New York Yankees: 5 Takeaways from Masahiro Tanaka's 1st-Half Performance

Joseph ZapataContributor IIIJune 25, 2014

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, June 22, 2014.  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

This winter, the New York Yankees took a chance by signing Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract worth $155 million (according to New York's Daily News). Tanaka hasn't been here long, but there are five big takeaways from his performance so far. 

 

Tanaka Is the Yankees' Ace

This may not seem like a bold statement now, but at the beginning of the season Tanaka was the third starter in the rotation.  After injuries to CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova, the Yankees needed Hiroki Kuroda and Tanaka to step up in their place.  

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Kuroda has been mediocre this season, posting a 4-5 record with a 4.23 ERA.  

With three pitchers hurt, and another pitcher underperforming, Tanaka has carried this club.  

Masahiro Tanaka 15 straight quality starts this season, tied for 2nd most to begin a career in MLB history

— Adnan Virk, ESPN (@adnanESPN) June 23, 2014

Everyday it seems a new Yankee player is hurt or in a slump, but Tanaka has been consistent throughout. 

 

Tanaka Can Strike Batters Out

As of June 24, Tanaka is tied for fourth in the MLB in strikeouts. He has recorded 119 K's, averaging over 10 per nine innings.  

Masahiro Tanaka's 5 double-digit strikeout games are tied for 2nd most by any pitcher in his first 14 career games in last 100 years.

— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) June 18, 2014

Tanaka's key pitch is considered the best split-finger fastball in the world.  

Yankees' ace Masahiro Tanaka has baseball's best splitter, according to @BtBScore http://t.co/iOAsbuW5r9

— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) June 24, 2014

As seen in the video below, Tanaka's movement and location has batters completely off balance.

According to ESPN, if he continues this pace, he will have 257 strikeouts by the end of the year.  

 

Tanaka Struggles Early in Games

Several times this year Tanaka has struggled in the first inning. In his two appearances against the Toronto Blue Jays, he gave up leadoff home runs to the first batter he faced.  

Tanaka gave up a first inning solo homer and nothing else in his six innings.

— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) June 5, 2014

In his most recent outing against the Baltimore Orioles, he gave up two hits to start the game, but then proceeded to retire the next three batters.  

Tanaka's first inning struggles continue, and continue to be perplexing.

— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) May 3, 2014

Even though this may seem like a flaw, it shows Tanaka's ability to shake off a rough start and finish the game strong. 

 

Tanaka Is a Workhorse.  

In nine out of Tanaka's 15 starts, he has thrown at least seven innings, and twice this year he's thrown a complete game.  

Tanaka Throws Complete Game, Yankees Beat Mariners 4-2 http://t.co/CFMQN2ldzv

— TopSportsReport (@TopSportsReport) June 12, 2014

If he continues this pace, he will throw 229.2 innings by the end of the year. Even in Japan, he was known for having a rubber arm.

According to Newsday, Tanaka once threw 160 pitches in Game 6 of the Japan Series this past November.  

Tanaka's endurance may be tantalizing, but the Yankees must refrain from overusing their Japanese star. 

 

Tanaka Is a Cy Young Candidate

Almost halfway through the season, Tanaka has the lowest ERA (2.11) and most wins (11) in the AL. Normally having a spot on the Yankees rotation benefits a pitcher, but this year their offense has been mediocre. 

According to ESPN, the Yankees rank 15th in team batting average, and 20th in runs scored.  

Are Yankees bats capable -- Tanaka can't do it all http://t.co/jsd2VeJP7p via @nypost

— Kevin Kernan (@WheresKernan) June 23, 2014

Even with barely any offensive support, Tanaka still manages to lead the league with 11 wins and only two loses.   

Awards Watch: Tanaka, Cueto lead in Cy Young http://t.co/JKs26zAgDJ

— Baseball News (@baseballupdate) June 6, 2014

Tanaka is on pace to win 24 games this year, and if the Yankees make the playoffs, he might find himself in the MVP race as well. 

 

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