Based on how Aaron Boone has lined up his rotation for this weekend in Texas, it looks like Masahiro Tanaka will start game 3 of the Division Series. That’s going to be a road game for the Yankees, and if you’ve taken a look at Tanaka’s splits, you know that he’s pitched great at Yankee Stadium and terrible away this season. The Yankees have no incentive to confirm the postseason rotation yet, so even though it seems like Tanaka’s lined up for the 3rd game, the team may consider swapping him with Luis Severino in game 2. But should the Yankees really be concerned about Tanaka’s 6.16 ERA on the road?
There’s no question that an ERA starting with 6 is scary. So, juxtaposed with his 3.10 ERA in the Bronx and it makes it look like a no brainer to have Tanaka pitch at home. However, it’s important to keep in mind a few things: (a) most pitchers do better at home than on the road, (b) Tanaka’s career home vs. road results aren’t starkly different, and (c) he’s had a couple of disastrous road starts this season that have skewed this split.
This year, the league’s home ERA is 4.40 in contrast to 4.65 elsewhere. However, there are always going to be certain individuals who are exceptions to that rule. And wouldn’t you know that Tanaka was someone who bucked the trend just last season. Here’s how he shakes out yearly:
|Year||Home ERA/FIP||Road ERA/FIP|
2019 and 2017 aside, Tanaka’s hasn’t been much different wherever he pitches. There have also been years when he was better away from Yankee Stadium.
Moreover, this season, Tanaka has allowed 18 earned runs in 4 innings in two of his road starts this year. One was in London against the Red Sox, which I’d happily throw out because nobody could pitch well there. Whereas the other in Boston was weird. Boone let Tanaka allow 12 runs in 3 1/3 innings when typically a manager would pull a guy before getting to that point. In any event, if you remove those two outings, his road ERA is a much more palpable 4.36.
In 2017, the other year with a large difference, Tanaka was a little more consistently bad away from Yankee Stadium. He had a handful of outings when he allowed 6 or more earned runs on the road. Even so, the Yankees entrusted him to pitch game 1 of the ALCS in Houston and Tanaka delivered: he threw six innings of two run ball. Yes, I’m cherry picking the one and only road start he made that postseason, but it’s worth noting that a season’s worth of a high road ERA isn’t predictive of what’s to come. Yes, pitchers tend to fare worse on the road, but generally speaking, they will pitch closer to their talent level in aggregate. That’s essentially what Tanaka’s done in his career.
So, there really shouldn’t be too much of a concern about where Tanaka pitches. He’s flip-flopped between being better at home vs. on the road with no obvious reason other than random chance. And, this year’s numbers elsewhere aren’t as ugly once the two outliers are removed. The Yankees may still decide to switch him and Severino, but ultimately, it’s not such a big deal. I’m confident in Tanaka on the mound regardless of the location.