Regardless of which lucky team ends up signing Masahiro Tanaka in the coming weeks, the prized starter will become the 60th Japanese-born MLB player once his first pitch whizzes toward the strike zone in April.
How he fares at baseball's highest level is uncertain. His supreme statistics last season—24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB)—would seem to indicate that he is on the threshold of MLB stardom.
But statistics accumulated on the other side of the Pacific aren't always an accurate predictor of MLB performances. Daisuke Matsuzaka went 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA in his final season for NPB's Seibu Lions, but he could only recreate such success for one season for the Boston Red Sox during an underwhelming career.
Hideo Nomo, on the other hand, proved his dominance for NPB's Kintetsu Buffaloes would not be lost in translation for an MLB club. Nomo struck out more than 700 batters over the course of his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the mid '90s and also tossed two no-hitters.
In preparation for Tanaka's arrival, here is a list of the best Japanese pitchers to play in the MLB. The list is liable to change in the coming years, as half of it is comprised of active players. Only performance in the MLB was considered in the rankings, and starters were valued higher than relievers. Other factors were postseason success, personal awards and overall influence on the MLB's increasingly global brand.
As for Tanaka, we can only wait and see if he climbs this list during his career and how high he ultimately rises.