From Japan, with an updated plan
February, 11, 2014
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Getty ImagesAs Masahiro Tanaka arrives, the Yankees will fall back on lessons accumulated from other transitions from Japan to Major League Baseball.The Red Sox prepared diligently before investing $101 million in Daisuke Matsuzaka, scouting him thoroughly, evaluating aspects of the transition he would have in moving from pitching in Japan to pitching in Major League Baseball, from diet to language.
But as Matsuzaka threw his first bullpen session for the Red Sox in the spring of 2007, Terry Francona recalled, the team got its first insight into what it didn’t know. Matsuzaka bore a reputation for throwing many different types of pitches, and just a few minutes after he began, then-pitching coach John Farrell turned to Francona and said, "Well, we’re down one pitch."
The baseballs Matsuzaka was accustomed to throwing in Japan were slightly smaller and softer than the balls used in the major leagues, and in that first bullpen session, Matsuzaka could not get a feel for one of his most important pitches, the splitter.
The lessons learned from Matsuzaka and other pitchers shifting from Japan to the majors were applied as teams delved into the work of Masahiro Tanaka before he signed his seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees, with evaluators building on accumulated knowledge.
Tanaka, who arrived with his family on a rented jet that cost about $200,000, will be building on that history, as well.
He used the balls used in Major League Baseball when throwing between starts last year, and since signing, he has embraced the general throwing program used by the Yankees -- a significant physical and mental hurdle, given the past issues encountered by teams and pitchers.
"We've been educated more and more, just as we have with Cuban players, and try to support that process, to help transition them," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "We've been educated more and more about what's important to them, and what's very helpful in the process."
Here's some of what has been learned