Masahiro Tanaka goes for his 11th win tonight against the division-leading Blue Jays. So far, the 25-year-old has lived up to the high expectations that enticed the Yankees to dish out a seven-year, $152 million contract, leading the league in wins and ERA (2.02). With Tanaka’s emergence as a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award candidate, here’s a look at other Japanese starting pitchers who have transitioned to the bigs after starting their careers in Japan.
The first Japanese-born, Japanese-leaguer to play in the majors since 1965, Nomo lived up to the hype for his first few seasons. He earned NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Dodgers in 1995 after going 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA. He would throw one of two career no-hitters the next season but was never quite as effective in the years following. Still, Nomo holds the mark for most wins by a Japanese pitcher (123) and will for years to come.
Ishii’s first couple months in the majors were Tanaka-esque, as the 28-year-old rookie won his first six starts for the Dodgers. He would slip off that pace, still able to finish with a respectable 14-10 record and 4.27 ERA, good enough for fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Ishii moved back to Japan following the 2005 season with the Mets, pitching there until he retired after last season. Daisuke Matsuzaka
In December 2006, the Red Sox won bidding rights to the hightly-touted right-hander, settling on a six-year, $52 million contract. After posting 15 wins and a mediocre 4.40 ERA in his first season, Matsuzaka turned heads in his sophomore campaign, going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA to finish fourth in the AL Cy Young ballot. But injuries plagued the Japanese product the next few seasons, and he now mainly comes out of the Mets bullpen.
Perhaps the best pitcher to ever pitch in Japan before his arrival in The Show, Darvish signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers. Like Tanaka, he is young in his career, blossoming at the Major League level. Last season, the 27-year-old led the AL in strikeouts (277), and in April notched his 500th in his 402nd career inning, making him the fastest pitcher to reach