Honestly, I don’t know how much of a sleeper Masahiro Tanaka is going to be in 2018. I’m writing these posts without a ton of draft data. You down with ADP? No, actually, I’m not, and you know me. My guess is Tanaka will be drafted between 100-130 overall. There’s value to be had with that draft spot. If people start hyping him and his splits (which I’ll get to), then Tanaka’s going to zoom past the point of sleeper. I imagine in a lot of friendly leagues where people show up the day of the draft because it’s the only time they get away from their families, who they not-so-secretly despise, Tanaka will be a relative bargain. And by ‘relative bargain’ I don’t mean the cousin who is living with you who you tried to sell on the Darknet. Tanaka will have the Yankee inflation even in those leagues, so he’s not going to be as cheap as his last year 4.74 ERA should have him. Then, in quote-unquote smarter leagues, Tanaka might be drafted in the top 90 overall because in those leagues people want to prove how much more they know than their leaguemates so they push up a guy like Tanaka on draft boards. In most leagues, however, people will know Tanaka has a tendon issue, they’ll know he had a wretched first half last year (I promise I’ll get to the 2nd half), and they’ll know there’s safer guys while not wanting to prove anything to anyone by drafting Tanaka early. In those leagues, Tanaka should come at a relative bargain. Again, not the cousin you put on Darknet’s eBay. So, what can we expect from Masahiro Tanaka for 2018 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?
For the season, Masahiro Tanaka had the 13th best xFIP, between Aaron Nola and Robbie Ray; the 16th best K/9 with 9.8; the 8th best BB/9 with 2.1; the 18th worst LOB% (right after fellow sleeper, Michael Wacha); the 8th best K/BB; the best swings generated on pitches outside the strike zone since 2015, and 2nd best since 2007. His homers allowed *covers mouth to hide number* wasn’t good, but why, or better how, someone gets so many swings outside the strike zone while giving up an insane number of home runs makes zero sense. You get hitters to swing outside the strike zone because you’ve fooled them. Home runs allowed are pitches where the hitters weren’t fooled. My guess is Tanaka didn’t trust his stuff to get guys to chase when men were on base. Only way I rationalize it. For all intents and purposes, or porpoises if dolphins are reading, Tanaka was a top fifteen pitcher. And that’s with his terrible 1st half and home run proneness (Proneness? Is that a word? Hmm, maybe not, but I avoided using the word proclivity which is a word worse than moist). Okay, okay, OKAY! The 2nd half. Here’s a tweet Prospector Ralph sent out earlier this offseason:
Masahiro Tanaka’s 2nd half splits: 10.7 K/9, 1.65 Bb/9, 3.77 ERA, .229 BAA, 1.06 WHIP. Started using both his Slider (+4%) & Splitter (+3.9%) more than FB. Culminated in his playoff start vs Indians, 15 of his 92 pitches were FB.
— Ralph Lifshitz (@ProspectJesus) November 14, 2017
Someone’s using their 280 characters, huh? In the 2nd half, Tanaka had the third best xFIP, a glorious 2.83, and a 2nd-to-only Kluber K/BB of 6.5. Kluber obliterated norms like Cliff Clavin paying Vera Peterson a secret visit, but a 6.5 K/BB is Kershaw-type level of dominance. Tanaka’s 2nd half ERA of 3.77 was still kinda whatever, but if you put up a 6.5 K/BB more times than not, you’re going to be more successful than a 3.77 ERA. Tanaka could have a 2.75 ERA next year and it would not shock me. Of course, he could also have a 5.00 ERA and his elbow finally breaks off in slow motion in the most epic of ways like a Werner Herzog documentary about pitching. Or he simply puts a few runners on a game and allows an unfortunately-timed homer. This latter scenario seems the most likely if things go pear-shaped. For 2018, I’ll give Masahiro Tanaka the projections of 14-9/3.49/1.14/205 in 194 IP.