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. Let's check the numbers:

  • 1st in fWAR
  • 3rd in BB/9
  • 3rd in FIP
  • 3rd in K/BB
  • 6th in ERA
  • 7th in IP
  • 8th in bWAR
  • 8th in ERA+
  • 8th in WARP
  • 11th in GB%
  • 22nd in K/9

By FanGraphs' reckoning, Tanaka is the best starter in the AL. Granted, using fWAR in-season at such a granular level is imprecise at best - but it demonstrates just how good he has been in 2016. And despite missing six weeks in 2015, Tanaka is 19th among all pitchers in fWAR since the beginning of last year. Simply put, this is who he is.

We have discussed whether or not the Yankees should consider dealing Tanaka a few times this season, with E.J. Fagan being the most ardent supporter of the idea. And it makes sense, given that Tanaka may opt-out of his exceedingly reasonable contract at the end of next season. But holding onto him is representative of both keeping with the youth movement and going for it - and, with Tanaka standing at the forefront, maybe going for it isn't too much of a stretch.