Can Tanaka match Guidry's 1978 season?

Masahiro Tanaka's first 15 starts are comparable to Ron Guidry's in 1978.

Only two Yankees in the last 100 years have started a season with 15 straight quality starts: Masahiro Tanaka and Ron Guidry in 1978.

Guidry's first 15 starts that year foreshadowed what would become one of the great pitching seasons in franchise history, culminating in a well-deserved Cy Young Award.

While it's still early to predict the Cy Young race this season, there is no doubt that Tanaka is one of the favorites. How do his first 15 starts compare to Guidry's in 1978?

Tanaka vs the Gator Although a quality start can hardly be considered a dominant outing (with a single-game ERA of 4.50), both Tanaka and Guidry pitched far above the quality-start threshold during their streaks.

As you can see in the table below, Guidry's first 15 starts were more dominant than Tanaka's in terms of run prevention and length. He pitched 13⅓ more innings, had three times as many complete games and allowed five fewer runs than Tanaka.

However, Tanaka's peripheral stats (strikeouts, walks) and his command have been more impressive than Guidry's. Both had five games with double-digit strikeouts, but Tanaka has shown far better control, with half as many walks as Guidry:

Masahiro Tanaka 2014 15 11 2 2.11 2 1 106.6 17 119 11 1.4 12.6
Ron Guidry 1978 15 12 0 1.50 6 2 120.0 34 112 3 2.6 11.6

One key advantage for Guidry is that he was rarely hit hard during his streak. Amazingly he allowed just three homers in 120 innings and opponents had an isolated power (extra bases per at-bat) of just .059 against him in those 15 starts. (For reference, Derek Jeter has an isolated power of .059 this season.)

As we know, Tanaka has been prone to the home-run ball, with 11 allowed in his 15 starts. However, nine of the 11 have been solo shots, which has limited the damage against him.

One simple way to evaluate a pitcher's starts is Game Score, a stat devised by Bill James. [The calculation: a pitcher starts with 50 points; points are then added for innings pitched and strikeouts; points are deducted for hits, runs and walks allowed. An average Game Score is 50.]

Tanaka's first 15 starts have produced an average Game Score of 66, just slightly below Guidry's average of 70 in 1978.

Guidry's mark was boosted by two outstanding starts that generated Game Scores of 90-plus: on June 12 he blanked the A's, striking out 11 in a three-hit shutout; he followed that up on June 17 against the Angels with another shutout, this time recording a franchise-record 18 strikeouts and only four hits allowed.

Tanaka's best Game Score this season has been an 87, which he achieved twice: his four-hit shutout of the Mets; and his 10-strikeout, 8-inning scoreless outing against the Cubs.

A Cy Young Season Guidry's quality-start streak ended on June 27, when he allowed four earned runs over six innings in a no-decision against the Red Sox. He would go on to have four more starts in which he allowed four-or-more runs, yet still posted a 1.93 ERA over his final 20 starts.

Guidry finished with a league-best 25 wins and 1.74 ERA in 1978, both marks which have not been matched by any Yankee starting pitcher in a season since then. He won the AL Cy Young via a unanimous vote and finished second in the AL MVP race.

While it's not realistic to expect Tanaka to match Guidry's amazing stats for an entire season, his first 15 starts have been truly quite remarkable and comparable to one of the greatest pitching seasons ever by a Yankee.