Can Masahiro Tanaka win the Cy Young and rookie of the year?


(Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

It has been 33 years since Fernando Valenzuela won rookie of the year and the Cy Young award in the same season (1981), but New York Yankees Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka has a chance at making history.

Tanaka is 9-1 with a 2.02 ERA and 92 strikeouts. The right-hander leads the league in ERA and WHIP (0.957) and has produced quality starts (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) in all 12 of his big league appearances, making him the first American Leaguer to begin his career with such a streak. It’s safe to say that puts Tanaka in the Cy Young conversation.

In The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers the authors reveal a method, dubbed Cy Young Points (CYP), to predict Cy Young balloting based on the following formula: ((5*IP/9)-ER) + (SO/12) + (SV*2.5) + Shutouts + ((W*6)-(L*2)) + Victory Bonus (12-point bonus awarded for leading your team to the division championship).

If you remove the “victory bonus” the gap between Buehrle and Tanaka narrows quite a bit.

Tom Tango simplified the formula even further: (IP/2 – ER) + SO/10 + W. Using this method it is currently a two-horse race in the American League between Tanaka and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez.

Next is the rookie of the year race. Pitchers have won AL rookie of the year honors 15 times since it was first awarded in 1949, second only to outfielders.

Tanaka currently leads all rookies – batters plus pitchers – in wins above replacement likely making him the favorite for the rookie of the year award.

The question becomes: Can Tanaka sustain his performance at an elite level for the entire season?

When Tanaka hasn’t fallen behind in the count he has been virtually unhittable. More than half (50) of his 92 strikeouts have come when ahead in the count and the next walk he issues ahead or even in the count will be his first this season.

SO BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Batter Ahead 14 13 0.282 0.393 0.521 0.914
Even Count 28 0 0.198 0.202 0.362 0.564
Pitcher Ahead 50 0 0.200 0.206 0.232 0.438

 

His offspeed pitches have also helped him keep the ball on the ground, limiting the amount of damage hitters can do.

The one red flag centers around the long ball. Tanaka is just below league average in terms of flyball rate (30.4 percent) and slightly above average in homers-to-flyball ratio (12.1 percent). However, his Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like, and his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which is calculated in the same way as FIP except it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed, both indicate that there could be a higher number of earned runs in his future.

Season Team GS W L IP K/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2014 Yankees 12 9 1 84.2 9.78 2.02 2.67 2.47 2.5

 

It’s likely that if Tanaka can win the Cy Young award the rookie of the year is a mere formality. Since Tom Tango’s formula does a better job predicting Cy Young winners since 2006, we can use the updated ZiPS projections at Fangraphs to estimate year end Cy Young Points for the contenders.

 

Updated ZiPS projections for 2014
Name W L ERA GS IP SO TT CYP
Felix Hernandez 17 6 2.70 34 232 248 88.2
Yu Darvish 15 6 2.74 29 197 246 78.1
Masahiro Tanaka 16 7 3.00 30 205 215 71.7
Max Scherzer 17 8 3.41 33 212 245 67.2
Sonny Gray 15 8 3.28 32 201 173 59.5
Source: Fangraphs

It’s going to be close.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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