Masahiro Tanaka didn’t wait to the last minute to inform the Yankees he would not opt out of his contract.
With three years and $67 million dollars remaining on the deal that he signed in 2014, why would you want to leave that much money on the table. Tanaka was brilliant in the post season so there was some belief that he would opt out and test the free agent market. I’m sure that once the Yankees were eliminated, Tanaka’s camp was sending out feelers to gauge the interest in a pitcher who still has an elbow issue but, to his credit, manages to make his starts. Apparently, the interest wasn’t that high.
So what can the Yankees expect from Tanaka next season. Will they get the post season Tanaka or the Tanaka that was erratic for most of the regular season and, at times, very “hit-able.”
In the playoffs, Tanaka turned into the pitcher the Yanks thought they were getting when he signed a seven-year deal in 2014. The right hander did not give up a home run in 20 innings pitched in the post season but during the regular season, he gave up a career high 35.
In 2017, Tanaka had 194 strikeouts in 178.1 IP. That total included a 15 strikeout gem against Toronto late in the regular season, but despite the numbers, Tanaka is not a power pitcher and relies heavily on command.
Scouts, who follow Tanaka for opposing clubs, do not look at him as a pitcher with “power stuff.” One scout told me Tanaka “can hit mid 90’s when he needs to.” Tanaka’s fastball lacks movement which can lend itself to giving up home runs.
Tanaka’s out pitch is his splitter but (excuse the pun) here’s the catch, it’s imperative that he get out in front of the hitter. If you examine his career splits (thanks baseballreference.com) Tanaka’s numbers go from one extreme to the other, dependent on if he’s ahead or behind in the count.
When Tanaka falls behind, opposing hitters have a slash line of .298/.409/.585. When he’s ahead of the hitters, the slash line dips to .188/.194/.277. Quite a contrast.
Hitters get ahead of Tanaka and then can lay off the splitter while sitting on an average fastball.
You have to credit Tanaka for his pitching intellect and his guile, which enables him to work out of jams, but he’s not a pitcher who can get by without his best stuff. He needs his best stuff and command to be effective.
I was the Official Scorer for both of Tanaka’s post season outings at Yankee Stadium, so I charted every pitch. He was masterful with first pitch strikes and getting out in front, thus you saw the results.
The Yankees are keeping their fingers crossed that Tanaka can continue to stay healthy. The just turned 29-year old missed some time last season with various injuries including inflammation in his throwing shoulder last August, and there’s always the slightly torn UCL in his elbow that he first suffered in 2014. To his credit, he’s been able to manage the injury.
Now that Tanaka has made his decision, the Yankees can pencil him in for a spot in the starting rotation for 2018. Ideally, the club would like to set their rotation with Luis Severino, Sonny Gray and Tanaka as their top three with the other two spots to be decided. (Maybe C.C. Sabathia comes back on a one year deal)
At least Tanaka atoned for his outing in the 2015 AL Wild Card loss to Houston and showed he can do it in a big spot. Now the Yankees need him to do it a little more consistently.
Keep an eye out for “Howie’s Hot Stove.” I’ll be keeping you posted on all the Yankees’ and Mets’ off season news along with other baseball news and notes every Friday, beginning November 10th.