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Wild Card Game: making the case for Masahiro Tanaka

Now that we officially know our opponent, it’s time to pick a Wild Card starter. Earlier this week, Rohan laid out the case for Luis Severino. Yesterday John campaigned for J.A. Happ. Today, we are going to focus on last year’s playoff master, Masahiro Tanaka. Last year’s playoff performances were as follows:

ALDS Game 3: 7IP, 0ER, 1BB, 7SO

ALCS Game 1: 6IP, 2ER, 1BB, 3SO

ALCS Game 5: 7IP, 0ER, 1BB, 8SO

Just masterful. He really stepped up when it mattered most, and I think the Yankees are going to remember that when it comes playoff time.

There are a lot of things the Oakland A’s do well. They not only hit, but they can hit for power. They strike out at a below league average rate. Oh by the way, they can also draw walks.  Whoever ends up facing them is going to have a tough time. However, after watching Tanaka last year in the playoffs, he is the one I trust the most on this staff in a winner take all game. I think he can use the aggressiveness of the young A’s team against them, and pitch backwards effectively like we have seen him do so many times before.

I am a big believer of riding the hot hand going into the playoffs. Overall this season, Tanaka has a 3.75 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 156 innings, but that only tells part of the story. Tanaka has been mixing in his four seam fastball more lately and it seems to be working for him. He has dazzled in the second half (last start notwithstanding) throwing 72.2 innings of 2.85 ERA ball. His ground ball rate has increased from 44.7% in the first half to 50% in the second half. His home run rate has also gone from 1.94HR/9 to 0.87HR/9. Giving up less home runs is good, guys. I think using his four seamer a little more than he has in the past is making him not only less predictable, but it’s improving his breaking pitches as well. See below for his pitch selection chart:

Everyone is saying that the Yankees cannot look past the Wild Card Game, and while yes that is true, they have to at least consider their potential future opponent. Tanaka has not been good against the Red Sox this season, plain and simple. He’s allowed, 6ER, 4ER, 1ER, and 5ER in four starts, while pitching more than five innings only once. I trust him to keep the Yankees in the game, but I would want Happ and Severino to be the starters that throw twice against them in a short series.