Masahiro Tanaka was placed on the 10-day DL on Saturday. When will the good news stop for the Yankees?
Yep, on the surface this obviously is negative. The Yanks called Tanaka’s injury shoulder inflammation. It means they will have to insert either Luis Cessa or Bryan Mitchell into a Subway Series start Monday.
But dig on this a bit and, well, this could turn out to be positive – and in more than one way.
If Joe Girardi and Tanaka are to be believed, this is not a structural injury. He required no injections. Instead, Tanaka is being treated with rest, treatment and strengthening, and the hope is to have the righty back in the rotation soon after the 10-day term, which was backdated to Aug. 10, ends.
“I don’t think this will be too long,” Girardi said.
If so, perhaps the Yanks get a fresher Tanaka for the kick to the finish line. At this point, it just might be that his body will not hold up for 30-plus starts, since he HAS only managed that once as a Yankee.
Obviously, counting on injured players to return and/or more not to go down is generally folly. But there is a scenario now in which the Yanks get Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Greg Bird and Starlin Castro back in a cluster for the stretch.
The other potential positive for the Yanks is that this provides yet another piece of evidence to convince Tanaka not to opt out of his contract after this season.
Now, many Yankee fans will look at Tanaka’s 4.92 ERA and hope he does walk away from the three years at $67 million he is owed should he not opt out. Heck, maybe there are even Yankee officials who want that since the slight tear in his elbow always makes Tanaka risky and the mandate from ownership is to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold for 2018, which obviously becomes easier if the $22.1 million Tanaka costs toward it goes away.
But beware if that is your wish.
Perhaps, I am delusional, but I continue to believe Tanaka is a very good pitcher who has been as hurt by the home run avalanche as much as anyone.
He has had 21.5 percent of his flyballs turn into homers. That not only is the high among qualified starters this year, but since Fangraphs began tracking this in 2002. Obviously, Tanaka must receive the brunt of the blame. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild cited, in particular, “the inconsistency of his slider and split” and leaving those offerings far too often over the plate.
But Rothschild also said “it is one of those years.” And I don’t think that is just coach spin. Tanaka is allowing a homer on more than one out of every five flyballs, and that might be tough if he were just lobbing it over the plate in batting practice.
And it comes in a season in which he is among the sport’s leaders in groundball percentage (48.4) and defeating line drives (17.9 percent of plate appearances) and in which his strikeouts (9.5 per nine innings) have remained high and his walks (2.2 per nine) have remained low.
Now, Michael Pineda often had strong peripherals and results that did not match up with those stats. But I believe Pineda’s concentration waned too often and that he could become unglued in a big spot. I don’t believe either of those is true about Tanaka. I try never to talk about luck because it is ephemeral, hard to quantify and often comes across as excuse making. But I do think that Tanaka has been unlucky in 2017.
Let’s put it this way, if there really is nothing seriously wrong with Tanaka, it is reasonable to think he could come back and be the Yankees best starter in September. That is what the groundballs, strikeouts, walks and lack of line drives suggests is possible.
Perhaps, that would push him to opt out, but as Rothschild said, “As far as the opt out, I wish he was having the kind of year that would make him think about it.”
And keep this in mind if Tanaka does opt out, the Yanks are going to have to go find someone to replace him. They have Sonny Gray now to join Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery. But we’ll see how Severino and Montgomery rebound from a full season of major league pitching. And while they have starters they like near the majors – notably Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield – the Yanks are going to need more veteran stability, probably even if they have Tanaka.
But it will put them in a less stressful situation to pursue more help this offseason if they are plotting around a rotation with Tanaka then without him.
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