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

Yankeemetrics: The terrible Twinkies [June 16-19]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sabathia heating up
There haven’t been many enjoyable things to watch with this year’s Yankees team, but one of them undoubtedly is the masterful, turn-back-the-clock season of CC Sabathia.

He continued his brilliance on Thursday, working out of several jams to pitch six innings of one-run ball in the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Twins. He put 10 guys on base but stranded nine of them, consistently generating weak ground ball outs to end rallies and finish off innings. His ground ball rate of 70.6 percent was his highest in a start this season.

Sabathia also dialed up the heat on his pitches and seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. His cutter (91.5 mph), sinker (93.3 mph) and slider (82.4 mph) each had their highest average velocities in a game this season, and he maintained that velocity as he approached 100-plus pitches late into his outing.

The large lefty now has a 0.82 ERA in his last seven starts, the lowest among all pitchers with at least 30 innings since the start of May through Thursday. Sure, that’s an arbitrary endpoint, but consider this: Clayton Kershaw’s best ERA over a seven-start span this year is 0.81 and his best seven-game mark last year was 0.82.

Didi Gregorius provided the margin of victory with a tie-breaking three-run homer in the seventh inning off lefty specialist Fernando Abad. The Twins reliever entered the game having allowed only three hits in 30 at-bats against lefty hitters this season, and had yet to surrender a longball to anyone. Didi, of course, entered the game with the best batting average among left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers in MLB this season — and won the strength-versus-strength battle.

The blast was also his second three-run homer in three games, which gives us this #funfact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit multiple three-run home runs in a three-game span since Roy Smalley, who hit two of them in a game against the Royals on Sept. 5, 1982.

Tanaka time
There’s nothing like a trip to the Twin Cities to cure those losing-streak blues. The Yankees continued to pound a bad Twins team on Friday night, winning 8-2 thanks a balanced offense that scored early and often to support a stellar performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka bounced back from a rough start last week against the Tigers, throwing eight innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks. It was his 11th game allowing two earned runs or fewer, the most such starts among all American League pitchers through Friday’s slate.

The outing also marked his fifth straight start on the road with at least six innings pitched and no more than one earned run allowed. Only one other pitcher in franchise history has fashioned a streak like that in a single season: Whitey Ford, who did it in 1950, 1963 and 1964.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kids
Down 4-0 heading into the eighth inning, Saturday’s game seemed destined to end in another frustrating loss. But then the Twins remembered who they were (a very bad baseball team), the Yankees remembered where they were playing (Target Field; aka Yankee Stadium Midwest), and their bats came alive to spark another late-inning rally. In the end, the Bronx Bombers had their first win this season when trailing after seven innings.

Alex Rodriguez — who was riding a season-high 11-game homerless streak entering this game — cut the deficit in half with a two-run blast in the seventh inning. That hit gave him 5,795 career total bases, passing Babe Ruth (5,793) for sixth place on the all-time MLB list.

Carlos Beltran then tied the game with an opposite-field homer in the eighth inning off Kevin Jepsen. His 18 homers are the most by any Yankee age 38 or older this early into the season, one more than Babe Ruth had through 68 team games in 1933.

Jacoby Ellsbury capped the comeback win with a bases-loaded RBI single in the next frame. It was the first time since joining the Yankees three seasons ago that he delivered a go-ahead hit in the ninth inning.

Aroldis Chapman made things interesting in the ninth inning as he tried to close out the game. He surrendered back-to-back two-out homers to Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki, which sliced the lead to 7-6, before he eventually got the save. Suzuki’s shot came off a 102 mph fastball, the fastest pitch ever hit for a home run by any player in the Pitch F/X era (since 2008).

(AP)
(AP)

Sweep-less in Minneapolis
As much as the Yankees have dominated the Twins in Minneapolis recently, they couldn’t complete the four-game sweep this weekend, blowing an early lead and losing 7-4 on Sunday afternoon.

The Yankees entered the final game of this series with a 19-5 record in the regular season at Target Field (and 2-0 in the postseason), a mark that was notable in several ways. It was the:

  • highest win percentage at Target Field by any AL team
  • highest win percentage at any stadium by any team since 2010 (when Target Field opened)
  • highest win percentage for the Yankees at any park over the last 100 seasons (min. 20 games)

The loss was even more improbable given the opposing starter, Ervin Santana, who had a 7.71 ERA in his previous five outings this season and who hadn’t beaten the Yankees since August 1, 2008. His streak of 11 straight starts without a win against New York was the longest active winless streak versus the team by any starting pitcher.

Brian McCann broke out of his hitting slump in style, crushing two homers deep into the right-field seats and beyond; according to Statcast, they traveled 421 and 450 feet. Since 2008 (as far back as Statcast has batted ball distance), the only other Yankee with two homers of at least 420 feet in the same game was A-Rod on July 25 last season, also at Target Field against the Twins.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back to under .500 [June 10-12]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Vintage CC
They say that Father Time is undefeated … but right now CC Sabathia is giving him a heck of a battle. Sabathia wrote yet another chapter in his amazing renaissance season, shutting down the Tigers with seven scoreless innings in the Yankees 4-0 win on Friday night.

Sabathia dropped his ERA to 2.28, the lowest it’s been through the first 10 starts of any season in his career. The big lefty ended April with a mediocre 5.06 ERA, but has been brilliant since the calendar turned to May. In 38 innings over six starts since then, he’s allowed just 23 hits — only four of them for extra bases — and has a hard-to-believe 0.71 ERA.

Through Friday, that was the best ERA by any pitcher since May 1 (min. 30 innings), just ahead of Madison Bumgarner (0.96) and Clayton Kershaw (0.99). It also marks the best six-start stretch — in terms of ERA — for Sabathia during his entire career. His previous best was 0.76 from June 25 to July 21, 2011.

Sabathia isn’t blowing away hitters with high-90s fastballs anymore, but rather he’s using his cutter and sinker effectively to generate a ton of weak contact.

He got two more pop ups on Friday, increasing his rate of infield fly balls to a major-league-best 19.0 percent. His soft-contact rate of 38.1 percent against the Tigers was his second-highest single-game mark this year, and he now ranks second among AL starters in that metric (25.4 percent). And thanks to such a dominant outing on Friday, his average exit velocity allowed on batted balls fell to 85.6 mph, also the second-lowest by any AL starter entering the weekend.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Goodbye, win streak …
On paper, Saturday’s game seemed like a matchup heavily in the Yankees favor: They were 18-6 vs. the Tigers at the new Yankee Stadium, tied for their best record there against any AL team. Detroit’s Justin Verlander had struggled mightily at this ballpark during his career, going 0-4 with a 4.93 ERA in eight starts (including the postseason). That was his most starts without a win for any stadium he’s pitched at in the majors.

The Tigers and Verlander defied those numbers, Ian Kinsler had a historic day at the plate, and the Yankees five-game win streak was snapped. Verlander shut down the middle of the order with a mix of four-seamers, cutters, changeups and curves — the Yankees’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters were a combined 0-for-11 with one walk — and Kinsler provided the scoring punch with a three-run homer and a two-run double.

He became just the third visiting leadoff hitter in the last 50 seasons to have at least five RBIs at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The most recent was Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, and the other was the Orioles’ Brady Anderson in 1992.

Verlander cooled off the scorching-hot bat of Carlos Beltran, who went 0-for-4 and grounded into a double play against the former Cy Young winner. Beltran is now 1-for-16 (.063) with five strikeouts against Verlander in his career, his worst batting average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 15 times.

Masahiro Tanaka, who came into the game with a 1.33 ERA in his previous four outings, was tagged for five runs on six hits, including two homers. The first of those longballs came after he had gotten two quick strikes on Nick Castellanos in the second inning. It was the first time in his career that Tanaka had allowed a home run on an 0-2 count. Castellanos also had never hit a homer on an 0-2 count before taking Tanaka deep.

First time for everything
Seven times the Tigers had come to the new Yankee Stadium in the regular season, and seven times they left with more losses than wins during the series. They ended that drought with a 4-1 win on Sunday, taking two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx.

Not only had the Yankees never lost a regular-season series to the Tigers at this ballpark, but they’d never even lost back-to-back games against them there … until Sunday. The Tigers were the only AL team that had never beaten the Yankees twice in a row during the regular season at the new Yankee Stadium.

For the second day in a row, a Tigers starter dominated the Yankees lineup. Rookie Michael Fulmer tossed six scoreless innings, allowing only a pair of doubles by Austin Romine and Aaron Hicks. The last opposing pitcher age 23 or younger to go at least six innings without allowing a run and no more than two hits in the Bronx was the Twins’ Scott Erickson, who threw a two-hit shutout at the old Yankee Stadium on June 24, 1991.

Mister “Box of Chocolates” — aka Michael Pineda — continued to do his best to shed that label of inconsistency with another strong performance this month. For the first time this season, he’s put together three straight starts without allowing more than three runs in each outing. Baby steps, Big Mike, baby steps.

His slider continues to be a dominant swing-and-miss weapon for him, with the Tigers whiffing on 14 of their 32 swings (44 percent) against the pitch. During this mini-three-game hot streak in June, batters have swung at 73 of his sliders and come up empty 39 times — a ridiculous whiff rate of 53 percent.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back to .500 [June 6-9]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Call it a comeback
For the first two-thirds of Monday’s series opener against the Angels, it looked like the game would follow a familiar script: yet another strong effort by the starting pitcher wasted because of a lack of run support …

… And then suddenly everything changed in the span of three pitches. Brian McCann and Starlin Castro hit back-to-back homers in the seventh inning, tying the game at 2-2. Carlos Beltran capped the comeback with a three-run shot in the eighth inning that gave the Yankees one of their most stirring wins of the season.

Beltran flashed rare opposite field power with that blast. It was his 67th homer as a right-handed batter over the last 10 seasons, but just the third time in that span that he’s sent the ball over the right field fence.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his best stuff but he grinded through seven innings and held the Angels to two runs. It was his 10th start allowing two earned runs or fewer this season, the most among AL pitchers through Monday. The last Yankee to post double-digit starts with two earned runs or fewer allowed — this early into the season (57th team game) — was Ron Guidry during his Cy Young-winning campaign of 1978.

Carlos in charge
It is a question that has been asked many times this season: Where would the Yankees be without Carlos Beltran in the middle of their lineup? They most definitely would not have two wins in the first two games of this series.

For the second night in a row, Beltran hit a game-changing homer to help the Yankees beat the Angels, and this one was most notable because it was also his 1,000th career extra-base hit. We know that Beltran in his prime possessed that rare combo of power, patience and speed. And there’s proof in the numbers, too:

Beltran is just the seventh player in major-league history to compile at least 1,000 extra-base hits, 1,000 walks and 300 stolen bases. The others on that list are Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Tris Speaker and Craig Biggio.

Two weeks ago, Michael Pineda‘s spot in the rotation was seemingly in jeopardy. But after Tuesday’s promising seven-inning, three-run performance, there is a glimmer of hope that maybe he’s finally turned the corner.

Thanks to a lower arm slot that has added depth to his slider, Pineda has a 61 percent whiffs-per-swing rate on the pitch in his two June starts (up from 42 percent in April and May), and has given up just three singles – while netting 10 strikeouts – among the 71 sliders he’s thrown this month.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

C-Parm, the newest True Yankee®
The Angels were once the Yankees’ kryptonite — the were the only American League team that had a winning record against them during the Joe Torre era — but since then have become their punching bag, especially in the Bronx.

With Tuesday’s win, the Yankees improved to 23-8 against the Angels at the new Yankee Stadium, their best record against any AL squad at the ballpark.

The Yankees also continued to beat up on the Angels pitching staff on Wednesday night, belting out nine extra-base hits and 17 hits overall en route to a 12-6 win.

The nine extra-base hits tied the most they’ve ever hit against the Angels (also in 1997), and was the Yankees most in a home game against any team in nearly five years. That last happened in the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles on July 30, 2011, a 17-3 rout that included six doubles, a triple and two homers.

Chris Parmelee, making his first start in pinstripes, wasted no time in getting started on his campaign for a plaque in Monument Park. He went 3-for-5, hitting two homers and a double, while driving in three runs.

In the last 100 seasons, the only other player to hit at least two homers in his first start with the Yankees was Roger Maris. Acquired from the Royals in December 1959, Maris had four hits — two homers, a double and a single — and four RBIs in a 8-4 win over the Red Sox on Opening Day in 1960.

Broom, broom
Remember when the Yankees couldn’t even win three games in a row? With their 6-3 victory on Thursday night, they now have two four-game sweeps on their ledger this season. Amazing facts, I tell ya.

This was their first four-game sweep of the Angels since July 21-24, 1994, and the victory was also their ninth in a row against them in the Bronx. That’s the Yankees second-longest home win streak in this rivalry, behind only an 11-gamer spanning the 1961-62 seasons.

Something that is not shocking … Carlos Beltran was once again in the middle of another Yankees offensive outburst. His tie-breaking RBI double in the fifth inning was his fourth go-ahead hit in this series, and team-leading 15th go-ahead RBI of the season — nearly twice as many as any other Yankee has in 2016 (Starlin Castro and A-Rod are second with eight).

He’s also now driven in at least two runs in each of his last four games, matching the longest multi-RBI streak of his career, a mark he set in the 2006 season with the Mets. The last Yankee with two-or-more RBIs in four straight games was Mark Teixeira in 2010.

Yankeemetrics: D’Oh, Canada [May 30-June 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Lost in translation
The Yankees crossed the border for another series in Toronto, but the script for Monday’s game was a familiar one: the starting pitching was mediocre while the offense continued to flounder and reach historic lows, producing a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

Through 50 games, the Yankees are putting up offensive numbers that resemble some of the weakest squads in franchise history. Their batting average (.233) and on-base percentage (.302) are both their worst at this point in the season since 1969, while they’ve scored their fewest runs (192) at the 50-game marker since 1990.

One glimmer of hope is that twice before in the Wild Card Era they’ve been under .500 through their first 50 games – 1995 and 2007 – and both times they rebounded to make the playoffs that season.

Ivan Nova entered the game with a terrible track record against the Blue Jays and did little to improve it. He now has a 5.66 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) vs. Toronto, the second-worst among active pitchers with more than 10 starts against them.

Nova was pounded by the Blue Jays’ lineup, giving up four extra-base hits and a bunch of loud outs in six innings pitched. The results were hardly surprising, though, despite Nova’s recent solid work in the rotation: he entered the game allowing an average exit velocity of 97.0 mph on line drives and fly balls, the worst mark among MLB pitchers this season (min. 100 balls in play).

cc
Deja Blue
Once again the Yankees squandered another strong outing from their starting pitcher as the offensive struggles deepened in a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

After the losing the first two games, the Yankees clinched their fifth consecutive series loss against the Blue Jays dating back to last year. The last time the Jays won five straight series against the Yankees was a six-series streak spanning the 1992 and 1993 seasons.

CC Sabathia wrote another chapter in his incredible renaissance season, holding the Blue Jays scoreless through six innings before being charged with a couple runs in the seventh. Still, he finished up the month with a sparkling 1.04 ERA, the best by a Yankee pitcher with at least three starts in May since Allie Reynolds (1.00) in 1952.

He hasn’t given up more than three runs in any start this year, the first time in his career he’s begun a season with eight straight starts of three-or-fewer runs allowed.

Deja Blue Part II
Re-read the first sentence of the section above and replace it with a 7-0 score — their worst shutout loss to the Blue Jays since Oct. 1, 2004 — and you’ve got the quick recap of Wednesday’s game.

With the loss, the Yankees were swept in series of three-or-more games at Toronto for the first time since Sept. 19-21, 2000. Their struggles in this city go behind the current season, though. They are now just 24-36 at the Rogers Centre since 2010, easily their worst record at any AL stadium in that span.

It’s not just the string of losses in Toronto; they’ve also been held to two runs or fewer in five straight games here for the first time in the history of this rivalry. The last time the Yankees scored two or fewer runs in five straight games at any road ballpark was in 1996 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance wasn’t perfect (and that’s basically what he needed to be with this version of the Bronx Bummers supporting him), but he worked out of jams and was good enough to hold the Blue Jays to just two runs — one earned — in six innings.

He owns an AL-best road ERA of 1.36, and has gone at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his six road starts this year. The only pitchers in franchise history with longer such streaks to begin a season are Hideki Irabu (1998) and Whitey Ford (1958).

Masahiro Tanaka’s latest adjustment: A new position on the pitching rubber

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

The season is nearly one-third of the way complete, and so far Masahiro Tanaka has not just been the Yankees best starter, he’s been one of the best starters in the entire American League. Look over the AL pitching leaderboard and you’ll see Tanaka in the top ten of pretty much every meaningful statistic. In many cases he’s in the top five. He’s been awesome.

Tanaka, as we’ve already discussed, has made some significant changes this year. Most notably, he has basically replaced his straight four-seamer fastball with sinking two-seamers, perhaps in response to last year’s homer issues. Tanaka went from 18.6% four-seamers and 13.6% sinkers last year to 2.7% four-seamers and 37.2% sinkers this year. As a result, his ground ball rate has jumped from 47.0% to 55.1% while his homer rate has dropped from 1.46 HR/9 to 0.83 HR/9.

That’s not the only adjustment Tanaka has made this season and it’s not even the most recent. In his last two starts, Tanaka has changed his position on the mound. He’s now standing on the far first base side of the pitching rubber. Check it out:

Masahiro Tanaka mound position

Those are the dead center field cameras at Fenway Park (April 29th) and Tropicana Field (May 27th), so there’s no camera angle funny business going on. Tanaka is, very clearly, standing much more on the first base side of the rubber. The PitchFX data shows the drastic change in his horizontal release point. From Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka horizontal release point

Tanaka’s average horizontal release point has shifted roughly 12 inches towards first base in his last two starts thanks to his new position on the mound. This is not insignificant! It changes everything, really. The pitches come out at different angles now, and standing so far to the first base side means Tanaka has to adjust the way he pitches to both sides of the plate.

Why did Tanaka change his position on the rubber? Brendan Kuty asked pitching coach Larry Rothschild that exact question:

“He came up with it himself to move over, for angles to the fastball more than anything else,” Rothschild said. “We’ll see how we go as it plays. Right now, it seems like a good thing, but it’s a long season and we’ll see. As long as he can throw the split as well from that side, because that’s an important pitch for him.”

Shifting to the first or third base side of the pitching rubber is not rare, but it’s not exactly common either. After getting traded to the Cubs, Jake Arrieta shifted to the third base side and became a super-ace. A few years back Fernando Rodney shifted towards first base and became a dominant closer with the Rays. Others have changed their position on the rubber too. Arrieta and Rodney are two examples of extreme performance improvement.

Tanaka has allowed one run on seven hits and two walks in 14 innings in two starts since moving to the first base side of the rubber, so, at the very least, his new position on the mound isn’t hurting his performance. That’s not much of a sample though and it’s still too early to fully understand what kind of effect standing closer to first base really has. This is a very recent adjustment. Very, very recent.

The biggest concern with Tanaka is health, not performance. He’s never not been good when healthy. Even last year’s home run problems did not stop him from posting a 115 ERA+ and +3.0 WAR in 154 innings. Tanaka started throwing more sinkers to counter that home run problem and by and large it’s worked. He gave up three dingers in a bad start against the Royals on May 10th and he’s given up three homers total in his other nine starts combined.

This new position on the pitching rubber is designed to … do something. I’m not sure what. Rothschild says it’s for “angles to the fastball,” whatever that means. Could it be to change the way the splitter and slider play off the fastball? Or make the sinker look way off the plate away to righties before darting back and catching the corner? I’m really not sure.

Tanaka will make his 11th start of the season tonight and his position on the mound is something worth watching going forward. If Tanaka stays on the first base side of the rubber, then we’ll know it’s working as intended. If he goes back to where he was before — or even to the extreme third base side, I guess — then we’ll know he’s still tinkering.

Yankeemetrics: A Ray of Hope [May 27-29]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Super Hiro
A couple veteran sluggers made sure that the Yankees wouldn’t waste another pitching gem in Friday night’s series opener at Tampa Bay. Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both homered in support of another brilliant performance by Masahiro Tanaka, leading the Bronx Bombers to a 4-1 win over the Rays.

Tanaka took a perfect game into the fifth inning, allowing just two hits and no walks over seven scoreless innings. He is now 3-0 in 10 starts this season, the first Yankee pitcher with a double-digit streak of unbeaten starts to begin a season since Orlando Hernandez in 2004.

Tanaka continued his dominance away from Yankee Stadium, delivering his third straight road outing of at least seven innings, one run or fewer and no more than five hits allowed. The last Yankee with a streak like that was Mike Mussina in August 2003. He lowered his road ERA to 1.34, the best in the American League through Friday’s games (min. 15 IP).

The 27-year-old right-hander was brilliant in finishing off hitters, as the Rays went 0-for-11 in two-strike counts with four strikeouts. Tampa Bay’s left-handed bats were also held in check by Tanaka, going 0-for-10 and hit just one ball out of the infield (a fly out by Corey Dickerson in the fifth inning).

A-Rod and Beltran supplied the offensive fireworks needed for the win, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates age 39 or older to homer in the same game, and the 21st pair overall to achieve that feat. The most recent guys to do it were Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs for the Blue Jays on June 23, 2007, and the first guys were Ty Cobb and Zack Wheat for the Philadelphia A’s on July 15, 1927.

The 6-foot-7 elephant in the room
Saturday’s game went pretty much as predicted given that Michael Pineda was listed as the starting pitcher for the Yankees. The big righty gave up a bunch of first-inning runs and was hit hard all afternoon, adding another ugly pitching line to his ledger, and the Yankees lost to the Rays.

(Getty  Images)
(Getty Images)

Pineda added three more runs and four hits to his league-leading totals in the first inning, which now stand at 16 runs and 26 hits. His 14.40 first-inning ERA would easily be the highest single-season mark by any Yankee that started more than five games.

It was also his fourth game with at least six earned runs allowed this season, the most by any pitcher in the majors through Saturday’s slate. The only other Yankee in the last 60 seasons to have four such games this early into the schedule (through 48 team games) was Terry Mulholland in 1994.

On a more positive note … Beltran reached another significant statistical milestone in this game, hitting his 12th homer of the season in the fourth inning for his 2,500th career hit. He’s the 99th player all-time and the 10th switch-hitter with that many hits, but also joined an even more exclusive club when looking at his rare combo of speed, power and on-base skills.

Just three other players in major-league history, along with Beltran, have compiled at least 2,500 hits, 400 homers, 300 stolen bases and 1,000 walks: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.

One is enough
One swing changed everything for the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. With Starlin Castro‘s two-run homer in the seventh inning, they avoided becoming a historical footnote in baseball history and instead added another rare win to their franchise record books. The go-ahead blast ended Jake Odorizzi’s no-hit bid in emphatic fashion and delivered one of the most unusual victories ever recorded by a Yankee team.

It was the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees won a game of nine or more innings while recording just one hit or fewer. The only other instance of this happening in a contest of any length was July 10, 1914 against the Indians, the second game of a doubleheader that lasted only six innings. The next day, on July 11, a 19-year-old named Babe Ruth made his major-league debut for the Boston Red Sox.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

This was also the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees were held to one hit or fewer and scored more than one run in a game, regardless of the length or outcome.

Just three other times in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) have the Yankees played a game where their only hit was a home run: Sept. 10, 1999 vs. the Red Sox (Pedro’s 17-strikeout one-hitter); June 1, 1960 vs. the Orioles; Aug. 11, 1943 vs. the Browns.

Lost in the statistical madness was another fantastic outing by Nathan Eovaldi. He threw six innings of one-run ball, winning his fifth straight start and improving to 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA in his last seven starts. Nasty Nate now has a streak of back-to-back-to-back starts of at least six innings and no more than one run allowed for the first time in his career.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.