David Cone: Tanaka’s splitter is world-class
Former big league pitcher and current YES Network analyst David Cone was one of the honorees at last night’s Thurman Munson awards dinner in Manhattan, and he mentioned that he has been busy studying video of new Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Cone, who knows a thing or two about splitters, raved that Tanaka’s strikeout pitch will immediately make an impact.
“I don’t know if it’s the best split-fingered fastball in the world, but it’s certainly among the top five right now,” Cone said. “He has that kind of talent, in terms of velocity and movement. When you look at a split-fingered fastball, having thrown it for most of my career, I look at how late it breaks. The late movement and the velocity it retains. He has both of those. He has high velocity and late movement on that splitter, which puts it among the best in the world.”
Cone said that the Yankees will probably want to be creative with how they slot Tanaka on off-days, considering that he will be learning to pitch in a five-man rotation as opposed to once a week in Japan. Cone said that he believes Tanaka is ready to make those adjustments.
“All indications are that he’s a true professional and that he works extremely hard, and he comes prepared to pitch,” Cone said. “He’s really polished for a 25-year-old. When I was 25, I was still learning to throw a split-fingered fastball. He’s 25 and he’s got one of the best in the world. He’s ready for this challenge, in my mind. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch him.”
The YES Network will give fans the opportunity to see for themselves on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. ET, when they re-air Tanaka’s June 9, 2013 start for the Rakuten Golden Eagles against the Yomiuri Giants. Tanaka threw seven shutout innings in that game, logging the eighth win of his perfect 24-0 season.
YES analysts Ken Singleton, John Flaherty and Al Leiter recently viewed that performance and offered these takes:
“His fastball looks like it has a little more movement than I heard it did. It sinks in a bit on right-handed hitters; not enough to call it a sinker, but enough that the hitter will pay attention. He threw a lot of sliders-cutters in this game. It looks like he has a lot of confidence in it and he threw it for strikes when he was behind in the count. That tells me that this is his off-speed pitch that a catcher can call anytime and have confidence that it will be a strike. Kind of a get-me-back-in-the-count pitch.”
“His curve ball might not be a strikeout pitch, but it could be used for a get-me-over strike on the first pitch of an at-bat. The split looks like the best swing-and-a-miss pitch for him. I thought he would throw it more but he picked his spots in this game. You can see how a catcher will go to that pitch when the game is on the line.”
“His delivery is simple and he loads up on his back leg well. He is quick to the plate out of the stretch, so Brian McCann is going to love that. It also looks like he is a good athlete and fields his position well.”
“I was impressed with his control. He is constantly working the corners with all of his pitches. Tanaka has enough fastball, a good curve, a slider and a top-shelf splitter. He was not afraid to use his curve and slider when behind in the count. All his pitches were quality.”
“I think Masahiro Tanaka’s repertoire and stuff plays very well. His fastball velocity will sit at the 91-93 mph mark and occasional touch 95. He has a very good split that has great late action with good velocity. His split finger is his main secondary pitch and his slider is better than his curveball.”
“I really like his mound presence and disposition. He pitches with a fire in his belly and is emotionally involved.”
“I think Tanaka can be a front-end starter once he gets acclimated to the routine of American baseball.”