Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What To Expect From Tanaka Tomorrow

(Courtesy of the AP)

Masahiro Tanaka returns to the hill tonight tomorrow for his 3rd Major League start.  His first 2 have been nothing short of impressive.  He's shown good velocity, next-level movement, plus command, competitiveness, and as evidenced by Mike Axisa's post on RAB yesterday, the mind for the game and balls to throw any pitch in any situation.

How he's gone about showing all those things off in 2 games has been fun to watch.  On 4/4 against the Blue Jays, Tanaka threw 97 pitches and managed to throw all 7 of the pitches he knows: 30 sinkers, 24 splitters, 18 sliders, 12 4-seam fastballs, 7 curveballs, 5 cutters, and 1 changeup.  He showed off the whole arsenal to a deep and powerful lineup, got 13 swinging strikes, 8 Ks, and a win.

Last Wednesday, he took a different approach against a not-so-deep but still powerful Orioles lineup.  101 pitches (30 4-seamers, 23 sinkers, 21 splitters, 21 sliders, 6 curveballs), 22 swinging strikes, 10 Ks, and a no-decision.  After working primarily sinker/offspeed in his debut, Tanaka switched it up to work primarily off his fastball and eliminated his lesser pitches from the mix against the O's.  The peripheral results were even better than his first start and he should have had another W.

So what should we expect from Ma-kun tonight tomorrow?  If I were a betting man, I'd say something closer to the Baltimore outing.  The Cubs lineup is a very young one and a very swing-happy one.  They rank 6th in MLB with a 24.1% team K rate and tied for 6th with a 10.5% Swinging Strike rate.  Rothschild will know that, McCann will know that, and they'll make sure Tanaka knows that.  I think he'll work a lot of fastball/sinker early in the count to get ahead of try to induce early swings and GB outs, then go to the split and the slider for strikeouts.  If he's got his fastball command early and can consistently work from ahead in the count, he could rack up a fair share.  Another 10+ K outing is very much in play tonight tomorrow.

(Pitch count breakdowns courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

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