Tanaka vs. Astro moon shots

Baseball games rarely go according to form.

Games, I mean. As for baseball serieses, forget about it. The other day I was reading that the Blue Jays have the best chance of winning the World Series: 19 percent.

I was surprised it was quite that high.

When the game can (and often does) turn on one swing of the bat, one slightly mis-thrown pitch, one missed call by an umpire, it’s obviously a fool’s errand to predict what’s going to happen in one game, or one series.

Still, it’s often hard to resist. Which is how I find myself obsessing over Masahiro Tanaka and the Astros’ lefty power hitters.

First, there’s not a great deal to say about Dallas Keuchel except he’s great, with few weaknesses. I think he was probably the best pitcher in the American League this year. He’s a durable ground-ball pitcher with strikeouts who doesn’t give up many walks or home runs. Which is to say he’s practically perfect. If you looking for something, I suppose you can point to his 3.77 ERA on the road this season. You can also point to him pitching on short rest, having thrown 99 pitches just four days ago. But I don’t really know what to make of that. 

It’s not difficult to find Tanaka’s weakness: home runs.

Tanaka’s also got outstanding control, but he’s given up 40 homers in 290 career innings. And it just so happens that the Astros hit home runs better than anything else. There aren’t any guarantees, but the Yankees have a better chance of winning if Tanaka can hold his own against Houston’s lefty power: Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Jason Castro.

That’s what I thought, anyway. Until I noticed that Tanaka, probably because he relies so heavily on his splitter, has essentially zero platoon differential in his career. Even though he does throw, along with the splitters and the fastballs, a fair number of sliders. So we might guess that he does have a "true" advantage against righty hitters, and a disadvantage against lefties. And it’s the lefties who typically make hay in Yankee Stadium.

As Jeff Sullivan so recently observed, Tanaka’s fastball has not been a good pitch for him this season; he’s been getting by with the others, and getting by quite well. So maybe the key isn’t for Tanaka to keep the lefties at bay. Maybe the key is avoiding fastball counts against all the Astros’ hitters. Because once you get past leadoff man Jose Altuve — who’s pretty good! — literally everybody else in the lineup hit more than 10 home runs this season.