412
Jason Hammel (BAL) 429 121 .268 .322 .491
Kevin Correia (MIN) 715 225 .267 .306 .462
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 747 231 .263 .297 .410
Jason Marquis (SD) 578 193 .260 .344 .414

Then there are slider aficionados

These pitchers are having very good seasons and you can see how the slider has helped them
2013 Most Effective Sliders Pitchers (min. 400 sliders)
PPAAVGOBPSLUG
Justin Masterson (CLE)792220.110.183.180
Patrick Corbin (ARI)666217.121.190.201
Jhoulys Chacin (COL)486166.123.170.221
Chris Sale (CWS)865217.140.207.235
Max Scherzer (DET)546141.141.177.200
Sergio Romo (SF)418123.144.171.220
Francisco Liriano (PIT)786239.150.232.215
Yu Darvish (TEX)1169358.151.212.236
Tyson Ross (SD)541179.152.223.177
Adam Ottavino (COL)570162.158.217.226

No report on Sliders would be complete without the Indians mascot

Tuesday
Aug132013

AJ & Darvish were right

This weekend, I was at a wonderful wedding talking baseball with one of the smartest guys I know on the subject. One of the first things he wanted to talk to me about was the use of replay on baseball.

When proponents of replay talk about its expanded use, they always buffer it with the phrase, "We'll never use it to call balls and strikes. We'll never take that human element out of the game."

My buddy Irv asks, "Why not?"

He pointed out the recent ejections of David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera as reasons why an electronic calling of balls and strikes, adjusted by batter, would take the argument out of the accuracy of calls.

As a traditionalist, I initially found the idea repellent. But once the reflex subsided, I thought about lines calls in the U.S. Open, which have become accurate to the point where it almost appears that judgments can be verified almost to the degree of whether the fuzz on the tennis ball is on the line.

So, it was no surprise this morning when Irv wrote, "Think AJ and Yu appreciate the human element?"

Perfection lost

Irv, of course, was referring to the two-out 6th inning at bat of Houston's rookie Jonathan Villar amidst Yu Darvish's bid for perfection. Villar drew a six-pitch walk. But it was not the deciding pitch that drew the ire of A.J. Pierzynski who ended up being ejected for arguing with plate umpire Ron Kulpa on the breaking ball he called low.

"Was it a strike? I don't know," Pierzynski told reporters after the game. "Obviously I thought it was and Ron didn't, and I was upset we walked the guy and I said a bad word and I was ejected."

Was it a strike? We know.

Here are the six pitches:

  1. 0-0 - Strike Looking on a 78 MPH Slider - Over the Plate
  2. 0-1 - Strike Swinging on a 82 MPH Slider - Low
  3. 0-2 - Ball on a 78 MPH Slider - Low
  4. 1-2 - Ball on a 95 MPH Four Seamer - Outside
  5. 2-2 - Ball on a 80 MPH Slider - Over the Plate
  6. 3-2 - Walk on a 81 MPH Slider - Low

Here are the six pitches:

The video can be seen here.

Kulpa-ble

"Pierzynski didn't like the pitch that I [called for a ball]. We had words about the [2-2] pitch," Kulpa told MLB.com. "And then [Darvish] walked [Villar] on the very next pitch and [Pierzynski] continued to argue on the pitch before. And so he got ejected."

But, Kulpa was wrong on the call and considering the circumstances, he was very wrong on tossing the Rangers catcher.

The bottom line is that AJ was right. Darvish was right.

So was Irv.