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Comparing Big Mike and Tanaka's approach

It's way too early to delve into the numbers behind Michael Pineda's season, so let's do just that.

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Since everyone took the opportunity of Masahiro Tanaka's rough Opening Day to dissect his performance, I thought it might be entertaining to comparing his performance against the Blue Jays with Michael Pineda's more successful outing.

Caveats. Small sample size. Error bars. If you've made it this far into the baseball Internet, you probably already know that we shouldn't try to draw conclusions based on statistics in one game. Miguel Cairo went 4-for-4 on June 9th, 2004 while Matt Holliday went 1-for-3. We shouldn't use a small sample size to try to predict future success.

But the data we have is a recording of what happened (from at least one particular angle). So while we can't predict future success, we can begin to construct a narrative of what occurred. There was baseball played at a very high level. So what did the numbers say?

According to  Brooks Baseball, Tanaka threw only five fastballs, averaging 92 mph, compared with 22 two-seamers, averaging a tick slower at 90 mph but with good movement. Pineda's four-seamer came in just a mile per hour faster than Tanaka's two-seamer, without the horizontal break. Their sliders are also remarkably similar, and produced similar results for these two starts: thrown north of a third of the time, half of the sliders got strikes.

Tanaka 040615
Tanaka 040615

It's hard to draw big conclusions from one game of course, but that's what made the Tanaka morning after so entertaining to me. Forced to say something, I'd say that Pineda seemed more willing to go upstairs than Tanaka. Of course, Pineda doesn't throw one of the best splitters in baseball, and Tanaka went to the split nearly a third of the time. But hitters will adjust, and they seemed to do a good job of laying off the low one from Tanaka because he wasn't coming upstairs very often.

Joe Girardi also seemed to stop Pineda at just the right time. After getting at least 58% of his strikes swinging in each of the first five innings, Pineda only got 42% of his strikes swinging in the last inning. Watching a pitcher work, I often think about what Mike Mussina said in Living on the Black: at 20 pitches in a single inning, you start to get tired, at 25 you're hoping for an out, and at 30, all efficiency is gone. A simple measure of dominance is that Pineda only had one inning (the third) where he needed 20 or more pitches.

The offense is going to get the attention in most recaps of this game; any time there's an eighth inning rally, that's what will get the recap attention, especially when it comes with some intentional walk silliness and an RBI base on balls. That's only fair. And if this Yankee season is going to go like I hope it will, we're going to need a lot more weird rallies and late inning heroics.

A late rally is always better than a tough luck loss, which is what Pineda was looking at when he was told he was done for the day.