Masahiro Tanaka stands on the mound, rubbing the ball vigorously between his hands. It’s a crisp, cool night in the Bronx. Stepping back, he digs his right foot into the rubber, winds up and, with a seven-foot stretch, steps towards the catcher, unleashing a blistering four-seam, 95 mph fastball. Less than half a second later, it explodes into the catcher’s mitt with a loudpop. The batter can only stand and watch as it flies by. Strike one!
It’s a common scene when Tanaka takes the mound for the New York Yankees. With the focus and discipline of a Samurai warrior, their star rookie pitcher has taken Major League Baseball (MLB) by storm in 2014. His stats (as of August 15, 2014) are gaudy: 2.51 ERA(Earned Run Average), 12-4 record and a 1.01 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched). Further, the guy’s a strikeout machine, fanning 135 hitters vs only 19 walks. Tanaka is the latest Japanese ace to inﬁltrate MLB. Twenty years ago, you’d have to look long and hard to ﬁnd a Japanese pitcher in this league (in fact, you’d ﬁnd only one: Hideo Nomo, aka the “Tornado”), but today, it is an increasingly common site. What’s going on?