Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Starting Pitcher

Masahiro Tanaka



Status: Active
Position: Starting Pitcher
Bats/Throw: Right/Right
How Acquired: Free Agent, 2014
Contract: 7 years, $155 million (2014-2020, opt out after 2017)
Awards: None
World Series Championships: None
Shop for Masahiro Tanaka merchandise

Does Tanaka have a home run problem?

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka’s numbers from his last start against the Orioles on July 23 looked solid enough to declare the outing a success — he pitched into the eighth inning, got seven strikeouts, didn’t walk a batter and allowed just three runs on five hits. Yet that sentence leaves out one important number: Tanaka also gave up three home runs.

If this was a mere blip in his season gamelogs, there might not be much to discuss here, and we could dismiss the trio of homers as a random event that happens to even the best pitchers in the sport. But those home runs were the 13th, 14th and 15th that Tanaka has allowed this season, matching his total from all of 2014 in 55 fewer innings pitched.

Not only is Tanaka more homer-prone this season compared to last year, but he’s also giving up longballs at one of the worst rates in the league. His 1.65 homers allowed per nine innings is the fifth-highest mark among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched. Tanaka is one of 29 pitchers that have allowed at least 15 homers this season; his 325 batters faced are the fewest among that group.

Tanaka was frustrated after giving up those three homers against Baltimore, especially the two in the eighth inning that sent him to the showers.

“I felt pretty good all the way through the day, and you want to kind of go out of the game strong, but I gave up those two home runs,” he told reporters after the game through a translator. “So, not particularly happy about that, but we’ll adjust and go about it next time out.”

Joe Girardi acknowledged the issue, but wasn’t too worried because Tanaka was able to limit the damage.

“It’s not what you want to see,” Girardi said in his postgame press conference. “But you can survive giving up solo home runs. You can survive and be very successful.”

So do we make of the situation, do we need to press the panic button and start worrying about Tanaka’s sky-high home run rate? On to the analysis!

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The big number on Tanaka’s FanGraphs.com page that sticks out like a sore thumb is his 2015 home run to fly ball rate of 17.9 percent. That’s the third-highest rate in the majors (min. 80 IP) and well above the league average rate of roughly 10 percent.

Typically, pitchers with inflated homer-to-fly ball rates should see some regression to the mean over the course of the season, and so we’d expect fewer of his fly balls to go over the fence in August and September. Of course, that’s not always true — if you’re continually throwing meatballs and giving up lots of long hits and hard contact, you’re still probably going to allow a lot of homers, regardless of what the statheads say. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Tanaka, who legitimately might be suffering from some bad luck so far this year.

The right-hander has one of the highest soft-contact rates in the league (21 percent), and his hard-contact rate (29 percent) is right around the league average and even lower than last year (35 percent). Tanaka’s average fly ball distance is up a few feet from last year (287 vs. 284), but it still doesn’t crack the top-50 among pitchers this season. And Tanaka is not throwing more pitches right down the middle of the plate, either. His percentage of pitches located in the “heart” of the strike zone is the virtually the same this year (20.6%) as last year (20.0%). Comparing his heat maps from last year and this year, he still seems to pounding the bottom of the zone and keeping his pitches out of the hitters’ sweetspot.

tanaka 2014

Another factor to consider is that he’s had to deal with one of the toughest schedules in the majors this season — the combined slugging percentage of the batters he’s faced (.412) ranks seventh-highest among pitchers (min. 80 IP). Looking at the list of the 13 players that have taken Tanaka deep, you can see he’s been victimized by some pretty good power hitters. Eight of them have hit at least 15 home runs this season and two rank in the top-6 in the majors (Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez). The only lightweights on the list are probably Jose Altuve and Derek Dietrich.

Another encouraging number is that he’s not giving up a ton of homers when ahead in the count and in those situations when he should be putting away batters. Just four of his 15 home runs allowed have come in pitcher-friendly counts, and he’s given up just one two-strike homer all season.

However, he is finding trouble when he falls behind early and into too many fastball counts. He’s allowed eight homers after throwing a first-pitch ball, but just five after getting to 0-1 in the count. Nine of his 15 homers have come off either his sinker or four-seamer, a pitch that has been a hot topic this season and one that he continues to struggle with even after making some adjustments recently.

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The bad news is that the box score stats say that Tanaka has been homer-prone this season, and you can’t erase the 15 longballs he’s already allowed.

The good news is that a deeper analysis into his core numbers shows that there probably isn’t much to worry about right now, and there’s every indication that his luck should even out during the final two months. So what do you think, is the glass half-empty or half-full?

2015 Midseason Review: The Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

(Presswire)
That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

Pitching plans show the Yankees wisely have their eyes on the big picture

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, Michael Pineda turned in arguably his best start of the season, which is pretty impressive when you consider he struck out 16 batters in a game last month. Big Mike carved through the Marlins with his mid-90s electricutter and the best slider command he’s had since the 16-strikeout game. It was Pineda at his best. Overwhelming dominance.

Five days ago Pineda suffered through arguably his worst start of the season by allowing six runs on nine hits in only 4.1 innings against the Orioles, the same Orioles he struck out 16 times a few weeks ago. His slider wasn’t behaving and his location was terrible, hence all the damage. Perhaps not coincidentally, last night’s start came on normal rest while the start in Baltimore came on eleven days rest.

“There’s days he hasn’t had his slider and he’s been on regular rest. So there is no answer to this, as much as you guys want one. There is no exact science,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch last night when asked about Pineda dominating on normal rest and struggling with extra rest.”These guys are creatures of habit, but sometimes you have to make adjustments. You have off days that you have to adjust to.”

The Yankees didn’t skip Pineda’s start two weeks ago for the heck of it. They did it because they’re trying to keep him healthy, and because he threw 124.2 total innings from 2012-14 following major shoulder surgery. Pineda has already thrown more big league innings this season (81.1) than he did last season (76.1) and we’re only halfway through June. Again: major shoulder surgery in the not too distant past!

Pineda is not the only pitcher who is having his workload monitored. Masahiro Tanaka‘s next start has been pushed back to give him an extra day of rest, something the team is trying to do as much as possible this year. They aren’t so concerned about his exact innings total, they’re just playing it safe with the partial ligament tear in his elbow. Adam Warren, a reliever turned starter who is two starts away from exceeding last year’s innings total, has also had some starts pushed back in recent weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are clearly looking at the big picture here and are willing to lose the battle (Pineda vs. the Orioles) to win the war (Pineda the rest of the season) with their rotation. Having Pineda, Tanaka, Warren, and whoever else around and not just healthy, but productive as well in the second half is far more important than one or two starts right now, before the halfway point of the season. Skipping that start seems to have resulted in a poor outing for Pineda against the O’s. The hope is it will lead to an effective Pineda in September and October.

The workload manipulation is only going to continue these next few weeks, so it would be nice if Pineda figured out how to remain effective in starts with extra rest. That’s an adjustment he has to make. The Yankees may use a six-man rotation when Ivan Nova returns and they figure to insert a spot sixth starter several times down the stretch — they were prepared to start Bryan Mitchell this Saturday until Nathan Eovaldi‘s short start on Tuesday, allowing him to come back on short rest. My guess is Mitchell will still end up taking a few rotation turns later this year.

There is definitely a time and a place for focusing on the here and now, especially with the AL East so tight. The Yankees aren’t at that place right now. There is still 60% of the season to be played and they have to be cognizant of their starters’ physical limitations and do their best to keep everyone healthy and sharp all season. If that means sacrificing some starts now a la Pineda against the Orioles, then so be it. The big picture is far too important right now.

Game 65: Back Home with Big Mike

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees just wrapped up a five-game road trip through Baltimore and Miami and it was: bad. One win, four losses, 15 runs scored, 37 runs allowed. Egads. Thankfully the Yankees return home tonight to start a stretch where 20 of their next 30 games are at home. They’re 16-11 with a +24 run differential at home compared to 18-19 with a -12 run differential on the road. This team is built for Yankee Stadium.

Michael Pineda is on the mound tonight and you know what? Big Mike has kinda stunk of late. He’s got a 5.40 ERA in five starts since his 16-strikeout game, and opponents are hitting .325/.354/.520 against him during that time. That’s really bad! Tonight would be a fine night for Pineda to shake off these last five starts, pitch like the ace we all know he can be, and help the Yankees get back into the win column. Here is the Marlins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Alex Rodriguez
  5. 1B Garrett Jones
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been cloudy and on the cool side in New York today, but there is no rain in the forecast, so that’s good. This evening’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

Rotation Update: Masahiro Tanaka will start Sunday with an extra day of rest rather than Saturday, Joe Girardi announced. No word on who will start Saturday, but I wonder if they will start Nathan Eovaldi on three days’ rest since he threw only 36 pitches last night. Bryan Mitchell is also on turn to start that day as well, so the Yankees have options.

Roster Move: As expected, the Yankees brought in a fresh arm following last night’s bullpen marathon. Lefty Jose DePaula was called up from Triple-A Scranton and Jose Ramirez was sent down, the team announced. DePaula was already on the 40-man roster, so no other moves were necessary. He was on turn to start for the RailRiders today and can go many innings if necessary. I hope they aren’t.

Yankees designate David Carpenter for assignment

So long, Carp. (Presswire)
So long, Carp. (Presswire)

The Yankees have designated David Carpenter for assignment, the team announced. The move clears a spot on the 25-man roster for Masahiro Tanaka, who was activated off the 15-day DL and will start today’s series finale with the Mariners. The Yankees now have one open 40-man roster spot, but will need it when either Brendan Ryan or Ivan Nova eventually come off the 60-day DL.

Carpenter, 29, had a 4.82 ERA (5.31 FIP) in 18.2 innings and has been untrustworthy pretty much all season. His strikeout rate has also dropped from 25.9% last year with the Braves to 13.4% this year. Joe Girardi gave Carpenter plenty of chances to work through his problems recently — he’s appeared in nine of the last 17 games — but it’s not working. He gave up the go-ahead run in the sixth inning last night, which may have been the final straw.

The Yankees acquired Carpenter along with Chasen Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade this past offseason. Carpenter is out of minor league options, which is why the Yankees couldn’t simply send him to Triple-A to work on things. They now have ten days to trade, release, or waive him, and my guess is they will be able to work out a minor trade with some team. Carpenter will probably go somewhere else and have a 2.00 ERA the rest of the year. Relievers are weird like that.

With Carpenter gone, the Yankees now have five lefties in the bullpen: Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, Jacob Lindgren, Chris Capuano, and Shreve. Dellin Betances and Esmil Rogers are the only righties. That’s not a big deal though. All five of those lefties can get righties out, if not dominate them. The Yankees could have easily demoted Lindgren, but they opted for the best talent over maintain depth.

Inside the matchup: Tanaka vs. Nelson Cruz

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Welcome back to the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka. Congratulations, your prize is a one-on-one battle with the best power hitter in the American League — Mr. Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners.

The 34-year-old Cruz leads the AL in both homers and slugging percentage, and is showing no mercy when he makes contact. According to data at Baseball Savant, Cruz has the longest homer in the majors this season — a 483-foot moonshot off Wandy Rodriguez on April 29 — and the second-hardest hit ball of any player — a walk-off single against the Rangers on April 19 that left his bat at an exit velocity of 119 mph.

Cruz is one of the most dangerous hitters in the league right now, a threat to crush the ball over the fence or send a screaming line drive to the outfield corner on any pitch, and can change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat.

The good news for Tanaka is that this won’t be his first time pitching against the Mariners slugger. He faced the Orioles twice last season, saw Cruz a combined six times and retired him in all six plate appearances — three strikeouts, two fly outs and one ground out.

Let’s go inside the matchup to see how Tanaka was able to neutralize Cruz last season, and try to figure out how he should approach him during this afternoon’s game. [Sure, these are all super-small sample sizes, but let’s have some fun instead of worrying about the health of Tanaka’s arm.]

Tanaka did a good job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate, peppering the bottom outside corner with sliders, while mixing in a handful of high fastballs and a few sinkers in on the hands of Cruz.

cruz vs tanaka

The down-and-away slider was Tanaka’s key put-away pitch in the matchup, netting him four of the six outs against Cruz, including all three strikeouts on pitches at or below the knees.

That strategy was a bit unusual for Tanaka last year, who was more likely to go to his splitter in two-strike counts against righties (39 percent of the time) than his slider (31 percent). However, it was a smart game plan against Cruz, who last year really struggled with sliders from same-sided pitchers. He whiffed on nearly half of his swings against sliders and struck out a whopping 42 times on the pitch (second-most in the AL).

Another interesting trend is that Tanaka wasn’t afraid to “pitch backwards,” throwing his offspeed pitches early and often in the count. He started three of the six at-bats with sliders and kept Cruz off-balance by throwing him more off-speed pitches (11) than fastballs (9) in the six at-bats.

Tanaka is one of four pitchers that has faced Cruz at least six times since the start of last season and gotten him out every time. Can he shut down one of the game’s best sluggers again this year?

Like many power hitters, Cruz’s sweetspot is on the middle-to-inner third of the zone and off the inside corner of the plate, where he’s hit 14 of his 18 homers this season. Hey Tanaka, try to avoid that area, please:

cruz hrs

If Tanaka can get into a favorable count, throwing him a slider down and away — similar to last year — is probably a good idea. Cruz has whiffed on nearly 40 percent of his swings against sliders from right-handed pitchers this year, and he’s done little damage when making contact. He’s hit just one homer off a slider from a righty and more than half of those pitches that he’s put in play have been grounders. Tanaka’s slider had been nasty in his last two starts, getting whiffs on 56 percent of the swings against the pitch, including three strikeouts.

When Tanaka wants to throw a fastball in this matchup, he’d be smart to go to his four-seamer instead of his sinker. Cruz is slugging roughly 300 points higher against sinkers (.778) than four-seam fastballs (.471) from right-handers this year, and he’s twice as likely to whiff against a four-seamer than a sinker from a righty.

That pitch selection should favor Tanaka, who has decreased his sinker usage since his first two starts (when it got crushed), and starting throwing more four-seamers in his last two starts (with good results). Overall, Tanaka’s four-seamer has been a much better fastball option for him than his sinker this season:

Tanaka stats v2

That’s right, Tanaka has thrown 73 four-seam fastballs in 2015 and the only player to get a hit off the pitch was Russell Martin with a single in the season opener. It’s been an nice pitch for him so far, and Tanaka should feel comfortable challenging Cruz with well-located four-seamers this afternoon.

Tanaka vs. Cruz will be among the most anticipated matchups of the game, and could easily be one of the most pivotal, too. If Tanaka can use his four-seamer and slider effectively, and follow a similar game plan as he’s done in the past against Cruz, there is a good chance he’ll be able to win the battle with the Mariners slugger once again.

Poll: Fitting Masahiro Tanaka back onto the roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees will welcome arguably their best pitcher and inarguably one of their most important players back from the DL, as Masahiro Tanaka returns to the rotation after missing a month with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain. Tanaka will be limited to 80 pitches after making just two Triple-A rehab starts, but, at this point, 80 pitches from Tanaka is preferable to none. That goes without saying.

Joe Girardi has already said Chris Capuano will move into the bullpen to make room for Tanaka in the rotation, which isn’t surprising. Adam Warren has been too good his last four starts to remove him from the rotation. They owe it to themselves to see if he can be a cheap, reliable starter going forward. The Yankees do still have to fit Tanaka on the 25-man roster, and there are several ways they can do that. They have two candidates to bump down to Triple-A and three candidates they could drop from the roster all together. Here’s a quick overview of said options.

Option No. 1: Demote Lindgren

These are presented in no particular order, but this seems like a natural place to start since Jacob Lindgren is the low man on the pitching staff totem pole. He’s been in the big leagues for about a week now and has allowed six of 15 batters faced to reach base (.400 OBP). Lindgren may be the team’s top bullpen prospect, but bullpen prospects usually have to wow in order to stick around. Had Lindgren dominated those first 15 batters, the decision to send him around would be much tougher. For now, he’s the low man in terms of service time and that guy tends to get demoted whenever a spot is needed.

Option No. 2: Demote Shreve

Shreve has arguably been the team’s third best reliever this season, pitching to a 2.49 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 21.2 innings. He’s struck out 23 of 84 batters faced (27.4%), and heading into last night’s game he’d held right-handed batters to a .162/.212/.286 batting line thanks to his splitter. Shreve is no lefty specialist. The Yankees would be crazy to send him down, except they did it once already this year, when they needed a fresh arm in April. (Of course Shreve had not yet shown he was a bullpen weapon at that point.) Shreve is too valuable to send to Triple-A, even temporarily, but he has options and doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Lindgren, which could work against him.

Option No. 3: Designate Carpenter

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

We’re now almost one-third of the way through the 2015 season, and thus far David Carpenter has a 4.91 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 18.1 innings. Girardi has been using Carpenter often in an effort to get him back on track — he’s appeared in eight of the team’s last 16 games — but it just hasn’t happened. On one hand, Carpenter has been the team’s least effective middle reliever. On the other, he was pretty damn good with the Braves the last two years (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP) and is under team control through 2017 as an arbitration-eligible player, and you’d hate to give that up after only 18.1 bad innings. Then again, what good are those years of control if he stinks? This is a player who’s in his sixth organization already. If nothing else, Carpenter has pitched his way into fringe roster territory and any discussion about designating him for assignment isn’t undeserved. (Carpenter is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and even though he’s been bad this year, he’d get claimed in a heartbeat.)

Option No. 4: Designate Rogers

The Yankees very clearly like something about his Esmil Rogers — to his credit, he does have good stuff and his arm seems resilient — and he started the season well, allowing just four earned runs in his first 16.1 innings. He’s since allowed 13 earned runs in his last 14.2 innings, so his ERA (4.94) and FIP (4.77) suddenly resemble his 2012-14 marks (4.91 and 4.35, respectively). Every team needs a long man and Esmil usually isn’t deciding games, he’s just mopping them up, but the Yankees have some other long man options who could be better, include Capuano.

Option No. 5: Designate Capuano

Capuano has pitched to a 6.39 ERA (4.20 FIP) in three starts since coming back from his quad injury and he does have experience in a relief role, but cutting ties with Capuano all together is possible if the Yankees think he’s done. They already have four lefties in the bullpen and might not want to add another. Then again, Capuano can start, and rotation depth probably isn’t something the Yankees should be giving away at this point. Plus his $5M salary could be factor. Everyone else in this post is making peanuts. Money has a way of buying extra time on the roster.

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It goes without saying that Warren, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances are locked into their roster spots, and I think the Justin Wilson is more safe than not as well. Those other five pitching staff slots are not as safe and any one of the five could wind up going to make room for Tanaka. Lindgren or Shreve could find themselves in Triple-A or one of Rogers, Carpenter, or Capuano could find themselves out of the organization entirely. What’s the best way to get Tanaka back onto the roster?

How should the Yankees clear a roster spot for Tanaka?