Why Masahiro Tanaka’s Rest Schedule Is Nothing to Worry About

Masahiro Tanaka is an ace no matter what day he pitches.

No matter what New York Yankees’ ace Masahiro Tanaka does, it seems as if the New York media can only scrutinize the 27-year-old righty. Tanaka is coming off of one of his finest starts all season long, a 7.2 inning, 6-strikeout, 1-run win against the powerful Chicago White Sox, and yet the narrative in the papers the next day was why Tanaka only pitches well on extra rest.

Manager Joe Girardi even got tired of answering these ceaseless questions about Tanaka and extra rest, stating that he needs to learn how to pitch every 5th day and that they can’t keep giving him extra rest, but also saying that the worry about his schedule is overblown.

So is Tanaka’s latest trend something to be concerned about, or has the New York media got to calm down and appreciate Tanaka for what he is?

Let’s first start by examining the numbers. The New York Post’s Ken Davidoff has compiled that Tanaka has gone 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA in 7 starts with one day of extra rest, 1-0 with a 3.78 ERA in 3 starts with two-plus days of extra rest, and 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA in 7 starts on normal rest.

While those splits are extreme, it should be noted that this is only a one-year trend. For his career, he’s 17-4 with a 2.74 ERA with one day of extra rest, 7-1 with a 3.36 ERA with two-plus days of extra rest, and 7-6 with a 3.69 ERA on normal rest.

Once again, it is overwhelmingly evident that Tanaka is better on extended rest, but the gap between his extra-rest numbers and his normal-rest numbers has shrunk. Girardi knows that Tanaka is better with the extra rest, but his hands are tied.

“He’s better with the extra day. There’s no doubt about it. But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Girardi is hesitant to go to a 6-man rotation because it would entail playing with either a short bullpen or a short bench for an extended period of time, which is not something that the Yankees are interested in doing.

Girardi said that when it is possible, they will try to give him extra rest, but that they cannot go out of their way to make it a regularity.

This is a sensible strategy, unlike what some in the New York media will have you believe.

As great as it would be to have Tanaka pitch with extra rest every time out, think about the Yankee roster as it stands. They don’t currently have anyone reliable in their bullpen after the trio of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances and Girardi tries very hard to keep “No Runs DMC” fresh, so playing with a short bullpen would only make things worse.

And as for playing with a short bench? Forget it. The bench currently consists of catcher Austin Romine, infielder Ronald Torreyes, utility man Rob Refsnyder, and either outfielder Aaron Hicks or the inflexible DH Alex Rodriguez, depending on the day.

If the Yankees were to send down Torreyes, they’d lose their only backup shortstop. If they sent down Refsnyder, they’d lose out on a jack-of-all-trades and valuable hitter. And if they cut Rodriguez, the sky would fall.

Moreover, a 6-man rotation actually needs 6 good starters. Honestly, the Yankees don’t even have 3 good starters at any given moment. After Tanaka, the inconsistent bunch of CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Ivan Nova doesn’t inspire confidence for much more than a few starts, Luis Severino is still toiling in the minors, and Chad Green is too, well, green, for us to definitively say anything about him yet.

Thus, the Yankees don’t have the roster flexibility or sixth starter to even make a 6-man rotation possible.

It is no secret that Tanaka pitches better with extra rest, but so does every pitcher. In fact, River Ave Blues pointed out that in 3 of Tanaka’s 7 starts on normal rest, he’s gone at least 6 innings and allowed no more than 2 earned runs. Obviously that makes the rest of his starts clunkers, but is a pitcher not allowed 3 or 4 subpar starts over the course of 17 total starts?

This all extends back to the New York media and their inability to appreciate Masahiro Tanaka for what he is. This season alone, Tanaka is 9th in the AL in ERA, 8th in innings, 11th in BAA, and 5th in WHIP. Those are the numbers of a possible All-Star candidate!

However, the media would rather point out Tanaka’s one flaw that isn’t even a major shortcoming: his lesser stats on normal rest.

And this attitude all began after Tanaka’s elbow injury during his rookie season. Some in the media are paranoid that Tanaka’s elbow will explode at any given moment and that he has not been worth the money after his injury.

While Tanaka has not been quite as good after his elbow injury, the drop-off has been minor. In fact, Tanaka is on pace for his best overall season as a Yankee this year.

So let’s all back off of the Yankees’ ace and appreciate him for what he is: an ace. Without Tanaka, the Yankees would be in a much darker place. It’s time that we all start giving Tanaka the respect that he has earned as a top-10 AL starter, no matter how many days of rest he gets.

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