Is Masahiro Tanaka The Next Young International Superstar Pitcher?
By Chuck Booth (Lead Baseball Analyst/Website Owner): Follow @chuckbooth3024
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Today we are talking about young International Phenom pitchers. I picked 5 former and current pitchers that hailed from other places other than the USA to concentrate the story on.
The 5 baseball players all flashed onto the scene as young pitchers, 3 of them dominating their peers from the get go.
Eric Gagne, the 5th member of this study, only started to dominate when the Los Angeles Dodgers sent him to the bullpen.
Speaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers, three of these five pitchers were both with the club when they started out. It is a credit to their scouting staff.
There is a reason why no other team has turned out more ‘Rookie of the Year’ players in the last 30 years than the Dodgers.
Hideo Nomo’s No – Hitter Game
Eric Gagne (CAN) (Career Record 33 – 26 (.559), 3.47 ERA, 187 SV)
Eric Gagne was an awesome closer for the time frame of 2002 – 2004 in saving 152 baseball games. Included in his dominance was a Major League Record 84 saves in a row.
This feat may be one of the more remarkable achievements by a relief pitcher ever. A save can easily be blown without any fault of your own.
Heck, you could come into a game with bases loaded and no one out, induce a double-play ball, then follow that up by retiring the next out, only to be credited with a blown save despite saving your team’s bacon.
To think that Gagne did this for 84 straight games, thus completely demolishing the previous record of 55 games – blowing by the record by over 50 percent.
Eric Gagne was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Gagne started off in the Los Angeles Dodgers in the rotation at first however it was just a small sample.
At the age of 25 he was moved to the bullpen and began to thrive. His success did not go unnoticed. There was a massive following from all Canadian baseball fans.
When a baseball player is this good he is routinely the focus of all Canadian national sports highlight packages. Elbow problems starting plaguing the Canadian at the beginning of the 2005 season.
By the time 2008 had come, the man saw the writing on the wall for retirement. He is still the best reliever the country of Canada has ever seen. Plus he made wearing glasses popular amongst closers again.
Hideo Nomo (JAP) (Career Record 123 – 109 (.530), 4.24 ERA)
In 1995, Hideo Nomo became the first superstar Japanese born Major Leaguer to play baseball in the MLB. At age 27, the Dodgers took a chance that the player might be something special.
With an entire country following his every footstep, The RHP helped the Los Angeles fans forget that there had been a strike/lockout over the last year.
The Japanese media flocked in record numbers to every ball park to watch his every move.
Nomo did not disappoint in his first season, going 13 – 6 with a 2.54 ERA en route to a ‘Rookie of The Year’ Award.
He also beat Sandy Koufax’s strikeout per nine innings ratio with an 11.1/per 9 innings. He put together a couple of more great seasons before he left the Dodgers.
While abroad, Nomo struggled from the years of 1998 – 2001, before triumphantly returning to the Dodgers with back to back 16 win seasons in 2002 and 2003.
Nomo’s career slowed down after that. The man with the crazy delivery (where he threw so high over the top, that he pitched over his own head) threw two no-hitters in career.
One of these no-hitters was thrown at Coors Field.
Hideo Nomo was a pioneer for other pitchers to come overseas after his success. Now the MLB has plenty of pitchers from Japan.
The negative impact could have been crippling for Japanese baseball ever coming over to North America if he had failed.
Juan Marichal (DOM) (Career Record 243 – 142 (.631), 2.89 ERA)
Take a look at Juan Marichal’s career record. He was 101 games over .500 with a winning percentage of .631.
Unfortunately, he pitched in an era that featured Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, otherwise he would have been the best pitcher in baseball. Juan Marichal was the second pitcher from the Dominican Republic.
Marichal featured the old-time full wind up, with a high leg kick that almost went entirely vertical, so this was the key to him concealing his pitches.
The San Francisco fans were treated to a rookie season of 6 – 2 with a 2.66 ERA.
By his fourth season with the Giants, Marichal started to be one of the best pitchers in baseball by going 25 – 8 with a 2.41 ERA – while logging 321 IP.
Marichal would go on to be an all-star in 8 consecutive seasons (62 – 69) in a Hall of Fame Career.
In a game pitched versus Warren Spahn in 1963 at Candlestick Park, the two pitchers threw 15 innings of scoreless baseball before Willie Mays homered off Spahn to give Marichal the complete game victory.
Marichal paved the way for future pitchers from the Dominican. When you are your country’s best player at any given time, it seems to translates into all the kids emulating their heroes.
The next 8 – 15 years after that, you see a generation of players that idolized the player enter the Major Leagues.
Fernando Valenzuela (MEX) (Career Record 173 – 153 (.531), 3.53 ERA)
‘FernandoMania’ first hit Los Angeles in the 1981 season. Valenzuela burst onto the National League scene by winning his first 8 decisions.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were a perennial threat already each season, so Valenzuela put them over the top. He won the ‘Rookie of the Year’, the ‘Cy Young Award’ and the World Series, all in his first year.
His totals include a 13-6 record with 8 shutouts and a 2.48 ERA.
Valenzuela had the throwing motion that made his pitching so deceptive. Fernando literally looked away, shifted his entire body before coming back over the mound towards home plate.
It was only fitting that he was playing in a highly populated ‘Latino’ population of Los Angeles. Valenzuela pitched to a 5 – 1 record in his postseason career with a 1.98 ERA.
He was one of the best pitchers in the 1980’s. He had the perfect manager in Tommy Lasorda, plus he had his personal catcher of now Angels Manager, Mike Scioscia.
Scioscia was even kind enough to learn Spanish to help ‘El Toro’ go through game plans. The former Dodgers Catcher also helped Valenzuela learn some English.
Valenzuela made the ALL – Star team in each of his 1st 6 full years, which also featured 4 top 5 Cy Young Voting finishes.
Battling weight problem in the late 80’s, his career was slowed down and he was released before the 1991 season by the Dodgers.
Fernando enjoyed a nice stint with the San Diego Padres in the mid nineties before going back and forth to pitch in the Mexican Baseball Leagues to end his career.
Valenzuela also won a couple of silver slugger awards for his hitting prowess. Tommy Lasorda even used him sporadically as a pinch hitter where he has a .368 lifetime average in this capacity.
Yu Darvish – (JAP) (Career Record 29 – 18 (.617), 3.34 ERA)
So with these trail blazers showing the world how it is done as a young international player, will Masahiro Tanaka be the next “one” to captivate a country?
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***Chuck Booth – Lead Baseball Analyst/Website Owner and author of the Fastest 30 Ballgames:
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Posted on January 22, 2014, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged @MLBreports on twitter, bob gibson, canada, Chuck Booth, dodgers, eric gagne, fastestthirtyballgames, fernando valenzuela, giants, hideki irabu, japan. dominican republic, juan marichal, kei igawa, la dodgers, Los Angeles, mexican league, mike scioscia, new york yankees, padres, sandy koufax, texas rangers, Tommy Lasorda, warren spahn, yu darvish. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.