Let’s not beat around the bush. Masahiro Tanaka’s Opening Day start was eye-opening and pretty dreadful. He lasted just four innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits. It was the shortest Opening Day start for a Yankees pitcher in 30 years. Tanaka, to say the least, was not the pitcher the Yankees inked to a seven-year $155 million contract last winter. Something has got to give, and it looks like it could be a ligament that has to go.
He said recently he was going to pitch differently and was not going to have the same velocity he did last season. He showed that Monday with his 89-90 MPH fastball, which he threw just 26, a 32% fastball rate. Not exactly what the Yankees dreamed of when they signed the ‘next best thing’ throwing 94 MPH out of Japan.
He started his outing well. He went curve ball, splitter, splitter to Jose Reyes for a quick strikeout to begin the top of the first. All the pitches were down in the zone with significant movement. He worked through the first two innings with relative ease before the wheels fell off in the third. The error by Chase Headley on a Jose Reyes bunt didn’t help the cause, but sure wasn’t the only problem. The five run inning was capped by an Edwin Encarnacion blast to left off a very pedestrian 90 MPH fastball thrown by Tanaka.
Since I mentioned the home run, I need to get this off my chest. I despise Encarnacion’s home run trot with his right arm in the air like he does. What in the hell is that all about?? Just a pet peeve, but one of the worst home run trots ever. He looks like a complete dumb ass. But he can hit the ball a mile, so who am I to judge?
I don’t see how Tanaka can get by with the stuff he has right now. Sure, his off-speed stuff is fantastic. Lots of movement and more often than not down in the zone. That’s all well and good. But he is not throwing. As a baseball coach you tell your players to throw the ball, not aim it. Let it rip!! Tanaka has admitted he will not ‘let it rip’ and that is no good. Let me present my first piece(s) of evidence… Every fastball he threw on Monday!
Guys have been successful by pitching with a below average, well located fastball and good breaking stuff. In 2015 though, not many guys do. This is the era of if you don’t thrown 92 MPH or higher, you’re not a top prospect and you’re rarely given a shot. When a pitcher does throw 89-90, he better NEVER make a mistake because, guess what, Major League hitters CRUSH mistakes. When the threat to blow a fastball by you is gone, you’re relaxed and you can sit on breaking stuff. Unfortunately, Tanaka was nowhere near perfect and never will be. Nobody is.
When Tanaka takes the hill, he is going to be a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde type pitcher. He is going to make some guys look foolish with his terrific breaking stuff, proven by his six strikeouts on Monday, but he is going to give up some rocket line drives and moon shots when he makes mistakes. The Blue Jays players, following their Opening Day victory, said that Tanaka was more than hittable and noticed his obvious loss of velocity. Jose Reyes even showed empathy saying:
As a baseball player, it’s hard,’’ he said. “For me, when I have some problem with my leg, I feel like when I play the game it’s not me. I’m not able to play my game. I guess for pitchers it’s the same way when they’re not able to throw a 93, 94 [-mph] fastball.’’
So where do Tanaka and the Yankees go from here? With his obvious concern and acknowledgement that he will pitch ‘differently’, that leads me to believe that he is afraid to let loose and re-injure the elbow. The young man is just not comfortable. There must be serious discussion among the Yankees brass, sooner rather than later, about a further course of action…
He is just 26 years old. If he undergoes the dreaded procedure now, he will be good to go come June, 2016 or so and ready for the stretch run. He will still give the Yankees 4 ½ years of solid production as well. It just makes the most sense for him and the organization.
Let me project what I feel could happen if he plays through this, and remains healthy this season. I could see him winnings 10-12 games, striking out 150 batters or so with his high quality off-speed stuff, but having an ERA that doesn’t reflect his true talents. Perhaps he finishes with a 5.00 ERA or so and leads the league in home runs allowed. Just a hypothesis, but I see it as realistic. And it sure is not a good return on investment for the Bombers.
I suppose we are just ONE start and ONE game into the season, but following two solid innings, there was not a lot to like about what we all saw. It’s time to sit down and talk and figure out what exactly the best course of action for Tanaka is. It doesn’t seem like the current plan is going to pan out quite as we all want.