The two most difficult months to evaluate MLB pitchers are March and September. There are so many variables to consider that change the context of those time periods that we should always analyze performance through a tempered lens.
That said, there are some notable, albeit not all useful, takeaways from Masahiro Tanaka’s spring training performance vs. the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday in Clearwater, Fla.
Pitching three innings, Tanaka surrendered two hits and one run, while striking out one and walking none.
First, hitters looked comfortable and generally relaxed in the box against him. No batter appeared rushed or awkward, suggesting that they were seeing the ball well, perhaps even big.
Often, the first symptom of discomfort at the plate is the appearance of hands, feet and heads that look like they are attempting to catch up. The Phillies lineup looked slow and controlled in their actions.
The swings on the fastball backed up the above, much less tangible, assessment.
Ryan Howard, Reid Brignac, Freddy Galvis and Carlos Ruiz, all put the fat part of the bat on Tanaka’s heater, and did so with relative ease. Additionally, the lineup looked content laying off the fastball at the top of, and either just in or out, of the zone. Simply another indication that they felt no need to speed up.
Tanaka hung a slider with two strikes to Marlon Byrd, who promptly smashed a line drive to right-center field for a double. This is again indicative of his willingness to sit back, allow the ball to travel, see it as long as possible, etc. We as hitters are only able to do that if we don’t fear velocity or if we are sitting on a pitch. I doubt that Byrd, having no history with Tanaka was sitting on his slider.
Galvis covered a 3-1 fastball, straight and middle-middle with little zip, over the fence in right. That same pitch, without the addition of life will get pummeled all year.
I witnessed Tanaka looking down at his feet often after delivering splits. It appeared as if he was checking his footing, but he did not appear to be slipping. This may be an indication of discomfort and sometimes can spotlight embarrassment. Most splits were down and out of the zone, but on the plus side, had good bite. He delivered a filthy one to Chase Utley for strike three.
All of this means little, of course. Tanaka is nowhere near the guy he will be in mid-April, nor are the Phillies hitters. Essentially, we can throw out most of this data.
My takeaway is that Tanaka, like the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw who has struggled this spring thus far will be better than fine. But the dude doesn’t have a track record here in MLB, so it’s always a fun exercise to play with the small sample we have.