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Comparing Masahiro Tanaka to some past NPB exports

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

Iwakuma and Darvish finished second and third, respectively, in AL Cy Young voting in 2013.
Iwakuma and Darvish finished second and third, respectively, in AL Cy Young voting in 2013. (USATSI)

MORE: FA tracker: position players | FA tracker: pitchers

Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka has signed with the New York Yankees.

True to form, a deluge of commenters are already comparing Tanaka to past pitchers who came to the majors by way of Nippon Professional Baseball, most notably busts for the Yankees in Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu.

Just for the sake of comparison, below are two charts comparing Tanaka to an assortment of NPB exports, including the aforementioned Yankees busts.

Hint: Tanaka is a rock star compared to most pitchers who come from Nippon Professional Baseball.

Here are the combined numbers for the last three seasons in NPB before coming to MLB from Tanaka and other prominent pitching names from the recent past.

Last 3 years in NPB before coming to MLB
NameW-LERAWHIPKIP
Masahiro Tanaka53-91.440.94593611.1
Yu Darvish45-191.640.91665616
Hisashi Iwakuma29-232.871.16364489
Daisuke Matsuzaka41-242.401.03553547.1
Kei Igawa41-293.501.26567581.2
Hideki Irabu38-272.681.16645567.2

And the three-year averages, obviously rounded to the nearest number when needed:

Last 3 years in NPB before coming to MLB, average season
NameW-LERAWHIPKIP
Masahiro Tanaka18-31.440.94194203.2
Yu Darvish15-61.640.91222205.1
Hisashi Iwakuma10-82.871.16121163
Daisuke Matsuzaka14-82.401.03184182.1
Kei Igawa14-103.501.26189194
Hideki Irabu13-92.681.16215189.1

Only Darvish is really comparable, and he just finished ninth and then second in AL Cy Young voting in his first two seasons. It's worth noting that Tanaka is the youngest of the bunch in terms of when the jump to MLB was made (by a few months over Darvish).

Also, Baseball America's Ben Badler put together an excellent scouting report on Tanaka, including some GIFs of his better pitches. Like this splitter:

The splitter sits between 85 and 90 and, as can be seen above, falls off the proverbial table.

We can never be sure -- as it's a big transition to come to the majors for anyone, let alone someone leaving his home country -- but everything we know about Tanaka points to sustained success in the majors. If you even think about comparing him to Irabu or Igawa, hopefully the above charts will help you make a better argument, because Tanaka's work is substantially better than the work Igawa and Irabu did.

Tanaka might fail. He might not. Time will tell. One thing is for sure, though: His track record in NPB is as good anything we've ever seen come to MLB from Japan.

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