The Runner Sports

Masahiro Tanaka’s 2017 Is Not As Bad As The Numbers Would Suggest

Heading into the season, much of the New York Yankees’ hopes for the year rested in the hands of Masahiro Tanaka. With a starting rotation that looked paper thin, Tanaka was supposed to be the ace of the staff. So far, Tanaka has been the worst starter statically for the Bronx Bombers this season. Despite the 5-2 record, Tanaka’s ERA is at a staggering 5.80 with opponents batting .291 against. Out of the five starters, he has the highest ERA, opponents’ batting average, and home runs allowed. Even the struggling C.C. Sabathia has not given up these type of numbers. Clearly, Tanaka is in a bad way this season.

Well, Maybe Not

Sometimes, statistics can be misleading. This is especially true when it comes to pitching statistics early in the season. On the season, Tanaka’s stats are horrendous for the ace of the staff. An ERA close to 6 is not what any team wants, especially one who figured to have a poor rotation heading into the season. However, Tanaka’s numbers are not reflecting his season as a whole. In his eight starts, Tanaka has been inconsistent. That is factual, but Tanaka has not been as bad as the ERA and opponents batting average suggest.

Boiling Down to Two Bad Starts

Masahiro Tanaka has had two awful starts this season, which is the main reason why his numbers look so pathetic. The Opening Day start and his last start on Derek Jeter Night/Mother’s Day have inflated his statistics completely. In those two starts, Tanaka has given up 15 earned runs, 15 hits, and 6 home runs. All of those numbers came in a combined 4.1 innings pitched. These type of outings normally do not effect starters too much over the course of an entire season. Normally, relievers are the ones who suffer these types of outings and watch their numbers balloon out of control.

However, with a little over a month gone in the season, Tanaka has not had enough starts to even out these two bad games for the season. If you do not think that it is only two bad starts, the following numbers might convince you otherwise.

Looking at His Other Six Starts

Now, I am not saying Tanaka has been a Cy Young candidate in the other six starts. However, he has been good in those other starts. In the six other starts, Tanaka has a 3.10 ERA. Opponents are only batting .245 off of him and he has given up 4 home runs in those starts. That is 2 home runs less than the two bad starts against the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros. The strikeouts are down still (only 29 in 40.1 innings), but he has only walked 9 batters. One of those starts was a complete game shutout against the Boston Red Sox.

In these six starts, the New York Yankees went 5-1 during this stretch. Heading into his last start, Tanaka was on a five-game winning streak. To say that Tanaka has had a horrible 2017 based on his numbers is unfair. Yes, Tanaka’s numbers are in the trash right now and he definitely will not be an All-Star. However, four starts from now, Tanaka could easily have his ERA in the low 4s/high 3s.

Diving Deeper Into Masahiro Tanaka’s Numbers

Out of the eight starts that Masahiro Tanaka has had for the Yankees, the team has only lost three of them. The two bad starts plus his second start against he Baltimore Orioles all led to losses for the Yankees. Each of these games have something in common: Tanaka’s WHIP was above a 2 in each of these games. Obviously, allowing 15 combined hits across 4.1 innings is going to have a WHIP for those starts. However, the start against the Orioles was still not a good one. Tanaka only allowed 3 earned runs, but it was only in 5 innings pitched.

The main problem for Tanaka this season has been the ineffectiveness of his splitter. Even in his good starts, Tanaka has had a splitter value in the negatives (according to FanGraphs). In games where the splitter is not working, Tanaka struggles since it is his out pitch. His slider is another out pitch, but the splitter is Tanaka’s bread and butter pitch. It is a safe bet that if Tanaka is getting hit around, he is either not hitting the zone with his splitter or leaving it up in the zone. When he leaves the splitter, it gets hit hard. Once he consistently brings that pitch down, Tanaka should see an improvement in his starts.

More Run Support Leading to Higher ERA

Even in his six good starts, Masahiro Tanaka is giving up 3-4 per games essentially. However, this has not hurt the Yankees too bad overall since Tanaka has been getting great run support. In Tanaka’s five wins, the Yankees have scored an average of 7.4 runs per game. Most of these runs are coming when Tanaka is still pitching in the game. This has an effect on a starting pitcher. When there is more run support, there is less of a need to be “perfect” or going for the strikeout. When a pitcher has more than 4 runs of support, the job of said pitcher is to get outs. That means pitching to contact a lot more.

This effect reminds me of 2010 when CC Sabathia should have won the AL Cy Young. Sabathia had a fantastic season, but his ERA was 3.18 while he had 21 wins. Felix Hernandez ended up winning the award, mostly because of his ERA (2.27) despite his 13-12 record. What hurt Sabathia was that he received a lot of run support in his starts that led to him pitching over the plate more often than Hernandez. This meant that Sabathia did not have to be “perfect” since he had enough wiggle room and needed to simply get outs. Tanaka has suffered from this during his five-start win streak.

The Silver (or Green) Lining

There is a giant plus for Tanaka having a couple starts that are inflating his numbers. With some bad statistics, that means that Tanaka is less likely to opt-out of his current contract. The fact that the Yankees have two starting pitchers heading to free agency for sure (Michael Pineda and Sabathia) after this season, Tanaka potentially leaving could leave the Yankees in grave jeopardy for the next season. Unless the Yankees make a trade for a starter, they would be left with a giant hole on the roster. With his bad start, Tanaka might be convinced to stay with his current deal.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
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Griffin Fuller
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