After posting Monday's scouting report on Masahiro Tanaka, Patrick Newman NPB Tracker web site on Japanese baseball, sent me an excellent link via Twitter with more information on Tanaka's pitches.
The data only goes through 2012 but is still helpful, particularly in showing that Tanaka's fastball averaged 90.7 mph in 2012. So while he touches 94, he sits lower than that, leading Alex Walsh to make an interesting comment to me on Twitter: "90 mph fb? and he's gonna get 7 years?"
It's a fair question. The easy answer is simply to point out that Hisashi Iwakuma averaged 89.5 mph on his fastball last year and posted a 2.66 ERA. But that's one season (or, to be more generous, a season-and-a-half of success since Iwakuma joined the Seattle rotation midseason in 2012). We all know fastball velocity isn't everything, but it sure don't hurt.
If Tanaka does indeed get a six-year, $100 million-plus deal, he'll become one of the highest-paid starters in the majors. With that expectation in mind, here are the top 21 starters over the past two seasons via Baseball-Reference.com WAR and their average fastball velocity over those two seasons (of course, fastballs coming in four-seam and two-seam varieties, but this is an aggregate of all fastballs):
Clayton Kershaw (14.1) -- 92.8 mph
Chris Sale (12.8) -- 92.5 mph
Justin Verlander (12.4) -- 93.7 mph
Cliff Lee (11.8) -- 91.1 mph
Max Scherzer (10.9) -- 93.7 mph
Felix Hernandez (9.9) -- 91.9 mph
Yu Darvish (9.7) -- 92.9 mph
David Price (9.7) -- 94.6 mph
Hiroki Kuroda (9.6) -- 91.6 mph
Cole Hamels (9.2) -- 91.3 mph
Hisashi Iwakuma (9.0) -- 89.8 mph
Anibal Sanchez (8.7) -- 92.3 mph
Jordan Zimmermann (8.4) -- 93.8 mph
Mat Latos (8.1) -- 92.6 mph
Gio Gonzalez (7.9) -- 92.8 mph
R.A. Dickey (7.8) -- umm ...
Jose Quintana (7.8) -- 90.9 mph
Bartolo Colon (7.8) -- 90.0 mph
Kris Medlen (7.8) -- 89.5 mph
Jhoulys Chacin (7.7) -- 89.9 mph
Jered Weaver (7.7) -- 87.2 mph
As you can see, most of the pitchers on the list do have a higher fastball velocity. A couple of the guys lower on the list are extreme in their unusual style of pitching, particularly Colon, who throws so many fastballs even though he no longer has the great velocity, and Weaver, with his cross-body slingshot delivery that generates a lot of fly balls by pitching up in the zone.
So again, we get back to his former teammate Iwakuma being maybe the most comparable guy on the list in terms of stuff and arsenal.
Six years is a long deal for a pitcher who sits at 90-91 rather than 92-93. The teams in on the bidding obviously believe in Tanaka's command, deception, pitching smarts and splitter/slider combo to think he's worth it. I still like him as a solid No. 2, but maybe there's a reason we're only that five teams are in on him at that price level.