Masahiro Tanaka - A Tale Of Two Pitchers
As the playoffs slowly approach many teams playoff chances will be put in the hands of one or two core contributors making a big difference down the stretch. For the Yankees the starting rotation may be the decider if they make the playoffs. Despite holding the top wildcard stop in the American League, 7 other teams are less than 4 games out of a wild card spot, with another month of baseball left in the season. The Yankees have one of the better bullpens in baseball despite some troubles especially recently, a streaky offense when at the top of their game rival the Dodgers and Cubs, and a solid rotation. One of the keys of that Yankees rotation is Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees signed Tanaka out of Japan in 2014, and on his arrival he was an instant sensation going 13-5 with an astounding 2.77 ERA, being named to his first career all star team as a rookie. Everything seemed to be going great for the Japanese rightly until a partial tear in the ligament of his pitching arm was discovered. It was said that this injury was caused by the arm action Tanaka used to throw his splitter. After news of this injury broke Tanaka was shut down until September. Upon his return at the end of the 2014 season Tanaka toyed with different arm actions for his splitter for the 2015 season. Despite a solid season where Tanaka went 12-7 and was named the Yankee’s ace he wasn’t the same pitcher he was in 2014 as shown by his ERA north of 3.50. However in the 2016 season Tanaka showed signs of his former self when he had a record of 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA, similar to his rookie campaign. After this stellar campaign Tanaka prepared to build upon his success in the 2017 season. The baseball gods had other ideas for Tanaka however, and this was evident from the very beginning of the season where Tanaka gave up 7 earned runs and lasted just 2.2 innings. His struggles wouldn’t continue leading him to a 9-10 record with an ERA north of 4.85 before his most recent start against the Mariners as part of players weekend. Despite his overall bad season Tanaka has had many great starts including a complete game shut out in Boston, and his most recent start in Detroit where he pitched 7 innings giving up only 3 runs en route to a 13-4 Yankees win. So what’s the difference, why is Tanaka so good some nights, and not as sharp other nights. Well it’s actually very simple and it comes down to Tanaka’s confidence. Tanaka is best when he has a lead. Granted most pitchers are but with a lead Tanaka is considerably better. It’s because when he has a lead he’s not afraid to throw his best pitches. This is also why he was so much better in the first half of 2014. He wasn’t afraid to throw certain pitches because he had never had them be hit hard. However, after he return from the DL at the end of 2014 he couldn’t pitch like he was in the beginning because he still wasn’t 100%. This led to Tanaka getting hit hard and him losing confidence in the pitches that made him so dominant in the first half of 2014. If the Yankees want to be competitive down the stretch and possibly in the playoffs, having Tanaka with his best stuff, and with the most confidence will help them a lot, and create one of the best rotations in the American League with Luis Severino, and Sonny Gray to pitch ahead of Tanaka.