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Mariners Free Agent Versus: Trevor Bauer vs Masahiro Tanaka

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 27: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees delivers in the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on August 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 27: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees delivers in the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on August 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /
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We asked you what you wanted us to write about, and you told us you wanted us to talk about the Mariners in the upcoming off-season. Today, we compare two of the top players who may be linked to Seattle.

In the debut of a brand new series, we are going to pit two potential off-season targets for the Seattle Mariners against one another to see which is the better fit. We will compare the players’ stats, age, projected salaries, past production, fit, and everything we can to give you the best information to make an informed decision.

In our inaugural article of the series, we will compare two right-handed pitchers who are set to test the free-agent waters this winter. Today, we compare Yankees RHP Masahiro Tanaka and Cincinnatti Reds RHP Trevor Bauer.

Age and Mileage

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 10: Trevor Bauer #27 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on against the Seattle Mariners in the third inning during their game at T-Mobile Park on September 10, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 10: Trevor Bauer #27 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on against the Seattle Mariners in the third inning during their game at T-Mobile Park on September 10, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Trevor Bauer is currently 29-years-old and will pitch the 2021 season as a 30-year-old. He has made 184 career starts and became a regular in 2014 after making his debut in 2012. As of May 16th, 2020, Bauer has accumulated 1,117 innings pitched.

Masahiro Tanaka is currently 30-years-old and will pitch all of the 2021 season as a 31-year-old. He has made 163 starts in his 6-year, MLB career while accumulating 1006.1 innings pitched. However, Tanaka also made 172 starts in Japan for Rakuten, covering 1315 innings.

Bauer is a year younger and has thrown about half the number of innings as Tanaka. Tanaka does have a less violent delivery than Bauer, but with almost 1000 extra innings on his arm, the edge here probably belongs to Bauer.

Stats

SEATTLE, WA – AUGUST 27: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees delivers in the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on August 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA – AUGUST 27: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees delivers in the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on August 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /

In his 8-year career, Trevor Bauer has posted a 4.04 ERA, a 3.92 FIP, a 1.30 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and a 14.9 bWAR, including a high watermark of a 5.8 bWAR in 2018. In his last 3 seasons, Bauer has posted a 3.68 ERA, a 3.60 FIP, a 1.24 WHIP, and a 10.7 K/9.

On the other hand, Tanaka has posted a 3.75 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, a 1.8 BB/9, and a 16.9 bWAR in 6 seasons, including a high-water mark of 5.2 bWAR in 2016. In his last 3 seasons, Tanaka has averaged a 4.34 ERA, a 4.22 FIP, a 1.21 WHIP, and 8.8 K/9.

Overall, Tanaka has had the better career over the same 6 years stretch as Bauer, though he hasn’t been as good as Bauer over the past 3-years. That being said, Bauer is coming off the worst season of his career and has had a wider range of outcomes than Tanaka, who has been a tad more consistent.

I see a virtual tie but would give the slight edge to Tanaka thanks to his consistency and honestly because we don’t know what Bauer we will see in 2020.

Stuff

Tanaka features 3 prominent pitches: a fastball, a splitter, and a slider. The fastball averaged 91.5 MPH in 2019 and was touched up pretty well, with hitter slugging over .600 on the pitch. Tanaka’s best pitch in 2019 was his slider, which generated a 33.7% whiff rate in 2019 and hitters only slugged .342 against it.

The split-finger, which posted a 36.2% whiff rate in 2018, dropped all the way to an 18.5% whiff rate, a troubling sign for a pitcher with a lot of miles on his arm. Tanaka’s hard-hit rate has stayed steady, but his K rate dropped sharply in 2019, from 25% in 2018 to just 19.6% last season.

Trevor Bauer features 5 pitches: a fastball, curveball, cutter, slider, and changeup. The fastball averaged 94.5 MPH in 2019, the same as in 2018. But the pitch was batted around pretty well, with opponents slugging .576 against it last season.

Last season, Bauer’s curveball was slightly better than his slider, but both were above-average pitches, generating high whiff rates and sub-.350 slugging percentages. The cutter flashed solid but was typically a mediocre offering for Bauer in 2019. His hard-hit rate jumped back to his career norms after an outstanding 2018 season, which we would currently have to assume was the outlier of his career.

I think Bauer has a pretty clear edge in this department, but Tanaka may get more out of his stuff thanks to better command. Bauer’s career 8.9% walk rate compared to Tanaka’s 5.0% makes this matchup closer than it appears. So Bauer wins the category, but it is a closer matchup than it would appear to be.

Extras

SEATTLE, WA – APRIL 1: Starter Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians delivers a pitch during the first inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 1, 2018, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA – APRIL 1: Starter Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians delivers a pitch during the first inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 1, 2018, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

So there are always little things that are considered when discussing free agents that aren’t big enough to have their own section but are worthy of conversation. These can go into the “trivia” section and can be enough to tip the scales one way or the other.

For example, many reporters will link Tanaka to the Mariners because of Seattle’s large Japanese population and because the franchise has a long history of pursuing players with backgrounds from the market. While that doesn’t necessarily make much of a difference for Tanaka, it can be a factor that should be accounted for.

Bauer’s “trivia” is a bit harder to peg. He is a polarizing figure to be sure. He has no issue speaking his mind, isn’t afraid to show emotions, and is an outspoken conservative who doesn’t have an issue telling that to people. Would that play with Mariners’ fans? We don’t know.

But Bauer is also well-liked and respected by his teammates and actually has a cool friendship with Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi, who respects Bauer immensely. But Bauer also has made it clear that his plans are to only sign 1-year deals after he hits the free-agent market. So the question may not be if Bauer is a good fit in Seattle, it may become whether or not a 1-year deal makes sense for the Mariners team in 2021.

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There are a few different ways you can look at this “trivia” or “extras” section and it very well could make the difference in how you view these two pitchers. But we have given you some information, so it is your turn to make a decision. Which pitcher would you prefer the Mariners to sign: Tanaka on a multi-year, $20+ million AAV deal? Or Trevor Bauer on a 1-year deal early in the teams rebuild?