Game 12 – Brooms Over the Bronx
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 10:05am
The M’s go for their fourth straight win, and a possible road sweep of the Yankees today. As you’ve no doubt heard, today’s game pits two former teammates with the Rakuten Golden Eagles against each other. Tanaka and Iwakuma were friends and teammates, with Iwakuma leaving for the US a few years before Tanaka. Iwakuma won Sawamura award (NPB’s Cy Young) and was a legitimate star, but during Iwakuma’s first few years in Seattle, Tanaka became a sensation. His 2013 line looks like what he’d do against high school competition: 24-0, 1.27 ERA, while leading his team – long a mediocre side while Iwakuma/Tanaka played together – to a Japan Series win.
Iwakuma’s shoulder woes played into the bargain-basement contract he signed, but it’s still kind of amazing: Kuma’s first contract in the US was for $1m guaranteed. Tanaka signed a 7-year $155 million deal. Health is critical, and age was perhaps an even bigger factor; I don’t mean to suggest they should be valued equivalently. But the health advantage slipped a bit in Tanaka’s first US season when he was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL. He used rest/rehab to come back, opting not to go the surgical route. This is risky, but it seems to have paid off for him.
Beyond that, though, it’s starting to look like the biggest adjustment NPB pitchers have to make to the US isn’t the hitters, or even the slightly different ball – it’s the 5-man rotation. Yu Darvish is still coming back from TJ surgery, Tanaka just barely avoided it, and Iwakuma…well, that’s not fair, as Iwakuma’s been hurt in both leagues. But with all of the money teams are now laying out for pitching, and with so many pitchers falling victim to elbow and shoulder tears, I’m kind of surprised no one’s tried NPB’s solution of longer rest. The NPB is famous for really high pitch counts, something that people worried about when Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tanaka came over. But Darvish argues that this risk is more than balanced by the benefits of increased rest. Apparently, elbow surgeries are much less frequent in NPB. At 538, Rob Arthur found a bit of an effect mathematically in a study conducted just as the Mets toyed with a 6-man rotation. In any event, with so much money in the game, I find it amazing that more teams aren’t experimenting a bit with ways to protect pitcher health. Depth may be an issue, especially with prices rising for average pitchers, but I’d imagine it still pencil out.
Tanaka’s run a much lower GB% than his old teammate despite a very similar arsenal. Part of the reason is that Tanaka used his four-seam fastball a bit more, and got more elevated contact on it. Another reason is that Iwakuma’s breaking balls – curve/slider – get a few more grounders than Tanaka’s. A big part of it is probably just approach, with Tanaka’s fastball having a lot more zip, leading to different ways to use it. That said, Tanaka’s velo seems lower this April – it was low in April of 2015, and then rose through the year, but it’s worth reiterating that we just haven’t seen the kind of velocity he showed in April of 2014 since his injury scare.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Clevenger, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
Tacoma beat Albuquerque 5-3 behind Mike Zunino’s 3rd HR and another solid start from Adrian Sampson. It’ll be Donn Roach on the mound today.
Jackson raced out to a 9-1 lead and held on to beat Chattanooga 9-5, with a great start from Brett Ash (6 IP, 1 R, 1 H, 3K) and big hits from DJ Peterson and Marcus Littlewood the story. Dylan Unsworth takes the mound opposite White Sox prospect Tyler Danish as the Generals open a series against Birmingham.
Bakersfield finally realized the only sure way to beat Visalia was to shut them out, so they did. Eddie Campbell went the first 5, then Ryan Horstman added 2 IP with 4Ks. Drew Jackson had 2 hits and a double and Jay Baum had 3 hits for the Blaze. Andrew Moore takes the hill for Bakersfield today against Visalia’s Luke Irvine.
Clinton couldn’t complete the org sweep, losing 7-0 to Cedar Rapids. Another rough outing for LHP prospect Nick Wells. Art Warren starts today for Clinton.