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Masahiro Tanaka could have been a Cy Young candidate

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It turns out that Masahiro Tanaka ended up having a pretty good season after all. Despite an unfortunate start to the season that included missing a month with an arm injury, the Japanese right-hander managed to, despite a few shaky starts here and there, pitch like the ace the Yankees are paying for. He has pitched to a 2.77 ERA since the beginning of August and likely could have had his name mentioned in the American League Cy Young Award competition, if not for two key factors: injury, obviously, and dingers.

If you compare Tanaka's statistics right up next to the best in the league, he would absolutely enter into the conversation.

3.40 ERA 10th
3.86 FIP Top 20
2.2 WAR Top 20
0.99 WHIP 1st

Top 10 in ERA and top 20 in FIP in 2015 is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, while 2.2 WAR, despite missing the entire month of May, is actually pretty commendable. It's also impressive that Tanaka is the best in the league at keeping batters off the bases.

8.31K/9 11th
1.64 BB/9 3rd
18.8 K-BB% 7th

According to his peripherals, Tanaka ranked among some of the best in the league. His K-rate might not have been incredible, but his walk rate was among the best. It's too bad that's not all that happened.

1.38 HR/9 6th worst
16.3% HR/FB 2nd worst
22 HR top 10
3.25 xFIP 7th

It all comes down to the home run. As not only has he given up a lot of homers overall, he's also allowed them often. No other Cy Young candidate has more than him, with CC Sabathia the only pitcher with a worse home run-fly ball rate. It's a pity that he's surrendered so many dingers because if his rate dropped to league average, his FIP would actually stack up pretty well against the competition. It's been such a blow to him that, out of the 60 runs he's allowed, home runs have made up 27 of them–that's 45%. It's clear that keeping the ball in the park is his only problem too because 22 of those 27 homers were solo shots, since he doesn't allow anyone on base. It's also clear that Tanaka has a home run problem because, according to ESPN's home run tracker, most of them were no-doubters:

A dinger in how many parks?
30 6
25-29 8
20-24 4
11-19 1
1-10 3

Most of these weren't Yankee Stadium cheapies because 11 of them traveled 400 feet with six others traveling at least 380 feet. Essentially, if someone got a hold of one of Tanaka's pitches it was gone by a wide margin:

While Yankee Stadium has likely not helped, he hasn't fallen victim to the short right field porch much because everything has sailed clear over it. You can't blame this on bad luck.

On top of his home run problem, he was also injured for an entire month, meaning he won't be approaching 200 innings this year. Unfortunately for him, out of the top pitchers in WAR, he has the lowest innings pitched with 143 on the year. Not only did he miss an opportunity to continue pitching well over the entire season, but unless he was utterly dominating the league even with the injury, there's no way he stands a chance in the voting with his home run problem as well. And if you wanted to go super traditional, his 12 wins put him in sixth place in the American League, showing that he could have easily stayed in the conversation if things hadn't gone bad for him.

It's no secret that Tanaka has a home run problem. It's not for the same reason Phil Hughes was homer-prone in Yankee Stadium because Tanaka actually has a lot of movement on his pitches. It's that sometimes his command is off by just enough that it will result in MLB players making him pay like they normally weren't able to do in Japan. He's clearly still an effective pitcher, even with all the home runs, because he's so good at keeping people off base and limiting the damage. If he wants to take that next step and remain in the Cy Young conversation, he's going to have to work on locating and not throwing so many hanging breaking pitches. Finding a way to stay healthy all season long would be nice too, but we'll see what next year brings. Regardless, he's still one of the top pitchers in baseball, and that's pretty awesome.