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

Game 157: The Final Homestand

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

The Yankees have six games remaining this season, all at home. Three with the Red Sox, then three with the Orioles. They are mathematically still alive in the postseason race, and for those final three games with the O’s to mean anything, they need some combination of Yankees wins and Orioles losses totaling at least five these next three days. If that happens, New York could sweep that final series and force a Game 163 tiebreaker. (Well, the Tigers and Astros and Mariners could throw a big wrench into this, but humor me.)

Of course, that means having to root for the small time Blue Jays these next few days since the Orioles are in Toronto. The Yankees’ tragic numbers is two, so even if they miraculously sweep the BoSox this week, they could be knocked out should the O’s win two of three from the Jays. One thing at a time though. Get a win over the Red Sox tonight and hope the stupid Blue Jays beat the stupid Orioles in stupid Rogers Centre. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Luis Cessa

It’s cloudy and cool and weirdly humid in New York today. There is no rain in the forecast tonight and that’s most important. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN2 nationally. Enjoy the game, folks.

Injury Update: Masahiro Tanaka (forearm) played catch today and “felt nothing at all.” He’s going to long toss tomorrow, and he wants to make his start Saturday regardless of whether the Yankees are in the race or not.

Red Sox Rotation Update: Drew Pomeranz has forearm soreness and won’t make his schedule start Thursday. Lefty Henry Owens will go instead. He hasn’t pitched in a game since September 5th.

Finding Success

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

One way or another, the 2016 season is going to end in a week’s time. Chances are, the Yankees will be packing up their lockers and heading to their respective corners of vacation, golf, and other recreational activities as their counterparts on other teams bask in the stressful glow of October baseball. There was a time when we’d consider such a happening an unwavering failure for the Bombers. But from this endpoint, it’s hard to look back and consider 2016 anything other than an unmitigated success for our boys in pinstripes.

Coming into this season, the Yankees were a flawed and fairly incomplete team, relying on continued high-level performances from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to anchor the offense; they were also expecting Luis Severino to build off of a positive end to 2015 and emerge as a force in the rotation to back up Masahiro Tanaka. If all of that happened, they were looking at the playoffs, even if in the form of the Wild Card game once again.

Literally none of those things happened. A-Rod didn’t even last the full season; Tex announced his retirement and has looked like a shell of himself most of the time; and Severino looked more like 2008 Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy than 2015 Luis Severino. But, a funny thing happened on the way to a playoff-less season: the Yankees found success in other avenues.

Masahiro Tanaka
(Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka has had a fantastic season and is a contender for the AL Cy Young Award. He came into the year as the Yankees’ rotation rock and lasted the entire way as such. As his pitching went, generally, so did the Yankees; he was the one reliable starter they had and he was as good as gold.

While he wasn’t up to his career standard — and likely never will be again — CC Sabathia had a bounceback year, posting (to date) a 104 ERA+, a far better showing than 2013-15’s marks of 84, 73, and 86. Watching him find success again was a pleasure, given all he’s meant to the Yankees since 2009.

When it was clear that 2016 wasn’t likely to end in much more than a lack of playoffs, the Yankees found success on the trade market. However much it hurt to watch a guy as good — in more ways than pitching — as Andrew Miller leave the club — with Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran departing as well — the restocking and rearming the Yankee farm system went through in the summer was more than worth it. By shedding those players, the Yankees help set themselves up for success in 2017 and beyond.

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Of course, nothing did that quite as much as the successes of the Baby Bombers, led by Gary Sanchez‘s remarkable display of power. While his performance in 2016 was more sustained, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green all had flashes of brilliance that give promise to 2017. Sanchez’s spark gave the Yankees a surprise run towards the second wild card that will probably fall just short, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to watch. How often does a team sell at the deadline, then compete for the playoffs anyway?

This all begs the question of what a successful 2017 will look like for the Yankees. From a team and competition standpoint, it’s hard to see things looking much different than this year. The team going into 2017 is likely to be flawed enough — especially in the rotation — that a shot at the playoffs is all that could be expected.

Individually speaking, there is plenty to look forward to. Continued excellence from Gary Sanchez is obviously one of those things. We should, however, temper our expectations. While he’ll likely finish this partial season with 20 or more homers, we must remember that if he hits “only” that many in a full season next year, it’s still a great thing for a young catcher.

For Aaron Judge, success will be ironing out the hole in his swing and winning the right field job out of Spring Training.

For the young pitchers — Severino and Cessa, in particular — success will be finding a role. Both can do that by improving their secondary pitches to the point where turning over a lineup is a probability, not just a possibility. The more success they have in this endeavor, the more success the Yankees will have as a team.

Yankeemetrics: The final countdown begins [Sept. 20-22]

(AP)
(AP)

Gary For President
Fueled by the heroics of Gary Sanchez and a dominant outing by the enigmatic Michael Pineda in the series opener on Tuesday night, the desperate Yankees kept their faint postseason hopes alive for at least one more day.

Sanchez delivered the biggest blow in the seventh inning, when he pounced on a first-pitch slider and hammered it 437 feet over the left-center field wall for a tie-breaking, three-run homer that put the Yankees ahead 5-2. It was the 17th time he’s gone deep in his big-league career, and the first time (of many, hopefully) he’s homered to give the Yankees a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Sanchez wasn’t the only star of the game, of course, as Pineda pitched a gem and made sure the Yankees had a chance to record their 42nd comeback win of the season. He had absolutely filthy stuff, striking out 11 of the 22 batters he faced, including 10 of them swinging.

Pineda increased his strikeout total to 195, and a whopping 175 of them (89.7 percent) are of the swinging variety. Among all pitchers with at least 125 Ks this season, Pineda has the highest percentage of swinging strikeouts in the majors.

Pineda was yanked by Joe Girardi after Brad Miller singled with one out in the sixth inning, producing this Yankeemetric that perhaps best defines his tantalizing — and frustrating — talent: Pineda’s 11 strikeouts against the Rays are the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in an outing of of 5 1/3 innings or fewer.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

LOL, Gary Sanchez
This is Gary Sanchez’s world, and we’re just living in it. Yup, the Sanch-ino (Thanks John Sterling!) did it again.

Sanchez continued to re-write baseball history at an incredible and frenetic pace, going deep twice while driving in a career-high five runs in the 11-5 win. He truly is must-see television as fans have a chance to witness something every time he comes to the plate.

On Wednesday, Sanchez clobbered his 18th and 19th home runs, becoming the fastest player ever to reach those marks. No other major-leaguer had even hit 19 homers in their first 50 career games (Wally Berger had the previous record with 19 in 51 games), and Sanchez compiled that number in a mere 45 games.

He made his mark on the franchise record books, too, becoming the first rookie in Yankees history to homer in four straight games. This was also the third time he’d hit two homers in a game, making the 23-year-old Sanchez the youngest Yankee with three multi-homer games in a season since Bobby Murcer in 1969.

There are so many ways to quantify his ridiculous home run pace and put his Superman-like slugging into perspective. Here’s another one (all data per Statcast):

Through Wednesday, one of every 6.5 balls that he put into play turned into a home run, and roughly one of every 18 pitches he swung at went over the fences! Both of those rates were by far the best among all players with at least 10 homers this season. #YoSoyGary

It’s a good thing that Sanchez is a human highlight reel, or else this game would have been decided by Masahiro Tanaka’s inexplicable four-homer meltdown in the third inning. Although he settled down after that blip, Tanaka still joined this illustrious list of Yankees to give up a quartet of longballs in a single inning: Chase Wright (2007), Randy Johnson (2005), Scott Sanderson (1992) and Catfish Hunter (1977).

(AP)
(AP)

“We need to win 11 out of 10
That quote above is from Brett Gardner following the Yankees 2-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday night, and pretty much sums up the daunting task ahead of the Yankees in the final week of the season. Do you believe in miracles? Because that’s what it might take for this team to avoid making tee times for October.

For the 417th time this season (approximately) the Yankees failed to close out a series sweep, getting blanked by the Rays as their near-impossible trek towards a postseason berth became even more improbable.

The Yankees and Rays played six series this season; in four of them the Yankees had a chance to win every game in the series, and four times they lost the final game to come up empty in the sweep opportunity. #Sigh

The Yankees season-long problem of coming up empty in scoring situations reared its ugly head once again, with the Yankees going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position while stranding 11 baserunners. This is the 17th time this year they’ve left at least 11 men on base in a game; last year, it happened only 12 times.

This was also their 73rd loss of the season, meaning the Yankees will fail to win 90 games for fourth year in a row. That’s their longest stretch of sub-90-win campaigns (excluding strike-shortened seasons) since the dark days of the late 1980s and 90s, when they didn’t reach the magical 90-win mark from 1987-1993.

Masahiro Tanaka to skip next start with flexor mass strain

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

Masahiro Tanaka will not make his scheduled start Monday due to what Joe Girardi called a “slight slight slight” strain in his flexor mass, according to Erik Boland and Mark Feinsand. This is the same thing Andrew Miller had last year. The strain is not near the elbow ligament.

“I’m not worried at all, because I think the team was taking precautions. I don’t feel any pain or anything like that so I’m very confident that I should be able to comeback soon,” said Tanaka to Andrew Marchand. He’ll rest five days before throwing again.

The injury could explain Tanaka’s sudden bout of homeritis in the third inning last night, though he did settle down after that and pitch well the rest of the way. There was no indication he was hurt prior to this. Tanaka’s been pretty awesome all year, and especially of late. Stupid injuries.

The bad news is Tanaka, by far the Yankees’ best starter, had two starts left this season and now he’ll miss one. That won’t help their postseason chances. At the same time, Tanaka is way too important to the Yankees, so they have to play it safe with him. Their playoff odds are long as it is.

The Yankees are very short on rotation depth at the moment with Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chad Green all injured. Girardi indicated they’ll go with a bullpen game Monday. They really don’t have much of a choice.

The Yankees and 2016’s major awards

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

We’re now less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL Rookie of the Year, which should go to Corey Seager easily, the other major awards in both leagues feature very tight races. Pretty fun.

The last Yankee to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who was named 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting; a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Is there an AL MVP favorite right now? I mean, of course it should be Mike Trout, but his teammates suck so he won’t win. For shame. I guess Mookie Betts is the favorite now almost by default. The other serious candidates (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve) are on teams either fading in the standings or out of the postseason picture entirely. That matters in the voting for whatever reason.

The Yankees don’t have a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Their best all-around player has been Didi Gregorius, and sorry, he’s not MVP material. Gary Sanchez hasn’t been up long enough. Masahiro Tanaka? He’s the best and therefore most valuable player on the roster, though it takes an insane season for a pitcher to win MVP. You need to go 24-5 like Justin Verlander did in 2011. A no-doubt Cy Young season and more, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Yankees will not have a player receive MVP votes. Hardly. Lots of weird stuff happens at the bottom of the ballot and I would not at all be surprised if Tanaka and/or Dellin Betances and/or someone else got a ninth or tenth place vote. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod received MVP votes last season, for example. Chances are at least one Yankee will get an MVP vote. No one on the roster will win though. Sorry.

Cy Young

Okay, now we’re talking. Tanaka is a legitimate Cy Young candidate along with Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels. Unlike the MVP ballot, which is ten spots deep, the Cy Young ballot is only five players deep, so it’s going to be tight. Here’s where Tanaka ranks in various stats among AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

Innings: 193.2 (seventh)
ERA: 2.97 (first! … Sale is second at 3.03)
FIP: 3.26 (second behind Kluber, 3.25)
WHIP: 1.06 (fifth)
Walk Rate: 4.4% (third)
Strikeout Rate: 20.5% (20th)
K/BB Ratio: 4.71 (seventh)
Ground Ball Rate: 48.6% (11th)
bWAR: 5.6 (second behind Kluber, 6.4)
fWAR: 5.1 (second behind Sale, 5.2)

Tanaka lags in strikeout rate, otherwise he’s top ten in pretty much every meaningful pitching statistic, including top three in more than a few. Of course, his 13-4 record isn’t very Cy Young worthy, and that’s going to hurt his case. I know Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record a few years ago, but that was because he was so much better than everyone else. His dominance was too great to ignore. As great as he’s been, Tanaka is not having that kind of season.

My guess right now is either Porcello or Kluber will win the Cy Young, likely Porcello because he’s up over 20 wins. Tanaka’s performance is on par with those two on a rate basis, and in many ways he’s been better. He’s by far the best Cy Young candidate the Yankees have had since CC Sabathia was in his heyday — Sabathia finished fourth, third, and fourth in the voting from 2009-11 — and I think Tanaka will finish in the top five of the voting, possibly even the top three.

Rookie of the Year

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

This is going to be interesting. Sanchez has had an unreal start to his career. He’s hitting .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+) with 17 homers in 42 games as a full-time catcher, which is bonkers. It’s also only 42 games. If Sanchez plays every single game the rest of the season, he’ll finished with 54 games played. The fewest games ever played by a Rookie of the Year position player is 52, by Willie McCovey in 1959. Next fewest? Eighty-eighty by Ryan Howard.

At the moment Sanchez is first among all AL rookies in fWAR (+2.9) and is third in bWAR (+2.5). His primary competition: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers, the guy the Mets traded to Detroit along with Luis Cessa to get Yoenis Cespedes last year. Fulmer has a 3.03 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 148.2 innings. That works out to +2.5 fWAR and +4.7 bWAR. Fulmer’s been in the big leagues since April. Voters will have to figure out how to weigh 50-something games of Sanchez against a nearly a full season of Fulmer.

I’d love to see Sanchez win, but if I had a vote, it would go to Fulmer. The difference in playing time is too great. Sanchez is only going to play one-third of a season. One-third! He’s basically a rookie who had a hot start and time ran out before the league had a chance to adjust. At this point I expect Sanchez to receive some first place votes and I think he and Fulmer will finish one-two on the ballot in some order, with Tyler Naquin third. My money is on Fulmer winning right now.

Manager of the Year

Does Joe Girardi deserve Manager of the Year votes? If you believe the Yankees have no business being this close to the postseason race, then yes. If you watch every game and hang on every questionable move — questionable moves every manager makes, by the way — then no chance. Girardi’s had a pretty terrible year, strategically.

These days the Manager of the Year seems to go to the manager whose team most outperformed expectations, or improved the most from last season. This year that’s … Terry Francona? I guess John Farrell since the Red Sox were in last place a year ago. I really have no idea how the Manager of the Year voting will turn out. Girardi’s case is built on the Yankees selling and then getting hot for a few weeks in August and September. That will get him votes — Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 — but probably ain’t enough to win.

Comeback Player of the Year

Gosh, who even are the Comeback Player of the Year candidates? Michael Saunders, I guess? Marcus Stroman probably would have won it with even an average season, but he hasn’t been able to do that. In recent years the Comeback Player of the Year has gone to players coming off major injury, like Matt Harvey and Prince Fielder last year. Chris Young (the pitcher) and Rivera are recent winners too. That could put Saunders in the lead.

With no obvious candidate, this is going to come down to the preference of the voters. Does Porcello deserve Comeback Player of the Year after his miserable 2015 season and average-ish career? Or is he just prime age player breaking out? Maybe Doug Fister should win. Or Robinson Cano. Or Chris Tillman. The Yankees’ best Comeback Player of the Year candidate is Sabathia, and as much as I love the big guy, he hasn’t been good enough to win the award. I’d bet on Saunders winning right now, though I have little confidence in that.

Yankeemetrics: Nightmare at Fenway Park [Sept. 15-18]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Speechless
Just when you started to believe in this plucky, underdog team with a nothing-to-lose mentality and pinstripes on its uniforms … Thursday night happened.

The Yankees suffered their most devastating loss of the season, blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning — they were two strikes away from a win — and losing in truly heartbreaking fashion when Dellin Betances served up a walk-off home run to Hanley Ramirez.

In the long history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, this was just the third time that a Yankee pitcher coughed up a game-ending home run with the lead and one out to go.

The most recent game came on June 30, 1953 when Sammie White hit a two-run shot off Allie Reynolds in the bottom of the ninth to give Boston a 5-4 win; the first instance was August 7, 1935 when Joe Cronin took Johnny Broaca deep to turn a 5-3 Yankee advantage into a 6-5 loss.

The deflating defeat becomes even more depressing and soul-wrenching given that the Yankees also wasted an absolute gem by Masahiro Tanaka.

The right-hander added another chapter to his Cy Young resume with a stellar one-run, seven-inning performance against the league’s most potent lineup. It was his ninth start of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run allowed, a number that led all American League pitchers through Thursday’s slate.

The brilliant outing lowered his ERA to 2.97, pushing Tanaka past Chris Sale to the top of the AL leaderboard. If he can keep up this pace, he’d be the first Yankee to lead the league in ERA since Rudy May in 1980. And no Yankee has qualified for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) in 1997.

He dominated the Red Sox batters not with his typical nasty, swing-and-miss stuff, but rather with an aggressive, pitch-to-contact approach. He located his off-speed pitches at the knees and pounded the edges of the strike zone with his fastball, generating a personal-best 15 ground ball outs while failing to record a strikeout for the first time in his MLB career.

Tanaka’s streak of 73 straight games with at least one punchout to begin his major-league career was the second-longest by any Yankee, behind only Dave Righetti (88 games). He’s also the first Yankee to go at least seven innings without striking out a batter in a game since Andy Pettitte on April 21, 2009 vs. the A’s and the first to do it against the Red Sox since Tommy John on June 25, 1980.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Different story, same result
The Yankees took another beating from the Red Sox on Friday night, losing again but this time with much less drama and in more conventional fashion: The Yankees fell behind early, their inexperienced middle relief arms put them in a deeper hole, and the bats wasted numerous scoring opportunities in an attempt to come back from a too-big deficit.

Following their pathetic 1-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position on Friday night, their season batting average in that situation fell to .231, which is by far the lowest among all AL teams this season and would be the worst by any Yankee team since 1969 (.224).

The offense was shut down by Boston’s Clay Buchholz, a pitcher that the Yankees had routinely pounded in the past. He entered Friday’s start with a 6.19 ERA in 18 career games (17 starts) versus the Yankees, the third-highest among all active pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched against them.

Snatching defeat from the arms of victory, again
The Yankees sudden and swift free fall in the playoff race continued on Saturday afternoon, enduring yet another excruciating loss while sinking further and further in the standings.

(AP Sports)
(AP Sports)

Gary Sanchez gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead when he clobbered a 95-mph fastball over the Green Monster. It went an estimated 407 feet, the 12th time he’s hit a ball at least 400 feet. From his call-up on August 3 and through Saturday, only one player (Brian Dozier) hit more 400-foot batted balls than Sanchez.

Milestone alert: Brett Gardner’s RBI triple in the third inning was his 50th career three-bagger. He is the only Yankee to pile up at least 50 triples, 50 homers and 200 stolen bases within his first nine major-league seasons.

Just seven other AL outfielders in baseball history have achieved the feat: Carl Crawford, Ichiro, Johnny Damon, Kenny Lofton, Brady Anderson, Lloyd Moseby and Ben Chapman.

That was fun while it lasted …
Hello coffin, meet nail.

Yes, the Yankees are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but their improbable quest for a postseason berth is now on life support and it will take a near-miracle to earn a ticket to the October party. Nearly all the momentum and ground they’d gained during their magical seven-game win streak has been nullified in the blink of an eye, as they’ve gone from postseason contenders to pretenders in less than a week.

The latest horrible loss capped off an absolutely crushing sweep in Boston, the first time the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series by the Red Sox since June 4-7, 1990. [The Stump Merrill era began during that series when he replaced Bucky Dent as manager after the second of the four losses.]

It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to suggest that Fenway Park has become the latest “house of horrors” for the Yankees, who finished with a record of 2-8 at the ballpark, the most losses by a Yankee team there since they went 1-8 in 1973.

And finally … Let’s end on a positive note: Gary Sanchez’s assault on American League pitching continued with his 16th homer of the year (in 159 at-bats), a blast to left field that put the Yankees up 2-0 in the third inning. Sanchez’s incredible rate of 9.94 at-bats per homer would be the best by any Yankee in a single season since Roger Maris (9.67) and Mickey Mantle (9.52) waged their epic home run battle in 1961.

While Sanchez is best known for his tape-measure bombs, he’s also the rare young slugger who hits for average. After going 3-for-5 on Sunday night, he’s now hitting .327 this year, and is on pace to join Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only Yankees to have a rookie season with at least 15 homers and a .300-plus batting average.

Youth has helped the Yankees get back into the race, but they have veterans in important places too

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Even after two straight losses, the Yankees are still only two games back of the second wildcard spot with 19 games to play. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at a slim 9.6% as of this writing, but hey, that’s better than the 2.3% they were at nine days ago. Those odds can change real quick from one day to the next.

At 24-15, the Yankees have the second best record in the AL since selling buying for the future at the trade deadline. (The Royals are 25-14.) Gary Sanchez has had a monumental impact, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments, and young hurlers like Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell contributed too. The Yankees would not be where they are without these kids.

As productive as many of them have been, the young players are not the only reason the Yankees have climbed back into the wildcard race. That was never going to be the case. The Yankees weren’t going to call up a bunch of prospects and let them carry the team into October. Some of the holdover veterans have contributed too, and in fact, the Yankees have veteran players in very important spots.

Front of the Rotation

It’s easy to forget Masahiro Tanaka is still only 27 years old, isn’t it? He’s two months younger than Chris Archer and five months younger than Jacob deGrom. And yet, despite his relative youth, Tanaka is very much a veteran pitcher. He’s thrown 477 innings with the Yankees on top of over 1,300 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, with whom he won a championship and a pair of Sawamura Awards (Cy Young equivalent).

There’s something reassuring about having a veteran ace on the staff. During his heyday from 2009-12, you knew CC Sabathia was going to go out every fifth day and give the Yankees a quality outing. Even his bad starts weren’t that bad. We watched Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina do the same for years and years. That’s Tanaka now. He’s very good, rarely bad, and every fifth day he’s going to give the Yankees a good chance to win. (Remember when he couldn’t pitch on normal rest? He’s allowed six runs in 31.1 innings in his last five starts on normal rest.)

Back of the Bullpen

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

At this point Dellin Betances qualifies as a veteran, right? I think so. This is only his third full season, but he’s already been a three-time All-Star, and Dellin’s been throwing high-leverage innings for well over two years now. Relievers don’t have the longest career life span in this game. Betances is a grizzled veteran compared to most bullpen guys.

Add in Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, and each of the Yankees’ three end-game relievers has been around the block. Veteran relievers melt down just as easily as rookies (see: Nathan, Joe), but there’s always going to be the element of the unknown with kids. How do they handle intense late-season games with postseason implications? There’s less wiggle room in the eighth and ninth innings because there’s not much time to score any necessary runs. The more unpredictability you can take out of the bullpen, the better.

Top of the Lineup

As we’ve seen over the last three weeks or so, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury really ignite the offense when they’re both hot at the same time. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when those two are causing chaos. It’s imperative they stay hot for the Yankees to reach the postseason, and when it comes to setting the table for the offense, the Yankees have two veteran leadoff men. They need them too; none of their young players fits the leadoff hitter mold. I guess maybe Mason Williams, though asking him to do that right away seems like too much, too soon.

In the Clubhouse

Even after their sell-off, the Yankees kept most of their leadership core intact. Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran are gone, ditto Alex Rodriguez, but team leaders like Sabathia, Gardner, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira remain. Both McCann and Teixeira have had their roles reduced and that’s surely tough for a veteran player. They haven’t complained though. They continue to go about their business and help the young players. Young players are great! You need them to win these days. There also needs to be a leadership core in place to help those young players develop into winners, if not immediately than down the road.

* * *

At the end of the day, talent reigns supreme. It doesn’t matter how many veterans you have or where they fit on the roster if the performance is there. Can having experience and good leadership help that talent translate into good performance more frequently? I firmly believe the answer is yes. The Yankees have turned their season around because their young players have (mostly) performed and brought a lot of energy to their team. The veterans still play a big role though, and they still occupy some very important spots on the roster.