Tag: Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees’ Quartet of Rookies Keeping the Team Afloat

With a 39-33 record, numerous injuries and a lineup crowded by hitters performing below expectations, it is scary to imagine where the New York Yankees would be without rookies Masahiro Tanaka, Yangervis Solarte, Dellin Betances and Chase Whitley.

With a roster full of superstars and aging veterans, it is these four first-timers who have kept the Yankees alive as the team has stumbled through the first few months of the season.

Everyone knows about Tanaka and what he has done. Unlike most rookies, Tanaka is making a lot of money. When he signed a seven-year, $155 million contract in the offseason, people around baseball blasted the Yankees for paying such an egregious price for a pitcher who had never set foot on a major league mound.

Today, those naysayers are nowhere to be found. In just a matter of months, Tanaka has become a bona fide ace. With Ivan Nova out for the year and CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda missing time, Tanaka’s dominance has meant everything to the Yankees.

In 14 starts Tanaka is leading the majors in wins, boasting an 11-1 record. His 1.99 ERA leads the Junior Circuit and is second in the majors only to the Cincinnati Red’s Johnny Cueto (1.92). Tanaka also leads all pitchers in Adjusted ERA+. With a 203 mark he is the only pitcher over 200. His 3.9 WAR is the highest of any pitcher in baseball. His 2.70 FIP puts him in the top 10. In 99.2 innings Tanaka has 113 strikeouts, a 0.953 WHIP and just 16 walks.

An All-Star Game start? Rookie of the Year? The Cy Young Award? Forget all that, this man is pitching for an MVP award, and if the season ended today, a strong case could be made that Tanaka deserves all four.

With the Japanese ace stealing the show, another rookie in the rotation has been overlooked.

At 25 years old, Whitley has come out of nowhere to become New York’s second-most reliable starter. With a 3-0 record and a 2.56 ERA in seven starts, Whitley has made himself the obvious and undeniable choice to stay in the rotation ahead of Vidal Nuno and David Phelps once Sabathia and Pineda return.

While he lacks flair, Whitley has kept the Yankees in every ballgame he has started, and that is what matters. He has allowed no more than three earned runs in a single start and has limited the free passes, allowing just four walks all year. In fact, his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays marked the first time in five games that Whitley allowed a base on balls. In 38.2 innings, he has surrendered only one homer.

With zero expectations heading into his major league debut in May, Whitley has gone from a nobody to a likely mainstay in the Yankees rotation.

Solarte is another newbie making a name for himself.

After bouncing around the minors for eight years, Solarte edged out incumbent backup infielder Eduardo Nunez after he batted .429 in spring training. Since then Solarte has firmly held down third base following Kelly Johnson’s struggles and the suspension of Alex Rodriguez.

While Solarte has certainly cooled off (he was hitting .336 as recently as May and is hitless in his last 24 at-bats), the switch-hitting product of Venezuela has been one of the Yankees’ most consistent hitters in a season that has seen star free-agent acquisitions Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, among other hitters, struggle.

Another no-name heading into the season, Solarte is hitting a respectable .268 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 29 RBI. His .761 OPS is third on the team behind Brett Gardner (.768) and Mark Teixeira (.829).

He has been a much better option to have in the lineup than Johnson and the .232 average he has put up in 54 games.

Lastly, there is Betances.

Betances came up through the Yankees’ system as a starter, but injuries and inconsistency prompted a move to the bullpen, a move that appears to have done wonders for the New York City native.

The Yankees were introduced to a brand-new Betances in spring training, one who was able to throw harder and with more accuracy. He earned a spot on the big league roster and has become a strikeout machine ever since.

In 42 innings Betances has struck out 70 batters, equating to an alarming 15.0 strikeout rate. With the whiffs have come a lack of hits and runs, as opposing hitters are batting just .133 against Betances, who is pitching to a 1.50 ERA.

In a young and often exhausted bullpen, Betances has been the guy Joe Girardi can count on day in and day out. He has been the most dependable of any Yankees reliever, and his strong performance this year should earn him a trip to Target Field come July 15.

Going into the season, no one would have thought the Yankees would have to rely so heavily on four rookies. Tanaka was dubbed a No. 3 starter. The other three were nothing more than afterthoughts, if that at all. Today, all four are key cogs in a Yankees machine trying to overcome numerous setbacks.

It’s amazing the difference a few months can make.


All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of the end of play on June 20, 2014.

Question or comments? Follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.

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How Masahiro Tanaka’s Debut Compares to Past Hyped International Signings

Considering how it began, the first major league start by Masahiro Tanaka went about as well as that of any other big-name international signing in recent memory.

In his much-hyped, eagerly anticipated debut since signing with the New York Yankees this winter for a whopping $155 million, Tanaka pitched his new club to a 7-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.

The 25-year-old former Nippon Professional Baseball star’s introduction to Major League Baseball, though, started off rather inauspiciously right from the very first batter.

Former Yankee Melky Cabrera, the Jays outfielder and leadoff hitter, belted Tanaka‘s third pitch—an 86 mph changeup that was up and over the plate—for a solo home run in the bottom of the first.

Fortunately, the Yankees offense had scored a pair in the top half of the first inning, so New York still had the lead and a potential crisis was averted—temporarily, at least—when Tanaka struck out Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, two of the majors’ most dangerous sluggers, to end the first.

In the second, however, things didn’t exactly get any easier for Tanaka, as he allowed consecutive one-out singles before a throwing error by first baseman Mark Teixeira loaded the bases. The third single of the frame brought in two runs to put Toronto up 3-2.

With two on and still only one out, the situation was ripe for going from bad to worse. Again, though, the right-hander struck out the next two batters, Cabrera and Colby Rasmus—a pair of lefty swingers, no less—to end the threat.

From there, well, that’s when Tanaka more or less hit his stride, retiring 14 of 16 hitters from the third inning on, including four strikeouts and one double-play grounder. Only Encarnacion managed to do anything, lacing a double off the top of the wall in the bottom of the third, and then being awarded a hometown scorer’s single in the sixth on a play that should have been made (or called an error).

Over his final four frames—the fourth through the seventh—Tanaka faced the minimum, and at the end of the night, his line looked like so: 7.0 IP, 3 R (2 ER), 6 H, 8:0 K:BB (65 of 97 strikes).

So how does Tanaka‘s MLB debut stack up against some of the other big-name, big-money international stars to come over from other professional foreign leagues?

Since Tanaka is a starting pitcher, let’s focus solely on that for the sake of comparison. Here’s a rundown of the first starts by 11 top talents, dating back to Nomo-mania in 1995: 

*Actual debut came in relief earlier in the season.

As the latest international sensation to cross over to MLB, Tanaka followed in the footsteps of his fellow foreigners, most of whom have had dynamite debuts.

If we’re rating Tanaka against his countrymen from the list above, a strong case could be made that his was the second-most impressive initial start of all seven, behind only Daisuke Matsuzaka’s gem from 2007.

Hiroki Kuroda’s 2008 outing and Hideo Nomo‘s 1995 introduction were both right there with Tanaka‘s, but the latter’s clearly was better than Yu Darvish‘s, whose first two innings in 2012 started off even shakier than Tanaka‘s did Friday night. After passing the mantle of NPB’s top hurler to TanakaDarvish has become one of MLB’s best starters, as he led the majors with 277 strikeouts in 2013.

And measuring up Tanaka relative to the one-time international studs who also made their debuts with the Yankees, he was about as good as Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez’s 1998 performance but not quite on par with Jose Contreras’ effort in 2003.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he matched up with “El Duque,” either, as former teammate Tino Martinez explained in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report’s Joe Giglio:

El Duque handled it well. When he got off to a good start, the expectation level really rose. He became a sensation and an unknown at the same time. Tanaka’s fame will be even greater. He’s ready for it. The poise, confidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if he matches or exceeds what El Duque did early on for us.

What does this mean for Tanaka and the Yankees going forward? Well, it’s only one start, and while almost all of the pitchers from that table above threw well their first time around, they went on to varying degrees of success thereafter.

The good news, though, is that while Hideki Irabu, Jose Contreras and Daisuke Matsuzaka ultimately proved to be disappointing given the hype that accompanied them to the United States, the only one who completely flamed out and never amounted to even a capable innings-eater was Kei Igawa.

Of course, Igawa was brought here by—that’s right—the Yankees, who also signed Irabu and Contreras. In fairness, they also unearthed El Duque.

Also? The Yankees aren’t paying Tanaka $155 million to be merely an innings-eater. They are expecting, or at least hoping—and certainly needing—him to be a dominant front-of-the-rotation horse who can adapt and adjust to the major leagues.

Again, it’s only one start, but in his MLB debut, Tanaka did a little adapting, adjusting and dominating all in one. Ultimately, that’s good for both Tanaka and the Yankees. Especially considering how it all started.


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Full Scouting Report, Pitch Breakdown of Masahiro Tanaka’s MLB Debut

The Masahiro Tanaka era is under way.

On Friday night, the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher made his highly anticipated Major League debut, taking the mound for the Yankees against the Blue Jays in their home opener.

Well, Tanaka ultimately put a damper on an otherwise exciting night for Blue Jays fans, as the right-hander picked up his first career win behind seven strong innings of two-run ball in which he scattered six hits and recorded eight strikeouts without issuing a walk. 

Even though it wasn’t a particularly clean or efficient outing, Tanaka still showcased his customary high-end combination of pure stuff and command, and he gave baseball fans from around the world an idea of what to expect this season moving forward.


Innings 1-3

Tanaka’s career got off to an inauspicious start, as the first batter of the game, Melky Cabrera, homered to right-center field on a 1-1 changeup that lingered up in the zone.

Yet, the right-hander managed to rebound after Cabrera’s leadoff blast, as he retired Colby Rasmus on a groundout to first base and then struck out both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Specifically, Tanaka caught Bautista looking on a 1-2 slider that registered at 86 mph, and then got the next batter, Encarnacion, to flail at the exact same pitch in the exact same count. 

Tanaka ran into trouble in the second inning, allowing two more runs (one earned) on three hits and a costly Mark Teixeira error, and he needed 26 pitches to complete the frame. However, Tanaka once again bounced back and escaped further damage, using his devastating splitter to strike out Cabrera, and then a well-located, backdoor slider to fan Rasmus.

Tanaka began to settle in during the third inning, as he allowed a ringing double to Encarnacion but otherwise breezed through the heart of Toronto’s order. Still, after throwing 58 pitches (40 strikes) through the first three innings, it seemed as though Tanaka might be ticketed for an early exit in his Major League debut.


Innings 4-7

Tanaka was absolutely brilliant on Friday over his final four frames and looked more like the pitcher we all fell in love with during spring training.

The rookie concluded his debut with four consecutive 1-2-3 innings, facing the minimum 12 batters during that span, and, more importantly, he did so by throwing only 39 pitches. Not a single one of those final 12 batters made hard contact against Tanaka, and only three managed to get the ball out of the infield.


The Stuff 

Tanaka’s stuff on Friday night was right in line with what he showed during spring training. The right-hander’s fastball sat comfortably in the low 90s for the duration of his start and topped out at 95.2 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. However, Tanaka’s fastball command was noticeably absent from the onset of the game, so it’s not surprising he induced only one whiff in the 20 swings generated by the pitch. 

Tanaka also showed an advanced feel for both his curveball and slider in the outing, as he found the strike zone with 23 of 34 breaking balls and generated four whiffs out of a total of 13 swings. The right-hander’s slider, which averaged 85.8 mph on the night and registered as high as 88.8 mph, was the more effective of the two pitches, and it showed through his ability to throw it for a strike 65.2 percent of the time (15-of-23).

Lastly, an analysis of Tanaka’s debut wouldn’t be complete without showing some obligatory love for his other-worldly splitter. However, it admittedly was difficult to discern his splitter from his changeup at various points during the game, as even the Brooks Baseball data labeled his splitter as a changeup based on velocity and movement.

Yet, after watching Tanaka’s outings in spring training, we already had an idea prior to his debut that the splitter typically registers in the upper 80s. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that Tanaka’s splitter was categorized as a changeup by Brooks Baseball.

According to their data, the right-hander threw 9-of-12 splitters for a strike on Friday night, with six of those strikes coming as the result of a whiff.


Lasting Impressions

The reason I broke down Tanaka’s start into two parts (innings 1-3 and 4-7) is because the right-hander was a completely different pitcher during the second half of the outing.

Tanaka failed to establish his fastball early in the game, starting eight of the first 11 Blue Jays he faced with a secondary offering. Even when Tanaka got ahead with a first-pitch strike he struggled to efficiently build the count in his favor, and at times it seemed as though he was more interested in using his curveball and slider to toy with opposing hitters and pick at the edges of the strike zone. As a result, Tanaka’s fastball command was inconsistent over the first three innings, with the right-hander either missing off or over the plate numerous times.

Whether it was related to his nerves or suddenly having to cope with the fact that he allowed a home run to the first batter of his career, Tanaka’s pace on the mound was noticeably off early in the game—especially when compared to his pace in spring training, when he basically would get the ball, get on the rubber and let it rip—as everything he did seemed unnecessarily deliberate and prevented him from establishing a rhythm. 

However, as I mentioned earlier, the right-hander eventually settled in and looked like his spring self in his final four innings.

Tanaka’s ability to recover from the shaky start and make adjustments throughout the game impressed manager Joe Girardi, via David Waldstein of The New York Times: “It’s one thing to get yourself back on track in spring training. But this opening day, huge crowd, all the excitement from the Toronto fans. And he was able to fix his mistakes early on, and that’s the sign of a mature pitcher.”

Besides establishing a healthier and quicker pace on the mound, Tanaka also turned to his fastball more often, using the pitch to aggressively attack right- and left-handed batters to both sides of the plate. The adjustment to his game plan in turn allowed Tanaka to sequence his splitter and slider more effectively as the game unfolded, and he ultimately retired the final 12 batters he faced.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Tanaka’s debut on Friday was his ability to throw a first-pitch strike with essentially his entire arsenal. Specifically, he notched a strike with his first pitch against 18 of the 27 batters faced over seven innings; nine of those pitches were fastballs, five were show-me curveballs and four were sliders.

With his debut jitters out of the way and a win under his belt, Tanaka should be more effective out of the gate in his next start. Granted the 25-year-old was very impressive overall and exhibited tremendous poise and resiliency as the game unfolded, but there were definitely aspects of his performance, such as his tentative approach with the fastball in the early innings, that can be improved.

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Masahiro Tanaka Yankees Debut Live Blog: Instant Reaction, Analysis and Stats

The first start of Masahiro Tanaka‘s career with the New York Yankees is officially in the books at the Rogers Centre. After two rocky innings, Tanaka settled down and dominated a talented Blue Jays lineup over seven innings. 

Aside from the scoreless innings and pitch-by-pitch execution, two things stood out about Tanaka’s first performance: poise and command.

Despite the circumstances and early difficulty, Tanaka didn’t show any signs of nervousness or outward frustration when results weren’t present in the early innings. By keeping his composure, legitimate and evident talent eventually took over.

Over the course of the game, Tanaka’s command became more and more impressive. His final line included eight strikeouts against zero walks. To put that in perspective, only 28 starters achieved that line on multiple occasions last season, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).

Through one career start, Tanaka is halfway toward company that includes James Shields, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez. 

Tanaka’s final line: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 R, 0 BB, 8 SO, 1 HR, 97 pitches

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Updated Masahiro Tanaka Scouting Report After Latest Spring Performance

The New York Yankees trotted Masahiro Tanaka out for his fourth appearance and third start of the spring on Saturday against the Minnesota Twins. It was his longest outing so far, both from innings (5.2) and pitch count (92), and the results were basically what they have been all spring—a lot of good and some things to work on. 

One thing that Tanaka has been able to do all spring is get hitters to chase that split-finger fastball in the dirt when he gets ahead. There have been a few times his fastball command was lacking, allowing hitters to avoid swinging at any of his other pitches, but at least we know he can get a strikeout when it is needed. 

Today was a huge step forward for Tanaka and the Yankees; the right-hander was facing most of Minnesota’s regular lineup and had to turn it over three times, so they were able to get a look at what he was throwing and adjust to it as the game went on. 

Yankees manager Joe Girardi emphasized how important this start was for Tanaka’s development, telling Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York that “you want to see how he does when the pitch count gets really high. I think that’s probably the best for him.”

So how did Tanaka fare when the pitch count got really high? Here is our updated scouting report for the Japanese star for his latest outing. 

The first inning started out shaky for Tanaka. He was trying to find a feel for the fastball and splitter, and he was able to get it before too much damage was done. 

Brian Dozier led off the game with a double to right-center field on an outside fastball that caught too much of the plate. Tanaka then threw three straight balls to Kurt Suzuki before a get-me-over heater seemed to turn everything around. 

Suzuki grounded out to the shortstop two pitches later. Tanaka retired Joe Mauer with a good cutter deep in his kitchen that the All-Star catcher couldn’t do anything with except roll over on it, though Dozier did score.

Tanaka’s best sequence of the inning came against Josh Willingham. The right-hander started him off with a fastball that was called for strike one, then after throwing a bad curveball he came back with a heater on the inner-half of the plate at the knees followed by one of those patented splitters to get the strikeout. 

It became clear in the second inning Tanaka had found a groove, particularly in a sequence to Trevor Plouffe. He struck out Minnesota’s third baseman on five pitches, showing a plus slider, burying a fastball deep in Plouffe’s kitchen and putting him away with a splitter that started around belt high and ended around the thigh. 

The third inning showed some cracks in Tanaka’s armor, which was good for two reasons. It forced him to work without his best stuff, especially once the Twins got back to the top of their order, and showed how different he is from the stretch. 

Twins hitters weren’t biting on any of the sliders Tanaka tried to throw early in counts; some of them weren’t close to being strikes, so he had to adjust to them. 

Aaron Hicks led off the inning with a seeing-eye single. After he got on, Tanaka started to rush his delivery from the stretch and was running fastballs off the plate outside. That led to a single by Dozier, a crushed fastball by Suzuki that third baseman Scott Sizemore couldn’t handle, and a four-pitch walk to Mauer that loaded the bases. 

Willingham was going to wait for something hard because Tanaka wasn’t locating anything else, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the at-bat start with a good slider that was taken for a strike. The fastball came on the next pitch and Willingham just missed a grand slam by a few feet. 

Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli told Brendan Kuty of NJ.com that Tanaka’s two-seamer to Willingham didn’t “go down, it’s a problem got away with a two-seamer that didn’t move the way it was supposed to.” 

These are the kinds of innings that you want to see Tanaka have. It’s obviously not ideal, but pitching in the big leagues every fifth day isn’t going to be a breeze. The 25-year-old has to show he’s capable of working out of trouble, even when it’s self-made or because of errors. 

Girardi sounded happy about the way Tanaka was able to battle, telling Kuty “that’s what you want to see. You’re not going to have your great stuff every time you go out there. That’s good.”

Girardi also said that Tanaka will get one more spring start before the regular season starts, but didn’t give an official date. 

Being more efficient out of the stretch is another area Tanaka has to work on if he’s going to be as successful as the Yankees need him to be. He wasn’t comfortable throwing the fastball with runners on, so he tried to throw a lot of breaking balls and splitters that the Twins didn’t bite on. 

It sounds reductive to say that getting ahead with the first pitch is essential, but for Tanaka, it’s especially true. All you have to do is look at how he bounced back in the fourth inning. 

Tanaka needed just 12 pitches to get through the inning, getting ahead of all three hitters (Jason Kubel, Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia) with the fastball, slider and splitter, respectively. It allows him to keep hitters off balance and throw pitches he trusts instead of what the count requires. 

The Twins tried to take advantage of Tanaka’s ability to get ahead by being aggressive in the fifth inning. Aaron Hicks flew out on a fastball on the second pitch. Pedro Florimon was overmatched and swung at two splitters, the second one giving Tanaka a strike out, and Dozier flew out deep to right field on the first pitch he saw. 

Tanaka’s day ended after 5.2 innings and 92 pitches. One of his best sequences of the game came in the sixth inning against Mauer, who took a fastball inside before getting another heater and a splitter for strikes. After another splitter just missed and a slider that was a borderline ball, Tanaka got Mauer to swing through a belt-high two-seam fastball. 

After that Tanaka started to run out of gas, hitting Willingham with a pitch and leaving a fastball up and over the middle of the plate to Kubel for an RBI double. 

There wasn’t a radar gun on the MLB.tv broadcast I was watching, though the announcers did point out Tanaka’s fastball was sitting in the 90-92 mph range early in the game. 

Here are my scouting grades for Tanaka after his outing against the Twins, using the 20-80 scouting scale where 50 is average. 

My B/R colleague Zach Rymer had questions about Tanaka’s curveball after his last start, and I completely agree. He only threw the pitch a handful of times today but showed little feel for it, and the Twins didn’t even take it seriously when they saw it. 

There did seem to be a strong desire, either on Tanaka’s part or at the request of Yankees coaches, to throw the slider more often. He was using it in all counts and situations, seemingly trying to establish it as a get-ahead offering or strike-out weapon. 

It’s a good strategy to use in a spring game, because in the previous outings I have tracked Tanaka thus far, he’s favored the fastball and splitter. But to get MLB hitters out consistently, you must have at least an average breaking ball. 

Tanaka still struggles to throw the slider for strikes consistently, but when it was on today, it looked like a solid-average pitch with good tilt. 

But that split-finger fastball is still Tanaka’s bread and butter. By my count, four of his six strikeouts came on the splitter. 

The trick to making the splitter work the way he needs it to is fastball command. There are still too many moments where the heater is catching a lot of the plate or not thrown where he wants to put it. 

As one of Tanaka’s final spring tuneups before the regular season starts, this was a qualified success. He put up good results and is still missing bats at a very strong rate, though concerns about the fastball command and inconsistent breaking balls will catch up to him against an MLB lineup. 


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Was Masahiro Tanaka as Advertised in New York Yankees Debut?

The long-awaited debut of Masahiro Tanaka finally took place Saturday afternoon, when the New York Yankees‘ prized pitcher took the mound for two innings of spring training work against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Pitching in front of a jam-packed crowd at George Steinbrenner Field, Tanaka was under more pressure than a typical first-year player would be. Various televised camera shots of the Japanese media illustrated how much attention this game was getting.

So after all the build-up, did Tanaka give the fans and media everything they wanted?

Of course not. It was two innings in his first spring training game. Tanaka did some good things and some bad things, and there were elements of his repertoire that we didn’t see. He gave up just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts in his two frames, though, so it was a clean performance.

The 25-year-old threw 32 pitches before calling it a day. There were some positives and some things to work on. In other words, it was exactly what you would expect from a pitcher making his first appearance.

Tanaka does have a lot of pitches to choose from, as the YES Network broadcast showed that he threw at least seven pitches in Japan last year. There was some confusion on Twitter about what Tanaka was throwing.

Let’s do a deeper breakdown of Tanaka’s day to illustrate why not everything was great despite the strong stat line.


The Good

Let’s start with what Tanaka did well before examining what he needs to work on as the spring moves along.

Tanaka was clearly at his best throwing the fastball. He threw 19 heaters, by my count, most of them four-seamers with a couple of two-seamers mixed in. They ranged from 89-94 mph and showed solid control of the pitch.

The only thing he was throwing for strikes consistently was the fastball. Two of his three strikeouts came on fastballs, a 94 mph one to Cesar Hernandez to end the fifth and an 89 mph two-seamer in the sixth.

If you have had a chance to watch some of Tanaka’s videos in Japan, you know that the splitter is his best weapon. He didn’t appear to feature it a lot today, trying to establish the fastball and slider with the split and curveball mixed in, but it did come out in glorious fashion once.

After getting ahead 0-2 on Ben Revere with two very good fastballs, Tanaka went to his bread and butter to get the strikeout. It was the best pitch he threw all day, starting at Revere’s knees on the outer half and falling off a cliff as it got to the plate.

It’s safe to say that, at least for one hitter, the reaction to the splitter was what Tanaka hoped for.

That’s what you wanted to see from Tanaka in his first appearance, so as far as small sample sizes go, it was a good impression.


The Still-Needs-Work

No pitcher comes out of the gate in spring training fully formed. Even Clayton Kershaw had issues in his first start of 2014, so don’t take these criticisms of Tanaka as doubts about his ability.

The biggest flaw Tanaka had against the Phillies was lack of fastball command and no control over his secondary stuff (excluding that one splitter).

In case you are wondering, since Tanaka did earn high marks for his control, command is the ability to put the ball wherever you want. Control is just throwing strikes. The fastball was frequently in the middle of the plate and/or around the hitter’s thigh.

Tanaka wasn’t able to fool hitters with the off-speed stuff because they knew he wasn’t throwing it for strikes. He got Revere on the splitter because he got ahead with two fastballs, making it easier to get the hitter to chase.

His worst pitch today was the curveball, which was thrown 73-74 mph. Tanaka had no idea where it was going, nor were the hitters willing to offer at it. He only threw three of them and has plenty of other pitches to choose from, so that could just end up being a show-me pitch.

He gave up two soft singles on fastballs in his two innings of work. One was a bad pitch on the outer half of the plate that Darin Ruf took back up the box. The other wasn’t a poor pitch, 93 mph on the hands, that Ronny Cedeno punched out to center field.


Final Thoughts

Even though the media presence could fool you, Tanaka’s first start was just about getting his feet wet and showing off small pieces of why the Yankees gave him $155 million.

If you understood that coming into today, you weren’t disappointed. Three strikeouts in two innings of work is a very nice start for a pitcher with no previous MLB experience. Tanaka isn’t always going to be this efficient.

There will be games when hitters are able to take advantage of him, especially if he’s commanding the fastball like he did today and not throwing off-speed pitches for strikes, but the stuff is good with movement, so he can get away with some things others can’t.


Stats courtesy of MLB.com

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Updates, Takeaways from Masahiro Tanaka’s Yankees Spring Training Debut

In March, it’s common to introduce an opinion of a player or performance by reminding readers that it’s very early, spring training statistics don’t count and the real games are about a month away from reality.

With New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, that edict isn’t just necessary—it’s vital.

In Tampa, Fla., Tanaka’s debut was a big deal. In his home country of Japan, a scheduled two-inning outing was a reason to celebrate and watch Grapefruit League baseball in the middle of the night. Clearly, Tanaka’s spring training debut didn’t profile as your ordinary build-up to the regular season.

After spending $175 million—including a $20 million posting fee—to procure the services of Japan’s top pitcher, the Yankees are banking on big things from the 25-year-old righty.

Yet as Ken Davidoff explains in the New York Post, the transformation from Japan to Major League Baseball won’t be easy, even for a pitcher that posted a 24-0 record last season. For his part, Tanaka seems to understand the feeling-out process that spring training will be for him this year.

“I understand that there’s going to be a lot of attention on the results, the numbers, on how I do out there,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “For me, now looking at it, I just want to go out there and pitch my style out there and see how it is on the mound.”

In order to make the leap from the 85-win, third-place finish of 2013, the Yankees will need a productive year from Tanaka in the starting rotation.

While a mediocre offense was to blame for what ailed New York last summer, Yankees starters pitched to a 4.08 ERA, per ESPN. That mark placed them in the bottom half of the American League ranks.

How did Tanaka fare during his first game in a Yankees uniform? Here are updates and takeaways from the debut of New York’s newest star.



Unlike most Grapefruit League appearances by expensive, well-known starting pitchers, Tanaka wasn’t the first Yankees starter to take the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In fact, he was the third member of New York’s rotation to toe the rubber, following CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. When the 2014 season begins, he’ll likely be placed after those two starters in Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s rotation.

During the first four innings of Tanaka’s debut game, fans and media members became restless as baseball awaited his first pitch with increased anticipation. MLB Network’s broadcast—a simulcast of the YES Network broadcast—focused on Tanaka’s eventual appearance throughout the early innings.

When the Japanese star began tossing a baseball in the bullpen in the third inning, a soft roar took over the crowd, and several media members made their way to watch the main attraction stretch his arm out.

If the excitement of Tanaka’s first appearance rivals anything to come in his first season, Major League Baseball and the Yankees are poised to roll out a must-see event every fifth day.


Style, Not Results 

When the fifth inning arrived, Tanaka toed the rubber in America for the first time in an organized baseball game. Although this was technically a relief outing, allowing Tanaka to start a clean inning—without anyone on base or outs already recorded—afforded him the chance to treat the outing as if it was the first inning of a game.

Following Tanaka’s cue, based on the thoughts he shared with Davidoff, let’s focus on how he looked before dissecting the actual results against Philadelphia’s Grapefruit League lineup.

From a delivery perspective, Tanaka looked the part. Sporting the trademark stutter step featured by so many Japanese pitchers—including teammate Hiroki Kuroda—a fluid, compact delivery accompanied his pitches.

In his first inning, fastballs were up in the zone, including a fastball on the outside part of the place that resulted in an inning-ending strikeout. In Japan, it’s likely that fastballs in the mid-90s could generate empty swings, even if above the knees.

As the spring moves along, keep an eye on Tanaka’s location. In his first start, he lived higher in the zone than what’s needed to succeed in the AL East.

From the moment Tanaka surfaced on baseball’s radar, people have raved about his splitter. During the broadcast, YES Network’s Michael Kay and Ken Singleton opined about how effective it could be in the majors. Despite the accolades, though, it wasn’t on display during the fifth inning.

In the sixth, the splitter clearly emerged. With two strikes on Phillies outfielder Ben Revere, Tanaka launched a nasty, biting and diving splitter low and away. Predictably, Revere swung and missed at the excellent offering.



For many fans, this is all that matters.

After allowing a single to center field to Philles first baseman Darin Ruf, Tanaka settled down during his first inning of work. While the box score may show a fly ball caught to left field, the contact made against him wasn’t particularly hard or dangerous.

He recorded a strikeout to end the fifth inning with a fastball up in the zone, touching the outside corner.

In the sixth, Tanaka was even more impressive, generating strikeouts in two distinct ways: a devastating splitter and a chest-high fastball.

The splitter, used to fool Revere, was as good as advertised by the Yankees and scouts.

The fastball, although only hitting 89 mph on the radar gun, was high enough to prey on Domonic Brown’s weakness and located well enough to get under his hands. Unlike many high fastballs that are deposited into the seats, this was high enough to either classify as a waste pitch, induce a swing and miss or generate weak contact.

MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch got Tanaka’s personal take on his Yankees debut and what he experienced and felt out there on the mound:

Tanaka’s final stat line against Philadelphia: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 SO, 0 BB



Aesthetically, Tanaka looks and pitches like Hiroki Kuroda. While that comparison may not place him in a stratosphere of baseball’s top pitchers, it’s a good place to start a career.

Although his velocity wasn’t overpowering, watching Tanaka spot his fastball around the plate was impressive. Clearly, this is a pitcher with an idea of how to move the ball around, work the corners and confuse hitters by using all quadrants of the strike zone.

It’s early to jump to conclusions, especially for a pitcher who has now thrown just two innings in America, but it’s clear that this outing was a success for Tanaka in both style and substance.

Over the next few starts, keep an eye on Tanaka’s location and adjustments made against him. For now, the $155 million arm looks to be as advertised: potentially excellent.


What were your impressions of Tanaka’s first game in a Yankees uniform?

Comment, follow me on Twitter or “like” my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Twitter Reacts to the Start of New York Yankees’ Spring Training

Entering the official start of spring training 2014, one thing is clear: the New York Yankees are Major League Baseball’s most talked about team.

The newest edition of spring training in Tampa Bay for the Yankees took on an entirely different feel when Derek Jeter announced his upcoming retirement back on February 12th. The face of the sport (no offense, Eric Sogard) will arguably be the story of the season as the most recent era in team history comes to a close. Let’s just hope the Jeter Farewell Tour comes with better gifts than the Mariano Rivera one did (really, Texas Rangers? Cowboy boots for a guy from Panama?)

However, the truly most important story lines for the Bombers in spring training are to see what they can expect to yield from their off-season spending spree and how a roster with a surprisingly high number of question marks despite the payroll comes together.  

Can the trio of Jeter/Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia bounce back from rough 2013? Can Jacoby Ellsbury stay healthy? What exactly can we expect from Masahiro Tanaka? Does David Robertson really have what it takes to replace Mariano Rivera? There’s only one place that has all these answers: Twitter. 

To make the playoffs this year, the Yankees will most likely need to build on last year’s 85-win campaign. That total might sound easy to build off considering the winter’s price tag, but as Ken Davidoff of the New York Post tweets, maybe the Yankees weren’t actually that good. 

A 79-win caliber team minus that team’s best player, one Robinson Cano? Sounds like a tough task to overcome for Joe Girardi. That’s why the quartet of Carlos Beltran, Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Tanaka could make or break the year for New York.

However, all four of those signees come with question marks (at this point, the question mark might as well be the team’s logo this year). We don’t know how Tanaka‘s stuff will translate. Ellsbury‘s games played per year have as been inconsistent as anyone in the league over the course of his career. Beltran is not exactly a spring chicken. McCann is probably the surest bet of the bunch, but even he is beginning 2014 on the wrong side of 30.

One of Ellsbury‘s former managers thinks that success will follow, as long as he stays on the field.

McCann is expected to be a staple in a Yankee lineup that could very well be formidable. Even if McCann has a “down year,” it would be almost impossible for his season to qualify as a positional downgrade from 2013, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch points out.

When Tanaka signed, there were two numbers that stood out: a 24-0 record last year in Japan, and a $155 million contract. Critics of the deal have theorized that Tanaka‘s performance won’t match the payday, but Sports on Earth’s Jonathan Bernhardt says even if he’s not great, it’ll be okay for New York.

“If it turns out that New York paid superstar money for a pitcher who is merely very good, fine; the Yankees are a license to print money, and young pitchers who are “merely very good” don’t grow on trees.”

One player who is no lock to make the Opening Day roster, but could make a difference is the enigma known as Michael Pineda. It’s been two full years since we last saw the right-hander in a Major League game, but ESPN’s Buster Olney says there is reason to be optimistic. 

There’s been much talk about Jeter’s last year and what it means for the franchise in the long-term, but in the short-run, no one really knows what to expect from the captain. 

Before his spring training debut on February 27th, Brian Cashman made it clear that on his list of concerns, Jeter is no where near the top, according to Newsday’s David Lennon.


In case you hadn’t heard, Rivera is no longer active. In his place is Robertson, a very good reliever in his own right, but someone who has little experience ending games in big spots. That won’t stop Robertson from thinking he can pitch at an elite level, according to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor.

There’s no doubt the Yankees have upgraded since the end of last season. However, they have some ground to make up in the division. The Red Sox are the reigning World Champions, the Rays have one of the best rotations in all of the league, and the Orioles made some moves late in the off-season to bolster their roster.

The most important Yankee might very well be Teixeira. The Yankees’ infield could potentially be a trainwreck, but if Teixeira can somehow re-create his first three years in the Bronx this year, that could theoretically change the entire lineup. 

Jeter’s last year will be a season-long parade of honors and accolades, but a 39-year-old who might as well not have played in 2013 with a severe ankle injury is as big of a question mark as it comes. It would be very Jeter of Jeter to hit .320 this year, but somewhere in the .280 range is more realistic, if not maybe a best-case scenario for New York. 

Sabathia made news in the off-season for his weight loss, but his season will ultimately come down to another type of loss: velocity. 2013 was arguably the worst season of Sabathia’s career, but he’ll still take the mound April 1st when the Yankees open their season in Houston. His development in spring training could be the most important thing for Girardi & Co. as the team tries to avoid a second straight postseason-less year. 


Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yu Darvish Comments on Masahiro Tanaka’s $155 Million Contract with NY Yankees

The seven-year, $155 million contract that the New York Yankees gave to Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has been one of the biggest sources of buzz throughout the MLB offseason.      

Whether Tanaka’s game translates to the big leagues after dominating in his homeland remains to be seen. However, one prominent MLB ace has come out and said Tanaka isn’t worth such a high price tag: fellow Japanese hurler Yu Darvish. 

Per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan: 

Context is everything in these situations, though, and Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com suggested that the Texas Rangers star was laughing when he made his remarks about Tanaka:

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News provided a statement from Darvish after his comments were made public:

The two-time MLB All-Star also discussed the influence he and other Japanese pitchers have had on the market, implying that it helped Tanaka land a big payday, per Sullivan:

The Rangers ace also mentioned the posting system, which essentially involves a transfer fee from Japan. Tanaka’s former team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, were to be paid a $20 million posting fee by the Yankees as part of the acquisition, per Marchand’s report on the contract.

Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk points out how the Rangers sent Darvish’s former team in Japan $51.7 million in posting fees to bring him over from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.

Darvish arrived in the MLB in 2012 and took little time to establish himself as one of the top pitchers in the league. This past year, he even finished as the runner-up for the American League Cy Young Award. 

The right-handed Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Golden Eagles this past season, which had Yankees scouts convinced in his abilities to pay him such a hefty salary.

As unfair as his contract may seem, there is plenty of time for Tanaka to prove his worth in pinstripes. The exorbitant contract shouldn’t come as a huge shock either, considering the Yankees are consistently putting together superstar-laden rosters with massive payrolls in an effort to return to the Fall Classic.

With the disparity between the contract Darvish has—$56 million over six years, according to Spotrac.com—and the deal Tanaka inked, one could reason that Darvish wasn’t entirely joking. However, considering his swift denial and the fact that both pitchers were teammates in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, it’s unlikely that Darvish meant anything by it. 

Either way, it will be interesting to see if Tanaka responds to Darvish’s comments, and whether he lives up to his hefty salary in the 2014 MLB season. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

New York Yankees Day 1 Spring Training Recap

Despite missing out on the postseason last October, the New York Yankees enter spring training as the biggest story in Major League Baseball.

Yes, the Red Sox won the World Series, the Dodgers carry a $200 million payroll and the Nationals are poised to win big in 2014. But, while compelling, none of their spring training venues can come close to matching the kind of drama and media attention that will surface in Tampa, Fla. at Steinbrenner Field.

Over a four-month span, the Yankees lost Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, and added Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka. As if that wasn’t enough of a whirlwind, Derek Jeter announced that 2014 would be his final season.

For most teams, the first day of spring training is boring. For the New York Yankees, it’s must-see television.

Here’s a recap of the first day of Yankees spring training.

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