To call Masahiro Tanaka’s 2017 season bipolar would be an understatement. The Yankees right-hander dazzled through Spring Training only to find himself with an ERA in the mid-fives by the all-star break. Then under the brightest lights, he limited postseason hitters to just two runs in 20 innings.
Despite the strong finish, Tanaka can’t be looked at as a sure thing to replicate the success he had throughout his first three years with the Yankees (490 IP, 3.12 ERA). The possibility is certainly there for the Japanese native to return to form, however, it’s hard to ignore the four home runs that have left the yard in his eight innings of work this Spring.
The long ball was certainly an issue for Tanaka in 2017, as he gave up a career-high 35, which was tied for 3rd worst in the AL. So despite the fact that spring statistics should be thrown out the window and forgotten about, it could be looked at as a cause for concern. That’s why Tanaka’s ability to reduce the poor HR/9 rate he posted last season (1.77/9) will prove crucial to his and the Yankees success in 2018.
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With Luis Severino being tabbed to start the Opener in Toronto, Tanaka has the chance to give the Bombers one of the most lethal 1-2 punches in the game. Fans seem to forget how elite of a pitcher he is capable of being. When he’s been at his best he is among one of the toughest pitchers to hit in baseball.
Before last year’s poor campaign, Tanaka was coming off a terrific season in 2016. Take away the dreadful first half he suffered through this past year, and the numbers show he is worthy of being called an ace. Especially if you acknowledge the show he put on in the postseason. When the pressure was at its peak he was at his best and showed exactly why the Yankees paid him to be their ace back in 2014.
If the brilliant work of Tanaka’s postseason appears in 2018 relatively consistently, then the narrative that the Yankees are a starter away from being World Series favorites should begin to fade.