It’s been a common theme this offseason to say that the Yankees are in need of a legitimate “ace” after Luis Severino’s postseason woes continued on from 2017 into the 2018 playoffs. Although the case can be made for that, and I’m certainly not disputing it, don’t forget about the team’s most reliable big game pitcher of late.
That pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka. Yes, the same pitcher who’s posted ERA’s of 3.75 and 4.74 in 2018 and 2017, respectively. If you want to discount anything close to an “ace” title from his name because of his recent mediocre regular seasons, then so be it. However, what cannot be overlooked is his postseason success.
It’s well known that the Yankees were borderline embarrassed by the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS this past fall, losing the series in four games in front of their home crowd. But the one game they did happen to win was, of course, started by Tanaka. The right-hander held a potent Red Sox lineup to one run and three hits over five innings, striking out four in a 6-2 Yankees victory.
That solid outing only furthered his track record of postseason success. In five playoff starts, Tanaka owns a 1.50 ERA in 30 innings, holding batters to a mere .162 BAA.
Stat of the day: Since his first MLB season in 2014, Masahiro Tanaka has already pitched to a value of $124M for the #Yankees and is on pace to exceed a total value of $170M, $15M more than the $155M contract they gave him. pic.twitter.com/a41GL9jAZ6
— Dan Rourke (@DanAlanRourke) December 14, 2018
It’s getting to the point, for me at least, where there isn’t any other Yankee pitcher who I’d even consider using in a big game over Tanaka. It’s become clear that pressure to perform when the lights shine brightest doesn’t apply to the 29-year-old. And that’s a skill that most fans only seem to notice when a player doesn’t have it (Sonny Gray), rather than when they do (Tanaka).
It seems that ever since he was diagnosed with the partially torn UCL in 2014, he holds a little back in the tank right until the arrival of a big game or a crucial moment. Just try and notice the difference between the torque in his arm from a relaxed inning in June compared to a season-changing moment down the stretch or in the postseason.
I’m not even remotely stating that the Yankees don’t need another big game starting pitcher because they do. But let’s not forget about how effective Masahiro Tanaka can be when needed the most.