By Joey Wilson
Today’s game of baseball has seen a drastic increase in home runs, and has seen pitchers evolving and throwing harder and harder. For the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, he has found a way to still be an effective pitcher in today’s game by increasing the use of his secondary pitches such as his slider and lethal splitter. Tanaka has never had a great fastball his whole career and he will never have to pitch against two of the best pure power hitters in the league today as the reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge (sorry Altuve) and reigning NL MVP and home run champ Giancarlo Stanton are both on his team. Let’s take a look at Tanaka’s start on Friday and look to see what we can expect from him this season moving forward.
For starters, looking at the box score from Friday’s game you can see Tanaka had what appeared to be a good start on paper. He went six innings while only giving up 3 hits and striking out eight batters compared to zero walks. His pitch count only reached a total of 77 pitches, but that is not a problem considering no starter made it to 100 pitches the first two days of this new season. Of his 77 pitches, he threw 40 (51.9%) sliders, 15 splitters (19.5%), 13 (16.9%) four-seam fastballs, 6 (7.8%) curveballs, and 3 (3.9%) sinkers. While only throwing 16 fastball-type pitches while facing 21 total batters, Tanaka was averaging less than one fastball thrown per batter. He was able to produce only 4 ground outs which is nowhere close to his 49.2% ground ball rate from last season.
In each of the past two seasons, we have seen a decrease in Tanaka’s fastball usage especially after the all-star break. His 3.77 ERA after the all-star break was a result of relying more on his slider and less on his sinker. He was throwing his slider almost 40% of the time in the month of August last season. Tanaka needs to induce ground balls and pitch to soft contact, which he appears to have no problem adapting and finding a way to be successful. The biggest change from using more sliders was a decrease in his HR/9 innings. Tanaka gave up the most home runs in the league last year with 35, and 16 of those came on his fastball. Since he ditched his fastball, he was only allowing 1.4 HR/9 innings. 1.4 HR/9 innings is still very high, but that is better than 2.0 HR/9 innings.
To wrap things up, Masahiro Tanaka’s fastball stinks and is unlikely to improve. He will need to continue to increase the use of his secondary pitches to produce the ground ball outs he is so accustomed to getting. If he can do that, the Yankees will have a successful season and should be able to make another run for championship number 28.