Statistically, the 2019 Yankees’ pitching staff wasn’t as good as the 2018 version, but then again, this year’s team, spent a majority of the season without its two best pitchers: Luis Severino and Dellin Betances. Not to mention CC Sabathia and Chad Green went through some serious bouts of inconsistency. Still, the 2019 Yankees held their own throughout the league. They ranked 5th in K/9, 10th in WAR, and 14th in team ERA. A step down from 2018 to be sure, but all things considered, they were still a great staff as a team.
Using Baseball Reference’s statistic, Game Score, I’ve compiled the five best Yankee starting pitching performances of the season. Here they are:
It was an up-and-down season for Masahiro Tanaka. The juiced ball Space Jam’d the downward movement out of his splitter, and the right-hander struggled to adjust at times. However, he appears three times on this list. He first shows up against the Mariners and his fellow countryman, Yusei Kikuchi.
With a first inning lead, Tanaka cruised through this game. He didn’t surrender a hit until the fifth inning and really had his slider working, a recurring theme on this list. Forty-two of his 106 pitches were sliders and he generated eight swinging strikes and 12 called strikes with it.
August was a good month for Tanaka. This is his second start from that month on this list. After starting the game with a lead-off single, Tanaka didn’t surrender another hit until the eighth. He didn’t have a ton of swings-and-misses, just 8.5% of his total pitches, but all of them came off his slider. Toronto went 0-for-11 on the pitch, and Tanaka held the Jays to an average exit velocity of 86.4 MPH, more than 2 MPH better than his season average.
In five September starts, James Paxton only surrendered three earned runs, but none came during this outing against the Rangers. The Yankees’ offense knocked five homers, and J-Pax took a no-hitter to the fifth inning. The Big Maple had his entire arsenal working that day. He had a 17.9% swinging strike rate and simply overpowered the Rangers’ lineup.
Paxton’s second 12-strikeout performance on this list was his first of five double-digit strikeout games this season. He really delivered in a big moment here too. Sure, it was an April baseball game, but this was his first against the Red Sox, and he turned in this performance against Chris Sale. Paxton had an incredible finish to this season, but this was his best start all year.
Weirdly enough, a Masahiro Tanaka start against the Rays has taken the top spot on this list three years in a row. In an era where complete games are becoming increasingly rare, Tanaka’s complete games have become almost a yearly tradition. He’s thrown seven of them since joining the Yankees back in 2014, leading the team and tied for 11th-most around the league.
Tanaka’s complete game against the Rays in June was a masterful display of his arsenal. The juiced ball neutralized the righty’s splitter for most of the year, forcing him to lean on his slider more than ever before. Both pitches were on against the Rays though. His 10-strikeout performance represented his only double-digit strikeout night of the year, and he generated 23 swinging strikes on 111 pitches, 14 from the slider and 5 from the splitter. Here’s a look:
Masahiro Tanaka, Slider/Splitter Movement Overlay. pic.twitter.com/2qtmcfh2Hs— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 17, 2019
For a guy who—for the most part—lost his best pitch this year, it’s downright impressive Tanaka found himself on this list three times.