It was a pretty big deal when the Yankees gave Masahiro Tanaka his own pair of pinstripes. In 2014, the Yanks inked Tanaka to a 7 year $155 million deal that came with expectations that went as high as the moon. Tanaka has never really lived up to the expectations due to consistently getting injured but this season he looks like he should’ve gotten a contract worth a hot dog and soda at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka has a 6.55 ERA this season after posting a 3.07 ERA last year. It may be due to the result that Tanaka is throwing the most heaters since his rookie year according to fangraphs.com. Tanaka is also throwing his splitter at a very low rate compared to what we are used to. In 2017 Tanaka is throwing his splitter 20% of the time: last year he threw it 30% of the time. His pitch selection may not be the problem though.
Last night against Boston, Tanaka went 5 innings giving up 5 runs. 3 of those runs came off home runs. Two were off fastballs and one was on a flat splitter that Mitch Moreland hit to the clouds. Therefore it may not be an issue of the pitch type but instead pitch location. He is walking more this season with 2.5 walks per 9 innings and when he isn’t walking guys he is giving up absolute bullets. Tanaka has already allowed 17 homers this season after giving up 22 in 2016. So I guess the ball is either out of the zone or right down the middle like this pitch to Andrew Benintendi last night.
So with Tanaka’s lack of production who is the Yanks new ace? Could it be the youngster Luis Severino? I think it’s safe to say yes. After a fantastic rookie season, Severino struggled to the point that he had to be sent up and down from minors to majors all season in 2016. 2017 is a whole new chapter. Severino is striking out 10 guys a game by using his 97 mile per hour fastball and nasty slider. Severino looks like an elevated version of his rookie self. He has a similar ERA with only a 0.01 difference. His walks are the biggest improvement by dropping his walks per 9 by more than 1. That has helped his WHIP look great at 1.068 compared to his sophomore 1.451 WHIP.
It’s encouraging that Severino has stepped it up but it may not outweigh what is going on with Tanaka. Say the Yankees get a wild card spot: would people in New York be comfortable with Severino taking the ball? Most likely not. If Severino continues to impress this season that opinion may change but he also won’t be able to pitch every game.
The Yankees rotation is not built for October. Things have looked encouraging after their fast start with Aaron Judge leading them into first place. As of right now their starters have the 8th best ERA in the MLB but thats most likely going to change. Even say Severino keeps it up, Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia probably won’t. Pineda usually starts strong and ends up fading. He has a career 5.08 ERA in July. Sabathia on the other hand isn’t as good as he once was. At this point in his career he is a borderline 4th starter at best. So you have an unproven Severino, a struggling Tanaka, a shaky Pineda, and a washed up Sabathia. Looking good! They will be able to upgrade at the trade deadline but not to the point where they can match up against Chris Sale and David Price. As of right now, the top pitcher on the market is Jason Vargas who ,sadly, isn’t the ace a contender needs.
Things are very bright in the Bronx right now but the future is so bright it’s like you’re two feet away from the sun. Their offense is good, their bullpen is good, and they have pitching prospects on the way. Too bad they aren’t already here because the chances of New York beating the Astros or Red Sox looks small just because of their rotation: especially if Tanaka continues to smell like hot garbage. But the Yankees are praying that Masahiro becomes the “hiro” they expect him to be so that they can ring chase once again.