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Tanaka's Teammates

The hot rumor today is that the Mariners are considered frontrunners for Masahiro Tanaka's services. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. A fair amount is made of Hisashi Iwakuma coming from Rakuten (Tanaka's current team) and succeeding. Shannon Drayer posted a piece about player personalities and cities.

I don't know how to handicap the Tanaka sweepstakes. It will probably come down to money, and if that's similar enough, Tanaka's comfort level with whatever city he chooses. As I thought about comfort levels, I got to wondering: who have Tanaka's teammates been? What kind of stories could they have told him about Major League Baseball during his career in Japan?

The results surprised me. I tallied up Rakuten and MLB seasons for players that both played for Rakuten while Tanaka pitched for them (2007-2013), and in the MLB at some point in their careers. All of Tanaka's teammates played in the Majors before going to Japan with one exception (Hisashi Iwakuma, so an exception certainly worth mentioning). Below is an area chart visualizing the data. Bigger areas means more time playing for Rakuten; darker shades of red represent MLB experience:

Masahiro Tanaka's MLB Connections
area represents Rakuten seasons, shading represents MLB seasons

I doubt there is much of consequence or strategy revealed in this graphic, but it's interesting. The Indians are the only MLB team which Masahiro Tanaka couldn't ask a former teammate about, which is pretty remarkable when you stop and think about it. This graphic only represents six years worth of players with MLB connections that played for Rakuten - not any team in Japan, just Rakuten. I expected to be surprised by the number of connections, but this still blew my mind.

However, most mind-blowing might be the Expos. Look at their box! It's pretty big, especially considering that the team ceased to exist (or, more accurately, relocated) nine years ago. That's three years before Tanaka's career in Japan began!

Most players represented in the area graph played sparingly in the majors, and sparingly for Rakuten too, so it would be ridiculous to think that Tanaka has lasting bonds with all the players represented in the graphic. However, it's equally ridiculous to think that Major League Baseball is a mysterious land to Tanaka. He has possibly heard first-hand accounts of every MLB franchise (except Cleveland) while hanging around Rakuten's clubhouse.

The only potentially interesting insight in the graphic is the Yankee presence. If Tanaka signs with the Yankees the headlines will likely focus on their deep pockets and the glamour of playing in New York. However, for what it's worth, they have both a large rectangle and heavy shade of red, which speaks to an extensive Rakuten presence along with several years of experience on the Yankees. Perhaps the strong former Yankee presence over an extended period of time in Rakuten makes Tanaka feel like he knows the Yankees better than any other franchise. Maybe that matters, maybe that doesn't. I think it might - the Cubs and White Sox are pretty small and pale on this graphic, and neither seem to be big players in the Japanese baseball marketplace despite playing in Chicago.

Click the jump if you'd like an interactive version of this graphic.

Interactive Version (Click on division headings to zoom in)


I had no idea so many players with cups of coffee in Colorado went on to play for Rakuten in the past six years. Lastly, if you were wondering, basically the entire Braves presence is courtesy Andruw Jones. He played for Rakuten last year and did rather well.

One fun question to ponder: would it make sense for MLB teams to sell off more of their AAAA players to Japan? Just to get their players in Japan's dugouts so that Japanese stars hear stories about their organization and gain an initial comfort level with them before posting happens?