The Ace of Aces

Tanaka & Gardner lead Yankees to 3-1 win over Blue Jays in series opener
Yankees sign 4th rounder Jordan Montgomery, 6th rounder Jonathan Holder
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

“Overall, I think my stuff wasn’t really there tonight.”

That’s what Masahiro Tanaka told Brian Heyman following last night’s start. A start in which he held the most powerful offense in the league to one run in six innings while striking out ten in the Yankees’ biggest game of the season to date. His stuff “wasn’t really there.”

That’s not the first time Tanaka has been hard on himself following an excellent start — he called the beginning of his first MLB season “okay” a few weeks ago — and it won’t be the last. That’s just who he is. We heard all about Tanaka’s off the charts competitiveness when the Yankees signed him and we’ve seen it firsthand for 14 starts now.

And my gosh, what a collection of 14 starts they’ve been. Tanaka leads the league with a 1.99 ERA and his 2.70 FIP is the sixth best. His 7.06 K/BB ratio would be the fourth best in AL history among qualified starters. Two of the three spots ahead of him are 1999 and 2000 Pedro Martinez, arguably the two greatest pitching seasons in the history of the universe. His 24.5 K-BB% would be the 17th best in history.

By any measure, Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. Not one of the best rookie pitchers. Not one of the best AL pitchers. Not one of the best Japanese-born pitchers. One of the best pitchers in all of baseball, period. No qualifiers. When friend of RAB Drew Fairservice ranked the best starters in the league recently, he ranked Tanaka first, ahead of the usual suspects. That’s coming from a Blue Jays fan.

The performance has unquestionably put Tanaka among the game’s elite. It’s everything else that puts him over the top. The fact that he’s doing it in a tiny home ballpark. That’s he’s doing it while pitching on a five-day schedule for the first time in his life. That he’s doing it while transitioning to a new league with a tougher travel schedule. And, most impressively, that he’s doing it in a new city with an entirely new culture. Oh, and he has all the pressure of pitching for the New York frickin’ Yankees on his shoulders.

The Yankees paid a handsome price for Tanaka and the contract was heavily criticized because he had never thrown a pitch in MLB. How many times did we hear that? “He’s never thrown a pitch in MLB!” More times than I care to count. Well, now Tanaka has thrown a pitch in MLB. Over 1,400 of them in fact. And at this point he is exceeding even the biggest expectations and hitting on best case scenario stuff. I don’t know how anyone could have possibly predicted he would be this good, this soon.

Tanaka has emerged as not only the team’s ace, but as a rock in the rotation, a stabilizing force that sets everything right every fifth. He has been one of the best pitchers in the game in terms of pure performance, and when you add in all the cultural adjustments he’s had to make, no pitcher has been more impressive. It would have been totally understandable if Tanaka had an inconsistent, up and down rookie year. Most Japanese imports do. He hasn’t though. Instead it looks like he’s been here for years.

The Yankees did years and years worth of homework and they landed themselves a gem in Tanaka. He’s already an elite pitcher and at only 25 years old (!!!), he is a true franchise player the team can build around going forward. Tanaka is their present day ace and will be the cornerstone of the post-Derek Jeter Yankees.

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Tanaka & Gardner lead Yankees to 3-1 win over Blue Jays in series opener
Yankees sign 4th rounder Jordan Montgomery, 6th rounder Jonathan Holder
  • Frankie Cerveddardi

    This is exactly the type of attitude our ballplayers should have. Remember when Nova would get blasted and he’d say after the game I had good stuff. Nothing is ever good enough for Tanaka.

    He will be the AL ASG starter, the MVP, the Cy Young and the ROY. These are the types of ballplayers you give 7-8 year deals to, not 30+ year olds past their primes.

    • Looser trader droids FotD™

      IPK was the king of this in his time here. “I didn’t pitch all that badly” after getting more or less shelled. Uses to drive me freakin nuts.

      Plus I hate agreeing with you. About anything. Always makes me feel the need to shower.

      • The Great Gonzo

        I remember the one game in particular against the Angels where he gave up something like 8 XBH in less than 4IP. And he said that shit. I hated IPK. Admit that you sucked and do better next time.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I don’t mind that talk from a veteran, but he was a kid in fucking diapers when he was here. He needed a bit of media training there and/or Arizona, where it probably didn’t matter what the hell he said because everyone’s nuts there anyway.

      • Darren

        I wasn’t the biggest Ian Kennedy fan but I always chalked that up to a player that probably took his sports therapy sessions about staying positive no matter what to a bad extreme. Remember Nova said he was the best pitcher in the league?

        I don’t really give a shit if players are fake humble as long as they don’t blame their teammates.

        • qwerty

          Nova said that? Link?

        • vicki

          red beard saw bull durham.

          “these big league hitters are gonna light you up like a pinball machine for awhile — don’t worry about it. be cocky and arrogant even when you’re getting beat. that’s the secret.

          you gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.”

    • JLC 776

      Right on! This team was great when it was filled with ultra-competitive personalities that could never play to their own heightened expectations. Talent is great, but talent without drive is why a lot of teams that just throw a bunch of high-priced stars together fail.

      Anyway, Tanaka is such a breath of fresh air for both his incredible skill and his ferocious competitiveness.

  • Kosmo

    “Ace of Aces“ has a biblical sound to it. Almost worshipful.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    the king of kings.

  • old school munson fan

    High praise and I love the hyperbole. You forgot to mention if he’s reached “True Yankee”status yet?

  • Zanath
  • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

    So I thought Tanaka was going to be great buut I didn’t think he would be the best. Most impressive!

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    He reminds me so much of vintage CC so often in his ability to shut the door down after a period of adversity, as well as in his drive to always do better. He, thus far, has been absolutely the definition of the word “ace.”

    This is also why I never share in the bashing of CC on here. He may be a fallen ace right now, but a fallen ace was a true ace once. Prime CC was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

    • waneditor

      +1

    • JLC 776

      I agree – I think CC is still a competitor who can reinvent himself if he stays healthy. Injury is the true issue with that guy right now, not drive (as so many people want to think).

      • Bo Knows

        Only Idiots,and Banwagon “fans” think CC suddenly has no drive (and if you are one of those people who do, I am specifically talking to you)

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Someone stole CC’s car?!?!?!

          Oh…

          Obviously, when someone can’t just will themselves to success and don’t commit harikari in front of Meredith during the post-game, they’ve lost their drive. After all, you and I are just capable of thinking ourselves better.

          • Taco’s Eskimo Brother

            Nuno would’ve committed seppuku long ago if that were the case. Would have made great television though.

    • Chip Rodriguez

      Prime CC wasn’t all that long ago. I was just watching highlights of the last game of the 2012 ALDS, where he basically carried the team on his back to the ALCS. Yeah, Ibanez won game 3 with his bat – but man, CC was amazing then.

      I still hope he can turn into Moose II.

      • JLC 776

        CC on the mound in Game 5 was freaking great. Amazing effort.

        • Chip Rodriguez

          Game 5 was so damn good that his performance in Game 1 is very easy to forget. 8.2 innings for 2 ER in one inning, and keeping them in the game until the offense finally chose to show up late.

          • JLC 776

            Yeah – that’s right! I remember being so confident after that game thinking that our offense (which had been on a tear to close-out the season) would steamroll through the ALDS and hopefully beyond.

            Oh well…

      • JGYank

        Yep. Hasn’t been the same since the 2012 ALCS, although the velocity drop only became noticeable in 2013.

        He fell really quickly. From ace to struggling. No gradual decline or anything. Hopefully he can reinvent himself soon.

        • Steinbrenner’s Ghost

          I think that’s part of it. Had CC gradually began losing velocity and breaking down maybe he could have adjusted along the way. As it stands, he went from ace to one of the worst MLB starters practically over night. It’s a lot easier to save a sinking ship when there isn’t a gaping hole in it.

    • JGYank

      Amen to that.

      http://m.mlb.com/video/?conten.....8;c_id=mlb
      (SFW)

      How was this 3 years ago?

      • Can0fer29

        Once upon a time CC Sabathia threw a 98 mph fastball to record the last out of a complete game shutout.

        Nowadays we’re lucky to see an 89 mph fastball on the first pitch of the game from him.

    • nycsportzfan

      Last night he reminded me of Pedro. Did he use his changeup more then any start last night?

      • vicki

        he threw six changeups. that’s about his average usage.

        • vicki

          my mistake, weird synapse. he threw six curveballs, about his average. brooks doesn’t have him throwing any changeups last night, and only two ever.

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

    Right now he has to be the runway AL CY Young awards winner and ROY even with the Yankee bias no?

    • hogsmog

      Hold up there with ‘runaway’. At least Felix, Darvish, and Buehrle are right there with him.

      • CountryClub

        At this point, they’re a step behind. If the season ended today, he’d be the winner. But obviously there’s more than half the season to go.

        • JLC 776

          I’m sure that natural anti-Yankee bias would manifest itself somehow. “The AL East is very weak this year, so Tanaka is void.”

    • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

      Depends on the voters. Tanaka has the sparkly era and the wins. Felix leading him in FiP, Innings, and WAR(by quite a bit)

      • Bo Knows

        Felix is ahead in innings because he has 1 more starts than Tanaka, which is also why his War is so much higher, his FIP is better due to the Homer rate.

      • Old Man Time

        Unless you use bWAR, then Tanaka is ahead of Felix by quite a bit.

        • vicki

          always use bwar (and bref generally) for pitchers.

    • Dan

      Tough to say with ROY: two things could go against him. Abreu hitting 45+ HRs and guys who won’t vote for him (or Abreu) because of their experience, especially when there are worthy guys who are truly new to baseball.

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

    Tanaka has to be the runaway AL CY Young & ROY winner right now even with the Yankee bias writers have, no?

    • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

      I agree. Also I think Tanaka will be a serious MVP candidate if the yankees make the playoffs.

      • RetroRob

        He is holding the Yankees in the race and is one of the top players in the league, so he is a legit MVP candidate.

        The anniversary yesterday of Guidry’s 18 K game in 1978 reminds me that he should have won the MVP over Jim Rice, who also had a fine year. It seems enough of the voters, however, decided that all things being equal that the MVP should go to the position player since pitchers have their own award with the Cy Young. Guidry went 13-0 the first half when the team was in shambles. He gave them the chance for the great comeback. He pitched just as well the second half, including tossing back-to-back, two-hit shutouts against the Red Sox in September, one at Fenway the other at the Stadium. He capped it off as the winning pitcher in game 163 on short rest at Fenway. He wasn’t at his best but he still got the job done. His rWAR was two wins better than Rice.

        Tanaka right now is building the best season by a Yankee starter since Guidry’s 1978 season. Let’s hope he keeps it up. If he does, it will be hard not to vote him MVP.

        • Tom Q

          Re: Guidry/Rice — It might be noted that a similar group of voters made exactly the opposite decision 8 years later, choosing Clemens by a wide margin over Mattingly’s great season. It may be that modern numbers would declare Clemens the best, but voters then weren’t working with modern numbers; they were using the same criteria as they had in ’78, but somehow this time chose the pitcher. It may be that Mattingly having won MVP just a year earlier swayed the vote, but it seemed more than coincidental that in each case the RedSox player beat out the Yankee.

  • notsosmart

    I was going to write something clever about RAB fellating Tanaka, but I honestly could not find any decent holes in his performance to stick my hyperbolic prose through. Yours was already there.

    And anyway, I agree.

    • waneditor

      disgusting premise, hyperbolically speaking

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I often refer to my penis as “hyperbolic prose.”

  • Pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    Tanaka and Nuno on same staff. Is that the biggest “starting pitcher differential” on one team? Maybe a new stat for the sabermetricians….

    • The Great Gonzo

      I don’t know… Felix Hernandez/Hector Noesi has some range too.

  • JLC 776

    “And at this point he is exceeding even the biggest expectations and hitting on best case scenario stuff.”

    I don’t know what your best case scenario was, but he’s far exceeding any reasonable best case that I could think of!

    I really, really, really hope I get to see this guy pitch in the post season. C’mon, offense – get it together! Give Tanaka a chance to pitch in the one-game wild-card playoff! Or just take the freaking division, I don’t care. Do it!

  • Looser trader droids FotD™

    So…. Cashman failed?

    • I’m One

      Of course. The guy’s 11-1. How come he’s not 14-0? Cashman’s fault.

  • Wayne

    What if tanaka gets hurt ?
    That is 155 million down the drain!!
    Oh well!!!!!!!

    • pat

      Don’t worry. Ian Clarkin is waiting in the wings.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      What if Wayne gets hurt?
      That is one commenter down the drain!
      Oh well!!!!! Everyone wins!!!

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        wayne’s already hurt.

      • http://thewebsitemarketingagency.com Geno

        This is hilarious.

    • Old Man Time

      Wayne!!!!!!

  • pounder

    “Tanaka is their present day ace and will be the cornerstone of the post-Derek Jeter Yankees.”

    If he stays.

    • mt

      And if he goes, we hopefully will have gotten the best of his prime years. I am less concerned about the opt-out scenarios where players do well and leave to get a bigger, longer contract as long as the Yanks are disciplined – Tanaka leaving would be tough to handle and a blow to the team but then, if you cannot re-sign him reasonably, you also have a huge salary that opens up for a (younger) alternative or alternatives and you avoid paying for some of the star player’s decline years (if Tanaka signs an unreasonable new seven year contract if he opts out, 28-31 years might be OK but not so happy with an expensive 32-34 years old.

      It is much better than the alternative – highly paid player with an opt-out clause is mediocre in performance or hurt all the time and declines his opt-out and stays as a mediocre player making beaucoup bucks.

      Yanks should never have signed Arod to a 10 year contract after his opt-out (yes, I know we won 2009 World Series but hopefully his more reasonably priced replacement(s) could have helped us win that one WS or another one).

      I was in favor of signing CC but given his weight, work load and his knees (at that point) would have required at least some accommodation for massive amounts of time missed for non-shoulder injuries. My fear is CC will miss lots of times with his “degenerative knees” or his elbow yet we will still totally be on the hook for all the cash since the injury out clause specifies “shoulder”. And players do take into account accommodating for injury risk – Red Sox contract with Lackey and the fact Napoli renegotiated once Red Sox brought up his hip risk in his original contract.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      That’s five years from now.

      We should just write a draft of an RAB comment in 2020 of how they should have left him opt out, Eppler Failed, etc., now.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Why do I get the feeling you were near the front of the “WHY SO MUCH YEARZ AND MONEYS!” bandwagon with your pitchfork…

  • Sean C

    My coworker messaged me this morning with “Tanaka’s a beast, huh.” and I replied with “He has blown away even my greediest expectations.”

    We have legitimately run out of ways to describe his pitching performance so far. The man has been worth every penny, and then some. I wouldn’t even be that upset if he came back down to Earth a little bit, but given the way he has performed, I do not expect that to happen. Even when he has an “off” night, he’s still pretty damn good.

    • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

      I agree with you, I was going to be thrilled with Darvish numbers but this? Much wow. I love Naka Night!

  • http://www.twitter.com/thewallbreakers Scully

    He might win the Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Pitching Triple Crown all in his first year.

  • FA

    What if tanaka gets hurt ? That is 155 million down the drain!!
    Glass half empty guy, huh?

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Hardly. That’s more like glass 99% empty right there.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Wayne’s World.

    • TWTR

      What if the Earth stops rotating around the sun? It could be a problem, right?

      • Darren

        The sun rotates around the Earth you dummy!

    • JGYank

      We should still put him in bubble wrap, just to be safe.

  • FA

    Enough awards talk. Let’s be mindful of hockey’s “don’t touch the cup.”
    “Don’t count the money while you’re sitting at the table.”
    -Kenny from Houston

    • Deep Thoughts

      Screw you for sucking in the playoffs for us, but shutting us out in Game 3 vs. Detroit in 2006.

  • TWTR

    Having a financial advantage matters a lot. Hal needs to understand the right way to use it. He did with Tanaka, but not with Darvish and a few others. I hope he has learned.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Meh. Happier this way, if I’m honest. Darvish is really good, but Tanaka has been brilliant.

      • TWTR

        Meh? They should have both.

        • The Great Gonzo

          Yeah. Sure. Yankees fans aren’t greedy.

          Tanaka has the potential to be the best goddam pitcher we’ve seen in Pinstripes in generations, but we should have Darvish too.

          This is why every other baseball fan base fucking despises us.

          • TWTR

            I really don’t care what other fans think because they will despise us anyway.

            Sure, it would be great to do all this cheaply, in-house, but since that hasn’t happened, it makes sense to exploit their strengths.

            Look at it another way. They just spent a boatload of money on Beltran, McCann, and Ellsbury.

            So they are going to spend and spend big. The point is to do it more wisely. Should we seek to appease other fan bases by spending stupidly? Of course not.

            Tanaka was an example of smart spending. Darvish would have been too.

            • The Great Gonzo

              Hindsight is 20/20. Both players were a risk. Imagine going 0-2 on those two contracts. If you had one shot, Tanaka so far has lived up to the right choice.

              • RetroRob

                Agreed. Saying something is smart spending after seeing how the players produce is 20/20 hindsight.

            • Mandy Stankiewicz

              Yea man, hindsight, Just a few months ago fans here thoughts passing on Tanaka and spending on Jimenez and Garza was the way to spend wisely:
              http://riveraveblues.com/2014/...../#comments

              And if McCann or Beltran goes on a tear, we’ll be celebrating those signings, too.

              • RetroRob

                The offense has received a triple hit this year. Soriano’s rapid decline, Beltran’s injury and McCann’s whatever. That’s three big bats not producing.

                The team has to hope that Soriano is just going through one of his infamous slumps, although longer. Beltran gets healthy enough and McCann’s snaps out of it. Even two of three. That would go a long way toward fixing things.

            • qwerty

              Tanaka was the result of desperate spending, not smart. You don’t invest 25 million dollars a year on a prospect, and then give him an out after 4 years which increases your investment to 28 million a year. That kind of spending on an unknown quantity reeks of stupidity.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          http://www.theonion.com/articl.....-playe,32/

          Sorry. It’d been a while since I’d linked to that. :)

          • TWTR

            Nice. Life should sometimes imitate art.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              You’d never seen that before?!?!

  • mt

    Next two games without Tanaka pitching should be very ineteresting:

    1) Can Whitley and Phelps hold down Toronto’s offense?

    2) If they do, can we score enough runs to win?

    At some point Yanks will be burned by scoring so few runs in YS3 with limited home run or even doubles power ( going against the Blue Jays and O’s (I am not counting on BG as an ongoing power source although he has had an impressive last few games in YS3) – MCann, Beltran, Soriano, and even Teixeira have to pick it up (or somebody unexpected like Johnson or Solarte have to go on a little tear.)

    • TWTR

      The offense is a huge problem. Some people keep saying they should get another starter, but if they are only going to make one big move, I think that’s a big mistake.

      To think that Soriano, Beltran, and McCann will necessarily be big contributors is unsupportable by the facts, especially with the first two, given their age and/or injury issues.

      Their inability to consistently score runs affects how every starter approaches the game, knowing that one mistake could cost them a win.

      In fact, I think Tanaka would be even better if he knew that he could rely on consistent run support.

  • itsallhowuseeit

    This and actually Tanaka period has been a non story all year on ESPN. Last night it wasn’t even in the top 3 stories and no where to be found on ESPN.com today. Dude has been unreal and deserves the shine

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      He was absolutely on the rolling sidebar thing on Sportscenter this morning.

    • RetroRob

      At least on ESPN.com last night (MLB portion), he was the main rotating feature story, which linked to several other stories about him and his performance.

  • Darren

    Whitley and Tanaka, the rest are pure kaka.

  • Charlie

    A little overboard on all the Tanaka hype. Has he been perhaps the best pitcher in baseball thus far? Definitely. Has he completed a single full season in the major leagues yet? No. How many times do we need to be shown that pitching is fragile before we stop with the overhype?

    • hogsmog

      Nobody’s saying he’s a hall of famer, they’re saying he’s the best pitcher in baseball thusfar. It’s not overhype if it’s just marvelling at what’s happened so far over a sample size that’s getting too big to ignore.

  • Kenny

    The fact that he’s doing it in a tiny home ballpark.

    Exactly so. However, this damned “tiny … ballpark” is a serious nuisance, not to mention embarrassment.