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August 25, 2019

Tanaka’s splitter stands tall (and that’s the problem)

June 12, 2019

Everything is coming up Tanaka right now. Unfortunately, so is his best pitch.

The good news: The 30-year-old star celebrated the birth of his second child on June 7. Then, comparatively less important (but certainly appreciated by his team), was his Tuesday performance against the Mets. The Yankees won 12-5 and Tanaka gave up five runs (four earned) over six and two-thirds innings, improving his win-loss record to 4-5.

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Even still, the basis of his success (at least on the field) continues to be shaky. Notably, his trademark split-fingered fastball continues to get hammered. And it’s unsteadying the foundation of his diverse arsenal.

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees reacts in the third inning against the New York Mets (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Despite pitching on extra rest due to his paternity leave, Jeff McNeil took aim this time around, ripping a lifeless splitter 390 feet into right-center field, according to Statcast. It was the sixth time an opposing batter took Tanaka’s splitter deep this season. He only allowed five in 2018.

The movement just isn’t what it was in 2018, sinking almost three inches less on average this season.

While McNeil has had an excellent year, the Mets second baseman is nowhere near a power hitter. But even he knew what to do with this gift.

Though McNeil’s home run was the Mets’ only bomb, they fired multiple bullets. Facing Tanaka, the team’s exit velocity, which measures the speed of the baseball as it comes off the bat averaged 88.3 miles per hour — McNeil’s homer was clocked at 103.7mph — but a couple of weak grounders obscures how regularly the Mets squared up.

When parsing the Mets’ median exit velocity against Tanaka, which helps control for anomalies hard and soft, it rockets up to 94.6 mph. The highest average this season is Royals pitcher Jorge Lopez’s 91.4 mph. Lopez is winless and has a 6.75 ERA.

Exit velo isn’t everything, but hard-hit balls usually get hit hard.

Tanaka’s splitter and effectiveness is something that both he and the Yankees spoke to, and for what it’s worth, didn’t express concern over. “I know he gave up the home run on the split to McNeil,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “But I thought we saw a number of good splits.”

Boone also gave props to Tanaka’s mix of four-seamers and sliders, which helped him endure the outing.

But, today, almost everything was getting stroked. Tanaka’s guile helped him dodge and dart through trouble. But right now, his mind is moving way more than his best pitch.

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