May 3, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Key to Masahiro Tanaka's Success? 'He Sticks Around'


Masahiro Tanaka’s transition from Japan into American baseball has been seamless and the Sports Science experts know why. John Brenkus and Co. pointed to an extra long stride in his pitching motion and an exceptional two-pitch combo.

For comparison’s sake, Sports Science noted Max Scherzer, who’s about Tanaka’s height, and most pitchers take strides 85 percent as long as their height. At six-foot-two, Tanaka takes a stride of six feet and 10 inches, 110 percent his height.

Tanaka may not have an above-average fastball – he tops out around 93 mph – but his long stride shaves about a hundredth of a second off the ball’s travel time. This also makes his pitches break later, giving the hitter that much less time to react.

This is makes the break on his fastball and splitter extra nasty.

Tanaka throws his four-seam fastball at a rate of 25 percent, but its 3,000 RPMs gives the pitch a “rising” effect. While his heater doesn’t exactly rise, it appears that way because it moves laterally instead sinking. He also throws two variations of the fastball, a cutter and two-seamer, to add deception.

Because his four-seam fastball appears to the hitter to have “lift,” as Brenkus said, his splitter looks like it drops even more than it does. Tanaka throws his splitter with the same arm angle and release point as he does his fastball, a disguising mechanism. His split-finger grip lessens the ball’s RPM by approximately half its rotations, causing the ball to look like it fell off a table just as it reaches the strike zone.

Just as the hitter has made up his mind to swing, his splitter drops a foot lower than where his fastball would have ended up. Like Mariano Rivera’s cutter, it’s just not fair.

Tanaka is 4-0 this year with a 2.53 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 51 strikeouts against six walks. He is coming off the toughest outing of his U.S. career, in which he earned a win despite surrendering three runs on eight hits to the Tampa Bay Rays. He still lasted seven innings and the Yankees offense scored nine runs.

His next start will be on the road in Milwaukee to face the Brewers, who own the best record in the National League.

“All my pitches, they weren’t there,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter after the game against the Rays, according to the New York Daily News. “Anything wasn’t crisp.”

ESPN New York reported he said his outing was “so-so” in English before his interpreter had a chance to tell him the question. Manager Joe Girardi praised the outing, saying Tanaka’s greatest strength is the way he makes in-game adjustments to maximize his longevity.

“I think probably the biggest thing we have learned about Tanaka is he is going to find a way to get it done,” Girardi told reporters. “No matter what his stuff is that day. No matter what he goes through early in the game, he is going to find a way to stick around and give the team a good chance to win. That is what I’ve seen from him so far.”

Tags: John Brenkus Masahiro Tanaka New York Yankees Sports Science

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