Masahiro Tanaka just isn't walking anybody

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Seven-plus innings against the Red Sox and zero walks. Where did this magical man get such control?

It's becoming abundantly clear that Masahiro Tanaka has forgotten how to walk people. While it may seem like an easy enough thing to do for people like you and me, and even some of the more ordinary pitchers in the Major Leagues, it has become something of an impossibility for Tanaka. Along with his "Ultra-Powered Death Splitter" and perfect record in 2013, Tanaka was also known for his stinginess with walks in Japan. In not one of his final 3 seasons did he post a BB/9 rate higher than 1.4. So a scarcity of walks during his starts was not unexpected, but the degree to which he's avoided them in his first four starts has been nothing short of astounding. For contrast, here are the best walk rates posted by Yankees pitchers (minimum 100 innings) since 1970.

Year

Pitcher

BB/9

fWAR

2003

David Wells

0.85

3.9

2004

Jon Lieber

0.92

3.7

1982

Rudy May

1.19

3.3

1998

David Wells

1.22

4.5

1991

Scott Sanderson

1.25

4.2

So there's some good pitchers who had very good seasons thanks to staying away from giving out free passes. Now it's early, but Tanaka is showing up all those fellows right now with a microscopic 0.61 BB/9 rate over his first four starts. He has walked two batters while striking out 35 others. I believe maintaining that insane ratio would make him the best pitcher in the history of humanity. Who were those lucky two chaps who somehow managed to coax a walk out of Tanaka? The first was Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles on April 9th on a 3-2 count. The other was the Chicago Cubs' Justin Ruggiano on April 16th, also on a 3-2 count. So even when Tanaka has somehow managed to walk a batter, it has been by the slimmest of margins.

What does this all mean? Unsurprisingly, it means that hitters are going to need to make adjustments against Tanaka. As I'm sure anyone with eyes has observed, Tanaka isn't a "just get it across" kind of pitcher. He's precise, but he'll go outside of the zone (especially with his splitter) on a regular basis to get his strikeouts. If hitters can better adapt to Tanaka's offerings, the walks will likely come at a faster rate as they lay off more pitches that drop out of the zone. Thus far Tanaka has been burned only by his mistakes, but in time even his purposeful pitches could hurt him.

But even knowing that, Tanaka is well ahead of the curve. The best hitters on the face of the Earth are going to have to adjust to him first, not the other way around. Eventually that time will come when they figure him out and we'll all be astounded. He'll give up more than one walk or actually get touched up for more than three runs. It may be at that point that Tanaka has to make some adjustments himself, but probably not too drastic of one. This is a polished, dynamic strike-throwing machine that we're fortunate enough to have on our side.

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