The 2013 initial pitcher projections are now live, and available under the “Current Projections” tab.
At first glance, Masahiro Tanaka is still incredible. I had written about him prior to the season, and he maintained his pace this season. The current projections have him set to produce an FIP of around 3, and an xFIP of around 3.5 (xFIP projection needs a small amount of tweaking to update to a 2013 average home run rate, but should be fairly close). As far as FIP is concerned, that would put him in a tie with David Price as the tenth best starter in the league. Depending on innings pitch, that would make him a 4-5 win pitcher. By xFIP, that puts Tanaka about level with Mat Latos or Kris Medlen, which would be around 30th in the league, and a 3-4 win pitcher.
I think Tanaka will be an elite pitcher, even moreso if his lack of walks translate better than anticipated. Based on my projections, he is a safe bet to be around a 4 win pitcher, with potential for more. He has the potential to come in and be the ace of a staff, and it will be interesting to see how much he gets paid this offseason. In terms of how he compares to Yu Darvish, he is slightly worse than the current iteration of Darvish. Darvish is an absolute strikeout machine, and controlled his walks this past season. His FIP and home run rate are hurt by the fact that he plays in offense friendly Texas, but his xFIP is phenominal. While Tanaka has good strikeout stuff, and excellent control, I don’t think he will be quite as good as Darvish. However, he should easily be a front of the line pitcher, and likely the next best Japanese pitcher. It’s not often a team can acquire an ace, in their prime, for several years. Tanaka will cost a fortune, but he could easily anchor a rotation for several years, and help propel a team into the playoffs.
As far as non Tanaka pitchers go, ERA favorite Kenta Maeda still projects to be a solid MLB pitcher, though not spectacular, and not in the class of Darvish or Tanaka. Toshiya Sugiuchi also remains on the list from last season, still boasting the best strikeout stuff in the NPB, though not fantastic control to go with it. If he could learn better control, he could be a very good player. The most interesting players on the list are the two young rookies that appear, Tomoyuki Sugano and Yasuhiro Ogawa. Both boasted impressive rookie seasons at ages 24 and 23, respectively. Both may have slid under the radar a little bit, since they only finished 5 and 6 in the race for the ERA title this season, but both put up impressive peripheral numbers in unfriendly environments (Tokyo Dome for Sugano and Meiji Jingu for Ogawa). Sugano had the better overall year, as he was the only other player within a stone’s throw of Masahiro Tanaka in these projections, but Ogawa did play in the more difficult environment. They are definitely two to keep an eye on for the future. Sugano in particular has a very impressive projection of 3.37 FIP and 3.79 xFIP after just one season.
The projections will continue to be updated and refined, but for now, a quick glance tells us that Masahiro Tanaka is still an exceptional pitcher and should be an impact player in the MLB, and that there are two young players to keep an eye on in Ogawa and Sugano. There are other notable pitchers who could be quality MLB players, and many deeper looks to take, but at first glance the NPB boasts some impressive pitching talent with MLB futures if they choose to take that route. But most importantly, Tanaka still looks like an ace and a 4-5 win, top 20 pitcher, and he should be coming this season. I am exceptionally excited about his future, and think he could be one of the best Japanese players ever to play in the MLB, if everything goes his way. It will be fun to watch how the posting system is changed, and who wins the right to sign Tanaka in the coming months.