The Understated Brilliance of Masahiro Tanaka

The overarching theme of the Yankees season has been the team finally embracing its youth movement. Rookies Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are the regulars at catcher and in right field, respectively, and fellow rookies Chad Green and Luis Cessa are the team's fourth and fifth starters. The 25-man roster has seven players that are 25 or younger, and its middle infield is made-up of a couple of 26-year-olds. This is the youngest group that we have seen in quite some time. 

And in the midst of this all, lest I bury the lede too far, is Masahiro Tanaka.

It seems as though few realize just how young Tanaka is, particularly comparatively speaking. He will not be 28-years-old until November 1, and he is more than seven months younger than Dellin Betances. He's more than a year younger than Adam Warren, and only a couple of months older than Michael Pineda. He's younger than Corey Kluber and Chris Archer, and only a few months older than Rick Porcello, Danny Duffy, and Jose Quintana. While I wouldn't suggest that he should be compared to the Jose Fernandezes and Noah Syndergaards of the world, it is important to contextualize just how young he is.

More importantly, though, we have reached the point wherein Tanaka has become underappreciated as a top of the rotation performer. When the focus does swing in his direction, it tends to linger on his elbow, and its potential for disaster. Meanwhile, he is one of the very best starters in the American League this year. 

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Game 126 Recap: NYY 5 SEA 0

Once again it wasn't the sweep it should have been, but the Yankees looked pretty damn good closing out their road trip yesterday with a crisp, commanding, all-around well played win over the Mariners.

Masahiro Tanaka was back on the bump following his 7 shutout innings against the Angels and he picked up right where he left off, throwing another 7 scoreless against a slightly better Seattle lineup.  He wasn't as dominant as last time.  He had to work out of consecutive 2 on/1 out situations in the 2nd and 3rd innings.  But once he cleared those hurdles, Tanaka was on point.  He got ahead in the count, he mixed pitches, and he finished strong, retiring the final 8 batters he faced in order and recording 4 of his 5 strikeouts in that span.

The offense wasn't electric as a whole, but it was consistent in putting runs on the board against Hisashi Iwakuma.  They got started with a bang on yet another Gary Sanchez moonshot in the top of the 1st.  It was a hanger and Sanchez waited on it to bash it into the left field upper deck.  From there the Yankees tacked on runs in the 2nd (Tyler Austin single), 4th (Brett Gardner sac fly), 7th (Mark Teixeira single), and 9th (Starlin Castro sac fly).

Joe had a well-rested bullpen and a day off today, so he used his best to finish the game off.  Tyler Clippard got into some trouble in the 8th, and that brought on Dellin Betances for the 4-out close.  He struck out 3 batters for 75% of the outs and picked up a save for the effort thanks to his early entry in the 8th.  Not a bad way to finish up a road trip.

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Game 126: Tanaka vs. Iwakuma

Today marks the Yankees last game West of Kansas City, and that comes as a relief for those of us that enjoy both watching the games and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. The team's latest start time for the rest of the season is 8:10 PM (barring some weather shenanigans, of course). Here's this afternoon's lineup:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Didi Gregorius, SS
  3. Gary Sanchez, C
  4. Mark Teixeira, DH
  5. Starlin Castro, 2B
  6. Aaron Judge, RF
  7. Aaron Hicks, CF
  8. Tyler Austin, 1B
  9. Ronald Torreyes, 3B

The first pitch is scheduled for 3:40 PM.

Game 125 Recap: NYY 5 SEA 1

Remember when CC Sabathia used to be the stopper in the rotation?  Those were good times.  He called back to those times last night, turning in one of his best starts of the season to lead the Yankees to a 5-1 win and end their brief 2-game skid.

Seattle got its 1 run in the bottom of the 3rd on a 1-out triple by Leonys Martin and ribbie single by Ketel Marte, but it was more a bad route in right field by Aaron Judge that led to the triple than a bad pitch by CC.  Other than that inning, CC held the Mariners to 1 hit and struck out 7 in 7 total innings and he was in complete command of his stuff all night.

The Yankee offense spread its run out across the whole game.  They got on the board first in the top of the 2nd when the red hot Ronald Torreyes doubled in Aaron Judge, and assumed the lead on Jacoby Elslbury's 2-run home run in 5th.  Judge came through with a sac fly to make it 4-1 in the 6th inning, and Didi Gregorius doubled in Ellsbury for good measure in the 9th.

Joe didn't need much from his bullpen thanks to Sabathia's strong outing, and the tandem of Tommy Layne and Dellin Betances gave him no reason for concern over the final 2 innings.  The Yanks can come back to take the series on the final game of the road trip this afternoon.

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Game 125: Sabathia vs. Walker

Heading into this evening's game, Sabathia's season can be split neatly into eleven game halves. And it works out surprisingly well, given that he pitched quite well in start number eleven (6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K), and horrendously in start twelve (4.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 3 K). Here is the full breakdown:

The first 11: 65.1 IP, 54 H, 27 BB, 56 K, 2 HR, 2.20 ERA, 3.30 FIP

The next 11: 65.0 IP, 77 H, 24 BB, 54 K, 13 HR, 6.78 ERA, 5.33 FIP

That's kind of incredible, isn't it? His BABIP also jumped 31 points, and his HR/FB climbed by 15.7 percentage points. And that's the difference between a contributing member of a starting rotation, and a sub-replacement albatross. At least there's only one year left on the deal.

Here's tonight's lineup:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Didi Gregorius, SS
  3. Gary Sanchez, DH
  4. Starlin Castro, 2B
  5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  6. Brian McCann, C
  7. Aaron Judge, RF
  8. Aaron Hicks, LF
  9. Ronald Torreyes, 3B

The first pitch is scheduled for 10:10 PM.

Quick Hit: Gary Sanchez and the Rookie Leaderboard

Have you used FanGraphs' wonderful rookie leaderboard recently? If not, I recommend doing so, and lowering the plate appearance threshold all the way down to 0. Take a look at the American League position players. It sorts automatically by WAR - a counting stat - so there are precious few shenanigans afoot. Check it out. I'll wait.

Actually, I'm not going to wait. I'm too excited, sample sizes be damned. I'll do it for you. Take a look at line number 2:

How about that?

And, for those of you who may be curious, he ranks sixth among all rookie position players in WAR.

Game 124 Recap: SEA 7 NYY 5

I was in bed by 8:30 last night, so I didn't see a single pitch of this game.  I can't speak to the specific level of brutality of the blown lead and the loss, but I know it wasn't pretty just by knowing the parties involved.

- The Yankees jumped out to a 2-0 lead on solo homers by Gary Sanchez in the 1st and Starlin Castro in the 2nd.  After that lead was coughed up in the 4th, it was Sanchez and Starlin who homered again in the 6th to put the Yanks back on top 5-3.

- With 2 on and 2 outs in the bottom of the 6th, Joe inexplicably went to Anthony Swarzak to close out the inning.  Swarzak teed up the go-ahead home run on a hanging slider to Mike Zunino, his 10th dinger allowed in 28.1 innings.  Absolutely mind bottling that he was brought into that situation.

- The Yankee lineup was held in check over the final 2 innings by Seattle's 1-2 relief punch, and the equally useless Kirby Yates gave up an insurance home run to Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the 8th for good measure.

- Sanchez and Castro combined for 5 of the team's total hits, 4 runs scored, and all 5 ribbies.  The rest of the batting order went 4-26 with 7 strikeouts.

How the Yankees Got Their Pop Back

It's no secret that the Yankees offense has been largely powerless this season - and I don't mean that in an ironic sense, either. The team ranks 22nd in baseball in both home runs, and they aren't terribly close to respectability, either. Their 134 home runs are just shy of ten below the MLB-average, and their .150 ISO is comfortably behind the .163 held by the league at large. And these numbers are not park-adjusted, meaning things are actually a bit worse than they seem.

Or, rather, they were.

  • April - 22 HR, .128 ISO
  • May - 30 HR, .153 ISO
  • June - 30 HR, .146 ISO
  • July - 24 HR, .137 ISO
  • August - 28 HR, .193 ISO

The Yankees have found their power stroke in the month of August, and the improvement has become even more drastic with the arrivals of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Sanchez, Judge, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and the suddenly competent Aaron Hicks have combined to hit 14 2B and 21 HR this month in just 284 AB - that's good for a .570 SLG. 

And, even with the sub-par seasons of Hicks and Castro, that quintet offers quite a bit to be excited about. All five are under team control for at least three more seasons, and  the 26-year-old Hicks is the elder statesman ... and he won't be 27 until October 2. All five were top-100 prospects at one point or another, and all have shown some of that promise at the big league level.

I know that we have done this song and dance before, being excited about Castro's first few weeks in pinstripes and so forth - but these players are young and cheap enough that the team can take its time and figure out what's real and what isn't. It is plain to see that this is unsustainable, but it's fun and informative (and there's little downside to seeing what the team has in its young players). Seeing them all hit and hit for power offers at least a glimmer of hope, and it's great to see the next generation of bombers take aim at the outfield fences.

And this is what a rebuild and/or reload is all about.

Weekend Recap: Yankees vs. Angels

Friday (NYY 7 LAA 0)- The difference between starters couldn't have been greater in Friday night's series opener.  Masahiro Tanaka was absolutely on point in all respects, twirling 7.2 scoreless innings and striking out 9 Angels without walking a single one.  Jered Weaver was basically throwing BP, and the Yankee hitters tuned him up for 5 runs on 10 hits (4 dingers) in less than 5 innings. Ronald Torreyes was the big boss on the night, going 4-4 with 3 runs scored and falling a triple short of the cycle.  But the Yankees also got a strong performance from the top of the new top of the order (Ellsbury, Didi, Sanchez: 8 hits, 4 RBI).

Saturday (NYY 5 LAA 1)- The good starting pitching continued for the Yankees on Saturday, as Luis Cessa worked 6 shutout to keep the scoreless streak going.  He did walk 1 batter though, so it's not like his day was completely perfect.  The lineup put up a 3-spot in the 1st inning, all with 2 outs, on a solo homer by Gary Sanchez and a 2-run single by Brian McCann.  Aaron Judge came through with a big 2-run single in the 6th to tack on some insurance, and with the exception of a homer off Dellin in the 9th, the bullpen made the lead stand up.

Sunday (LAA 2 NYY 0)- Again more good starting pitching from the new look Yankee rotation.  Chad Green gave up a cheap run in the 1st and then shut the Angels down over the next 5, giving him 1 total run allowed with 16 strikeouts in his last 2 starts.  But on this day the offense was nowhere to be found, and the Yankees would waste the few good opportunities they did get on their way to getting shut out.  1-7 with RISP, 8 men left on base, and they failed to even hit the ball past the pitcher's mound with 2 on and 1 out in the 8th.  They didn't deserve to win and they didn't.  Still waiting for that day when they remember how to close out a sweep.

Game 121: Tanaka vs. Weaver

These West Coast start times have never quite jibed with my sleeping habits, though I am always tempted to make an exception for Mike Trout. The added incentive of a Masahiro Tanaka start and a lineup featuring the young guns makes it all the more tantalizing - so here's hoping that I can make it beyond 11 PM.

Here's the lineup for tonight:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Didi Gregorius, SS
  3. Gary Sanchez, C
  4. Brian McCann, DH
  5. Starlin Castro, 2B
  6. Aaron Judge, RF
  7. Aaron Hicks, LF
  8. Tyler Austin, 1B
  9. Ronald Torreyes, 3B

The first pitch is scheduled for 10:05 PM.