The title of this post may not seem to make a whole lot of sense to you at first– I mean, why would we care what the manager of the Buffalo Bisons has to say about Japan’s top pitcher?– but what if I told you that Buffalo Bisons manager Marty Brown has a more interesting baseball past than you perhaps grasped?
What if you remembered that when the Jays hired him to manage the Las Vegas 51s for the 2011 season, it would mark his return to the United States from having managed five seasons in Japan? What if you then realized that not only was he managing in NPB in the recent past, but that his last gig there was managing the Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he had both Masahiro Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma on his staff?
Because all that is true. And Brown brought his insight on those two former charges– as well Hiroki Kuroda, who he managed for two seasons in Hiroshima– to the local radio airwaves this morning, speaking with Jeff Blair on the Fan 590 (audio here) about what North American fans can expect to see if/when Tanaka lands in the big leagues– and, perhaps more importantly, what his next club will likely be paying something north of $100-million for.
Brown was coy about how much information Alex Anthopoulos has canvassed him for, but he made clear that, if he was asked, his report would likely have been quite glowing.
“I think the one think that kind of sets him apart is physically– he might be a little more physical than all of those guys,” he explained, comparing him to not just Kuroda and Iwakuma, but Yu Darvish, as well. “Obviously he hasn’t had issues with health and anything like that. And that might be something, I think, that gets him over the hump. And I think he can carry innings.”
He’s a good athlete– he does all the little things as well. It’s not like he’s just one type– he’s a pitcher and that’s what he has to go with. He has other things in his arsenal that he can go to in order to get swings and misses. And like I say, he just does all the little things– holds runners, understand the game, and he understands himself. He was a premier high school pitcher, too– a lot like Matsuzaka. He did a lot of things for a small school, and really put the school on his back and went into that high school tournament– which, as you know, in Japan, is something to see. So he’s a very highly competitive young man. It’s an obvious transition for him to pitch on every fifth day. That was one of the concerns when I had Kuroda and Iwakuma, and I tried to transition those guys into doing that– it’s kind of the way the Japanese game falls into place, because you get a day off during the week, and it’s easy to give that guy an extra day when actually he may not need it. But I think that’s another thing about his physical ability– I believe he’ll be able to rebound, with his age and the fact that he is a strong guy, I think he’ll be able to carry the innings, and he should be a very effective pitcher.
The fact that Brown saw other pitchers who’ve had success here up close, and feels this good about Tanaka gives credence to all the excitement that has surrounded him of late, even though he maybe doesn’t quite hit the very high watermark left by Darvish’s incredible talent.
Still, it’s all good.
“He was a joy to have,” he explains. “He was one those type guys you wanted to give the ball to. He matched up against Yu Darvish, and I felt very good about going into a game and knew Tanaka was really going to compete. So, he should do very well over here.”
Brown then added that “He’s always been a very upfront guy, and very well liked and respected in Japan. He’s going to do his part to put butts in the seats, and I think he’s the type of guy you want to give the ball to on any day in order to win.”
Some cliched stuff, sure, and some grains of salt are definitely necessary here given the relationship he has with the player– hopefully Alex is getting a little less varnish on his reports– but what he says seems to make sense based on what we’ve heard.
Brown also says he likes that Tanaka has stated that he wants to be in the Majors, and thinks that’s an important part of a transition to the North American game going well:
They have to want to be here. It’s just like an American player going to Japan, or an American manager going to Japan– it’s the same thing, you have to really want to be there, you have to want to be successful in a new country. You have to adapt to the new game of baseball here in the United States, and it’s the same way as an American going to Japan– you have to adapt to the way that the Japanese play the game of baseball there. So I think Tanaka’s obviously a premier pitcher in Japan, and I think that initially coming here he wants to test himself, as Kuroda did, as Yu, and Iwakuma. I think they’ve had conversations with one another about the opportunity to find out how good they are. I think just being in Japan and being dominant, I think at times– you could see it in Yu, and even Iwakuma, you know, almost a sense of boredom. And Kuroda was that way.
Kuroda was a little different because he was with a really small market club when he played for me in Hiroshima, and there wasn’t a lot of substance around him to score runs. Or the bullpen wasn’t as good as Kuroda– when he was only at 20% left of what had on that day, you’d still want to send him back out there because he was better than what you had in the bullpen. And they wore him out that way over there, until I got there, and then we started to realize, shorter rest and less back-end innings, where he’s facing that lineup for the fourth time, it was really beneficial. He ended up winning an ERA title, and I think that once Yu– you see Yu and Iwakuma– I think once Tanaka goes into that mindset of going into that game– all those guys, they have that mindset of, they get the ball and they want to finish the game, and sometimes that’s a rarity now in the States– a guy gives you six innings and is like, ‘I’m good, I’ve done my part today’– and none of those guys really felt that way when I had them in Japan. So that’s an asset, I think. That mindset is going to give him an edge.
So that’s pretty alright… right? Though, on the other hand, I’m kind of thinking bad, Marty! Run him down, man! Get some of these other teams off the scent!
Which isn’t to say that I think the Jays have a terribly realistic shot of actually landing Tanaka, especially with the new posting system setup to make the process more like what you’d see with any other free agent. But they sure should try their damnedest. And we all know why it’s not, technically, an impossible dream, either. (Especially if we all can remember to ignore everything we hear about the club being hurt by their supposed policy about limiting contracts to five years or less. Because that’s horseshit.)