Masahiro Tanaka: Isn’t It Time We Hailed Him As A Great Yankee

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees Postseason Ace (photo: New York Daily News_

In Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have one of the most unrecognizable premier pitchers in baseball. Or maybe, we should keep it a secret…

Masahiro Tanaka exploded on the Houston Astros with all the precision of a stealth bomber. If he touched the inside of the strike zone, it went unnoticed. First pitch strikes rained in, and he missed the strike zone (probably intentionally) on only twenty-three of the sixty-eight pitches he threw.

Giving up one lone hit over seven innings, Tanaka walked only one batter. Even better, he subscribed to the old, but effective, baseball adage – make ’em hit the ball (only 4 K’s).

Gleyber Torres - The Sky Is The Limit (Photo: SNY TV)
Gleyber Torres – The Sky Is The Limit (Photo: SNY TV)

Everything Aaron Boone has touched this season has turned into gold. But his choice to start Masahiro Tanaka over James Paxton was deliberate and packed with pre-thought.

A Game One win in foreign territory yells, “Advantage Yankees.” And so it was, with Gleyber Torres accounting for five/sevenths of the Yankees runs, including a home run. Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela (who said he would stop hitting?) both added home runs to put the game out of reach.

And oh, yes. The bullpen showed up too, with Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, and Jonathan Loaisiga (not Aroldis Chapman) closing it out for the Yankees.

The Storyline Remains Masahiro Tanaka

But the storyline remains Tanaka. Or, at least it should be. We’ll get to his regular career with the Yankees in just a bit. But first, his recognition must begin with the postseason. (If you want a better view, click here)

Masahiro Tanaka's Postseason Record (Source: Baseball-Reference_ Masahiro Tanaka’s Postseason Record (Source: Baseball-Reference)

Masahiro Tanaka receives congratulations from Aaron Boone (10/12/2019) (Photo: New York Daily News_
Masahiro Tanaka receives congratulations from Aaron Boone (10/12/2019) (Photo: New York Daily News_

It doesn’t get much better than that, and Aaron Boone somehow sensed Tanaka was primed for big game in a big game.

Have you ever seen Tanaka ruffled when he’s on the mound? Well, maybe once, in London.

Masahiro Tanaka threw a stress-free game because he willed himself to do so. His presence on the mound scares no one, and he uses that to his advantage.

In sum, he’s a pitcher’s pitcher who doesn’t get the headlines of a Gerrit Cole, Steve Strasburg, and Max Scherzer.

And let’s forget Gary Sanchez, who caught another impeccable game, only two years removed from being run out of time for his defensive liabilities.

Masahiro Tanaka Was Almost A Writeoff

A year ago, around this time, many Yankees fans (including this one) were hoping Masahiro Tanaka would take advantage of the opt-out clause in his contract, taking his services elsewhere for his age 30 season. He’s washed up, it was said.

Tanaka reneged and chose to stay with the Yankees.

Tanaka did not make or break the Yankees season. His 11-9, 4.45 AL ERA is nothing to write home about. It was, however, his consistency in making 31 starts that averaged almost six innings each.

The Yankees paid Masahiro Tanaka $22 million to pitch for them this season while The Boston Red Sox paid David Price $31 million to win seven games for them in 2019. Jake Arrieta pulled down $22.5 million to win eight games for the Phillies. Neither team made the playoffs, but you get the idea.

Masahiro Tanaka has pitched 1006 innings over six seasons with the Yankees. His 75-43 record means Tanaka has won more than six of every ten decisions. He sneaks up on you as someone to be heralded, just as he sneaks up on batters he is facing.

Tanaka has only the 2020 season remaining on his contract with the Yankees. After this, he will become a free agent at the age of 32.

Aaron Boone showed why he is the American League Manager of the Year with this dead-on read of Tanaka:

“Well, first he’s really good, so that’s a good place to start,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Tanaka. “And I think he does a good job clearly of not necessarily making more of the moment. I think the guys that can lock in and are in command of their body and their mechanics have a chance to be better when these stakes are high, and he’s very good at that. “He’s very good at his craft and understanding what makes him work and what makes him effective, and the ability to repeat his delivery and really command a few pitches today was big.”Mike Mazzeo, Yahoo Sports

The Yankees Postseason Ace – And More

To be an unsung hero has value in and of itself. And Tanaka certainly doesn’t seek the limelight.

But for Yankees fans (including myself), it’s time we pause to acknowledge what we have in Masahiro Tanaka.

In closing, I will add that of no Yankees player in recent years, can it be said that he (Tanaka) has earned every penny the Yankees have paid him.

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.