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Patrick Newman

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Starting Pitcher Skills

by Patrick Newman (Feb 1, 2014)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Masahiro Tanaka and how he might perform in year one of his newly-minted mega deal.

My theory is that observable skills are a better predictor of MLB success than statistics. As an example, a pitcher with good control of an obvious out pitch is a better bet than a pitcher who is good all around, but lacks a dominant skill. This might sound obvious, but the media and casual baseball conversation centers around Tanaka’s 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA, rather than his ability to suppress walks and home runs.

So, I took a look back on the group of starters that have moved from NPB to MLB on Major League contracts since I began writing in mid-2008.

1st MLB SeasonPitcherStrengthsWeaknessesMLB fWAR
2014Masahiro Tanakasuppressed walks, great splitter, good slider, healthynot quite Darvish?
2012Yu Darvishdominant in every way year after yearThe legacy of Daisuke Matsuzaka9.8
2012Hisashi Iwakumagreat splitter, groundball machine, limited home runsinjured in 2011, didn’t look like himself4.8
2012Wei-Yin Chenlefty who at one time showed electric stuff, dominant in 2009had regressed quite a bit by 20114.3
2012Tsuyoshi Wadadecent control, decent changeupundersized; poor fastball velocity; looked spent at the end of 2011
2010Colby Lewisphenomenal K:BB ratio, good armwas improvement in control due to him or the league?9.6 (post return)
2009Kenshin Kawakamigreat cutter, innings eaternot much upside beyond #3 starter2.4
2009Koji Ueharaphenomenal K:BB ratio, great splitterinjury history, could he handle starting?8.8 (mostly in relief)

My first reaction is that this is pretty good group. Wada was a bit of a bust, but he was injured. Kawakami comes the closest to being evidence of my theory, as he didn’t really dominate any statistical category, but I think he could have shown more if the Braves hadn’t buried him. The rest of these pitchers have either met or exceeded expectations since moving to MLB.

This seems to bode pretty well for Tanaka, as he shows two above average pitches and dominated a number of statistical categories in NPB. We’ll see how it bodes for the pitchers who are currently active in Japan in a follow up article in the next couple of days, assuming the writing gods smile upon me.

Tags: Colby Lewis, Kenshin Kawakami, Koji Uehara, Masahiro Tanaka, Tsuyoshi Wada, Wei-Yin Chen, Yu Darvish


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