Masahiro Tanaka pitched very well in five of his six starts in August and there is a chance that he could win the Cy Young if the can continue pitching like he has recently.
In Tanaka’s last three starts of August he allowed two, zero and zero runs, which lowered his ERA from 3.40 to 3.12. In his two starts before that outstanding three game stretch, he gave up one run in six innings and then four runs in seven innings. He was hurt by the long ball as the Rays hit two homers off of him leading to his four runs, but the Rays only had five hits against him and Tanaka recorded eight strikeouts and no walks, which is a great strikeout to walk ratio.
His ERA during August would have been even better if not for the Mets scoring six earned runs against him on August 2 but his ERA for the month was still a very good 3.00. He had a 3.40 ERA after that start at Citi Field against the Mets and it’s now a much improved 3.12. Also, showing his dominance during the month is that he had 38 strikeouts and only one walk. Only allowing one walk in the span of six starts is outstanding control and rarely seen in major league baseball.
Overall this season, Tanaka is seventh in the American League in ERA (3.12), sixth in the AL in WHIP (1.06) and third in the league in K/BB ratio (5.21). His 4.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is the seventh highest among qualified starters in the league, the .268 on-base percentage that opponents have against him is the second best in the league and the .360 slugging percentage that opponents have against him is fifth best in the league.
After the All-Star break this season, Tanaka has really excelled as he allowed two runs or less in six of his nine starts. He allowed zero runs in three of those starts and one run twice.
He will definitely be considered for the Cy Young if he can continue pitching at the success rate that he has after the All-Star break. (He will have to not have another start where he allows six runs.) Tanaka currently is not far from being first in ERA in the AL as Aaron Sanchez, who has made 25 starts this season to Tanaka’s 27, has a 2.88 ERA. Tanaka is also close to the pitchers immediately ahead of him as Chris Sale has a 3.10 ERA and Corey Klueber is in 5th place with a 3.09 ERA.
Tanaka has been by far the Yankees best starting pitcher this season. His 11 wins are most on the team by three, his 3.12 ERA is much lower than any other starting pitcher, his 1.06 WHIP is much better than the other starting pitchers, his 16 quality starts are four more than CC Sabathia who is in second place and he has been able to throw 29 more innings that any other pitcher on the team.
Tanaka, who is 27 and in his third season since coming over from Japan, is also on his way to having his best season in pinstripes since he is on track to pitch the whole campaign. In 2014, his rookie season, he had an excellent 2.77 ERA but that was after pitching only 136.1 innings and 20 starts. He has already made 27 starts this season and thrown 173.0 innings, which makes his performance up until now in this season more impressive than 2014.
He signed a 7-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees before the 2014 season and he is pitching this season like he deserved that contract and is beyond the injury he suffered in 2014. In his rookie season, Tanaka was placed on the disabled list in the beginning of July due to right elbow inflammation and an MRI revealed a partially torn UCL. He ended up returning at the end of September after multiple doctors said that Tommy John surgery was not necessary.
The rookie campaign was very impressive for Tanaka and he has been able to dominate even more this season based on the array of plus pitches that he has. He relies primarily on his sinker (90mph), slider (84mph) and splitter (87mph) while also throwing a four-seam fastball, cutter and curve.
On Saturday, Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui, who were teammates for seven seasons while Matsui was on the Yankees, reunited on the diamond as they participated in a charity baseball game at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo to support children affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disasters. Jeter has said that Matsui was one of his all-time favorite teammates. Jeter accepted Matsui invitation to come to Japan on the four-day trip to help with the activities.
When they were teammates from 2003 through 2009, the Yankees made the playoffs in every season except 2008, and advanced to the World Series in 2003, the ALCS in 2004 and won the World Series in 2009. Matsui was on the field during Jeter’s number retirement ceremony last September to show his respect for his Hall of Fame career.
Matsui, who is now a special assistant to General Manager Brian Cashman, and Jeter were managers of two middle school teams that played a three-inning game in Tokyo. Matsui’s team won the game 2-0, according to the AP.
“Jeter played a big role in all of this,” Matsui said. “The kids had a magnificent day. Hopefully, when they go back to their everyday lives tomorrow, they’ll have new dreams to sustain them.”
Jeter and Matsui, who is also known as Godzilla, conducted a youth clinic and participated in a Home Run Derby. Before coming to the U.S. to play with the Yankees in 2003, Matsui played his home games at the Tokyo Dome with the Yomiuri Giants for 10 seasons, and he highlighted the home run derby by slugging a booming homer over the right field wall at his old stadium.
The Captain enjoyed his visit because he got to see Japan from Matsui’s perspective as well as experience Japanese culture. Jeter has said that he wants to be able to do more traveling in retirement and that is exactly what he was able to do here.
This trip was made even better because they were able to raise money to help children who were hurt by the devastating earthquake/tsunami. Jeter is grateful that Matsui invited him and he was able to give back just like he does with his Turn 2 Foundation.
“It was a wonderful few days,” Jeter said. “Hideki showed me around, I got a chance to go see his hometown, I got a chance to see sumo wrestling and to top it off today was this great charity event.” Matsui was able to organize a baseball themed event that truly helped the kids of his country.
Matsui, whose nickname was Godzilla while playing, will work closely with General Manager Brian Cashman and Player Development Vice President Gary Denbo. He will spend most of this upcoming season traveling through the Yankees’ minor league system and focusing on aspects of hitting with managers, players and batting coaches.
In Matsui’s seven seasons with the Yankees, he had a solid .292 average with 140 homers, 597 RBIs and a .370 on-base percentage in 916 games as a DH and outfielder. He was an All-Star in his first two seasons with the Yankees after coming over from Japan, and in his second season he had a .298 average with 31 homers, 108 RBIs, 34 doubles and a .390 on-base percentage in 162 games.
Matsui played in the World Series with the Yankees in 2003 when they lost to the Florida Marlins in six games. In 2009, he was MVP of the World Series when the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. In that World Series, he had an outstanding .615 average (8 for 13) with one double, three homers and eight RBIs. He was known as a clutch hitter who played the game the right way.
Based on what his role will be this season, he could be a hitting coach in the future. Some of the knowledge that he will be able to teach the minor league players will be how to be selective at the plate, how to take what the pitcher gives you by hitting the ball the other way, how to advance runners with less than two outs and how to deal with the media the right way since he had experience answering lots of questions from reporters in Japan and this country.
This role makes sense for Matsui (even though he might need a translator at times) because the young up-and-coming players will be able to relate to him and he will have advice to offer the players and hitting coaches.
It was also announced on Tuesday that Stephen Drew will be the Opening Day second baseman. This was not all that surprising because the Yankees signed the veteran to a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason, but the Yankees could have waited until later in spring training to see if Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder continue to hit the way they have so far.
The Yankees are thinking that Drew, who missed spring training from 2012-2014 due to injury the first two years and not having a contract last season, will have a productive start to the season as a result of being healthy and playing in all of spring training.
He was not able to recover from his late start to the season as he had a .162 average with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with the Red Sox and Yankees last season. If he can hit the way he did in 2013 or better, when he helped the Red Sox win the World Series, then he will be worth having in the lineup. In the 2013 season, he had a .253 average with 13 homers, 29 doubles, eight triples, 67 RBIs and had a .333 on-base percentage. That was his third highest on-base percentage of his nine-year career.
Drew is still learning second base after playing shortstop his whole career before being traded to the Yankees in the middle of the 2014 season, but this spring training should allow him to further get used to the different nuances of playing second. He made four errors in his 34 games played at second with the Yankees last season, which isn’t that bad since he was learning the position on the fly.
The Yankees plan on having a short leash with Drew if he still can’t hit when the regular season starts. This means that Refsnyder and Pirela will still compete to see who will deserve to be Drew’s back-up and replace him if he can’t produce offensively.
Refsnyder projects to be the better player in the long run based on the overall offensive skills that he displayed last season, but Pirela has the edge right now because he is older, hit .333 in seven September games in 2014 and offers more versatility defensively as he can play second, short and left field. In five games played through March 10, Pirela has a .455 average (5 for 11) with three RBIs. That is a small sample size, but he proved to be able to hit for a high average when he had a .305 average in 581 at-bats with Triple-A Scranton last season.
“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela said. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”
If Masahiro Tanaka can pitch as effectively as he did last season, and only miss three or four starts unlike last season, the Yankees’ chances at getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 will be greatly increased. During the 2014 season, Tanaka missed 2.5 months between the beginning of July and the end of September as a result of a partially-torn UCL in his right elbow.
However, when Tanaka was healthy, he was one of the best starters in baseball, especially before he went on the disabled list. He made 20 starts in his rookie season after coming over from Japan, and he had an outstanding 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13 wins, 141 strikeouts and only 21 walks in his 136.1 innings pitched. He allowed two runs or less in 13 of his 20 starts, which proves how much he is able to keep hitters off balance and throw the right pitches at the right time.
Tanaka relied primarily on his splitter (87mph), slider (84mph), four-seam fastball (93mph), while also mixing in a sinker (91mph), cutter (89mph) and curve (74mph). His six-pitch arsenal helped him record seven or more strikeouts in 12 of his 20 starts last season. If he can throw his splitter, slider and fastball with the movement and accuracy that he did last season, to start the 2015 campaign, he could be an All-Star this season.
In Tanaka’s final start of last season (his second after coming off of the disabled list) he allowed five earned runs on seven hits in only 1.2 innings. So far during spring training he is proving that that start could have just been one day when he did not have his stuff.
Last week, on Feb. 19, he threw his first bullpen session and had no discomfort. He threw 21 fastballs during a session that lasted about seven minutes. On Thursday, during his third and most intense bullpen session, Tanaka threw 40 pitches at George M. Steinbrenner field with increased velocity. He said that the location of his pitches during this bullpen session was better than the previous one, which is a positive sign.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is confident with his progression so far. Tanaka is not thinking about his elbow, and has no pain, which will hopefully mean that the injury will not reoccur this season.
“I will check with him Friday,” Rothschild said. “Based on what I saw today, I don’t see anything getting in the way of our schedule. Everything is progressing the way we like it, so we keep going.” The next step will be for Tanaka to throw batting practice.
This most recent bullpen session was more important than his first one, and Tanaka’s first spring training game will be more significant than yesterday’s bullpen session. However, each day that Tanaka makes it through pain free while throwing his pitches the way he wants to is a sign that he could dominate like he did during the 2014 season.
The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 Saturday afternoon in a highly anticipated spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Many were looking forward to this game because it had been known for a few days that Masahiro Tanaka would be pitching against another team for the first time after coming over from Japan.
Before Tanaka came in, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda each pitched two scoreless innings. Sabathia allowed two hits and struck out one during his two frames. He will be the team’s No. 1 starter for the sixth year in a row. Kuroda, who had a 3.31 ERA last season at age 38, only needed 17 pitches to get through the third and fourth innings. The Yankees could not have asked for their No. 2 starter to be more efficient.
After Ichiro hit an RBI single for the first run of the game in the fourth, Tanaka would make his long awaited appearance in the top of the fifth. In his two innings, he allowed two hits, three strikeouts and did not allow a walk. He definitely did not disappoint in his first outing of spring training.
The first batter that Tanaka faced hit a weak single to center. Tanaka ended the fifth inning with a swinging strikeout on a 3-2 count. To begin the top of the sixth, he struck out Ben Revere, who had a .305 average with 22 steals last season, with his signature splitter. Also in the sixth inning, Tanaka was able to strike out Domonic Brown, who had 27 homers and 83 RBI in 2013, with a high inside fastball. Tanaka’s ability to strike out Revere and Brown proves that he could be able to live up to the expectations since they are established major league players.
In the seventh inning, Dean Anna, who could be a back-up middle infielder if he has a great spring, made a web gem caliber play at shortstop. A grounder was hit in the hole between short and third and he put enough on his throw to just barely throw out the runner at first. This is the type of play that Derek Jeter has made many times in his career.
Dellin Betances and Ceasar Cabral were the two pitchers that came in after Tanaka for the Yankees. Cabral could be the second lefty after Matt Thornton in the bullpen and Betances, who was switched from starter to reliever last season in AAA Scranton, could be a set-up man to David Roberton. Betances, the 25-year-old from Brooklyn, needed 30 pitches to record 1.2 scoreless innings.
Austin Romine, who is competing with Francisco Cervelli to be Brian McCann’s back-up catcher, had this to say about Tanaka’s splitter: “I’ve never seen a ball move like that before. It’s special.” Some have called Tanaka’s split fingered fastball the best in the world.
This spring training game was unusual because the expected first three starters in the rotation each pitched. Joe Girardi said that this was pitching coach Larry Rothschild’s idea. Today’s game was definitely a big deal in Japan because Kuroda, Tanaka and Ichiro all appeared for the Yankees. The YES broadcast even showed a monitor that was only focused on Tanaka.
Even though the Bronx Bombers scored four runs, what will be remembered from this game is that Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka all appear to be on the right track early in camp.
“Hello! My name is Masahiro Tanaka. I am very happy to be a Yankee.” That was what Tanaka said in English to open his press conference at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. He will likely be the No. 3 starter, following CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, after signing seven-year, $155 million contract on Jan. 22.
After having under a 2.00 ERA in each of the past three seasons for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, the Yankees will need Tanaka to have a successful season in his first season. The Yankees are counting on him having an ERA in the low to mid 3.00 range and picking up about 15 wins. Tanaka, who is 25, had a remarkable 1.27 ERA last season and struck out 183 batters while only allowing 32 walks. An adjustment period is expected during April, based on the new hitters, new mound and new ball, but he should be able to have success based on how Bobby Valentine and others have supported him.
In order to get to his press conference in the Bronx, he paid $195,000 to rent a 787 Dreamliner for himself, his pop star wife, his toy poodle and few others in his entourage to get to JFK Airport in style. It took him more than eight hours to get from where he lives in Japan to Naruta Airport based on snowy conditions. He needed such a big plane for not many people apparently because there were not many at the airport. His grand entrance into NYC definitely lives up to his $155 million contract.
There were 200 reporters at the press conference. This was the largest press conference that the Yankees have had for a new player since Hideki Matsui’s in 2003. This is partly because of all of the Japanese media that were in attendance.
The rest of what Tanaka told the media was through his interpreter. Tanaka’s number one goal with the Yankees is to win the world championship. He first came to NYC in high school, and Tanaka remarked that it was very cloudy. He said that there is a lot of sunshine this time so he has a good impression of New York. When he first came to New York he notably ate sushi that he bought at a grocery store nearby.
Tanaka would not comment if another team offered more money. This caused Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and Randy Levine to smile in approval. He wanted to pitch in the MLB to see where he could get to with his ability. He looks forward to exploring and learning more about NYC. He liked the draw of the rich history and tradition of the Yankees. He is used to the spotlight based on pitching in the World Baseball Classic as well in important games for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Cashman thought it helped that the Yankees had been on TV so much in Japan because of Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. The Yankees have scouted Tanaka since 2007. Tanaka added that when he spoke to Matsui before signing with the Yankees, he didn’t tell him much, but said that New York is a great city.
Matsui, who is still involved with the team and lives in NYC most of the year, Ichiro and especially Kuroda, should be able to help Tanaka with his transition. Kuroda, who is a pitcher who has pitched well in his first two seasons with the Yankees, and had ERAs between 3.07 and 3.76 in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, should be able to help him with his adjustment to pitching with the Yankees and to MLB hitters. He will also be able to help him adjust the constant media scrutiny.
After much speculation, the 25-year-old Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka has officially joined the rotation of the New York Yankees. As of January 21, he was reportedly down to the Chicago Cubs or the Yankees. Tanaka has signed a seven-year deal that is worth $155 million. The contract includes an opt out clause after the fourth year.
Hideki Matsui, who played outfield for the Yankees for seven seasons and was MVP of the 2009 World Series, reportedly called Tanaka on the Yankees behalf to try and recruit him, according to the YES Network. Tanaka will be the third current Yankee from Japan, joining Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda. The other four players from Japan that have played for the Yankees are Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa, Ryota Igarashi.
His stats while playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball, which is Japan’s version of Major League Baseball, are outstanding. In seven seasons, starting at age 18, he compiled a 99-35 record, 1,238 strikeouts, only 275 walks and 53 complete games. Two seasons that stand out are this past season and his 2011 season. In 2011, he had a 19-5 record, an unbelievable 1.27 ERA in 226.1 innings and 241 strikeouts. This past season, Tanaka had 24 wins without a loss, matched his outstanding 1.27 ERA from 2011 (he will not come close to this ERA in 2014), only allowed 168 hits in 212 innings, while striking out 183 batters and only walking 32.
If Tanaka can have about a 3.20 ERA and 15-17 wins that would be a great first season away for the Yankees. He will have to adjust to a smaller baseball, a different strike zone and more talented hitters in the American League. However, since he is 25, he will be a key piece this season as well as in the future because CC Sabathia will turn 34 in July and Hiroki Kuroda is likely in his last season before he retires.
The concern with Tanaka is that he averaged 190 innings a year and threw 160 pitches in nine innings in the championship series this past season. Only about five players in the history of MLB have thrown as many pitches as Tanaka has in their first seven seasons, but if he turns out to be similar to Yu Darvish, the last Japanese import, he will be a great asset for the Yankees.
Scouts have said that he might be better than Darvish, and Tanaka throws a split-fingered fastball that Bobby Valentine has said is the best in the world. (Valentine was the manager of the Mets when the Yankees beat them in the World Series in 2000.) If this is true, then that will definitely translate. Valentine’s word can be believed because he managed in Japan’s Pacific League from 2004-2009 (part of Nippon Professional Baseball), which means that he managed against Tanaka for his first three seasons. Tanaka also has a slider, a four-seam fastball that has late movement, a two-seam fastball and a 71.5 MPH change up in his arsenal.
He should slot third in the pitching rotation behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, and ahead of Ivan Nova. If Michael Pineda makes the rotation and pitches like he did in the 2011 season when he was an All-Star as a rookie for the Mariners then that will make the rotation even deeper. This acquisition is great news for the Yankees because they couldn’t go into the season with question marks in two spots of their rotation. The Yankees need Sabathia to bounce back from his sub-par season that saw him finish with a 4.78 ERA. He should be able to based on his previous stellar pitching. It will be important for him to increase his velocity a little from where it was last season.
The Yankees have had the best off season in baseball and they needed to make the signings that they have since they missed the playoffs last season. They will not be below the $189 million threshold as a result of this signing, but they saved A-Rod’s contract for this season and contending for the World Series is more important than those monetary benefits.
Here is a video of Tanaka showing off his many plus pitches during a game last season for the Golden Eagles: