When the New York Yankees signed Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract before the start of 2014, questions needing answers lingered. Yes, he had a stellar reputation and career in Japan, but would it translate immediately the the major leagues? The Yankees scouted him closely and felt he was worth being paid like an ace — $22 million this season, to be exact.
Those willing to take the risk on him in season-long fantasy baseball leagues have been rewarded handsomely. The right-hander has been the only sure thing in New York’s rotation, posting a 10-1 record with a 2.02 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 93.2 innings pitched. In his most recent start Wednesday night, he threw his second complete game of the season, this one at Safeco Field against the Seattle Mariners.
With a FanDuel price of $10,900, it becomes tough for daily fantasy players to build a roster with proven talent around him. However, his performance shows he’s worth the trouble.
Tanaka currently leads the league in wins, ERA, complete games and WHIP, while also posting impressive BB/9 (1.3) and K/9 (9.9) rates. He’s averaging more than seven innings per start, immediately giving users points to be added to their total score. Combine that with seven starts of eight-plus strikeouts, including four double-digit performances and he’s basically carrying your team.
He’s also pitched at least six innings in each of his 13 starts, with each of those qualifying as a quality start — even his loss against the Cubs (6 IP, 3 ER).
If there was any room for concern heading into this season, it was Tanaka pitching at the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. It didn’t take long for him to quiet those concerns. Five of the nine home runs he’s allowed in 2014 have come at home, but that’s virtually all he gives up in the Bronx. He owns a 1.91 ERA in 42.1 innings pitched, with opponents hitting just .197.
Of all the high-priced acquisitions New York made this winter, the right-hander has by far been the best of them all. General manager Brian Cashman spent half a billion to acquire Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Matt Thornton and Tanaka. Without the Japanese hurler, there’s no telling to how much worse they’d be than their current 33-31 record, which is 4.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East.
Until he shows he’s human and gets lit up by an opposing team, he’s as much of a sure thing as any other pitcher in the league. The closest we’ve seen him to being mortal so far was his loss on May 20 against Chicago, and he still struck out seven while allowing eight hits and one walk.
Tanaka has been the most consistently dominant fantasy player this season. If he’s on your season-long fantasy team, you can either enjoy holding onto him or make another team grossly overpay for his services. In daily fantasy games, his high price shouldn’t deter you from trying to work a lineup around him.