View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003

Wednesday

18

December 2013

44

COMMENTS

International Prospects: Is the Hype Worth the Money?

Written by , Posted in General

If you’ve been following Cubs news (closely or not) the name “Masahiro Tanaka” has appeared in various conversations from time to time. He’s 25, Japanese, and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. Say it with me: “Wow. He seems pretty great.”

A few things about Tanaka: he’s eligible for free agency in 2015, and his team may not want to let him go; Also, MLB and NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) have come to a new posting agreement – a $20 million cap for players (before contracts and endorsements). This means that Nippon will make approximately $30 million less than they received for the likes of Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka, which also means that his team could decline to post him this season and hang on to him until his contract expires. (If I may play the Devil’s Advocate, I’d hang on to him until his contract expires.)

Now, Tanaka has stated his desire to play in the MLB next season. The Cubs have to fight with the Rangers and Dodgers for him. But this question keeps running through my mind: Are we sure he’s not going to be a big bust?

Don’t get me wrong, his numbers are impressive. But does that mean his success will transfer from the NPB to the MLB? It did for Darvish. It did for Ryu. But it didn’t for Dice-K. And let’s not forget about Kosuke Fukudome.

I’m not an expert in regional variations of baseball. But I have noticed that it seems international players from Latin America experience more success in the Major Leagues than those from other regions of the world (even moreso than American-born players). There have been a few players from the Asian region that have had success (Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, namely; there are several others you could argue are on the path to success). Many former-MLB’ers cross the Pacific in hopes to revive their careers, and usually are able to milk a few years of superstardom out of their waning careers, while the superstars of the NPB come here and don’t quite reach superstardom. Could it have something to do with the differences in pitching and hitting styles? The slap hit/drag bunt is very popular on the continent of Asia. Ichiro made it work for him, but many players who attempt that style of batting are average for a little while and fade into oblivion (see: Kosuke Fukudome).

Like I said earlier, don’t take me wrong. I want so much for Tanaka to be all he’s cracked up to be. I also don’t want to pay a $20 million fee on top of a contract that has to outdo an offer from LA and TEX and have him be a bust. His team might not even let him go yet, which may turn out to work in favor of all teams interested. If he does stay in Japan until 2015, the Cubs could pick him then and add him to a team that is (hopefully) contending for a playoff berth.

Sometimes I get crazy ideas in my head. Good thing I have you folks to share them with. Until next time!

  • Rugger1053

    There are many differences between Tanaka and Fukudome. Firstly age Tanaka will be 25, while Fukudome was 31 and coming off his best season in NPB. That said Hendry over paid for past performance from Fukudome as his numbers started to decline once he got to the MLB. Secondly you are comparing a pitcher (usually a more durable position) to an outfielder (plays everyday compared to every fifth day). I believe you cannot make this comparison work unless advance matrices are reviewed and even then it is a stretch to compare the two positions. If looking at the pitching position only a few out of handful of Japanese pitchers taken in the old posting process were a bust. Yes Dice-K is a prime example of overpaying for mediocrity, but Darvish, Ryu, and Nomo (to an extent) demonstrate that Japanese pitchers in their early to mid 20’s find success in the MLB. Even though the Cubs have 1-2 more seasons of a rebuild, adding an arm like Tanaka will get fans excited and get the team ready for the coming season. If you get a player like this, it can effect an entire team and raise their own expectations for the next few seasons. Just my opinion.

    • Noah_I

      The one thing I just have to say, and I’ve said it a few times this week, is that Dice-K’s “mediocrity”, or him being a “bust”, is a significant retcon. Was he overhyped coming in? Yes. He was never going to be a year in/year out Cy Young contender type of pitcher. Was he a very good pitcher before injuries took their toll? Yes. Did the injuries make that contract be a bad value proposition? Yes.

      In other words, this would be a true statement: Dice-K was a very good pitcher, but not an ace, for his first two seasons in the Majors, but injuries after that made the contract be a really poor value for the Red Sox.

      And this would be a false statement: Dice-K was never anything more than mediocre in the Majors, and the contract was clearly a bad deal even prior to the injuries.

      A bit more on the bust point, which I know isn’t the subject of your comment Rugger: I just don’t view guys who had success in the Majors and then were never the same again after injury as “busts.” I don’t view Mark Prior as a bust. I do view Felix Pie (never has success in the Majors) and Rich Hill (unclear why his control just left him after 2007) as busts.

    • Chuck

      Not to be mean, but calling pitchers more durable that OFs is insane. The only position that chews through players even close to pitching is catcher. Throwing a baseball 90+ mph overhand is an unnatural act that causes tremendous strain on the arm and leads, inevitably, towards injury at some point. They pitch every 5th day because a body can only handle so much and pitching more often would be bad for most pitchers. It is not 1920 anymore where pitchers had 40 complete games a season.

      • Rugger1053

        Over a lifetime of play, yes you are correct. A pitcher could in all likelihood get injured more frequently than an outfielder. Although in this comparison where you have a 20-something pitcher versus a 30-something outfielder that comparison can be made. Even today with pitch count and inning restrictions the effort has been made to reduce injury to pitching arms. That said pitchers like Maddux and Smoltz had great careers due to intelligence and keeping batters off balance. Looking at highlights from Tanaka, he has similar traits, but will need to learn the league the same way he learned NPB. Being a smart pitcher usually leads to a longer career with less injuries. While an Outfielder will slow down, due to bad knees, torn hamstrings, throwing ones back out due to a sneeze gone wrong (stupid Sosa), and the list goes on. Yes you can make the argument that a pitcher will likely blow out an arm, as much as I can say an OF will blow out an ACL. It happens as part of sports. To which I can agree to disagree with you on your stance.

      • Eddie Von White

        Unless you’re Mariano Rivera – then its the other way around.

  • Rugger1053

    There are many differences between Tanaka and Fukudome. Firstly age Tanaka will be 25, while Fukudome was 31 and coming off his best season in NPB. That said Hendry over paid for past performance from Fukudome as his numbers started to decline once he got to the MLB. Secondly you are comparing a pitcher (usually a more durable position) to an outfielder (plays everyday compared to every fifth day). I believe you cannot make this comparison work unless advance matrices are reviewed and even then it is a stretch to compare the two positions. If looking at the pitching position only a few out of handful of Japanese pitchers taken in the old posting process were a bust. Yes Dice-K is a prime example of overpaying for mediocrity, but Darvish, Ryu, and Nomo (to an extent) demonstrate that Japanese pitchers in their early to mid 20’s find success in the MLB. Even though the Cubs have 1-2 more seasons of a rebuild, adding an arm like Tanaka will get fans excited and get the team ready for the coming season. If you get a player like this, it can effect an entire team and raise their own expectations for the next few seasons. Just my opinion.

    • Noah_I

      The one thing I just have to say, and I’ve said it a few times this week, is that Dice-K’s “mediocrity”, or him being a “bust”, is a significant retcon. Was he overhyped coming in? Yes. He was never going to be a year in/year out Cy Young contender type of pitcher. Was he a very good pitcher before injuries took their toll? Yes. Did the injuries make that contract be a bad value proposition? Yes.

      In other words, this would be a true statement: Dice-K was a very good pitcher, but not an ace, for his first two seasons in the Majors, but injuries after that made the contract be a really poor value for the Red Sox.

      And this would be a false statement: Dice-K was never anything more than mediocre in the Majors, and the contract was clearly a bad deal even prior to the injuries.

      A bit more on the bust point, which I know isn’t the subject of your comment Rugger: I just don’t view guys who had success in the Majors and then were never the same again after injury as “busts.” I don’t view Mark Prior as a bust. I do view Felix Pie (never has success in the Majors) and Rich Hill (unclear why his control just left him after 2007) as busts.

    • Chuck

      Not to be mean, but calling pitchers more durable that OFs is insane. The only position that chews through players even close to pitching is catcher. Throwing a baseball 90+ mph overhand is an unnatural act that causes tremendous strain on the arm and leads, inevitably, towards injury at some point. They pitch every 5th day because a body can only handle so much and pitching more often would be bad for most pitchers. It is not 1920 anymore where pitchers had 40 complete games a season.

      • Rugger1053

        Over a lifetime of play, yes you are correct. A pitcher could in all likelihood get injured more frequently than an outfielder. Although in this comparison where you have a 20-something pitcher versus a 30-something outfielder that comparison can be made. Even today with pitch count and inning restrictions the effort has been made to reduce injury to pitching arms. That said pitchers like Maddux and Smoltz had great careers due to intelligence and keeping batters off balance. Looking at highlights from Tanaka, he has similar traits, but will need to learn the league the same way he learned NPB. Being a smart pitcher usually leads to a longer career with less injuries. While an Outfielder will slow down, due to bad knees, torn hamstrings, throwing ones back out due to a sneeze gone wrong (stupid Sosa), and the list goes on. Yes you can make the argument that a pitcher will likely blow out an arm, as much as I can say an OF will blow out an ACL. It happens as part of sports. To which I can agree to disagree with you on your stance.

      • Eddie Von White

        Unless you’re Mariano Rivera – then its the other way around.

  • Noah_I

    First, calling Dice-K a bust is a significant simplification. Dice-K was very good his first two seasons, putting up a combined 7.2 fWAR, or if you prefer Baseball-Reference’s version, 9.4 rWAR. Either way he was a very good pitcher. Never quite an ace, but a solid 2 at the least. Matsuzaka’s problem was that he got injured, and repeatedly, which can happen to anyone. Clayton Kershaw could tear a ligament in his left shoulder on the first day of spring training and never be Clayton Kershaw as we have known him again.

    Second, Fukudome was a wholly different scenario because he wasn’t posted.

    Third, the reason you pay the premium for these guys isn’t because they are guaranteed to be, or likely to be, superstars. You pay a premium for these guys because you get to sign them to a free agent contract through their prime years (about ages 25 through 31), when they are unlikely to see significant decline, without giving up any prospects or draft picks. The Japanese players have also been playing in a league that is widely regarded as having a talent level between MLB and AAA. For all Latin American players except for Cubans, you have to sign the players when they are 16, which has its advantages and disadvantages, but you clearly do not know at that point what sort of player they will be at 24 or 25. For Cuban players, they have played 99% of their games in a league that is viewed as the equivalent to High A ball. The Japanese players, even for the high salaries, cannot be viewed as “superstars or bust”. Hideo Nomo put up 24 WAR over an 11 season career. Hiroki Kuroda has put up 19 WAR over 6. Those are just two off the top of my head. Despite neither of these pitchers being “stars”, they were significant successes in the US.

  • Noah_I

    First, calling Dice-K a bust is a significant simplification. Dice-K was very good his first two seasons, putting up a combined 7.2 fWAR, or if you prefer Baseball-Reference’s version, 9.4 rWAR. Either way he was a very good pitcher. Never quite an ace, but a solid 2 at the least. Matsuzaka’s problem was that he got injured, and repeatedly, which can happen to anyone. Clayton Kershaw could tear a ligament in his left shoulder on the first day of spring training and never be Clayton Kershaw as we have known him again.

    Second, Fukudome was a wholly different scenario because he wasn’t posted.

    Third, the reason you pay the premium for these guys isn’t because they are guaranteed to be, or likely to be, superstars. You pay a premium for these guys because you get to sign them to a free agent contract through their prime years (about ages 25 through 31), when they are unlikely to see significant decline, without giving up any prospects or draft picks. The Japanese players have also been playing in a league that is widely regarded as having a talent level between MLB and AAA. For all Latin American players except for Cubans, you have to sign the players when they are 16, which has its advantages and disadvantages, but you clearly do not know at that point what sort of player they will be at 24 or 25. For Cuban players, they have played 99% of their games in a league that is viewed as the equivalent to High A ball. The Japanese players, even for the high salaries, cannot be viewed as “superstars or bust”. Hideo Nomo put up 24 WAR over an 11 season career. Hiroki Kuroda has put up 19 WAR over 6. Those are just two off the top of my head. Despite neither of these pitchers being “stars”, they were significant successes in the US.

  • Doug S.

    Good article. The Rangers and Dodgers are teams in serious contention for a WS title right now with maybe a piece or two to add. Do the Cubs really want to get into a pissing match with them?

    • Eddie Von White

      Yes, good article, Katie. It’s good market strategy to expand MLB to other continents, but you ask a good question.

    • I believe that pissing match is sort of the point of it all.

      • PLCB3

        Who’s going to get a wind-assisted win?

  • Doug S.

    Good article. The Rangers and Dodgers are teams in serious contention for a WS title right now with maybe a piece or two to add. Do the Cubs really want to get into a pissing match with them?

    • Eddie Von White

      Yes, good article, Katie. It’s good market strategy to expand MLB to other continents, but you ask a good question.

    • I believe that pissing match is sort of the point of it all.

      • AC0000000

        Who’s going to get a wind-assisted win?

  • Jerry in Wisconsin

    The question Tanaka’s team needs to ask is, if they will lose the $20 Mil in attendance and saki sales if he is no longer on the team. If they believe Tanaka is worth the $20 Mil, they will keep him and try to win a couple more titles before he hits true free agent status.

    • Eddie Von White

      Or…they could replace him with Matt Murton and Bryan LaHair type players. They will fill stadiums.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        You mean they do that as well as star in sitcoms?

  • Jerry in Wisconsin

    The question Tanaka’s team needs to ask is, if they will lose the $20 Mil in attendance and saki sales if he is no longer on the team. If they believe Tanaka is worth the $20 Mil, they will keep him and try to win a couple more titles before he hits true free agent status.

    • Eddie Von White

      Or…they could replace him with Matt Murton and Bryan LaHair type players. They will fill stadiums.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        You mean they do that as well as star in sitcoms?

  • Seymour Butts

    If Tanaka has a bib bust that would imply steroid usage. We might stay clear of him.

    • Freud

      there’s a Freudian slip if ever I saw one.

      • I think you would just call it a slip, Sigmund.

  • Seymour Butts

    If Tanaka has a bib bust that would imply steroid usage. We might stay clear of him.

    • Freud

      there’s a Freudian slip if ever I saw one.

      • I think you would just call it a slip, Sigmund.

  • Doc Raker

    Who has more Tommy John and shoulder surgeries, position players or pitchers? Off the top of my head I will say 80-90% of elbow and arm surgeries are done for pitchers.

    In fact, one baseball person I spoke with argued pitchers should throw everyday, even the day after an outing, because position players throw everyday and position players have less arm troubles.

    • Noah_I

      I haven’t done the math, but I’d bet if you looked at the math I wouldn’t be surprised if hitters, on average and considering amount of playing time, had more DL stints than pitchers. However, pitcher injuries tend to be more serious.

      But I think whomever the baseball person you talked wasn’t thinking all that hard when he came up with that theory. Position players never have to throw a ball in the manner pitchers do for the number of repetitions pitchers do. It’s apples and oranges.

      • Doc Raker

        I agree with the fact that pitchers throw in a different manner and don’t necessarily believe if that theory would hold up. I will say position player injuries needing elbow or shoulder surgeries are well below that of pitchers most probably because of the different manner in which a pitcher throws.

  • Doc Raker

    Who has more Tommy John and shoulder surgeries, position players or pitchers? Off the top of my head I will say 80-90% of elbow and arm surgeries are done for pitchers.

    In fact, one baseball person I spoke with argued pitchers should throw everyday, even the day after an outing, because position players throw everyday and position players have less arm troubles.

    • Noah_I

      I haven’t done the math, but I’d bet if you looked at the math I wouldn’t be surprised if hitters, on average and considering amount of playing time, had more DL stints than pitchers. However, pitcher injuries tend to be more serious.

      But I think whomever the baseball person you talked wasn’t thinking all that hard when he came up with that theory. Position players never have to throw a ball in the manner pitchers do for the number of repetitions pitchers do. It’s apples and oranges.

      • Doc Raker

        I agree with the fact that pitchers throw in a different manner and don’t necessarily believe if that theory would hold up. I will say position player injuries needing elbow or shoulder surgeries are well below that of pitchers most probably because of the different manner in which a pitcher throws.

  • Doug S.

    TSN reporting Tanaka staying.

    http://www.tsn.ca/mlb/story/?id=439379

  • Doug S.

    TSN reporting Tanaka staying.

    http://www.tsn.ca/mlb/story/?id=439379

  • Doug S.

    Thought I posted this already, but TSN says Tanaka staying.

    http://www.tsn.ca/mlb/story/?id=439379

    • Jedi

      An early Christmas present for the FO.

  • Doug S.

    Thought I posted this already, but TSN says Tanaka staying.

    http://www.tsn.ca/mlb/story/?id=439379

    • Jedi

      An early Christmas present for the FO.