Testing new pitches and grips is an essential part of spring training for most major league pitchers. For New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, a new pitch might even be introduced to his regular arsenal.
The Yankees’ Opening Day pitcher is working on developing a knuckle-curve, a bit different than his regular curveball in regard to movement and velocity. Watching it live is interesting – the pitch stars off rising but then takes a nasty dip at the end to trick the batter.
The best part is, Tanaka already has one of the most deadly splitters in the game. It’s his strikeout pitch, leaving batters swinging at air.
The 10 pitches with the highest chase rates in 2018 (min. 400 pitches)
1. Masahiro Tanaka's splitter – 55.5% pic.twitter.com/9ThEsaDyyC
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) December 17, 2018
His Splitter attracts a 55.5% chase rate across the MLB (min. 400 pitches). Adding a unique pitch like a knuckle-curve will only help him dominate even more. Adding pitches to your repertoire aids in keeping the batters guessing – especially when they’ve faced this specific pitcher before.
Tanaka’s best pitchers are his splitter and slider, everything else is average to below-average, which is why he utilizes those two pitches so frequently. Testing out the knuckle-curve in pre-season games is exactly what he should be doing if he plans to use it during the regular season.
The New York Yankees need to work around Tanaka’s weaknesses:
The problem with Masahiro is that if his two best pitches aren’t working, he generally gets himself into trouble. Batters tend to force him to lean on his other pitches, focusing on the strike zone. Having patience and not chasing his slider and splitter is essentially the way to beat Tanaka. Both of those options aim towards the outside of the strike zone, but a knuckle-curve would start high and wiggle its way into the top of the zone. A deadly pitch if he can perfect it.
The benefits of the new pitch are intriguing. Theoretically, it would play well off of his low and away sliders and splitters. Dropping the ball into the top of the strike zone and taking some velocity off of it would be confusing for batters and force them to approach his style more aggressively. We could see an up-tick in strikeouts from Tanaka in 2019 as a result.
Reducing speed isn’t always a bad thing:
His new pitch will likely clock in at around 80 MPH, which is far below his averaged 86 MPH splitter. The difference isn’t just speed, though, it’s movement and trajectory. When his splitter fails to bite, it often results in an earned run. A flat 86 MPH meatball if you will. Having two primary pitches isn’t ideal, so developing another option that offers something completely different is in the best interest of the starter.