The Case For
Tanaka, the pitching sensation by way of Itami, Hyogo, Japan, has lead the Yankees in complete games these last two seasons, with four to his credit, his most recent, a dominant performance on August 15 against the hot-hitting Toronto Blue Jays on the road, by which the right-hander struck out eight over nine innings, allowing but one run.
The gem was his best performance in an up and down month of August, by which Tanaka went 3-2 with a 3.18 ERA, certainly respectable numbers in the midst of a pennant race. Tanaka’s complete game came when Michael Pineda was still on the disabled list and Luis Severino remained winless, preserving the Yankees’ then 1 1/2 game lead in the division.
Now 11-6 overall with a 3.73 ERA, Tanaka has managed a 1.02 WHIP on the year, lower than his rate from 2014 (1.06).
Of any Yankee pitcher, Tanaka arguably offers the most complete repertoire, throwing a plus-fastball, a devastating out pitch in his splitter, and an above-average slider that have permitted him to throw six or more innings in every start in July, August, and September thus far (11 in total).
The Case Against
Compared to his brilliant rookie campaign in 2014, Tanaka is down in several departments, allowing nearly a full run more per nine innings and striking out fewer batters per nine innings (from 9.3 to 8.1). In eight fewer innings thrown this year, Tanaka has substantially allowed more home runs (21 to his 15 in 2014) and walks (25 to 21), striking out only 115 batters in 128 innings pitched. By ERA+ standards, a figure that adjusts for the player’s ballparks, Tanaka is merely average, posting a 105 mark.
In a 13-8 win at Fenway Park on September 2, by which his lineup gifted him a 11-1 lead in the bottom of the second inning, Tanaka struggled, allowing four runs in 6 1/3 innings, including a Xander Bogaerts home run in the sixth that forced manager Joe Girardi to resort to a bullpen that should have been given a much needed reprieve.
With a UCL tear in his right elbow, Tanaka has done more than enough to avoid the knife in 2015, but the amount of innings logged (1315) and pitches thrown (he once threw 742 pitches over six starts as a seventeen year old) in Japan before the age of 25 is alarming.
Off to a slow start in September, Tanaka will have a chance to rebound against the Orioles Tuesday night when he squares off against Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman.