Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka won his first Sawamura Award on Monday, the accolade given annually to the best pitcher in Japan.
Tanaka led the Pacific League with 19 wins, a 1.27 ERA and a .792 winning percentage in the fifth season of his career.
“I’m very happy,” Tanaka said. “It’s the most honorable award for a pitcher. This is going to be a significant confidence boost.
“I was in good shape all season. My best outing in 2011 was the game in which I struck out 18 (on Aug. 27 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks). My team finished in a disappointing fifth place, but I hoped to raise the spirit of the people affected by the March 11 earthquake.”
Tanaka struck out 241 batters over 226⅓ innings in 27 starts, 14 of them complete games, meeting the selection criteria in all seven categories — 15 wins, a 2.50 ERA, 200 innings pitched, 10 complete games, 150 strikeouts, 25 appearances and a .600 winning percentage.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Yu Darvish, an 18-game winner with a 1.44 ERA and a baseball-leading 276 strikeouts, also cleared them all, making a five-man selection committee consider presenting the award to both Tanaka and Darvish.
But the committee ended up taking a vote, and three of its five members picked Tanaka.
“ERA is the best stat to evaluate pitchers,” said selection committee chief Masayuki Dobashi. “Tanaka’s ERA was a little better than that of Darvish. Tanaka also had more complete games than Darvish.”
Tanaka, who turned 23 on Nov. 1, was the first Rakuten pitcher to win the award since Hisashi Iwakuma in 2008.
“I only had better numbers than him (Darvish),” Tanaka said. “As a pitcher, I’m nowhere near his caliber.”