Masahiro Tanaka has been brilliant for the New York Yankees in 2016, distinguishing himself in a league starving for high-level starting pitching.One factor which substantially contrasts the American League from the National League has taken a forefront for the entirety of 2016. The AL cannot pitch by any stretch, producing remarkably inferior numbers in comparison to the star-studded dominance the NL possesses.
With the likes of Michael Fulmer, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, and Aaron Sanchez leading the league on the ERA front, the lack of quality starting pitching has reached new dumbfounding, ultimately comical, heights.
Simply taken at face value, the NL leader in ERA, Kyle Hendricks, tops the AL leader in ERA, Fulmer, by 70 points.
While the National League Cy Young race is a highly contested eye-popper between true aces, the American League Cy Young race is being diminished by a landfill of arms who — for the most part — were not viewed as staff anchors heading into the campaign.
With that comes dark horses, or contenders who you do not notice on a daily basis. At this rate, no Cy Young pick will feel utterly “safe.” So, with that said, why not go with an uncomfortable yet promising choice?
An ace, a horse, a stopper, a highly regarded name, and an extremely valuable asset.
That man is Masahiro Tanaka, meeting all of the said qualifications while quietly turning in a superb year in the Bronx.
Should he be the Cy Young at this rate? Probably not. Should he be considered? Absolutely. Can he claim the honors with a few more stellar outings? Of course.
The 27-year-old’s brilliance this year, anchoring a subpar Yankee staff hampered by the likes of Michael Pineda, Luis Severino (at times), and Nathan Eovaldi (who is now done for the year), has been truly commendable. He has been a “stopper” in the truest sense of the word.
As a product of recent second half dominance, 6-2 with a 2.74 ERA (10 starts), his numbers have excelled to a Cy Young-caliber extent.
With his most recent gritty performance against the Toronto Blue Jays, his record improved to 12-4 as his ERA dipped to 3.11. At this rate, he would log 33 starts and 213.1 innings.
Over that 2016 sample size, based on ESPN.com’s projections, he would surrender merely 194 hits, issue only 37 walks, hold opponents to a .238 average, and strike out 179, all while working his way to a 14-5 win-loss mark.
If he was to hypothetically come away victorious in four of his final five scheduled starts, his record would sit at a glamorous 16-5 — at the very least. However, the record does not tell the story.
Heading into this afternoon’s outing, Tanaka’s WAR (4.5) ranked third in the American League among qualified starting pitchers, measuring his true value to New York. Most importantly, the team is 21-7 in his starts this season, making him a crucial piece to a Yankee ballclub struggling to remain in the thick of the playoff race.
In an American League clobbered with inconsistency, his formidable line pops out amongst the pack.
Considering that Michael Fulmer is on pace to hurl just 162.2 innings, making him better suited for the Rookie of the Year Award, Aaron Sanchez is a relatively unknown commodity, destined to tail off if he is overworked in a newfound starting role, and Jose Quintana has a surmountable ERA, Tanaka can be placed right in the heat of the discussion.
Sure, certain factors have to play out in his favor. Yes, none of those said names can go on a downright tear in their final slew of starts. Absolutely, Tanaka has to do more than hold his own over his last slate of starts this season.
However, if those factors pan out at any rate, the Japan native should rank top three in the voting with relative ease.
Consider something else as well. Tanaka’s last five starts will come against the Tampa Bay Rays (twice), who he has a 2.57 ERA against in 2016, the Boston Red Sox, a team which he has held to a .188 batting average this season, the Blue Jays, a potent offense which he has silenced to the tune of a 2.08 ERA, and the Baltimore Orioles, who he shutout over eight outstanding frames in his lone appearance against them.
Based on sheer track record, culminated through past performance, odds are in his favor.
Furthermore, those numbers prove another aspect of his prowess. He shuts down the teams the Yankees pay him to shut down. Without Tanaka, the Yankees’ 22-30 record against AL East opponents would be even more dreadful.
Rather than being five games out in the loss column, they would be a distant fourth place team, several more games off the pace.
When votes are cast, if the BBWAA does themselves and baseball a favor, Masahiro Tanaka will stack up with the “premier” arms of the AL — because he is, perhaps, one of the only premier arms the questionable league has to offer.