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Breaking down Masahiro Tanaka’s complete game shutout

Tanaka was everything the Yankees needed against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Masahiro Tanaka hurled a masterpiece (or should I say masa-piece?) for the Yankees against an impressive Tampa Bay Rays lineup on Monday. He fired an 111-pitch complete game shutout, while allowing just two hits, and striking out a season-high 10 batters. Tanaka became just the fourth Yankee in franchise history to toss a complete game shutout while only allowing two or fewer hits and striking out ten or more. It was pure dominance. So how did he do it? Here’s a little bit of a back story first.

Tanaka entered Monday’s game against the Rays in a bit of a slump. In all of his previous three starts, he allowed four earned runs. That equated to a poor 5.79 FIP over that stretch. However, Masa seems to flip into another gear against Tampa Bay. Over his past seven starts against the Rays, he surrendered only seven earned runs and struck out 56! Tanaka now boasts a .041 ERA against them this season.

The main key to his success on Monday was being able to hit his spots and throw both his slider and splitter where he wanted. That 1-2 punch was thrown for a combined 74 of his 111 pitches, or 66.67%, and the Rays could not touch either of them. Tampa Bay went a combined 0-for-25 with nine strikeouts against Masa’s slider and splitter. Only two outs were not recorded by virtue of the those two pitches!

The Rays’ swinging strike percentage against Masahiro Tanaka’s slider and splitter on June 17, 2019.

Tanaka’s location of his splitter is in the top 4%, according to Its velocity is in the top 27% and the pitch itself is in the top 20%. If Masa is having success with his split-finger, odds are that he’ll be dominant in the game, and he’s proven that.

As many pitchers in the game today rely heavily on their fastball, Tanaka does not. He throws his fastball just around 30% of the time. It makes hitters uncomfortable in the box as they have to be extremely patient or swing at junk, and that’s what he excels at. Tanaka tends to work the corners of the zone and induce soft contact. Against a lefty-heavy Rays lineup, his go-to pitch was the slider. Here’s an example of it starting down the middle then darting away against Austin Meadows in the ninth inning. By the way, this was his 106th pitch of the night.

Neither the slider nor the sinker finish down the middle, unless it’s a mistake. They both start right down the middle, then sweep away or end up at the hitter’s feet. Batters are left clueless and fooled. Look for yourself:

Masahiro Tanaka has now thrown four of the last six complete game shutouts by a Yankee. His historic night came thanks to, you guessed it, his slider and sinker. He was virtually unhittable on Monday. The Rays swung and missed at 23 pitches, and 13 came via the slider. Masa needs to stick with this 1-2 punch to continue to keep his opponents guessing. Hopefully he can build on this success moving forward.