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Fire & Ice: Mike Yastrzemski & Masahiro Tanaka

Typically I like to save my pitching analysis for the Friday Starting Pitcher Barometer. This week, I couldn’t help myself. We’ll be looking into the struggles of veteran Masahiro Tanaka in the Ice portion of this weeks write-up. Meanwhile, our Fire portion looks at the grandson of a former veteran, Carl Yastrzemski. Mike can’t be considered a veteran, himself. Despite being nearly 29 years old, he is actually a rookie.

Fire – Mike Yastrzemski

A career minor leaguer with the Orioles, Mike Yastrzemski is finally getting his shot with the Giants. His minor league numbers were terrific before his call-up. Then again, every hitter is crushing in the Pacific Coast League this year with the juicy new MLB baseballs. In any case, Yastrzemski (please do not pay close attention to the spelling of his name as I am sure to mess it up at some point) had 12 homers in just 40 games with a .414 OBP. That will get the attention of a front office right smartly.

Over his first 71 games with the Giants, Yastrzemski has 16 home runs with a .328 OBP. After nearly being demoted after the All-Star break, Mike has completely turned things around. He’s been particularly impressive over his 34 games in the second half, including a three-homer game against the Diamondbacks.

Mike Yastrzemski 1H2H Table

Both the power and batting average have seen huge spikes. Seemingly everyone the Giants bring aboard recently has some magic dust blown upon them and they become overnight superstars. Rather than calling Yastrzemski’s success magic, we should probably try to find out what has been fueling his success.

One of the most favorable factors is Mike Yastrzemski’s ability to hit same-sided pitching. It’s a limited sample, of course, but over 53 plate appearances, he has hit for a .988 OPS with a decent 34.2% hard contact rate. That will help him avoid getting platooned, which hamstrings a players value.

As we look at some adjustments over the second half, we can see his pop-up rate has dropped from an unsightly 18.8% to just 4.3%. He hasn’t had any BABIP issues, but avoiding pop-ups is a great way for Yastrzemski to continue to hit for average. He has increased his fly-ball rate by 7.5% to 46.5%. That’s a lot of fly balls for anyone, and it can frankly be dangerous in spacious Oracle Park. Unsurprisingly, a lot more of his damage has come on the road (.917 OPS) than at home (.820 OPS). He has been aided by a surge in hard contact, up nearly 10% to 46.5%. He hasn’t been pulling the ball to get to his power, instead opting to spray the ball to all fields. That is more encouraging for future average than power.

The second half we are seeing from Mike Yastrzemski is impressive to be sure. However, his batted ball profile doesn’t support a 23.9% HR/FB rate. While he’s controlling the strike zone better and spraying line drives to all fields, he will be more of an asset in batting average than home runs and RBI. Ride him while he’s hot, but don’t expect All-Star-caliber production to continue.


Ice – Masahiro Tanaka

There is no way around it – Masahiro Tanaka has simply been one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball over the second half. He has posted an atrocious 6.46 ERA over 39 innings with a K/9 of just 6.00. His FIP is 5.24 as well, so it’s not just some horrendous batted ball luck. What has become of the player who just last year had a strong 3.75 ERA with a 9.17 K/9?

Tanaka’s strikeouts are down, but his command is still on point. His 2.13 BB/9 is 15th best in baseball among qualified starters. While that helps the WHIP, the fact that his strikeouts have dipped so much negates that walk rate. His swinging-strike rate has fallen to 10.3%, the worst mark of his career. The splitter is the culprit.

Masahiro Tanaka Splitter Whiff Rate

Tanaka has always had a great slider and splitter to butter his bread. While his slider has continued to be effective, his splitter has lost a lot of its luster in 2019. It had never previously had a whiff rate below 17.6% but this year clocks in at just 11%. Fewer whiffs will obviously mean more contact, so it’s no surprise that his splitter has the highest BAA of his career at .287.

Masahiro Tanaka Splitter BAA

The .322 wOBA allowed on the splitter is in lockstep with his .325 xwOBA, meaning these poor results are deserved. Does this mean his time as a fantasy SP2/3 is over? Perhaps not. Tanaka recently altered his grip on the pitch and has had two straight strong performances. Unfortunately, although the overall results have been great, the splitter has earned just three whiffs on 55 thrown.

Looking ahead to 2020, Masahiro Tanaka will still be just 31 years old. It’s a bit early to start hammering nails into his fantasy-relevance coffin, but you can’t feel good about drafting him to be more than an SP4. If he can revive the splitter, he can be a profitable player. The risk, of course, is his current 2019 numbers.

Are you onboard with Nathan’s take on Mike Yastrzemski and Masahiro Tanaka? For more great analysis from Nathan check out his full archive.

Nathan Dokken is a member of the FSWA and has had his work featured in numerous books and magazines. He has also appeared on many podcasts and radio shows and hosts the Nasty Cast and Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcasts. His written work can be found exclusively at Fantrax HQ, and his personal thoughts and opinions can be found on Twitter @NathanDokken.

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  1. JJ says

    Oh btw, I also claimed M’s Fraley last week. I am looking into him more closely now but outside of his MiLB numbers and videos, not much to look at yet in the bigs. And also picked up a couple of Dodger prospect arms. Got Dustin May, just days before his callup (great timing to pull him off FA before it was anounced he would be called up), and then just yesterday gor Gonsolin. I plan on keeping May, though, if he doesn’t blow up much during the stretch run, hoping for a quick breakout from him in 2020. Gonso, I am watching. But I like him too.

    1. Nathan Dokken says

      I would still put Yaz behind the names you listed. I’m not sure I buy the power Yaz has shown more then Reynolds, so it’s a bit of a toss up there for me but I believe a bit more in Reynolds long-term.

  2. JJ says

    Got here searching for anything I could find on Yaz. I claimed him in my keeper league at the start of the second half and have been very pleased with what I’ve seen from him thus far. That three dinger game was an eye opener.

    But I will have to make a very tough decision next spring when I get to choose my 12 keepers for ’20. Yaz and several other young guys I have (McNeil, Reynolds, Cooper, Nate Lowe) will be there to choose from to fill the lower end of my keeper squad after Arenado, Springer, Blackmon, Jose Ramirez and my other established vets. Already made my mind that I need to keep another youngster I drafted late last spring, Mr. Bo Bichette. And almost certainly I will retain McNeil too, whom I also drafted late. I’m also curious about Reynolds’ (sweet FA pickup) continuing development with the Pirates. His contact skills in the minors, and now in MLB, seem to be for real. But I’m not totally convinced about the power developing much further. Would love to see a writeup on him and Cooper.

    Anyway, back to Yaz… keeping a Giants bat will be tough, though – because of the playing field in San Fran, the division (facing Dodgers’ pitching all the time is tough, plus I already have too many keeper bats that have to face them) and because of the Giants’ supporting lineup. I regret keeping Posey from last year. But Yaz keeps wowing me, so I might opt to hang on to him as one of my last keepers for 2020 if he keeps raking through September.

    Thanks for the article. It’s always insightful to listen to what others have to say about young players breaking out in MLB.

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