Masahiro Tanaka: The New York Yankees' Definitive Ace

Gary PhillipsContributor IIJune 1, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning during their game at Yankee Stadium on May 31, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

When Masahiro Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract, many second-guessed the New York Yankees' decision. This man had never thrown a pitch in the major leagues before. He was picking up his life in Japan and moving to a foreign land. Many Japanese pitchers in the past had not panned out, especially for the Yankees.

What were the Bombers doing throwing all this money at this guy. What kind of risk were they taking?

Well, while the duration of the deal is far from over, Tanaka has been everything the Yankees could have possibly hoped for thus far. After a Saturday outing against the Minnesota Twins that saw the Japanese stud go eight strong innings in which he allowed zero earned runs while striking out nine, Tanaka came away with some of the most polished numbers of any starter in baseball.

In 11 starts the 25-year-old rookie holds an 8-1 record, putting him and a slew of other pitchers in a tie for the second-most wins in the big leagues. The Yankees as a team are 9-2 when he his on the mound. Only Mark Buehrle of the Toronto Blue Jays has more wins with 10. Tanaka's 2.06 ERA is the best in the American League. Oakland's Sonny Gray is the next closest in the Junior Circuit with a 2.31 ERA.

Tanaka, who has allowed a total of seven home runs on the year, has not let one leave the park in his last five starts. He has also racked up 88 strikeouts in 78.2 innings, giving him strikeout-per-nine ratio of 10.9. Tanaka's ability to find the zone and avoid free passes has been spectacular as well, as he has only allowed 12 base on balls. His 0.952 WHIP is also the best in the American League. The opposition can barely hit him, as hitters have meager .218 average against him.

The MLB Stat of the Day Twitter account summed it up nicely:

An ESPN account provided another jaw-dropping stat:

While the numbers are certainly impressive, Tanaka's importance to the Yankees goes far beyond his statistics. He is a winner and a competitor. He has the mindset.

Every time the Yankees need a win, Tanaka comes up big. Every time the team is on a losing streak, Tanaka ends it. He has been a stopper, the go-to guy. With CC Sabathia hurt, Hiroki Kuroda (4-3, 4.57 ERA, 6.78 K/9) underachieving and the rest of the rotation in shambles, Tanaka has stepped up big time—doing so on baseball's biggest stage.

He has been simply remarkable.

“He’s at the top," Yankees catcher Brian McCann said, according to Jorge Arangure of The New York Times. "He’s a top-of-the-rotation starter ... He takes the ball every fifth day. He continues to impress everyone around here.”

Tanaka, of course, downplayed his importance, saying hitters just do not know him well enough yet.

"I don't feel that I'm the ace," the hurler said with the help of an interpreter, per Arangure. "I feel that this is probably that the guys haven't seen me."

The modesty from Tanaka is nice—refreshing actually. Yet, as humble and unassuming as he may be, make no mistake.

Masahiro Tanaka is the ace of the New York Yankees. 


All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference.

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