Masahiro Tanaka has not been super consistent during the regular season in his six years as a Yankee. Signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract in January 2014, some might say he has not lived up to that deal. But in looking at his postseason numbers, maybe they change their minds.
Tanaka has always been a big-game pitcher. Heck, not even just a pitcher. In the fall of 2005, at age 17, Tanaka hit home runs in four straight games to lead his high school to a championship in the Meiji Jingu Tournament. The next summer, he was reportedly sick with intestinal inflammation throughout the National High School Baseball Championship, but threw 52.2 innings with a 2.22 ERA. During his final year with the Tohuku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013, Tanaka went 30-1, including the postseason. The one loss was from Game 6 of the Japan Series, where he pitched a complete game throwing 160 pitches. He came back the very next day to earn the save in Game 7.
So when it comes to setting up the rotation for October, Tanaka’s 4.53 ERA this season might not be the only piece of consideration. He has a career 1.50 ERA across 30.0 innings in the postseason.
Here are some more career regular season versus postseason stats for Tanaka:
So he strikes out fewer batters and walks more — but his LOB rate is much higher in the playoffs (96.0%) than in the regular season (74.7%), so he strands those extra baserunners. However, overall, opponents are hitting a measly .162 against him come October. When he’s on, his money pitch is the splitter, which ideally should generate a lot of ground-balls. His ground-ball rate isn’t tremendously higher in the playoffs, but it is up a bit. He throws the splitter 26.94% of the time during the regular season; that’s up to 32.10% of the time in the postseason. Plus, hitters hit .209 against the split in the regular season; they only muster a .042 average against it in the postseason. And as seen below, he does get a little extra oomph in terms of velocity and movement on most of his pitches.
There are even some more advanced stats that show Tanaka’s postseason dominance. His clutch ratings in 2017 and 2018 were 0.03 and 0.08, respectively. These are both ever so slightly above average (0.00). However, his last two regular season ratings have been -0.17 and -0.46.
ERA- is a park and league adjusted version of ERA. It’s an easier way to compare pitchers irrespective of their environment. An average ERA- is 100. The general rule of thumb is that 70 is excellent. Tanaka’s cumulative postseason ERA- is 36. That’s off the charts. His total regular season number is 88, which is still above average. FIP- is another stat similar to ERA-. For Tanaka, it’s at 81 in the postseason and 89 in the regular season.
We’ve all seen it. Tanaka has that demeanor that is needed in October. If I needed to win a big game next month, there’s a good chance I’d select him to toe the slab. You can throw what he has done the past six months out the window – he knows how to pitch in big games.