Major League Baseball announced the finalists for the Cy Young Award on Monday afternoon. Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello secured the top three positions. On Wednesday, November 16, one will be named the top pitcher in the American League.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America already cast their votes and came up with this top three. There was also a strong second tier of pitchers, including the likes of Chris Sale and Zach Britton. Another pitcher who just missed a spot on the podium is Masahiro Tanaka. While there are some New York fans who are perpetually disappointed with Tanaka’s performance, the consensus is that his 2016 campaign was one of the best in recent Yankees history.
Tanaka placed in the upper-tiers of most traditional categories. He finished third in ERA (3.07), fifth in FIP (3.51), and sixth in fWAR (4.6). He also logged 199.2 innings, the most in his big league career to date. He also posted stellar walk and groundball rates, with a serviceable number of strikeouts. Most impressively, he maintained these results all season long. There were no dramatic slumps or lulls.
FanGraphs has a device to measure performance across a season. These charts visually demonstrate his consistency. First, by ERA and FIP:
Now groundball, strikeout, and walk rates:
That’s the type of consistency that one wants to see from a Cy Young candidate. He didn’t cool down after a hot start. He didn’t bounce back after a rough start. He also didn’t miss any significant time with injuries. Tanaka simply maintained his performance across the entire season.
Tanaka’s strong season did not go unnoticed by his manager. “What he [Tanaka] improved on was the amount of innings and starts, and staying healthy,” said Joe Girardi, “so I think that’s a big improvement. I thought he played well, and when you can count on 200 innings every year, I think it’s the best thing.”
Starting pitching has been an area of concern in recent years for the Yankees. They haven’t had a dominant season from a pitcher like Tanaka for quite some time. The last pitcher to make a legitimate run at the Cy Young Award was CC Sabathia back in 2011. He finished fourth that year, but like Tanaka, a case could be made for bringing home the hardware. Sabathia placed ninth in ERA (3.00), second in FIP (2.88), and tied for first in fWAR (6.4).
This was also following a third place finish in 2010. Sabathia was a stud from 2009 to 2012. He was a true ace, one of the best pitchers in baseball. There was a vacuum for a few years immediately following Sabathia’s decline, but Tanaka has filled that gap. He’s not only the best pitcher on the Yankees, but also among the elite hurlers in Major League Baseball.
Soon after the Cy Young Award winner is announced on Wednesday night, the full voting results will be made public. Expect to find Tanaka to near the top of most ballots. Even if he didn’t make a top three finish, he had one of the best pitched seasons in recent Yankees history. The organization paid top dollar for Tanaka, and his 2016 campaign reaffirmed that decision. He reminded everyone that he’s a dominant pitcher, capable of competing with the league’s best.