General, Indians

Cleveland Indians Versus Masahiro Tanaka

With the New York Yankees returning from a heartbreaking loss, the Bronx Bombers must turn to Masahiro Tanaka with their season on the line. Tanaka has had the most difficult season of his big league career with an ERA of 4.74 but peripherals indicating a better performance. Tanaka’s season has been a tale of two halves. In the first half, an ERA of 5.47, in the second half, an ERA of 3.77. With peripherals reflecting the improvements. Tanaka, of course, is more responsibly considered as a totality of the overall performance with neither sample being binding. Tanaka has above-average stuff and similarly competent command. Yet, like any pitcher before him, the Indians offense poses a tall task.

Before diving into key individual pitcher versus hitter matchups, a consideration of the base-running portion of the offense. The Indians have one key advantage offensively as the margins narrow in the postseason: Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez has a competent arm—perhaps better than average—but the complexity and danger existing for the Yankees occurs in playoff arsenal changes. While the arsenal usage discussion below is important, playoff pitchers will generally lean on secondary offerings more to increase strikeout rates. The Yankees, however, are pitching to Gary Sanchez who has the blocking skills of a soup strainer. Sanchez leads the American League in passed balls and struggled again on Tuesday evening when the Yankees beat the Twins to punch their ticket to the ALDS. The Yankees can either be more careful throwing breaking balls with runners in scoring position, increasing the number of fastballs the Indians hitters receive, or they can risk giving away free bases with additional breaking ball usage.1

WFNY’s projected lineup:

1 Lindor SS (S)
2 Kipnis CF (L)
3 Ramirez 2B (S)
4 Brantley DH (L)
5 Bruce RF (L)
6 Santana 1B (S)
7 Chisenhall LF (L)
8 Perez C (R)
9 Urshela (R)

Tanaka’s usage has transitioned to one driven by off-speed offerings with an occasional fastball/sinker. Tanaka’s arsenal is strange in that slider is his number one offering.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Perhaps the reason for this mix is that Tanaka does not have top end fastball velocity. Indeed, that velocity has even trailed off over the past month.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Tanaka’s marquee pitch is the slider, one of the best sliders in baseball. Tanaka’s slider garnered the 15th most value in Major League Baseball among qualified starters in 2017.  Tanaka uses his slider low and away to left-handed hitters at times burying it for swing and miss, and at times using it for called strikes.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

For the Indians, Lonnie Chisenhall can punish offerings low and away, generally anything in the bottom half of the strike zone.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The Tanaka splitter is used to change velocity off the slider and bury below the strike zone.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Michael Brantley, now essential following the Encarnacion injury has had success when a pitcher fails to bury the splitter.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

 

Finally, the sinker, which Tanaka will also use on the outside third to induce ground balls and soft contact.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Sinker away? Jay Bruce owns about any sinker on the outside third.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Interestingly, all three of Tanaka’s primary offerings are centered on being low and away to left-handed hitters. A final interesting note on Tanaka, despite pitching in a bandbox, he is significantly better at home than on the road over the course of his career. A 3.29 ERA versus a 3.85 ERA. Tanaka is the most challenging matchup for the Indians so far in this series. With competent control, a good arsenal, and comfort at home Tanaka poses a substantive challenge. However, the Indians have showed a capacity to score on anyone, and with Ramirez, Kipnis, Brantley all ready to breakout. The matchup remains favorable.

  1. This section is reflected from the first two pitcher previews as Sanchez influence on the game remains a constant. []

  • Chris

    Thru four innings, it’s very surprising to see everyone chasing the low slider/splitter with so few fastballs. Those should be easier to lay off if there isn’t a low fastball to keep hitters honest.

    Let’s hope this changes. Go Tribe

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