The grind of a long MLB season and the volatility from one season to the next make consistency a valuable asset. When a MLB team can rely on a player to give consistent production, they have something special. For seven seasons, Masahiro Tanaka was someone that the New York Yankees have relied on constantly.
Although he never finished higher than seventh in the AL Cy Young award voting, he has been a valuable piece in their rotation. His two All-Star appearances and collection of dominant postseason moments symbolize that. His 78 wins place him third all-time among Japanese-born pitchers. In 1,054 1/3 innings pitched, he has a 3.74 ERA and 114 ERA+. His control of the strike zone has also been a strength, posting a career BB/9 of 1.8 and a 4.76 K/BB. Those numbers get even better in the postseason where he has a 1.76 ERA, 0.783 WHIP, and 1.24 WPA in 46 innings.
On Wednesday, Tanaka made the final regular season start of the seven-year, $155 million contract he signed prior to the 2014 season. For now, he will make at least one postseason start for the Yankees worst case scenario. What between the two after the season is uncertain. The possibility still exists that the team re-signs him in free agency, but nothing is guaranteed.
Still, Tanaka acknowledged the end of his contract after the game.
“You’re not thinking about it all the time,” Tanaka said. “But going into [Wednesday’s] game, you realize that this is the last start of the regular season for me which means that it would be the last start for my seven-year contract with the Yankees. I did have that thought going into the game.”
Final Regular Season Start
Unfortunately, the game was worth forgetting for the Yankees. They lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 14-1. Tanaka pitched four innings, allowing five runs and 11 baserunners although he was not helped out by sloppy play behind him. He finishes the regular season with a 3-3 record and 3.56 ERA in 48 innings pitched. He also posted his third-best ERA+, 120, and second-best K/BB ratio, 5.50.
Ultimately, Wednesday was not the finish Tanaka wanted to the final regular season of his contract. He called it a “frustrating” way to end the short season.
Gusts of wind blew through Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY throughout the game, playing a factor in his execution. The elements contributed to his three walks and eight hits allowed. In spite of that, he sees some positives to his performance.
“It was a bit hard to control some of the pitches because of the wind blowing from behind you towards home plate,” Tanaka said. “Overall, just looking at my stuff, I didn’t think it was that bad.”
Heading into the postseason, the Yankees will need to Tanaka to be his usual, reliable self. Manager Aaron Boone knows that the overall-team effort was not great Tuesday night, and he knows that greatly impacted Tanaka’s performance on the mound.
“I thought Masa was fine,” Boone said. “It’s difficult to evaluate his performance…I didn’t think it was much off from what we’ve seen from Masa, it’s just we let him down a little bit behind him.”
There is no telling what the future holds for Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees, contractually. Although the thought crossed his mind Wednesday, it appears it is not something that will perseverate in his mind. Tanaka knows that the team has the opportunity in front of them to go win a championship, and his focus, now, will be on starting Game Two in the playoffs, not his 2021 contract.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images