MLB: New York Mets at New York Yankees

Lady Luck could help soften the loss of Masahiro Tanaka

Losing Masahiro Tanaka to a forearm strain was scary for the New York Yankees for two reasons. Firstly, any injury to Tanaka’s arm is a scary one, even if it is considered a mild one. Reports of the Japanese ace’s arm hanging by a thread may be slightly exaggerated, but his health issues do warrant a fair degree of concern.

The most obvious worry for the Yankees is losing a key piece of their rotation when the team has some momentum and a head start over the middling AL East. It would be hard to favor them for the division crown even now, but the division is so wide open that the playoffs seem more attainable now than they were at the beginning of the season.

Tanaka had not been quite the same pitcher this year as he was in 2014 in terms of velocity and pitch usage, but the overall results were about equal. The right-hander had spun two straight gems allowing one run in his last 13 and 1/3 innings with 14 strikeouts and only two walks allowed. That type of production is very difficult, if not impossible to replace and you aren’t going to get it from Chase Whitley.

However, the Yankees are likely to have a little more help than their sixth starter can provide in the form of Lady Luck’s favor. So far the team’s starters have accumulated 2.6 WAR, the third best total in baseball, and yet they have produced a 4.24 ERA, the league’s 18th best mark.

A great deal of this disparity is caused by some of team’s top starters not seeing results that come in line with their peripherals.

Pitcher ERA FIP Difference
CC Sabathia 5.96 4.04 1.92
Micheal Pineda 3.86 2.28 1.57
Nathan Eovaldi 4.15 3.32 0.83

Sabathia and Eovaldi have had trouble aligning their run prevention with their fielding-independent numbers in the past but neither is exactly a Ricky Nolasco-like figure.

When trying to find the root of numbers like these the most obvious culprit is bad BABIP, and Yankees’ starters have allowed a .331 BABIP compared to the league average on .290. With numbers like that it is tempting to simply chalk it up to luck as we know for the most part BABIP lies outside the control of pitchers. However, it’s also worth seeing if there is anything in the batted ball data that would help explain the discrepancy.

Group Line Drive% Ground Ball% Fly Ball% Infield Fly Ball%
Major League Average 20.8% 45.5% 33.7% 9.9%
Yankees Starters 19.8% 48.1% 32.1% 8.5%

There really isn’t a lot to chew on here. Perhaps the Yankees rotation could stand to get a few more pop ups, but that seemsĀ like nitpicking. It’s apparent that these starters are not giving up a batted ball profile that would justify their bloated BABIP.

At this point it seems fair to say that the Yankees rotation has been unlucky and deserves better. To the vast majority of baseball fans the ideas that any player belonging to the Yankees ever deserves better is foreign and distasteful, but the batted ball gods do not discriminate against a franchise for it’s wealth and success.

Without diving too deeply into a horrendously mixed metaphor that includes both Lady Luck and Batted Ball Gods in some massive and complex baseball pantheon it seems clear that the Yankees should see fewer of their opponents balls in play drop for hits going forward.

Although the team has not shown particularly well defensively so far they should be competent enough in the field to enable this regression to the mean to take place.

It may be impossible to place Masahiro Tanaka with Chase Whitley and expect better results, but Whitley plus a shift in BABIP for the team’s rotation should be a suitable replacement for everyone’s favorite splitter delivery system for now.

Photo credit: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

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