Let’s break down Masahiro Tanaka‘s historic start to his career with a special edition of Yankeemetrics.
Tanaka has thrown 13 quality starts (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) in each of his first 13 major-league appearances, the second-longest such streak to begin a career since earned runs became official in 1912. The only pitcher with a longer streak was Steve Rogers, who had 16 quality starts in his first 16 outings in 1973 with the Expos.
The only other Yankee to begin a season with 13 straight quality starts was Ron Guidry, who started his 1978 Cy Young season with 15 quality starts in a row. The franchise record for quality starts in a row is 16, by CC Sabathia in 2010.
It was also his second complete game of the season – he shut out the Mets on May 14 – as he became the first Yankee rookie with two complete games before the All-Star break since Doc Medich in 1973.
Tanaka finished the game with 103 strikeouts, becoming just the fifth pitcher since 1900 with at least 100 strikeouts in his first 13 career appearances. The others were Hideo Nomo, Kerry Wood, Herb Score, and Jose DeLeon. However, none of those pitchers had as few walks (14) as Tanaka did in his first 13 games.
This was his fourth double-digit strikeout game of the season, joining Bob Feller and Herb Score as the only American League pitchers with four 10-strikeout games in their first 13 major-league outings.
It was also his third game with at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one walk. The only other pitcher in the last 100 years with three such games in their first 13 career appearances was Kerry Wood in 1998.
All he does is Win
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tanaka is the ninth pitcher since 1900 to record 10 wins in his first 13 career appearances, and the first to do that since the Dodgers’ Kaz Ishii in 2002. The only Yankees in the last 100 years to reach 10 wins in their first 13 MLB games were Bob Wickman and Tiny Bonham.
Tanaka is also the first Yankee since Andy Pettitte in 1996 to get 10 wins in the team’s first 64 games. Pettitte also got his 10th win that season on June 11 and would finish the year with a league-leading 21 wins.
How he Won
Tanaka’s outing was a microcosm of his ability to both get quick outs with groundballs and dominate hitters with swing-and-miss stuff.
In the first three innings, he pounded the zone with his fastball, throwing just 26 pitches while recording six of his nine outs on the ground. In the next six innings, he was less efficient (14 pitches per inning) but instead went to his offspeed pitches to generate strikeouts. He had only six more groundball outs over the next six innings but got nine of his 11 strikeouts after the third inning.
Overall, Tanaka set season-highs with 12 outs via groundballs and a 65 percent groundball rate, and also tied his season-high with 11 strikeouts.
After the game Tanaka said that he thought “a lot of [his] pitches were going right in the middle of the zone, so that would be one thing to fix”. He is correct in that he threw a season-high 49 percent of his pitches in the zone. But when he located the pitch just off the plate and got batters to chase, he was unhittable. The Mariners went 0-for-15 with eight strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch out of the zone.