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From BR Bullpen
Masahiro Tanaka (田中 将大)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 205 lb.
- High School Komadai Tomakomai
 Biographical Information
He played for Komadai Tomakomai from 2004-2006. In 2005, he broke Daisuke Matsuzaka's Japanese high school for strikeouts. A year later, he was claimed by four teams in the NPB draft, with the Rakuten Golden Eagles winning bargaining rights in the lottery that followed. He was considered the top high school prospect in Japan. He signed for a $800,000 (100 million yen) signing bonus with a salary of 15 million yen. Tanaka debuted for Rakuten on March 29, allowing six hits and six runs in a horrid 1 2/3 IP of action. He did strike out three. He said afterward "I felt my own weakness. It was a good lesson for me."
Despite a relatively slow start to his career, Tanaka was leading All-Star balloting early in 2007, thanks to his fame from his success in the Koshien tournament in high school. He wound up making the Pacific League All-Star squad. Tanaka reached 100 strikeouts after 96 2/3 IP, the fastest rookie out of high school to do since Yutaka Enatsu. For the year, he was 11-7 with a 3.82 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 186 1/3 innings. He led the league in walks (68) and earned runs allowed (79). He was also among the leaders in innings (4th, between Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tsuyoshi Wada), wins (tied for 7th with Takayuki Kishi), hits allowed (183, 3rd behind Hideaki Wakui and Naoyuki Shimizu), home runs allowed (17, 4th), complete games (4, 7th), strikeouts (2nd, 14 behind leader Yu Darvish), wild pitches (10, 2nd behind Nagisa Arakaki's 25) and runs allowed (83, 2nd, four behind leader Shimizu).
Tanaka tossed 7 shutout innings in the 2008 Olympics, striking out 9 in 3 relief stints. His best outing consisted of 5 innings and just 2 hits against Team USA. Despite his fine work, Japan did not earn a Medal. In the summer of 2008, the youngster was 9-7 with a save and a 3.49 ERA, allowing only nine homers in 172 2/3 IP and making the All-Star team again. He was among the leaders in innings (tied for 6th with Shunsuke Watanabe), hits allowed (171, 4th), complete games (5, tied for 5th with Hisashi Iwakuma and Wakui), shutouts (2, tied for second, one behind Kazuyuki Hoashi), walks (54, 4th), wild pitches (6, tied for 4th), runs allowed (71, 9th), earned runs allowed (67, 7th) and strikeouts (159, tied with Iwakmua for third behind Sugiuchi and Darvish).
In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Tanaka made four relief appearances for Japan. He allowed a solo homer to Bum-ho Lee and two other hits in 2 1/3 IP as Japan won the title. His 3.86 ERA, while hardly lofty, was the highest on a stellar Japanese staff led by fellow PL or former PL hurlers Iwakuma, Darvish, Matsuzaka and Sugiuchi. He followed with his best summer to that point at 15-6, 2.33 with one save. He made his third straight All-Star team. He also became the first pitcher to start the year with four straight complete games since Satoru Komiyama and Shigetoshi Hasegawa back in 1993. For 2009, he ranked among the league leaders in ERA (third behind Darvish and Wakui), innings (189 2/3, 3rd behind Wakui and Sugiuchi), wins (tied for second with Darvish and Sugiuchi, one behind Wakui), shutouts (3, second, one behind Wakui), complete games (6, tied for third with Sugiuchi), hits allowed (170, 5th), strikeouts (171, 3rd behind Sugiuchi and Wakui) and hit batsmen (7, tied for 6th).
The 21-year-old was 11-6 with a 2.50 ERA in 2010, missing over two months of action due to a pectoral tear and a pulled quad muscle. He still finished among the PL leaders in ERA (third behind Darvish and Masaru Takeda), 10th in wins, second in complete games (8, behind Darvish) and WHIP (1.23, 7th between Wada and Wakui).
Tanaka had a great season in 2011, becoming the second Rakuten hurler to win the Sawamura Award (following Iwakuma). He was 19-5 with a 1.27 ERA (the league had changed baseballs prior to 2011 and offensive levels fell), 241 strikeouts, 171 hits and only 27 walks in 226 1/3 IP. He tossed six shutouts and had a 18-strikeout gem. He made his fourth All-Star team. He led the league in wins (tied with D.J. Houlton), ERA (.17 ahead of Darvish), complete games (14) and shutouts (tied with Darvish). He was also among the leaders in innings (second to Darvish), hits allowed (171, 4th), wild pitches (7, tied for 3rd), strikeouts (second to Darvish), WHIP (.087, .004 behind Darvish) and opponent average (.212, third behind Darvish and Sugiuchi). Darvish was the runner-up for the Sawamura. He got 43 first-place votes and 414 total vote points for the 2011 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, finishing second behind Seiichi Uchikawa (120, 757).