Masahiro Tanaka has made two all-star teams. He received Rookie of the Year consideration in 2014, and Cy Young downballot support in 2016. Over the last five-and-a-half years, he’s 15th in wins, 21st in starting pitcher WAR. He hasn’t been an elite pitcher, but he’s been a useful contributor for the Yankees.
And yet, on Thursday night in Boston, Tanaka was just another rag arm, torching your ERA and WHIP.
The Red Sox collected seven runs in the first inning Thursday, but the Yankees left Tanaka in the game. Then the bottom fell out in the fourth, with Tanaka surrendering five more runs. The final line reads like a misprint: 3.1 IP, 12 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 3 BB, 4 K. Tanaka’s ERA was 4.00 before the game and it’s 4.79 now.
The Red Sox wound up with a 19-3 laugher. Every Boston starter had a share in the run production.
It’s the 14th time in the post-expansion era that a pitcher has allowed 12 runs or more. Some good pitchers show up on the list. Scott Kazmir, David Wells, Randy Wolf, John Burkett, and A.J. Burnett each made at least one All-Star team (I was shocked to see Burnett’s appearance came in 2015, his age-38, and final, season). Jose Lima had that one dominant year, 1998, which spawned a legacy and a watershed fantasy-baseball strategy. You generally have to be pretty good to be allowed to suffer this kind of indignity.
There’s a weird quirk to Tanaka’s 2019 season — he’s been terrific against Tampa Bay, covering three starts, and a mess against other teams. When Tanaka faces the Rays, the bagel parade follows: 1.59 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, three walks against 28 strikeouts. Against everyone else, Tanaka carries a 5.77 ERA.
Tanaka had an ERA below three as recently as May 28. Since then, he’s logged nine uneven starts, collecting to an ERA of 6.91. The home run ball has been a problem. His strikeout rate has been okay, but not elite. The last time he faced the Red Sox, he didn’t get out of the first inning (0.2 IP, 6 R).
Tanaka had been rostered in 93 percent of leagues prior to Thursday, and he’s still 92-percent rostered. That 1.25 WHIP is still playable, and he does have 102 strikeouts, even if the K/9 clip is ordinary. Fantasy players like pitchers on good teams, I get it. Maybe you could try to steer Tanaka from the negative matchups — use the Zinkie Guide going forward.
Tanaka’s big change from last year — when he had a 3.73 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, very playable ratios — is a drop in strikeout rate. The velocity has fallen, but just slightly. His control is still very good. The HR rate is about the same.
The schedule appears to lessen up — Arizona next week, Baltimore after that. But I don’t blame anyone who feels the need to bench or even cut Tanaka. He wasn’t a Circle of Trust guy before the Thursday night mess. Maybe life in the AL East simply caught up to him.