The Masahiro Tanaka of the National League

Masahiro Tanaka has now made two starts for the Yankees, and outside of a couple of home runs, he’s been ridiculous. He’s rung up 18 strikeouts while issuing just one walk, and he’s posted a 51% ground ball rate in the process, leaving him with a nifty 1.81 xFIP. His splitter is as good as advertised, and while it’s just two starts, it’s two starts that suggest that the hype was probably correct; Tanaka likely is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

But, a little more quietly, there is a pitcher in the National League that has put up a very similar line, and you probably won’t believe who it is.

First, let’s look at their raw totals through two starts.

Name IP TBF H HR BB SO
Masahiro Tanaka 14.0 56 13 2 1 18
Mystery Pitcher 10.1 45 10 2 2 14

Through two starts, our NL hurler has nearly the same K% as Tanaka — 31.1%, compared to the 32.1% from the Yankees new ace — while also limiting walks and getting ground balls, though not quite either to the same degree. Still, the basic conclusion of both performances is that they’ve dominated the strike zone, and their results have only been held back by giving up a couple of home runs. And things look even more similar at the plate discipline level.

Name O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Masahiro Tanaka 41.6% 70.6% 54.0% 46.8% 85.0% 68.2% 42.9%
Mystery Pitcher 44.1% 58.1% 50.0% 48.9% 86.1% 67.1% 42.1%

Tanaka has gotten a ton of swings on pitches out of the zone, likely because of how hard it is to distinguish between his fastball and his splitter; he ranks 5th in MLB in O-Swing% after two starts. Our mystery hurler, however, ranks 2nd in O-Swing%, sandwiched squarely between Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez. That’s not bad company. And it actually gets a little better.

Getting hitters to chase is great, but what you really want is to get them to chase and miss. This is what Tanaka has done so well, getting hitters to chase 42% of his out-of-zone pitches while only making contact on 47% of those swings. The only other pitchers in baseball who have both O-Swing% and O-Contact% in the 40% range — which signals both very high chase and very low contact on chase rates — are Felix Hernandez and our as-yet-unnamed NL starter.

And while no one would say that our NL hurler has the same quality of stuff as Tanaka, the velocities are in the same general range, at least. Tanaka has sat about 91-92 with his fastball while throwing his splitter around 86 or so; NL guy has thrown about 90 and his change-up has sat around 84, but he has a history of throwing 91-92 and featuring an 85-86 mph change-up, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if he ticked up a bit as the season went on.

Okay, so, who is the NL pitcher doing a pretty decent impression of Tanaka in the other league?

Roberto Hernandez, nee Fausto Carmona, the guy the Phillies signed for $4.5 million as a free agent this winter. That’s the guy who is currently #3 in the Majors in xFIP-, behind only Jose Fernandez and Tanaka.

Which is, of course, a reminder of why 10 innings don’t really tell you that much at all. Even 10 really great innings. Last year, Ryan Dempster had an xFIP- of 71 in April; it ended up leading to his worst year since 2007 and his decision to walk away from the final year and $13 million left on his contract. And Dempster’s April covered 30 innings and 122 batters faced; with Hernandez, we’re currently talking about 10 innings and 45 batters faced. The conclusion, as always at this time of year, is to not get too carried away by the numbers.

So Hernandez’s similar results to Tanaka, through two starts, probably say more about what we should determine we know about Tanaka after two starts than it does about some kind of impending Roberto Hernandez Cy Young pursuit. There are reasons to think that Hernandez could be a quality pitcher for the Phillies this year — I did put him at #2 on my list of potential free agent bargains over the winter — because his poor results in Tampa Bay were almost entirely due to an unsustainable HR/FB rate, and his ability to miss bats and limit walks suggested that he had the potential to be a decent mid-to-back-end starter. However, Hernandez is a reminder that even decent mid-to-back-end starters can post dominant BB/K/GB numbers over a couple of starts.

Tanaka is probably very good. The projections loved him coming into the year, and obviously the Yankees scouts agreed, given how much money they gave him without ever seeing him pitch against MLB competition. The fact that he’s began his career with two dominating performances only reinforces what other sources have been telling us before the season began; Tanaka is legit. Hernandez is probably not legit, and we have a lot of evidence to suggest that he’s going to regress in a big way over the next five months.

But, for two starts, Hernandez and Tanaka haven’t been all that different. That’s probably a decent reason to not get too carried away by Tanaka’s first two starts, and also an okay reason for the Phillies to be a little optimistic about what they might have in the pitcher formerly known as Fausto.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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RMD
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RMD
2 years 1 month ago

Now the Yankees will never win the $/WAR title…

RobM
Guest
RobM
2 years 1 month ago

…but would it be worth having Fausto just for the chance to win that “title?”!

I’ve drafted the man formerly known as Fausto in several of my past fantasy baseball drafts, and he has burned me a number of times. I passed on him this year, which means of course this will be his year.

As for Tanaka, he has looked impressive, although I’ve noticed in his first two starts he seems to have had trouble commanding his fastball in the early part of the game, then he hits his stride. I wonder if it’s a case of him adjusting to the different sized baseballs in MLB, or maybe he’s one of those pitchers who gets stronger as the game progresses and he falls in to the “get him early or you won’t get him” category. If it’s the former, then he might get even better. Sadly, I didn’t draft him either for my team this year.

pinch
Guest
pinch
2 years 1 month ago

that’s fascinating, please go on

Jackie T.
Member
Member
Jackie T.
2 years 1 month ago

Tell me more …

Josh Bard
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Josh Bard
2 years 1 month ago

Go on, I am salivating…

Garrett's Mom
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Garrett's Mom
2 years 1 month ago

Rob,

I must say… this was absolutely riveting. Hands down more interesting than any of the Dan Brown books I’ve read (I’m currently hooked on his newer stuff).

Keep up the good work!

Garrett’s Mom

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 1 month ago

I didn’t see the game in person, but from what the O’s radio guys were saying, the Orioles hitters, when they made contact, hit a lot of balls very hard against Tanaka. A flat fastball will make for some long games in Yankee stadium.

chris moran
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

That “flat fastball” also is getting a ground ball rate better than 50% and a whiff rate around 10%. His sinker has plenty of movement.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 1 month ago

I guess it’s a good thing he also has a 89 mph splitter and a 92 mph sinker to go with his 94 mph fastball.

Oh, and a very good slider.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 1 month ago

i thought his slider was more of a show-me pitch – it certainly has looked that way so far.

lights-out splitter, average fastball, fringey slider, excellent command is how I’d read him so far.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
2 years 1 month ago

Adam Jones apparently said that Tanaka is “nothing special.”

Shortly thereafter, he stated that he wished “the league allowed us [baseball players] to kick [Tanaka] with our spiked cleats.” Or something along those lines.

*Disclaimer: only half of the preceding paragraphs are true.

Arm Side Run
Guest
Arm Side Run
2 years 1 month ago

Jones is just rattled that his extension is peanuts compared to Tanaka’s contract!
My only comment is that Tanaka has thrown a ton of strikes to this point and people might clue in on that. That being said, he is nasty and seems able to miss bats in the zone for fun.

rbi baseball
Guest
rbi baseball
2 years 1 month ago

He was pitching inside to speed their bats up and most of the hits he gave up were ground balls save a hanging slider he threw to Schoop. I watched the game his pitches have plenty of movement on them.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 1 month ago

Hernandez/Carmona has always been awesome in short bursts. It’s the inability to keep doing that which has made him a disappointment, rather than a lack of peak quality.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
2 years 1 month ago

Hey now, he had one stretch from age 28 to age 31 when he didn’t allow a single run…

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 1 month ago

Funny, so did I.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel
2 years 1 month ago

Not to nitpick, but I’m going to nitpick. “Nee” actually means “born.” It refers to a “birth name” as opposed to “fka” (“formerly known as”) which would refer to any previous name. Roberto Hernandez was infamously NOT “nee” Fausto Carmona.

I do love the mystery player format, especially with larger sample sizes. I think Roberto was significantly more useful when his name was Fausto. Mostly because his GB% was so much higher and his HR/FB rate was so much lower back in 2006-2011. And even then, he only had two decent years in six (2007 and 2010). He can probably mark down some innings for an aging and struggling Phillies team, but I wouldn’t count on him to be much over replacement level in any category from here on out.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
2 years 1 month ago

Also, it would just be ne (that is, né), unless he changed more than his name.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 1 month ago

Oui, ca c’est vrai.

Simon
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Simon
2 years 1 month ago

*ça

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 1 month ago

Mon ordinateur ne peut pas faire ce lettre.

Bobby Bonilla's Mother
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Bobby Bonilla's Mother
2 years 1 month ago

The Website is free, the content is awesome. Shut up.

Johnston
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2 years 1 month ago

You tell them, Mrs. Bonilla!

BenDen
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BenDen
2 years 1 month ago

Heaven forbid we all try to learn something while we’re at it. Downvoted

Balthazar
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Balthazar
2 years 1 month ago

When you consider that Faust sold his sole to be someone whom he wasn’t to get what he most desired, I’ve always thought Fausto as a false name was absolutely ideal. I wonder who really picked it for Hernandez? He doesn’t seem to be the literary type. As a clue left in plain sight on his rule-bending, it’s one of the great jokes in baseball history though.

. . . I liked him better as a pitcher when he was Fausto Carmona too, but he’s still pretty good.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 1 month ago

I think the big difference here, even beyond the whole “AL vs. NL” bugaboo, is 14 vs. 10. Hernandez has more walks and the same number of homers in 70% of the innings.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 1 month ago

I think it is pretty clear that the whole comparison is mostly just to make it read a bit more interesting than “Fausto Carmona looks really good so far.” The big difference between either of these guys and anything approaching an adequate sample size to draw real conclusions is that you simply cannot.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 1 month ago

Obvious bias against the Phillies waiting until the 9th paragraph to say who it was. Will the Fangraph’s bias against the Phillies ever end?

Oh Beepy
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2 years 1 month ago

It ends the day that Ruben Amaro Jr. makes a Smart Baseball Decision.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
2 years 1 month ago

Imagine if the Phillies fired Ruben Amaro Jr. and hired the entire FanGraphs staff.

Baseball Operations: Tony Blengino
Minor League Scouting: Carson Cistulli
Amateur Scouting: Marc Hulet
Stadium PA Voice: Also Carson Cistulli
TV Spokesman and Post-Game Show Host: Dave Cameron
Guy Who Makes All the Graphs: Bradley Woodrum

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
2 years 1 month ago

Scoreboard Art: Craig Robinson
Alcoholic Concessions: Eno Sarris (IPAs), Well-Beered Englishman (other)

James
Guest
James
2 years 1 month ago

??????: Jeff Sullivan

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
2 years 1 month ago

Third Baseman

Kiss my Go Nats
Guest
Kiss my Go Nats
2 years 1 month ago

“I do not know” is on third

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 1 month ago

Asskicking Sonvabitch Manager: Dayn Perry

rusty
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rusty
2 years 1 month ago

This clears things up for me — Dave and Jeff had always pleaded objectivity during their chats, but if it’s The Fangraph pulling the strings behind the scenes…

Johnston
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

FanGraphs’ bias? EVERYBODY is going to be biased against the Phillies until you guys change GM’s.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
2 years 1 month ago

What I’ve seen from Tanaka is that his strengths are he throws a lot of strikes and throws a lot of pitches with good downward movement. In other words, he throws fastball that look like good pitches to hit until the last moment, when they break down and get pounded into the ground. Or, he throws splitters that look like they’re up in the zone and the hitters’ eyes light up, but then it breaks sharply downward, and they swing over the top.

Every now and then, he’ll have a batter or two, or an inning, where instead of having that good downward movement, his pitches stay up in the strike zone. I would bet more of those pitches get missed, or don’t turn into home runs or extra-base hits, in Japan or AAA; but in the major leagues, a flat fastball, or splitter that doesn’t split, is typically crushed.

walt526
Guest
walt526
2 years 1 month ago

The best illustration of why we shouldn’t draw any conclusions from ~10 IP is that Yusmeiro Petit was an one away from a perfect game last year.

gary
Guest
gary
2 years 1 month ago

Cameron was touting Hernandez as one of the best budget signings all off season. Maybe hes right, but the fact he could write this utilizing a tiny sample size is typical

Luke I am your Father
Member
Luke I am your Father
2 years 1 month ago

“Hernandez is probably not legit, and we have a lot of evidence to suggest that he’s going to regress in a big way over the next five months.”

Ben
Guest
Ben
2 years 1 month ago

Holy sample size.

Bomok
Guest
Bomok
2 years 1 month ago

I don’t care what anybody says. To me the Tanaka deal will always be a terrible contract! Felix Hernandez is getting paid 25M per year, The Yankees are paying that much in order to have Tanaka (Including the posting fee). Even the most optimistic, realistic, predictions don’t have Tanaka being as good as Felix. And even if he surprises everyone and does become as good as Felix, he has an opt out after 4 years! And he could very well turn into the next Dice-K! The Yankees would have been better off buying Noah Syndergaardd from the Mets for 175M instead of paying Tanaka’s rediculous contract. which, as if there wasn’t enough reason for Taaka to sign it, also includes a no-trade clause. Noah syndergaard 1) Was about the same level prospect as Tanaka heading into the season.. 2)Can’t opt out. and 3)can’t veto a trade.
However good Tanaka becomes, the Yankees lost.

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 1 month ago

Loud noises!!

Sentences stuck together!!

atoms
Guest
atoms
2 years 1 month ago

“I don’t care what anybody says”

My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.

utley4ever
Member
utley4ever
2 years 1 month ago

1.why would the mets give up syndergaard?
2.if the yankees can get any pitching prospect they want, why stop at syndergaard, they should get Brdley
3.It doesn’t matter how much money Felix is getting, that’s like saying it was stupid for the Pads and the As to sign Josh Johnson and Kazmir to thier contracts because each of them are worse the Jose fernandez and yet they will each make 8+ mil more than him. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is the market rate for a win, and how good you think Tanaka will be, and future inflation, and the Yankees postion on the win curve. If Tanaka can keep anything like this up (i know, big if) this will not be aterrible contract for the yankees imo.

utley4ever
Member
utley4ever
2 years 1 month ago

4. and to start off this season Tanaka g=has a better xFIP- than King Felix, which means in some ways he has been even better than felix so far (yes i know its an extemely small sample size)

utley4ever
Member
utley4ever
2 years 1 month ago

5. Only Tanaka can bust but not syndergaard?

Guest
Guest
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

I like how small sample size is a terrible thing, and is frequently used by sabermetricians to shout down or dismiss commenters, analysts and fans… unless they need to fill space in between games on their own blog. Then by all means, make an offhand reference buried deep in the middle of the post but put it up anyway.

“Which is, of course, a reminder of why 10 innings don’t really tell you that much at all. Even 10 really great innings. … The conclusion, as always at this time of year, is to not get too carried away by the numbers.”

Then why write an article like this at all???

Briley
Guest
Briley
2 years 1 month ago

What else are they supposed to write about at this point? There aren’t big enough data samples to do any hard hitting analysis yet. All he did was point out something he found interesting.

Captain Tenneal
Guest
Captain Tenneal
2 years 1 month ago

I like to read basically anything that is about baseball, doesn’t really matter what it is, it’s probably going to be more interesting than not-baseball. Aren’t other people here this way? Why do some people seem to hate more baseball content?

Ben
Guest
Ben
2 years 1 month ago

Totally agree. One start one way or the other will make this article wholly irrelevant.

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