As proof of the global nature of baseball, the most talked about rookies this season are former professional players from other nations. Masahiro Tanaka, 25-year-old pitcher for the New York Yankees, is coming off an undefeated, championship season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan. The Chicago White Sox’ 27-year-old José Abreu was a superstar in the Cuban National Series, where he not only had the second most home runs ever in a season, but is tied for the third best total as well. Now the pair are in the same league, forcing a discussion over who is the more valuable rookie.
The fact that these players have been good is no shock. They did, after all, sign contracts worth a combined $223 million. They come from what are perhaps the two best leagues in the world, outside of Major League Baseball. The only truly surprising aspect of their seasons have been how Tanaka and Abreu have completely disregarded the notion of an adjustment period. They have come to the United States, where baseball is only one of many life adaptations they must make, and completely dominated their profession.
Abreu has proven in his short time in the majors that he was not only one of the best power hitters from Cuba, but from anywhere in the entire world. He currently leads MLB in home runs with 15, a ridiculous 25 percent more than his closest competition. Abreu is only three homers behind the Kansas City Royals entire ball club. He leads the American League in RBI and slugging percentage, and his .941 OPS is tenth in all of baseball.
Tanaka stacks up against the competition just as well, where he ranks in the top ten of all pitchers in strikeouts, ERA, wins, strikeout/walk ratio, WHIP, and opponent’s on-base percentage. What his teammates and manager in New York probably appreciate the most is how consistent and trustworthy Tanaka has been. He is the team leader in innings pitched, and has worked into the seventh inning in every start of his career.
Whether one values Abreu or Tanaka more likely depends on how they value pitching versus offense. As an everyday player, Abreu has the ability to have a more consistent impact on games. His record-setting offensive start comes in an era where pitchers have been dominating, and on a team that has been starving for hitting the past several seasons. Tanaka, on the other hand, has been an absolute ace, and number one starters are the rarest commodity in the game. He has also been dependable, while three fellow members of the Yankees’ starting rotation have gone down with injuries. Each player has been just what their team needed them to be.
Deciding who is more valuable is a toss-up. In a vacuum, with all other needs being equal, Tanaka represents a piece that is not only more difficult to find, but is the single most potent weapon a team can have in the playoffs, when the value of winning a single game increases. Both players seem like safe bets to continue their strong output, and they seem poised to not only be in the discussion for rookie of the year, but MVP and Cy Young as well.
Commentary by Brian Moore
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering New York Baseball