An Attempt at Pragmatism with Tanaka

In case you missed it, Masahiro Tanaka was not very good on Monday, on the heels of deciding that rest and rehabilitation was the best course of action for his torn UCL. It was kind of a big deal last Summer, and has remained a big deal through today ... and will quite probably remain a big deal until he is given a clean bill of health (regardless of whether it stems from surgery). And if you listened closely during Monday's broadcast, you could hear Tommy John being whispered on the wind. Repetition and facetiousness aside, I do understand the concern. Tanaka is the team's best pitcher by a significant margin, and he was arguably the best pitcher in the American League prior to his injury last season. The Yankees grandest dreams rest heavily on his elbow. And for this, I am on the verge of advocating surgery.

Now, I do not suggest surgery lightly. The Yankees doctors are far more qualified to make that decision than anyone that is currently writing about Tanaka, and this can accurately be described as a fool's errand. Though, to be fair, this is not a knee-jerk reaction his poor performance yesterday; rather, it stems from his change in approach.

As elucidated by Mike Axisa, Tanaka has all but disavowed his fastball after returning from the disabled list last year. He has completely changed his overall approach, with respect to pitch selection and sequencing, and this, despite the fact that he hasn't lost velocity (at least not to an appreciable degree). His fastball has also far more hittable over that time, with reduced movement on both the four and two-seam incarnations.

And even if Tanaka manages to be effective without his fastball, the long-term ramifications of abandoning the pitch could be disastrous. While we still know precious little about pitching injuries, most everyone seems to agree that more breaking stuff means more injuries - and Tanaka threw just shy of 70% breaking balls yesterday (most of which were splitters and sliders, both of which are often accused of shredding elbows). Even if this current injury is not guaranteed to lead to Tommy John Surgery, this shift in approach could either compound it, or result in an entirely different malady.

Again, this is all conjecture. It is simply difficult to foresee a great deal of improvement when we are several months removed from Tanaka receiving a "positive" diagnosis for his injury, and he is still hesitant (or unable) to be the pitcher that we came to love last Spring.

And if surgery is even close to an inevitably, is this season worth jeopardizing 2016 (and beyond)?