Archive for Masahiro Tanaka

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple, straightforward, and totally subjective grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. We’ve already covered the catchers, infielders, and outfielders, so now let’s move on to the rotation.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Masahiro Tanaka — Grade A

I didn’t think it would be possible for Tanaka to meet, nevermind exceed expectations after the Yankees invested $175M in the 25-year-old right-hander this winter. A contract (and release fee) like that comes with ace-sized expectations and given everything he had to adjust to — five-day pitching schedule, new hitters, tougher parks, new culture, etc. — I didn’t think there was any chance he would pitch that well right away. I didn’t think he’d be bad, he’d be really good but there would be an adjustment period, right? How could there not be?

Well, there wasn’t. Tanaka showed up to Spring Training on the first day and looked like he had been wearing pinstripes for years. The transition was seamless, or at least he made it appear that way. He was all business from day one, embracing the five-day schedule and the new workout routines (remember all the running early in camp?). Tanaka was the position player of Hideki Matsui. The guy who fit in so well, so soon that it was like he was born to wear pinstripes.

Tanaka lived up to the hype on the field, of course. That’s most important. He has thrown 129.1 innings in 18 starts, and among the 45 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Tanaka ranks third with a 2.51 ERA, third with 4.1 bWAR,, fourth with a 3.7% walk rate, fourth with a 7.1 K/BB ratio, fifth with a 26.6% strikeout rate, sixth with 3.2 fWAR, tenth with a 3.07 FIP, and 20th with a 45.9% ground ball rate. The only negative in his game is the long ball; he’ll give up some dingers (1.04 HR/9 and 14.4 HR/FB%). It’s a minor nuisance. Other than that though, Tanaka was one of the five best starting pitchers in the league in the first half.

Unfortunately, Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament in what was scheduled to be his second to last start before the All-Star break. Three doctors recommended he rehab the injury rather than undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, so Tanaka received a platelet-rich plasma injection earlier this week and is currently resting before starting a throwing program. The expectation is that he will be able to return to the rotation later in the year, but surgery will remain a possibility if the rehab is less than perfect. It sucks but it is what it is. Tanaka managed to exceed expectations before the injury. What a stud.

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

CC Sabathia — Grade F

I was optimistic about Sabathia’s chances of rebounding this year, though I didn’t have much to base that on other than blind faith and Sabathia’s track record. I’m not even talking about getting back to being an ace. Just being a solid mid-rotation workhorse would have been plenty good enough for me. Instead, Sabathia gave the team a 5.28 ERA (4.79 FIP) in eight starts and 46 innings before going down with a degenerative knee condition. A stem cell procedure apparently did not work and now he’s facing the possibility of microfracture surgery, which could be career-threatening.

Rather than shake off the career worst 2013 season, Sabathia got worse and added in a serious injury this year. Not good. I mean, if you really want to squint your eyes and find a silver lining, know that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%) and walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) rates were outstanding. That … really doesn’t make me feel much better at all. Maybe an incomplete would be a more appropriate grade given the injury (which might have led to the poor performance), but eight starts is one-fourth of the season. That’s not insignificant.

Anyway, Sabathia’s knee injury is very serious and remember, he’s only 33. We’re not talking about some guy approaching 40 here. Sabathia is still relatively young and an ultra-competitive type who leaves everything on the field — remember when he started four games in 12 days for the Brewers on the eve of his free agency? You’re kidding yourself if you think he’s just going to walk away from the game because of the knee injury — and now there’s a chance he may never pitch again. Like, for real.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Hiroki Kuroda — Grade C

There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Kuroda coming into the season, specifically his age (39) and brutal finish to the 2013 season. The Yankees re-signed him though, and while he has not pitched as well as he did the last two years, Kuroda has given the team innings every fifth day and is the only Opening Day rotation member not to come down with an injury. His 4.10 ERA (3.91 FIP) can be split up into a 4.62 ERA (3.75 FIP) in his first eight starts and 48.2 innings and a 3.72 ERA (4.02 FIP) in his last eleven starts and 67.2 innings, if you choose.

With Tanaka and everyone else going down with injuries — for weeks too, these aren’t 15 days on the disabled list and you’re good to go type of injuries — the Yankees need Kuroda to remain that reliable innings eater in the second half. Actually, they need him to be better than that, which is a problem because of his late-season fades. The Yankees absolutely can not afford that this year, not if they want to contend. Kuroda is currently the staff ace by default and the team needs him to reverse his recent trends and be better in the second half than he was in the first.

Big Mike

Michael Pineda — Grade D

It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? Two years after the trade that brought him to New York, Pineda was finally healthy enough to help the Yankees, and he started the year by pitching to a 1.83 ERA (2.73 FIP) in four starts and 19.2 innings. He was an ace! An ace on a very strict pitch count (no more than 94 pitches or six full innings in his four starts), but an ace nonetheless. The Yankees were finally getting some kind of return on the trade and it was glorious.

Then it all came to a crashing halt in Fenway Park in late-April. Two starts after the internet caught him with a glob of pine tar on his hand, Pineda was caught with an even bigger glob of pine tar on his neck. Red Sox manager John Farrell did not let it slide this time. He alerted the umpires and Pineda was ejected and eventually suspended ten games. While serving the suspension, he suffered a back/shoulder muscle injury and has been sidelined since. He just started throwing off a mound last week (after the #obligatorysetback). Given his recent history, there’s no possible way the Yankees could count on Pineda to return to help the rotation in the second half. If he does come back, it’s a bonus. But man, those 19.2 innings were pretty awesome, weren’t they?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)

(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Ivan Nova — incomplete

I went back and forth between giving Nova an F or an incomplete. He did make four starts this year, after all. Four terrible starts, with 40 base-runners and an 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) in 20.2 innings. But he also blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in late-April. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming the elbow contributed to his poor performance and that he was never really healthy this year. I don’t know, an F just seems too harsh for a guy that barely pitched before his elbow ligament snapped. Maybe I’m being too kind.

The Yankees lost Nova for the season and that’s a pretty significant blow. Not just for this year either, the timing of the injury means he will start next season on the disabled list and the team won’t really know what to expect from him. This is an injury that impacts two seasons, not only one. This was supposed to be the year for Nova to build on his strong second half of 2013 and stop the up and down nonsense, establishing himself as a no-doubt big league starter. That won’t happen.

David Phelps — Grade B

Once the injuries started to strike, Phelps worked his way into the rotation and has remained there ever since. He’s pitched to a 3.94 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 89 total innings, including a 3.96 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 13 starts and 77.1 innings since moving into the rotation. The Yankees have also been able to count on Phelps for innings — he’s thrown at least five full innings in all 13 starts (even before he was fully stretched out) and at least six full innings eight times in his last ten starts. That’s been much-needed.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

There were some questions about Phelps and his ultimate role coming into the season — remember, he missed most of the second half last season with a pair of forearm strains — but things worked themselves out and he’s become one of the team’s three most reliable pitchers in the wake of the injuries. He’s been a godsend. You can’t ask anything more of a sixth starter. Now the Yankees need Phelps to keep it up in the second half. He’s in the rotation for good.

Chase Whitley — Grade C

It was definitely a tale of two first halves for Whitley. He came up following all the injuries and was outstanding in his first seven starts, posting a 2.56 ERA (2.75 FIP) in 28.2 innings. Considering he was a full-time reliever as recently as last July and the rotation was in total disarray, getting that kind of production out of Whitley was a minor miracle. The Yankees needed it desperately.

Then everything came crashing to a halt one night in Toronto last month, when the Blue Jays punished Whitley for eight runs in 3.1 innings. It wasn’t just a bump in the road either. He has a 9.43 ERA (6.14 FIP) in 21 innings since. (That includes two scoreless innings in relief.) After allowing eleven runs on 44 base-runners (one homer) in his first seven starts, Whitley has allowed 20 runs on 40 base-runners (five homers) in his last four starts. Those first seven starts were so good that I’m not going to go any lower than a C, especially since we’re talking about a guy who had never started regularly until this year. All things considered, Whitley’s been a plus even if he’ll only be a reliever going forward. He helped much more than I thought he would as a starter.

Vidal Nuno — Grade D

Nuno was actually the first guy to be pulled out of the bullpen and stuck in the rotation, but that had more to do with timing than anything. He was the only one rested and able to make a spot start because of a doubleheader in April, and he lined up perfectly to replace Nova after he blew out his elbow. That’s all. Nuno had a 5.42 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 78 total innings for the Yankees, including a 4.89 ERA (4.86 FIP) in 14 starts and 73.2 innings before being traded away two weeks ago. There were some good starts mixed in there and more than a few duds as well.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

Brandon McCarthy and Shane Greene — incomplete

These two both joined the rotation last week. I mean literally. Greene made his first career start last Monday and McCarthy made his first start in pinstripes on Wednesday. Throw in Greene’s second start last Saturday and they’ve combined to allow six run (three earned) in 20.1 innings. They also have a combined 57.1% ground ball rate, which is pretty awesome even if it is a super small sample. Greene’s mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider make me think he has more rotation staying power than either Nuno or Whitley, but, either way, we’ll see plenty more of these two in the second half.

* * *

Any time a team loses four of its five Opening Day rotation members, including three within the first six weeks of the season, they’re going to be scrambling for pitching. No team has enough depth to go nine starters deep. The Yankees have been able to tread water thanks to Phelps and some timely outings from Whitley and Nuno, who have since been replaced by McCarthy and Greene. The team clearly needs another starter in the wake of Tanaka’s injury and, frankly, they could have used another starter before that. This is a patchwork staff held together by Kuroda, Phelps, and McCarthy at the moment, and there’s no telling how much longer the duct tape will hold.

Categories : Players
Comments (60)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees are off both today and tomorrow before resuming the regular season on Friday, at home against the Reds. Here are some injury updates in the meantime, courtesy of George King and Ken Davidoff:

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) received his platelet-rich plasma injection on Monday as scheduled. Brian Cashman said the plan now calls for the team’s ace to rest before beginning a throwing program. There is no set date for Tanaka to resume working out and throwing.
  • CC Sabathia (knee) is scheduled to see Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Friday. He has already been examined by Dr. James Andrews, Yankees team doctor Christopher Ahmad, and Rangers team doctor Keith Meister. Microfracture surgery is a possibility but not guaranteed.
  • Michael Pineda (shoulder) continues to throw bullpen sessions and Cashman said the team hopes to get him back “sometime in August.” “He has gone from throwing on flat ground to bullpens. That leads to batting practice and rehab games,” added the GM.
  • Carlos Beltran (concussion) should be ready to be activated off the 7-day concussion disabled list when the second half opens on Friday. “That’s our hope,” said Cashman. The team has already sent down Bryan Mitchell to open a roster spot.
Categories : Injuries
Comments (33)

Yesterday we learned Masahiro Tanaka would be sidelined for at least several weeks due to partially torn ligament in his elbow. He is going to attempt to rehab the injury on the recommendation of three doctors rather than undergo Tommy John surgery. On Friday, Tanaka issued a statement apologizing for the injury:

“As recently announced from the team, I will be going through some treatment and rehab on my injured elbow over the next several weeks. I give everything I have every time I take the ball. With that, I also know that there will always be a risk of injury when playing this game that I love. Right now I feel that the most important thing for me is to keep my head up, remain focused on the task at hand and devote all my energy into healing the injury in order to come back strong.

“I want to apologize to the Yankees organization, my teammates and our fans for not being able to help during this time. I accept this injury as a challenge, but I promise to do everything I can to overcome this setback and return to the mound as soon as possible.”

Shades of Hideki Matsui apologizing for his broken wrist back in 2006.

Categories : Injuries
Comments (45)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

After traveling from Cleveland to New York to Seattle within the last 48 hours, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was finally examined by team Dr. Ahmad on Thursday night. Brian Cashman confirmed his ace right-hander has been diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament by Ahmad and two other doctors. All three recommended rehab — not Tommy John surgery — because the tear is small.

Tanaka, 25, will receive a platelet-rich plasma injection on Monday and eventually begin a throwing program. If all goes well, he could be back on a mound within six weeks, so the best case scenario has him back in pinstripes in late-August. Cashman noted other pitchers in the organization have successfully rehabbed from similar tears without saying who those pitchers were. Surgery can not be completely ruled out until the rehab program is complete. Here is what Cashman said during his conference call, courtesy of Chad Jennings:

“He has seen three physicians, our chief physician, Chris Ahmad, David Altchek and he has seen Neil elAttrache. All three are in agreement with a diagnosis of a new injury; a partially torn ligament in his throwing arm. The recommendation on the treatment is a rehab protocol that would begin with one PRP injection and a throwing program after an exercise routine. The ligament tear in question is considered small and we, the Yankees, have had success with pitchers that have had this.

“It doesn’t rule out the possibility of Tommy John (surgery) in a failed attempt, but all three doctors agree on the diagnosis and the rehab protocol. We are going to follow their recommendation and none of them recommend surgery at this time. They’re all hopeful that in roughly maybe a six-week period that we will have a pitcher back if he responds positively.”

The most notable example of a pitcher who successfully rehabbed a partially torn ligament is Adam Wainwright, who was able to continue pitching for a half-decade before going under the knife. Ervin Santana has pitched with a partially torn ligament the last few years as well. The odds are strongly in favor of Tanaka needing elbow reconstruction at some point in his career — once a ligament tears, it’s usually only a matter of time before it goes completely — but Cashman said all three doctors do not feel surgery is necessary at this point.

I understand the fear that all they’re doing is delaying the inevitable by trying rehab, but given where they are in the season, having the surgery now would likely knock Tanaka out until sometime next August. Three doctors all agree surgery is avoidable and that Tanaka has a chance to return to the mound this season. Surgery is always the last resort — you don’t want to cut into the elbow of a world class pitcher unless you absolutely have to — and if there’s a possibility it can be avoided, they have to try.

Now, obviously the injury hurts the Yankees on the field immensely. Tanaka was by far the club’s best pitcher and they were already without CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and Ivan Nova (elbow). None of those four is returning anytime soon. Somehow 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda is the only member of the Opening Day rotation left standing. Tanaka’s partially torn ligament is not the worst case scenario, but losing him for at least six weeks is a devastating blow to a pitching staff already thinned by injury.

Categories : Injuries
Comments (208)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

(Jason Miller/Getty)

The Yankees were dealt a pretty significant blow yesterday, when what they called elbow inflammation landed Masahiro Tanaka on the 15-day disabled list. He returned to New York for an MRI and will soon travel to see team doctor Dr. Ahmad, who is currently in Seattle for a conference. Even though the team does not have a full diagnosis, Joe Girardi indicated to reporters the situation was serious enough to warrant a DL stint with or without the upcoming All-Star break. Argh. Here are some scattered thoughts.

1. Everyone is thinking it, so let’s just come out and say it: the prospect of losing Tanaka to Tommy John surgery is terrifying. (There have been so many Tommy John surgeries this year that I don’t know how someone could not think about it.) The timing of the procedure would especially suck — Tanaka would miss the rest of the season and at least the first half of next season. Considering how prone the Yankees are to setbacks the Yankees would likely be conservative during his rehab, he might not return until next August or September. I’m getting way ahead of myself here, but like I said, it’s hard not to fear the worst whenever a pitcher goes down with an elbow injury these days. My fingers are crossed and I am really hoping for the best. Things will be a little tense until Ahmad gets a chance to look at Tanaka.

2. The Yankees have not yet announced who will start in place of Tanaka on Sunday — the 15-day DL stint means he will also miss at least one start after the All-Star break, but they can figure that during the break next week — and it seems like Chase Whitley will be the guy unless he is needed out of the bullpen again at some point between now and then. The Yankees can’t recall Bruce Billings because of the ten-day rule — they used Tanaka’s injury to call up Zoilo Almonte, so they can’t use that to bring Billings back early — and right now Triple-A Scranton’s scheduled starter for Sunday is TBA due to a recent rainout and subsequent doubleheader. It might just be a bullpen game the day before the All-Star break. Two or three innings from Whitley, two or three innings from David Huff, two innings from Adam Warren, etc. Yikes. This team needs the four-day break in the worst way right now.

3. If Tanaka does have to miss an extended period of time for whatever reason, the Yankees will have to consider selling at the trade deadline more seriously than at any point in the last, I dunno, 20 years or so. Or at least consider not buying. That might be the Yankees’ version of selling — not doing anything and standing pat. They are 13-5 in games started by Tanaka and 33-39 in games started by everyone else, and at some point the injuries become too much to overcome. That’s what happened last year. They’ve lost four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation to injury (at least three to long-term injury) and there are too many underperforming everyday players in the lineup to compensate. The Yankees are not a move or two away from serious contention even with Tanaka. Remove him from the equation and it’s damn near impossible. Make another small Brandon McCarthy for nothing to soak up some innings and save the bullpen trade, but give up something of value? No way. The organization prides itself on contending every single year and I can’t imagine throwing in the towel on 2014 would be easy after spending all that money over the winter, but losing Tanaka for an extended period of time would be the straw that breaks the 2014 Yankees camel’s back.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)2.32

4. Now, in the unprecedented event that the Yankees do decide to sell before the deadline, who exactly can they market? David Robertson for certain since he’s due to become a free agent and literally every team could use another shutdown reliever. The Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Braves, Giants, and possibly the Athletics would all have interest in Robertson, at the very least. I’m sure they would have no trouble finding a team willing to take Shawn Kelley off their hands too. Hiroki Kuroda has a full no-trade clause but might be willing to waive it for one of the two Los Angeles teams since his family still lives there. Brett Gardner would fetch a nice return but his contract makes him worth keeping around. Hard to see a team giving up enough to make trading him worth it. Other than those three, there’s not much to offer. Brian Roberts and Ichiro Suzuki have no trade value, same with Brendan Ryan. Maybe a team would be willing to give up a Grade-C prospect for Kelly Johnson or Frankie Cervelli, but I doubt it. Point is, even if the Yankees do decide to sell at the deadline, their most marketable pieces are a rental reliever and a rental starter. The cupboard is pretty bare.

5. Without Tanaka, these Yankees are about a two out of ten on the watchability scale. That is true regardless of whether he misses the minimum 15 days or something longer. His starts along with Robertson and Dellin Betances innings are pretty much the only time I get excited to watch this team. That’s just my opinion. I mean, yeah both Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have been awesome, but they aren’t must-see television. The Yankees in general are a very boring bunch, mostly because they struggle to score and have no exciting young position players in the lineup everyday. Remember when we were trying to convince ourselves Yangervis Solarte was a guy? Yikes. You’re welcome to feel differently and I hope you do, but man, to me this is the most boring and uninteresting Yankees team of the last 20 years or so. Maybe I’m just a grouch.

Categories : Open Thread
Comments (229)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

(Jason Miller/Getty)

5:01pm: The Yankees have placed Tanaka on the 15-day disabled list with elbow inflammation, Joe Girardi told reporters. He had the MRI earlier today but the team doctors have yet to review the results. “I’m not saying it’s a significant injury, but there’s soreness,” said the manager. “It’s not how you draw it up, but injuries are a part of the game.”

3:28pm: Masahiro Tanaka has left the Yankees to travel to New York for an MRI on his right elbow, according to George KingJon Heyman says Tanaka told the team he was dealing with some discomfort following last night’s start, so hopefully this is nothing more than a precaution.

The Indians roughed Tanaka up for five runs on ten hits in 6.2 innings last night, though after the game he told reporters he “didn’t feel that bad.” Last time out the Twins got to him for four runs on nine hits in seven innings. That had been his worst start of the season up until that point. It’s worth noting Tanaka’s fastball velocity has wavered in his last few starts, but last night he actually had his highest average fastball velocity of the season at 92.46 mph.

Here’s the obligatory velocity graph from Brooks Baseball:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Tanaka has been relatively healthy throughout his career, though he did miss about a month with shoulder inflammation during the spring of 2012 while with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. His workload in Japan was a hot topic over the winter — Tanaka had thrown more than 1,300 innings before his 25th birthday, a number only Felix Hernandez has approached among MLB pitchers in recent years.

The Yankees have made sure to give Tanaka extra rest whenever possible this season — ten of his 18 starts this year have come with at least one extra day of rest — and only four times did he throw more than 110 pitches. They’ve been pretty careful with him as he transitioned from a seven-day schedule to a five-day schedule, no doubt about it.

Even if the MRI comes back perfectly clean, I would put money on Tanaka not making his scheduled start in Baltimore on Sunday. It’s the final day of the first half and the Yankees have an opportunity to give him a nice extended rest during the All-Star break. No reason not to take advantage of it at this point. It goes without saying that losing Tanaka for any length of time would be devastating.

Categories : Injuries
Comments (221)

As expected, Derek Jeter has been voted in as the starting shortstop for the AL All-Star team by the fans. His double play partner will be Robinson Cano. Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances will also represent the Yankees at the Midsummer Classic. The full All-Star Game rosters are right here.

Jeter will be playing in his 14th All-Star Game and starting at short for the ninth time. His performance this year doesn’t really warrant the selection, but he’s a star of the first order and fans want to see him in the All-Star Game in his final season. That’s what the All-Star Game is all about in my opinion. Tanaka and Betances are obviously very deserving of their selections. They will be the first Yankees rookie pitchers to make the game since Spec Shea in 1947. Congrats to all three guys.

Categories : All Star Game, Asides
Comments (35)

Got eight questions for you this week — one long one and seven short-ish ones. If you want to send us questions or comments or anything else throughout the week, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if we don’t answer yours.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Jeb asks: It’ll never happen, but what do you think Masahiro Tanaka would net in a trade?

Oh man. Ace-caliber pitchers almost never get traded, especially not 25-year-old ace-caliber pitchers signed for another three and a half years (I think you have to assume Tanaka will use the opt-out in his contract). Cliff Lee was 30 and he had a year and a half left on his deal when he went from the Indians to the Phillies. Roy Halladay was 32 with a year left on his deal when he went from the Blue Jays to the Phillies. Those are the most recent examples of ace trades.

You have to go back a few years, but I think there are three comparable trades we can reference when talking about a potential Tanaka trade. Allow me to reiterate this is all hypothetical and for fun. The Yankees aren’t trading Tanaka. Even if they did decide to sell, he’s someone they could keep and rebuild around. Here are those three comparable deals:

  • Josh Beckett (Marlins to Red Sox): Beckett was 25 at the time of the trade and had three years of arbitration remaining. He landed the Fish two high-end, MLB ready prospects in Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, plus two throw-ins. The Red Sox had to take Mike Lowell (77 OPS+ in 2014) and the $18M left on his contract to make it happen.
  • Dan Haren (Athletics to Diamondbacks): Haren was 27 at the time of the trade and had two years plus an option left on his contract. He was dealt for six young players, most notably Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, and Chris Carter. Anderson and Carter were both very good prospects in High-A. CarGo was in Triple-A.
  • Gio Gonzalez (Athletics to Nationals): Like Beckett, Gio was 25 at the time of the trade. Unlike Beckett, he was four years away from free agency. Washington gave up two good but not great MLB ready arms (Brad Peacock and Tom Milone), a top Single-A pitching prospect (A.J. Cole), and a good Triple-A catching prospect (Derek Norris) to get the lefty.

Based on these deals, any package for Tanaka would have to start with two very good prospects, including one who could step right onto the MLB roster in an everyday capacity like Hanley, CarGo, or Norris. There would also have to be two or three other lesser pieces involved, MLB ready or otherwise. Tanaka is far more expensive than those three at the time of their trades, which is an issue. Few teams can actually afford his contract. Let’s assume the Yankees will eat some money just to make life easy.

Okay, so let’s rosterbate. The Cubs had interest in signing Tanaka and could offer a top position player prospect like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, or Albert Almora as package headliner. (I assume Kris Bryant is off limits.). The Dodgers are always looking to add and Joc Pederson is a natural fit as a center piece. The Tigers as protection if Scherzer leaves? Unless they offer Nick Castellanos, I’m not sure there’s a fit. The Cardinals have a bunch of outfielders to offer, including Stephen Piscotty if they don’t want to move Oscar Taveras. A trade with the Red Sox would never happen but Mookie Betts would definitely make sense.

Keep in mind I mentioned those prospects as the start of a trade package. The Yankees would need to get one of those guys plus another very good piece (Zach Lee or Julio Urias from the Dodgers? Arismendy Alcantara from the Cubs?) and a few secondary pieces. If they aren’t going to get at least one potential star player plus several other young high-upside players close to the show, it’s not worth it. A Hanley/Anibal package would be the best case scenario given what we know about how things worked out for the Marlins.

Paul asks: Assuming #HIROK retires or otherwise leaves the Yankees after this year, do you think #TANAK will take number 18?

I think so. It seems likely Hiroki Kuroda will be gone after the season, either due to retirement or simply letting him walk, right? I guess he could come back at a discounted salary if he finishes strong. Anyway, the No. 18 is a big deal in Japan, it’s the ace number. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kuroda both wear it (Yu Darvish wears No. 11) and Tanaka wore it in Japan. It’s a very symbolic thing to them and I think Tanaka will jump at the chance to wear that number again.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)

(Brian Kersey/Getty)

Mike asks: For the last two months Justin Verlander has not been vintage Verlander. Is this a case of just plain old struggling or are the innings catching up to him?

Verlander has been terrible — 7.83 ERA and 5.56 FIP in his last seven starts and 43.2 innings — but he isn’t the only former ace to fall off a cliff recently. Obviously the Yankees have CC Sabathia going through the same thing, and the Giants have seen both Tim Lincecum and now Matt Cain slip in recent years. It happened to Haren not too long ago as well. These guys aren’t breaking down like Josh Johnson, they just stink all of a sudden. It’s kinda scary, no? I don’t know what’s wrong with Verlander and neither do the Tigers fans who have been trying to figure it out like we’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with Sabathia. I recommend this Grant Brisbee post for coping with Ace Sucking Syndrome (ASS).

A different Mike asks: Jim Bowden claims that the Rays may be willing to trade Price within the division. He thinks the trade could get done if the Yankees “overpay” by including Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Peter O’Brien in the package. Do you a) think the Rays would accept this offer and b) think this is an overpay?

No, I don’t think the Rays would accept that offer and no, I don’t think it’s an overpay. That’d be a steal for the Yankees. We’re talking about getting a legitimate, AL East proven left-handed ace in exchange for a Single-A pitching prospect, a power prospect without a position, and a catching prospect who hasn’t hit much in Double-A and is being benched for disciplinary reasons. You have to give up something to get something, and Sanchez and O’Brien are among the team’s most expendable prospects. Dealing Severino would sting, but again, he’s in A-ball. You deal him for a guy like Price every day of the week.

Austin asks: Are Derek Jeter and Tanaka the only Yankees All-Stars? I think Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances should be added to the team, but will Farrell add them?

At this point I think Jeter and Tanaka will be the only Yankees elected to the All-Star Game. Jeter is still leading the fan voting at shortstop and Tanaka has been awesome. He’s a candidate to start the game. Keep in mind that Brian McCann is second in the catcher voting behind Matt Wieters, who is done for the season following elbow surgery. McCann might start at catcher by default. I think Betances deserves to go because he’s been one of the five best relievers in baseball this season, but deserving to go and actually going are two different things. Gardner’s been awesome (so have Jacoby Ellsbury for that matter) but I can’t see him going to the All-Star Game. There are too many great/more popular outfielders in the AL.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Ghost of Horace Clarke asks: Better manager, Joe Girardi or Joe Torre?

On the field, Girardi is clearly the better manager. He’s better with the bullpen and more open-minded to platoons and shifts and stuff like that. Torre was very old school and straight forward. We have no way of knowing who is better in the clubhouse, but Torre was a master at dealing with the media and that counts for something. It’s easy to drum up controversy in New York and that very rarely happened under his watch. Girardi has improved in that department but he’s no Torre. There’s no debate who the better on-field tactician is, however.

Ron asks: OK. Am I the only one who notices that whenever McCann has an at-bat, he squints so much that you can barely see his eyes. Does this not beg to ask if he has a vision problem?????

McCann’s facial expresses are pretty funny. They’re definitely one of my favorite sidebars of the season. Anyway, McCann has actually had vision problems in the past. He had LASIK surgery in 2007 but was dealing with blurred vision in 2009, so he wore custom-made prescription glasses for the remainder of the season. McCann has another LASIK procedure the following winter and has had no trouble since. I think the squinting and funny faces are just quirky mannerisms, but I suppose he could be having eye problems again. I think he would speak up if that were the case given his history though.

Yet another Mike asks: Taylor Dugas — How come nobody talks about this kid? He’s 24 and is stuck in Trenton. He has decent numbers especially his .422 OBP.

Dugas was just promoted to Triple-A Scranton yesterday, so he isn’t stuck in Double-A any longer. The Yankees selected him in the eighth round of the 2012 draft out of Alabama and he’s hit .293/.422/.368 (~138 wRC+) with more walks (138) than strikeouts (103) in 226 minor league games, including .294/.403/.424 (134 wRC+) in 54 games with Trenton.

Dugas is a left-handed hitter with no power and only okay defense, so his usefulness is limited. Keith Law (subs. req’d) said “he squares up all kinds of pitching and I would be very surprised if he didn’t hit his way to some kind of major league role, maybe even as the heavy side of a platoon” following the draft that year, though Baseball America (subs. req’d) basically said Dugas is Sam Fuld without the defense. Dugas obviously can control the strike zone, his performance has been great, and he is on the right side of the platoon. He doesn’t have the sexiest tools but he is putting himself in position to have some kind of big league role for the Yankees, maybe even as Ichiro Suzuki‘s replacement next year.

Categories : Mailbag
Comments (125)
Jun
18

The Ace of Aces

Posted by: | Comments (96)
(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.

Categories : Players
Comments (96)
(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

In his first eleven starts of the season, Masahiro Tanaka has been dominant and one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball. I expected him to be very good this year, but not this good. No adjustment period, no bumps in the road, nothing. Even his bad starts are still pretty good. Tanaka’s been the rock in the rotation and he’s making the Yankees look very, very wise for their much-criticized $175M investment.

In his first eleven starts of the season, Tanaka has faced ten different teams. The only team he has faced more than once is the Cubs of all teams. An interleague rival the Yankees won’t see for another three years. There are still seven AL clubs that have yet to see the former Rakuten Golden Eagles ace. The schedule has worked in Tanaka’s favor and he’s had the element of surprise going for him in all but one of his starts.

Tanaka’s worst start of the season was that second game against the Cubs two weeks ago. He allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings, the only time he’s allowed more than three earned runs in an outing. It was raining for a good chunk of that game remember, and the rain surely could have affected his performance. He didn’t look all that comfortable on the mound, I remember that much. That said, the Cubs acknowledged seeing Tanaka once before did help them out.

“If you look at the first game, we were having trouble hitting the ball out of the infield. If a guy is throwing the ball down, you’re going to hit a ground ball,” said catcher John Baker to David Lennon. “Our goal was, when we get something up in the strike zone, to get a swing off. Whether it’s the first pitch or 0-and-2, we were looking more up as opposed to for our pitch. Generally, across the board with the lineup, I think we executed it pretty well.”

Tanaka did indeed leave some pitches up in the zone against the Cubs — here is the pitch location for the eight hits, six of which were belt high — and he paid for it. They still couldn’t lay off the splitter, swinging at 18 of the 23 he threw, missing nine times. That 50% whiff rate is basically identical to the splitter’s 49.2% whiff rate for the season. He just made some bad pitches and he paid for them. That’s baseball.

One thing we’ve seen from Tanaka in his first eleven starts is that he will leave some pitches up in the zone, but he’s had a tendency to get away with them. There have been a lot of swing-throughs on handing sliders and just plain old called strikes on pitches up in the zone. Here is Tanaka’s pitch location heat map for the season. The darker the red, the more pitches in that particular zone compared to the league average:

Masahiro Tanaka Location

So yeah, compared to the rest of the league, Tanaka has definitely left more pitches basically in the middle third of the strike zone and higher. The PitchFX data backs up the eye test in this case. That many pitches up in the zone is generally a bad idea, but I also think Tanaka’s unpredictability — PitchFX says he’s thrown eight different pitches this year, including four at least 20% of the time each — allows him to get away with those pitches more often than the average pitcher. I don’t know how we could go about investigating that, it’s just a thought.

Tanaka will face the Athletics tomorrow, the Mariners next Tuesday, and then the Athletics again the following Sunday, barring rainouts and whatnot. After that, the Yankees play 15 straight games against AL East rivals, teams that have already seen Tanaka once this year. So, after these next two starts against the A’s and Mariners, he’ll run into a stretch of games against clubs he has already faced. The element of surprise will be gone. Those teams will have a first-hand scouting report and experience seeing him, which tips the scale in the other direction slightly.

Everything in baseball is designed to give the pitcher the advantage. Hitters need four balls to draw a walk but pitchers only three strikes to make an out. The offense needs to travel four bases to score a run yet the pitcher only needs three outs to end the inning. Heck, the pitcher even stands on a mound raised above the rest of the playing field. The pitcher controls the at-bat and it’s up to the hitters to first make the adjustment to him, not the other way around. If what worked for Tanaka the first time through the league works again, then he has no reason to change.

If it doesn’t work though, I think he has more than enough weapons to adjust and remain a top flight starter. I mean, is Tanaka going to maintain a 2.06 ERA and 2.52 FIP all season? No, probably not. Even in this offensively starved era that is still an unrealistic standard for a guy in a tiny ballpark in the AL East. Tanaka does have two put-away offspeed pitches in his slider and (especially) splitter, plus he’s shown he will pitch to both sides of the plate and dot the edges. And the dude has no fear too. That’s not nothing. The second time through the league is coming up and it will be a test for Tanaka. He has the tools to succeed though. His success to date is no fluke.

Categories : Pitching
Comments (7)