What should the Yankees do with Tanaka?

As long as he is healthy, I vote start Tanaka over the weekend. Having him start on Saturday or Sunday will give him a chance to test his leg, but also give Yankees flexibility needed if they want to hold him off for the end of the season – if New York has managed to climb its back to the top spot in the AL East – or save him for the Wild Card Game. Continue reading What should the Yankees do with Tanaka?

Tanaka looks to rebound against the Red Sox

[caption id="attachment_73655" align="aligncenter" width="525"]Tanaka vs TOR 2015 Courtesy of the AP[/caption]

This early in the season, you want to find positives about the Yankees.

Yet this team has made it difficult with its blunders on defense, mistakes on the base paths and the poor hitting thus far. However, even after all that, one of the biggest topics that New York is going to face this year is the effectiveness of Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees signed Tanaka for $155 million for seven years. Last season, he suffered a partial tear of the UCL of his right elbow, and after his terrible first start of 2015 many have wondered why Tanaka didn’t just get Tommy John surgery since all the cool kids are doing it.

The Yankees have said that Tanaka is still working back and haven’t sounded the alarms just yet.

“This is not totally shocking,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild told reporters. “I think he’s still in the process of building arm strength and everything. His arm strength is not far off. It’s just locating it. It’s some small things. We went slow with him in Spring Training.”

Even though Sunday’s start against the Boston Red Sox will be just his second of this season, it will be telling. Tanaka’s velocity is down from last season, but he and Yankees manager have downplayed that angle. Tanaka told reporters after his last start that he plans to throw more off-speed pitches, so the numbers are going to show that his velocity is off.

However, those comments led Tanaka and Girardi to have a conversation this past week at just what Tanaka has planned, though neither would go into depth about their chat.

One thing that was noted was that Tanaka said he studied game film from his fateful home opener where he gave up four runs in four innings, and analyzed his mechanics. Tanaka tweaked them a bit, which should result in a better outcome.

As good as Toronto’s hitters are, the Boston Red Sox have a formidable lineup from top to bottom. They have veteran sluggers who can take the ball deep and fresh faces who don’t seem to show much fear regardless of who is pitching. The Red Sox will expose any flaws in Tanaka’s pitching.

The reality is we are all going to be watching Tanaka’s pitching tonight, analyzing every pitch, its speed, checking his facial expressions, seeing if he is wiggling his arm for signs of injury, and waiting on Pedro Martinez’s assessment. It doesn’t help that the game will be on ESPN, getting national attention for all to see if the Japanese hurler is back or if the collective baseball community is ready to send him back to Dr. James Andrews. Continue reading Tanaka looks to rebound against the Red Sox

Discussion: Six-man rotation?

Yesterday, we heard Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggest that the Yankees may use six starters for a particularly tough stretch–30 games in 31 days–in April and May. Bryan Hoch’s story later in the day included a clarifying quotation from Rothschild:

“It’s a result of some of the stuff that’s gone on over the last few years, not just here, but everywhere,” Rothschild said. “We’re aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches. Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren’t going to be able to throw a lot, we’re going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can.”

My gut reaction to a six-man rotation in the past has always been aversion, and probably for good reason. Six-man rotations give a possibly fringy starter starts and they take starts away from the top pitchers in the rotation. However, the 2015 Yankee rotation is making me rethink things.

As it currently stands, we’re looking at this for the rotation:

Masahiro Tanaka
CC Sabathia
Michael Pineda
Nathan Eovaldi
Chris Capuano

That is…not inspiring? If things break right, which is a rather big if, it could be a strong rotation, especially the top three. However, we all know that things usually don’t break right in baseball, especially when all three of those guys have health concerns (an elbow, a knee, and a shoulder, oh my!) and missed significant time in 2014. There’s also the distinct possibility that Capuano doesn’t work out the way we want him to. Those factors are somewhat tipping me in the direction of the six-man rotation, at least at the start of the year.

The six-man rotation may rob Tanaka and Sabathia and Pineda of some starts over the course of the season, but given their gigantic injury potential, it might be wise to give them extra days off. And given Capuano’s Chris Capuanoness, it might be worth it to give the sixth starter–Adam Warren? Bryan Mitchell? Esmil Rogers?–an audition period to take over for when the six-man rotation is no longer necessary. Granted, those names aren’t the most confidence-inducing, either, which is another potential issue with the six-man rotation.

We should also take into account the strong Yankee bullpen as a reason why they could survive with a five-man rotation, even through a tough stretch if need be. But the other side of that coin is the bullpen getting worn out. Perhaps a sixth starter could help give them rest ever few days.

This would all be a lot better if the Yankees had one absolute sure thing in the rotation, but such is life. It may take some tinkering to get it to work and a six-man rotation could help do that. It’s by no means a foolproof plan, but it’s a definite possibility.
Continue reading Discussion: Six-man rotation?

Concern Over Tanaka’s Workload?

Currently, Masahiro Tanaka is the only really exciting part about the New York Yankees. His starts are always must see events, and he is in definite contention to start the All-Star game. However, at this point it does not seem like he will do that since he is currently scheduled to pitch July 13th at Baltimore, which is the final game before the All-Star break. The Yankees probably aren’t very upset by this development since they have taken every precaution with Tanaka that they could so far. The Yankees have had a few chances recently to skip over Vidal Nuno Continue reading Concern Over Tanaka’s Workload?

Masahiro Tanaka’s Home Run Issue

Masahiro Tanaka has been everything that the Yankees could have dreamed of since coming over from Japan. He has been the unquestioned ace of the staff so far, and is currently the only reliable starting pitcher the Yankees have.

Even without his best stuff in his last two starts, Tanaka kept the Yankees in the game and allowed them to win it. He has made hitters look foolish once they have gotten to two strikes with his nasty splitter. Tanaka is 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 10.76 strikeouts per nine innings.

However, Tanaka has given up far too many home runs this season, which is something that could get him in trouble if he does not correct it. Tanaka has allowed seven home runs in his six starts this season and has an incredibly high 21.9 percent HR/FB ratio.

Since Tanaka has walked so few batters, the home runs have not hurt him too much. Six out of the seven home runs have been solo shots. Since he is around the plate so often this could be an explanation for all the homers.

The strange thing about the amount of home runs that Tanaka has given up is that he has been a heavy ground ball pitcher this season. He has a 49.5 percent ground ball percentage compared to a 29.9 percent fly ball rate. This means that bad luck could be in play here.

I looked at all of Tanaka’s home runs on Brooks Baseball. Five of the seven home runs that Tanaka has allowed on the season have been fastballs. The only breaking pitches were a splitter up and in to Melky Cabrera and a hanging slider up in the middle of the plate to Jonathan Schoop.

Six of the seven home runs I would categorize as bad locations. The only exception was a fastball that was in off the plate that Will Myers hit out of the park on Saturday.

Brooks Baseball categorized three pitches as four seam fastballs and two as sinkers out of the five fastballs Tanka has given up homers on. He left two fastballs up and in the middle to David Freese and Desmond Jennings. Also, Tanaka left a sinker up and away to Mike Napoli and one down and in right in David Ortiz’ wheelhouse.

So, Tanaka’s poor fastball location has seemed to be the reason for his home run troubles thus far. Fangraphs backs that up, as they have Tanaka’s fastball worth four runs below average so far this season. He has made up for that with his splitter being worth five runs above average and his slider 3.9 runs above average.

Tanaka’s fourseam fastball velocity has averaged 93.37 MPH this season. That velocity combined with the deception of his splitter and slider gives him an incredible repertoire. You would think that he would get away with more fastball mistakes, but that has not been the case. Tanaka’s fourseam fastball is very straight, which could be another reason for the problem.

The Yankees will need to continue to rely on Tanaka until Michael Pineda returns and the offense starts hitting. The only two games the Yankees have won out of their last seven have been the two that Tanaka has started. It truly has been Tanaka and pray for rain.

Since this is still a small sample size –and Tanaka has a good ground ball rate– this could be a fluke. Either way, it is something the should be watched for with Tanaka over the rest of the season.

Continue reading Masahiro Tanaka’s Home Run Issue

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge: On the Idea of Masahiro Tanaka

“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all…”
Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.”

Here we see narrator Nick Carraway and title character Jay Gatsby crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. In the pages prior, Gatsby “cleared up” some misconceptions and rumors about himself and Nick comes away with an idea of Gatsby. The idea, not the man, is the possibility Nick speaks of.

Now that we’ve crossed the bridge of his acquisition, it’s clear that anything is possible when it comes to Masahiro Tanaka.

The idea of Tanaka is invariably familiar to us as Yankee fans. He is the big-ticket “free agent” that has been long coveted by the Bronx faithful. Like countless others before him, we’ve wanted him. Badly. For the last year, his name had hung over the baseball season, spoken in a “low, thrilling voice” that had us counting down the days until he was posted and had us axiously passing time, waiting for hi to sign. In that time, the idea of Tanaka went from want to need. Of course, this isn’t unique to Tanaka. Both Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury–and even Kelly Johnson–were needed to fill certain holes. Like the post-2008 Hot Stove season, circumstances conspired for the Yankees to get what they wanted and what they needed. And of all the wants and needs, Tanaka stands as the biggest question. The idea of Tanaka is the biggest one…the boldest one…the most shapeless one…the one with the most promise for success and failure.

And until he pitches in real games for the Yankees, Tanaka remains an idea. He can be anything we want him to be. We can contour him into an expectation, a predicted and even practiced reality that can’t be proven wrong until after the fact. He can be the mold-breaking, transcendent, all-powerful ace. He can be the next great bust from Japan. Either one of these results could occur “without any particular wonder.”

In this metaphor, Masahiro Tanaka is not the man Jay Gatsby, but the idea thereof. We are the partygoers who assign various characteristics and histories to Gatsby. We can speculate; we can gossip; we can predict; we can accept his “hospitality” when he dominates on the mound. But in a way, we are also Gatsby, grabbing for the green light that will almost undoubtedly fall short of our wild expectations through no fault of its own. We must let go of our idea of Masahiro Tanaka and accept the pitcher; we must accept that our count of enchanted objects has decreased by one. Continue reading Crossing the Queensboro Bridge: On the Idea of Masahiro Tanaka