Masahiro Tanaka's 2017 - A Different Look

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We are the sum total of our actions and decisions.  That’s just life.  And, along those lines, life for a Major League baseball player is the sum total of all his games and appearances.  A player’s season is…a player’s season.  But, sometimes we can (and should) look deeper into the stats to see if there is more to a player than what just meets the eye.

In 2017, Masahiro Tanaka had his worst regular season as a Yankee.  (His post season was, of course, outstanding, but this article will just focus on his regular season performance.)

Heading into 2017, Tanaka’s season and career totals were as follows:

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It is clear that Tanaka’s numbers were fairly consistent over his first three seasons in pinstripes.  As such, there was no reason to expect anything other than similar production in 2017.  That, of course, wasn’t the case.  Tanaka’s 2017 numbers were well off his career prior to this season:

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A quick look tells the reader that in 2017, Tanaka’s ERA was 1.62 higher than his career average.  He also averaged more than a hit per inning for the first time in his career, he walked more batters (and at a higher percentage than ever before), and his home runs allowed ballooned. 

As I reflected on Tanaka’s 2017 season, I recalled that he pitched very poorly early in the season and seemed to do better as the year went on.  Knowing that our memories aren’t always consistent with the facts, I decided to look at Tanaka’s season on a month-by-month basis to take a closer look at his overall performance.  Here are the results:

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I’ll list a few things that jump out right from the start:

·         May wasn’t just a bad month for Tanaka, it was otherworldly bad. 

·         After May, Tanaka’s monthly ERA improved every single month through August.

·         For the months of July and August combined, Tanaka pretty much pitched like his old self.

·         September wasn’t a particularly good month for Tanaka.

·         Even though Tanaka didn’t pitch particularly well overall, he was a better strikeout pitcher in 2017 than ever before.

The numbers do seem to indicate that Masahiro Tanaka had a mediocre start followed by a terrible May, but that he got progressively better as the season progressed.  That is, until September. 

I wondered, then, what Tanaka’s season would have been like without the month of May. It seems possible that Tanaka's May numbers skewed the rest of his season.  Here it is:

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And here are the numbers from above as Masahiro Tanaka’s career numbers if we give him a mulligan for May:

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Without May, 2017 was still Tanaka’s worst season, but the numbers fall much closer to his overall performances previous to this season.  This fact, along with the dominance he showed in the playoffs, this leads me to speculate that, while this was a down season for him, the poor numbers do not reflect that his career is on the downside.  Rather, to me, there seems to be many reasons for optimism. 

All great pitchers go through bad periods.  Most great pitchers even have some bad seasons.  In breaking down the numbers, it seems that one particularly bad month skewed Masahiro Tanaka’s numbers to make his 2017 season look worse than it really was.

We are the sum total of our actions.  Tanaka’s season wasn’t great overall, but I am confident that we will see a much improved performance in 2018.