Masahiro Tanaka made his much anticipated debut for the New York Yankees on April 4th, pitching seven innings with three runs allowed, striking out eight and walking none against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Tanaka got twelve groundballs versus six flyballs, but famously gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Melky Cabrera, a switch hitter (so in this case, batting left handed). I thought I should start the post by looking at that at-bat.
The pitches are labelled by the MLBAM tags and by the pitch number in the at-bat. Tanaka obviously attempting to keep the ball away from him at all costs, and kept the first two pitches low in the strike zone, with the slider staying far enough arm side that it was a ball. Tanaka then hung the splitter in the strike zone, and even though it was away, it turned into a home run. However, I thought it was interesting what Tanaka did to Cabrera the next time he faced him, when he struck him out.
This time, Tanaka stayed high in the zone on the first four pitches, even with a curve and a slider, which were both balls, and both probably mistakes. However, he went inside with a fastball and got a foul, and then went away with a fastball and got another foul. Tanaka finished the at-bat with his patented splitter, keeping it arm side (away from Cabrera) and low in the zone.
Before taking a closer look at his stuff, let's take a look at his release points:
my original scouting report. The original scouting report gives us an idea of his stuff, but here is his speed and spin chart from his first Pitch F/X start:
We see five real clusters here, suggesting about five pitches. The curve is the pitches on the far left and bottom, the slider in the middle and low, the splitter around the 88 MPH mark and high, with two clusters of fastballs, suggesting a four seamer and a cutter or moving fastball (the MLBAM tags have a little of both, and he threw both in Japan). I don't want to focus too much on velocity in these posts, because that is something someone can easily find elsewhere, but I thought it would be interesting to compare his velocity in Japan according to the data in my original scouting report and his velocity according to the general MLBAM release point (for these posts, I will be using the modified Brooks Baseball data, but this part will be the general pitch velocities you can get on FanGraphs and other places). So here is the difference, with the plus or minus compared to what his pitch velocity numbers were in Japan.
FF: + .8
SL: + 2.1
FT: + 2.1
Splitter: + 1.7
So as I predicted, thanks to better pitch tags, and a cold gun in Japan (and perhaps some adrenaline since it was his first start), he is throwing harder in the Majors.
When it comes to pitch movement, it is hard to see clear classifications, so speed and spin is probably better to classify pitches for him, or at least easier:
But what about location? We saw that it was important when it came to the at-bats against Cabrera, so how did he generally locate his pitches? This first graph is all of his pitches, labelled by whether they were strikes (s), balls (b), or put in play (x).
The biggest cluster seems to be mid strike zone in height and on the arm side, with a couple of other major clusters, such as low in the zone and arm side, and mid zone and glove side.
Breaking down the average locations by pitch type (with the average release point for reference) looks like this (using MLBAM tags, I combined the non four seam fastballs into one pitch):
I think his slider location left something to be desired, as it stayed up more than his other pitches and didn't get glove side. His splitter stayed low, as did his moving fastballs, and his curve was a glove side curve (though it stayed high as well). When you look at his average locations by pitch result, it looks something like that:
Strangely, his foul balls were the highest pitches on average, but not surprisingly, his whiffs were the lowest. Notice how everything is arm side. There also isn't much difference between his called strikes and his pitches that resulted in contact. Here are all 19 pitches that were put in play by Blue Jays hitters:
I plan to have a post like this after each of Tanaka's starts, and if you have any ideas at what I should look at each start, then let me know in the comments or on twitter.