About Last Night: A tale of two Tanakas

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Masahiro Tanaka has had a rough start to the 2017 season.

His Opening Day performance has been dissected enough so we won’t focus at that. Instead, we will look at start number two against Baltimore on Saturday afternoon which started off great and then fell off a cliff.

Let’s start with the good part of Tanaka’s outing which was innings 1-3. Tanaka was sharp and efficient only threw a total of 32 pitches in those first three frames. He surrendered two singles and a walk and held the Orioles scoreless.

Things were looking good for Tanaka up to that point. He was having a much better outing than his outing in Tampa and then the fourth and fifth innings happened.

Somewhere along the way, Tanaka misplaced his ability to pitch efficiently. He threw 24 pitches in the fourth inning and 36 in the fifth. He also uncharacteristically hit two batters—Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones—something he only did four times in 199 2/3 innings last season. He gave up a double, walked three batters and gave up a run in the fourth and two runs in the fifth to allow the Orioles to close to within one run. He left the game with the Yankees clinging to a 4-3 lead and wouldn’t factor into the decision.

His line through three scoreless innings: 3 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 K.

His final line: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K.

Let’s look at the positives from last night:

  • Tanaka didn’t give up a home run. He gave up two on Opening Day.
  • He made it through five which, while it puts unneeded strain on the bullpen, is still better than Opening Day when he couldn’t pitch of the third inning.
  • He was able to stop the bleeding, so to speak in the fifth. He got into a bases-loaded, one out jam but he got the last two outs to end the inning.

If we look at how his pitches broke down Saturday, you can see that he relied on his fastball much more than his slider. And he definitely wasn’t relying on the sinker or his splitter as much as he usually does.

Courtesy of Statcast™

Courtesy of Statcast™


In his first start in Tampa, Tanaka only threw 67 pitches and this is how they broke down:

Courtesy of Statcast™

Courtesy of Statcast™

Another somewhat puzzling thing that happened during that taxing fifth inning was Tanaka dialing his fastball up to 97 mph a couple of times while he was trying to get out of the bases-loaded jam. He also showed emotion on the mound when pounded his glove into his leg when things weren’t going his way. It was definitely an unusual start for Tanaka.

“I felt like I had good command of the ball going into the game, the first three innings, obviously,” Tanaka told reporters after the game. “As you can see, the fourth inning, fifth inning, that command kind of starting getting out of sync. So it was probably the issue of command.”

So after two starts, Tanaka’s ERA is now a bloated 11.74 and his FIP is 7.40. He has given up 14 hits in 7 2/3 innings and has walked six batters. It is a bit disheartening to see how badly Tanaka is doing now compared to how he performed during the spring when he was virtually unhittable, even though we should never expect success to translate to the regular season.

After his Opening Day start, the Yankees were blaming Tanaka’s poor performance on adrenaline and anxiety. This time, it wasn’t as easy to assign blame. And while Tanaka blames his command getting out of sync, the Yankees have to hope that their ace snaps out of whatever he’s going through right now, otherwise, it is going to be a very long season.

Photo: Patrick McDermott / USATSI

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