Much discussion has already started about whom the Yankees should select to start the Wild Card game against the As on October 3rd.
Severino. Happ. Tanaka. C.C.
It seems most of the cognoscenti (he wrote sarcastically) have decided that since among that group, Tanaka has been pitching the best lately, he should get the nod.
This is what I call irony.
I’ve been high man on Tanaka for 5 years as he’s been one of the best pitchers in the American League over that span and woefully underrated by his own fan base. Even the Simpleton Summer Camp crew act surprised when he pitches well.
Since 2014, among American League pitchers with a minimum of 800 innings pitched, he’s:
- 5th in K%-BB%, trailing only Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, David Price, and Carlos Carrasco.
- 7th in both ERA+ and WAR, trailing only Kluber, Sale, Price, Carrasco, Dallas Kuechel and Justin Verlander in those categories over that span.
Basically, there are elite AL pitchers, then there’s Tanaka, then a huge gap.
He’s also higher up on the Yankees all-time best starting pitcher list than you realize. Among Yankee starting pitchers with a minimum of 800 innings pitched, Tanaka has the best K%-B% in team history and the 7th best ERA+ (ahead of Ron Guidry and Andy Pettitte who have plaques in the outfield). No starting pitcher in Yankee history has more WAR with fewer innings pitched.
But for one game, you need to look at matchups, and Tanaka vs Oakland would not be the best matchup for the Yankees, as much as it pains me to say.
Let’s set aside for a moment, the fact that how one has been pitching “recently” has nothing to do with how one will pitch on a particular day in the near future…
We all know about Tanaka’s strengths and weakness.
He gets batters to chase outside the zone better than anyone. He leads the AL in chase rate and is only behind Jacob deGrom and Patrick Corbin in all of MLB in that department and they throw against pitchers.
But he is prone to letting batted balls fly over the wall. 17.3% of fly balls hit off him end up as home runs, which is tied for the highest in the AL.
You see where I’m going with this I’m sure, but Imma’ tell you anyway:
Oakland has the lowest chase rate of any team in baseball and the 2nd most home runs, despite playing in the Oakland Coliseum.
(Fun side note for Billy Beane haters: Beane was the first to realize earlier this century that players like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Rod Carew were very, very rare and you probably didn’t have any on your roster. And that for most players, the way to beat defensive shifts was to hit it over them. A theory that’s widely accepted by smart people today.)
Can you say Oakland doesn’t perform well against split-finger fastballs (Tanaka’s strength) and if the game is in Oakland there’s less of a long ball threat so Tanaka is the choice? Of course, that would be reasonable.
But here’s what I’d do.
Choice A: Start Happ, with Severino first out of the pen and Zach Britton to follow him.
Choice B: Start Severino, with Happ first out of the pen and David Robertson to follow him.
Both of those scenarios will give you a platoon advantage for 2 or 3 innings depending on how you foresee the As setting their lineup that day. This also allows you to start Tanaka on full rest against Boston in game one of the ALDS, a team that’s a little more free-swinging than Oakland.
Remember, whatever the case is: The outcome of the game is close to a coin flip regardless of everything that will be considered. This is a 55/45 choice for Aaron Boone and I won’t get on him regardless of the outcome.
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