Masahiro Tanaka
Bruno Rouby, ESNY Graphic

Masahiro Tanaka’s latest stretch proves that he still has the capability to be a second ace on this New York Yankees team.

From the 2017 season to now, it’s been a “night and day” transition for Masahiro Tanaka.

Just a year ago from today, Masahiro Tanaka was inches away from being regarded in the same tone as Sonny Gray has been this season. He was letting start after start slip away very similar to that of Gray. He was having major issues as he always has, in giving up the home run ball.

In 2017, Tanaka surrendered the most home runs in a season he had ever given up in his career (35). The 2015 season was the only other season he’d come close to that benchmark when he gave up 25 long balls.

Moving towards 2018, Tanaka has once again struggled mildly in giving up the home run. He, however, has shrunk the pace he was reaching the past few seasons and up to this date of 2018, he has only given up 9 home runs. It’s a concerning statistic when you think about how prone he has been to let baseballs travel 375 feet.

What Masahiro has shown us and the Yankees’ organization this season is what everyone thought they were signing up for four years ago. His 9-2 record and 3.76 ERA is a far cry from his 13-12 record and 4.74 ERA in 2017. Not to say he hasn’t performed up to his contract he signed with the club, but this season means that much more considering the way he pitched for most of 2017.

Bearing that in mind, in Tanaka’s last three starts through roughly 20 innings pitched, he has given up one run (which is an ERA of 0.46) and struck out 26 batters. His only run given up, you can guess it, was on a solo home run by Mookie Betts on Sunday night.

More so, this is what Tanaka’s numbers look like in his last six starts:

It is what you would call a “pick me up” from a disastrous 2017. During these summer months, Tanaka has once again proved he can be an ace to this team when called upon.

His strength, that he had on display in the 2017 playoffs, is his ability to rise to the occasion in the “big” game. Even though he was only able to get through four and two-thirds on Sunday night due to his pitch count, he showed once again that he thrives in situations where there’s flair for the dramatic. He has always been known to be better on the bigger stage and has so far proved that once again this season

With the struggling Luis Severino coming down to earth in the past five games, Tanaka has proved he still can lead this rotation when called upon. The rest of the starting five have given lackluster performances, to say the least, during the last month of the season.

As we keep looking back upon the 2017 season for Masahiro, he himself has had a short memory of his struggles just a year ago. There wasn’t any stretch of games where he dominated in compared to that of this year. In fact, opponents last season hit .257 against him while opponents in 2018 are hitting a mere .220.

To say this is what the doctor ordered for Tanaka would be understated. He has made the argument for the most improved player on this team as well. Essentially he is making his case again for taking the ball in game 163 if the Yankees do play in the Wild Card game.

To go along with his impressive campaign, Tanaka owns a 1.07 WHIP and has struck out 109 batters through 103 innings pitched this season. His WHIP last year was 1.23. Every number you begin to notice from last season has become a vast improvement in this current year.

In a year that has seen many Yankees’ struggles come to the forefront, every time Tanaka has taken the mound in the past month and a half, the Bombers seemingly have been given a chance to win. He’s been able to keep his team in games in contrast to his history.

His splits when batters are ahead in the count is important to look at. In 2017, when a given hitter was ahead in the count (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2), Tanaka was allowing them to hit at a .331 clip. In 2018, that number has changed dramatically by allowing batters to hit at a .216 clip. What you see in those figures is his ability to battle deep into counts.

Furthermore, he surrendered 17 home runs with hitters ahead in the count last year, while this season he has only given up five long balls in those instances.

Nevertheless, Masahiro Tanaka has proven himself worthy of a debate for game 163. Is Severino still the current ace of the staff? Absolutely. But one thing is for certain, if Sevy and the Yankees can’t figure out the current problem he is having, don’t be surprised to see Tanaka starting in the always dreaded Wild Card game.

Tanaka has shown when the lights are shining brightest, he is as well. It’s an X-factor that can’t be taught but one that is however earned through the big stage. There’s no place better to do it than in New York but the question still remains: How consistent Tanaka can be for the rest of the season?

For now be happy this isn’t the dreaded “2017 Tanaka”.

This is the revamped and refreshed 2018 version we were always accustomed to seeing and who’s now made his case for the second ace of this team.

I am currently enrolled at Montclair State University as a senior studying Sports Media and Journalism. I spend most of my days when I'm not at school; writing, podcasting, and preparing for my radio show. Thus meaning my life is sports. I spend almost all my time in and around sports because it is my life. I am an eternal, die-hard Yankees fan, along with Jets, Knicks and Rangers. I am 23 years of age and live in Central New Jersey (if people still consider a Central NJ).