Masahiro Tanaka, born on November 1, 1988, is a pitcher in professional baseball. He is originally from Itami, Hyogo. Currently, he is playing for the MLB team, New York Yankees. During his second year in Komazawa University Tomakomai High School, he won the Japanese High School Baseball Championship (Summer Koshien), and next year, as a third year student, he finished in 2nd place.
This got him noticed by the professional teams for his pitching. In the 2006 draft, he was coveted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Yokohama Bay Stars, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the first round. Rakuten ended up drawing the winning lot and earned the negotiation rights, after which Tanaka joined their team.
After the Eagles were formed in 2005, they struggled in last place for 2 years in a row. They were in desperate need for a starting pitcher who could bring the team hope for victory, which is why they were hoping to put their high school rookie to immediate use, and they gave Tanaka their ace number, no. 18.
Tanaka was put in the team’s rotation right from the opening game, and during his 4th match on April 18, against Softbank Hawks, he earned his first victory after 9 rounds, 2 points lost and 13 strikeouts. His first year ended with excellent results – 11 wins and 7 losses, with a 3.82 ERA. On top of that, he became the 8th person in history, following Daisuke Matsuzaka, to win the Rookie of the Year award after graduating high school.
Even though he wasn’t able to reach double digit wins in 2008, he earned 9 wins together with Hisashi Iwakuma, who produced 21 wins, in a team that was stuck in a slump. Besides, Tanaka continued to grow and gain experience on the Japan national team in international tournaments like the Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
In 2011, he marked down 19 wins and 5 losses in the regular season, and earned pitcher’s 4 titles for most wins, best ERA, best pitcher, most completed games. On top of that, he won his first Sawamura Award. He became widely known and there was no doubt that he was one of NPB’s best pitchers. Gradually he started thinking about moving to MLB.
However, no matter how well he pitched, it didn’t change the Rakuten Eagles’ results, and the team continued to be stuck in B class.
In the coming 2013 season, Tanaka was in perfect shape right from the opening game and he started piling up wins one after another. He was named MVP in both leagues for the first 4 months. His winning stream continued to the very end, and Tanaka finished with a score of 24-0, with 1 save.
He set a new record in NPB for a 100% winning percentage with a 1.28 ERA. This fantastic achievement earned him his second Eiji Sawamura Award. Furthermore, thanks to his efforts, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles won their very first Pacific League championship and Japan Series championship against the Yomiuri Giants.
With 24 consecutive wins, he set a new NPB record. His winning streak goes up to 28 if you include his previous years games, and it goes up to a total of 30 with the post season games – these 3 achievements were recognized as Guinness World Records.
While Tanaka was the 4th player in NPB to achieve a 100% winning percentage, he did so with the most wins and without a loss in the season, which was a record first in professional baseball.
During the off-season on December 17, Tanaka, who had achieved outstanding individual results and for his team, announced his desire to play in MLB. On January 22, 2014, he signed a lengthy, 7 year contract with the New York Yankees for a total of 155 million dollars (around 16,1 billion yen).
In the Major Leagues, he was in the starting rotation from the opening game, and on April 4, in the match against the Toronto Blue Jays, he made his MLB debut as the starting pitcher.
In 7 innings, he allowed 6 hits, 3 runs, and had 8 strike outs. He earned his first victory in MLB and he achieved his 100th combined win in both NPB and MLB.
After that, he showed stable pitching results and earned over 10 wins every year, but the Major League 4 day rest cycle took its toll, and he started appearing in disabled lists.
In 2017, he earned his 150th combined win for both NPB and MLB, and he became the first Japanese player in MLB to produce double digit wins for 4 years in a row since his debut.
In the end of the season, he expressed his intention to stay with the Yankees.