Top 5: ‘Ace’ Pitchers in 2015 AL East

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Sep 30, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

4) Masahiro Tanaka – New York Yankees

Bio: 26 y/o, 6’2”, 205 lbs

2015 Record – 12 Wins, 7 Losses

ERA – 3.51

FIP – 3.98

WAR – 2.2

K/9 – 8.22

IP – 154.0

“It Factor” – Koji Uehara as a starter, but less crazy

Masahiro Tanaka, perhaps any other year, would have been a slot higher on the list. Unfair, you might say, as he has been incessantly dogged by injuries or rumors thereof since joining the Yankees, and this year was the most troubling. Coming off a stellar 2.77 ERA and mouthwatering 141 strikeouts in 20 starts of 2014, Tanaka was surrounded by media speculation of the potential need for Tommy John surgery. This likely wasn’t helped much when Tanaka was handed the ball on opening day and promptly handed it to the Toronto Blue Jays in the form of five runs in four innings.

Tanaka would wind up being sent to the disabled list, putting distance between himself and the Red Sox pitchers who spent the year there on phantom injuries. While he would be out of commission for a little over a month, not much seemed to be substantially gained from a performance perspective. His splitter was still nasty, but his other secondary pitches proved more hittable and he was pitching them more frequently than ever.

All of this resulted in a 2.2 WAR which is fairly solid, albeit down from the 3.1 he managed in 2014. Given the injury constraints it’s hard to be too critical as Tanaka did pitch successfully and had a good win record, if nothing else.

Ultimately, Masahiro Tanaka isn’t the ace the Yankees were looking for. Nothing illustrated this fact more than his and the Yankees’ one appearance in the postseason, as Tanaka lasted five innings against the Houston Astros and surrendered four hits, two runs (both of them homers) and three walks. Good, but not great. A number 2 but not a number 1.

Next: 3 - Clay Buchholz