The home run surrendered last night by Masahiro Tanaka in the seventh inning, following a well-pitched game, resulted in a Yankees loss to the Baltimore Orioles. There’s a lesson to be learned there, and it’s one that hopefully the Yankees grasp onto quickly.
The New York Yankees have two major strengths in 2018. They have Murderer’s Row with power up and down their lineup. And they have a bullpen that is arguably the best in the major leagues. Neither element has performed particularly well so far. But these things have a way of evening out over the course of a 162 game season.
At the same time, the Yankees have what is still a questionable starting staff, at least regarding whether or not it is built to last. Thus, it appears Brian Cashman is saving up his pennies for a full-fledged attack to land a number one or number two at the July trade deadline.
With that as a preface, Aaron Boone needs to manage his pitching staff differently, and therefore more efficiently. Masahiro Tanaka should never have been allowed to start the seventh inning last night or any other night, and all starters need to be limited to an all-out effort through six innings, after which the game gets turned over to a number one Yankees strength – the bullpen.
As an unwritten rule, the plusses are many. The first is the reliever coming in knows ahead of time he’s next up, allowing him time to get ready at his own pace. Second, the reliever starts an inning he can call his own and be totally accountable.
Unlike yesterday, for instance, when Chad Green came in following the Tanaka two-run homer to Adam Jones in a put a finger in the dike before she blows situation. Green couldn’t, and from there the game got totally out of hand. Here’s the gritty details:
But up to that point, Tanaka had pitched a magnificent game over six strong innings. The Yankees held a slim 1-0 lead having collected only four hits against Orioles pitching. His day could/should have been over. This is not to say the Yankees would have won that game. All it says is the game would have proceeded in a different light if Green had been allowed to start the seventh inning.
With the possible exception of Luis Severino, who apparently has one of those Luis Tiant rubber arms, Yankees pitchers should not need to go beyond six if the bullpen is well-managed by Boone and Larry Rothschild, the Yankees pitching coach.
Three innings are not much to cover when you have the likes of Green, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and the rest of the armory, provided the staff is managed and given a day’s rest here and there between appearances.
Roles are essential to a team, and in this way, both starters (especially) and relievers would both have a firm idea of what their purpose is to make the team and themselves successful. Starters would know – economize your pitches to make it through six innings. Someone like Sonny Gray stands out as a starter who needs to focus on this requirement.
Severino and James Montgomery both need to be harnessed as well given the extensive workout they got in 2017 when each maximized the most innings they’ve ever pitched before in pro baseball. CC Sabathia will be stretched to reach the goal of six innings, but with his moxie on the mound, he’s a good bet to respond.
Major league baseball in 2018 is a game of bullpens. Alas, the days of starters reaching 250-300 innings and regularly pitching complete games (Ervin Santana and Corey Kluber tied with five last year) of yore are long gone. This, as compared to only ten years ago in 1998 when Randy Johnson (11), Scott Erickson (11), and Curt Schilling (15), all finished in double figures.
So, let it be. It is what it is, and the game has changed. But if the name of the game is to win games, then Aaron Boone needs to manage according to the new rules, which suggest that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. And that Boone, hired explicitly for to his knowledge and reliance on analytics, was putting Tanaka potentially in a position to fail given Tanka’s lifetime stats against Adam Jones (.375, 2 HR, 9 RBI, over 24 at-bats).
Save that for another day, but the point here is Masahiro Tanaka, by today’s standards, had turned in a complete game over six shutout innings.
From now on, the unwritten rule among Yankees brass should be – Congratulations, great job. Now, make way for the Yankees vaunted bullpen to wrap this thing up.