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Two pitches could be the cure for Masahiro Tanaka's homer problem

Despite having a strong first two seasons, there's still room for improvement for Masahiro Tanaka. With his diverse arsenal of pitches, there are many ways for Tanaka to become a more effective pitcher.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Masahiro Tanaka has had some ups and downs over his first two seasons in pinstripes. There were times he looked like a shutdown ace who was on his way to becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. There were times he was getting hit hard, giving up home runs, and looking more like a three starter. Then, there were times he battled injuries and landed on the disabled list.

Add it all up, and here are his numbers across two seasons.

44 290.1 25-12 3.16 3.54 2.96 8.68 5.83 1.24 5.3

Obviously, those are very solid statistics, and it's easy to understand both why the Yankees coveted him and why they're comfortable with him as their ace. The main problems for Tanaka, though, have been injuries and giving up hard contact, particularly home runs.

Many Yankee fans wonder when, not if, he'll need Tommy John surgery, but in the meantime, there's no sense in worrying about injuries. What Tanaka can do, though, is continue to improve and become a better pitcher when he is on the mound. Tanaka has a diverse arsenal of pitches, and he has very good command. His strikeout potential and control have made him so successful, especially with advanced statistics. His xFIP, for example, is below three because it takes these factors into account, as well as the fact that he pitches in a hitter-friendly park, which is why his HR/FB is so high.

Many say that pitchers will eventually regress to the mean of around 10%. Tanaka, however, will continue to pitch in Yankee Stadium this season and likely the foreseeable future, so he's a less likely bet for regression from his 15.7% mark than others. So how can Tanaka use the pitches in his vast repertoire to cut down on the homers?

Four-seam fastball

Frequency thrown: 19.93%

Average velocity: 92.74 MPH

Whiff %: 5.39

GB%/ LD%/ FB%: 5.85/ 5.15/ 4.68

BAA: .326

HR: 15

wFA (four-seam fastball runs above average): -18.1

Tanaka's four-seam is his most ineffective pitch by most measures. He gets in trouble when he leaves it up, as hitters take advantage and often hit it hard. Tanaka has given up more home runs on his four-seamer than any other pitch, his BAA on it is higher than any other pitch, and his LD% on it is higher than every pitch besides his sinker. Obviously, he still has to throw it; no pitcher can abandon his fastball.

However, what Tanaka can do is throw it a bit less often, especially earlier in the counts. In the first pitch of an at-bat to righties, he throws it 33% of the time, higher than any other pitch. If it's less predictable when he throws it and he keeps it down in the zone, it won't be nearly such a poor choice for him.


Frequency thrown: 16.39%

Average velocity: 91.52

Whiff %: 4.99

GB%/ LD%/ FB%: 11.68/ 7.98/ 5.41

BAA: .325

HR: 12

wSI: -2.2

If Tanaka's four-seam is his most ineffective pitch, his sinker is a close second. It yields his second lowest whiff percentage, highest LD%, second highest BAA, and second highest HR%. In fact, he throws his fastball or sinker 36.29% of the time, yet 67.5% of the home runs he's allowed have come on one of those two pitches. Since it is less effective than most pitches, he should perhaps, like his four-seamer, throw it less.

Tanaka tends to throw it more when the batter is ahead in the count, but it may make sense to throw it earlier in the count instead of relying on his four-seamer so much in those situations. This way, as long as he keeps it down, he can produce a ground ball out earlier in the count.


Frequency thrown: 8.68%

Average velocity: 89.54

Whiff %: 10.48

GB%/ FB%/ LD%: 7.80/ 3.49/ 5.38

BAA: .188

HR: 1

wFC: 4.7

Tanaka's cutter is definitely the most effective of his three non-splitter fastballs. He throws it less often and it's a bit slower, but he gets more whiffs on it, has a much better BAA on it, and of the 372 cutters he's thrown, it's only been hit for a home run once. An obvious solution for Tanaka here is to throw less four-seamers and sinkers, and instead throw more cutters.


Frequency thrown: 26.49%

Average velocity: 87.66

Whiff %: 24.49

GB%/ LD%/ FB%: 13.92/ 3.44/ 2.29

BAA: .180

HR: 4

wFS: 19.8

The splitter is hands down Tanaka's most renowned and effective pitch. Tanaka obviously knows it, as he throws it more than any of his pitches. It is downright unhittable at times, looking as if it's falling off a table. It'd be nice if he threw it every pitch but the problem is keeping it in the zone, which is why he goes to it later in counts, especially with two strikes.

One reason Tanaka may throw his four-seamer more often than it seems he should is because it helps to set up his splitter. Regardless though, his splitter is great and the main thing we're trying to figure out is how Tanaka can get to two strike counts so he can use it. Being that it's so effective, it wouldn't be a terrible idea to throw it more even when it's earlier in the count.


Frequency thrown: 21.85 %

Average velocity: 84.17

Whiff %: 16.35

GB%/ LD%/ FB%: 5.88/ 3.21/ 5.02

BAA: .147

HR: 6

wSL: 19.5

The slider is his second most popular pitch and his second most effective pitch. He gets a lot of whiffs on it, doesn't give up much hard contact on it, and by BAA and slugging percentage against, it's more effective than his splitter. Tanaka will throw it at any point in the count, too. There's not much room for improvement here. The only suggestion is to perhaps deploy it even more often since it is so effective.


Frequency throw: 6.58%

Average velocity: 75.96

Whiff %: 4.61

GB%/ LD%/ FB%: 2.48/ 3.19/ 3.90

BAA: .313

HR: 2

wCU: -1.8

There's not too much to write about on Tanaka's curveball. He throws it less often than any other pitch, which makes sense given its ineffectiveness. It does serve its purpose, however, as it is over eight MPH slower than of his other pitches. As is, there's not much to change with the use of his curveball, but if he worked to improve it, it could be a really nice compliment to his other pitches.

Like most pitchers, Tanaka's off-speed stuff is more effective than his fastballs. The disparity in effectiveness, however, seems larger with Tanaka than most. Pitchers go to their fastball a lot for good reason, so Tanaka will need to continue throw it often. However, when he does throw a fastball, it appears that going to a cutter more often than his four-seamer or sinker would be better. Additionally, given how effective his splitter and slider are, it would make sense if he went to them even more, whether it be early or late in counts.