He made his major league debut just two years after being drafted. The thirteenth pick in the 1971 draft, he tossed 246 that year between the majors and minors, along with celebrating his twentieth birthday.
Overuse would become a theme with Frank Tanana later on and the notion of pitch counts and innings limits emanate for coaches who do not want to be the guy who ruins a great one – and Tanana was one of the greats. His greatest years were with the Angels and although he was often outshone by Nolan Ryan and let down by a terrible offense (twice as an Angel he pitched thirteen inning shutouts and got no decision) he is still one of the best to ever wear a Halo.
Not counting his debut season that saw him throw 26 innings, and an injury-marred 1979 that held him to 90 IP, Tanana threw over 200 innings in his his other six seasons as a Halo and five of those with at least 239 Innings Pitched. In 1977 he pitched fourteen consecutive complete games in one stretch, the fourteenth coming on July 3, his 24th birthday. Needless to say that remains an Angels record. He pitched every fourth day and the innings piled up.
Tanana’s heater was legendary. He topped a hundred miles on the radar fun a few times early in his career. He had over 200 strikeouts in three consecutive seasons (1975-77) including 269 in 1975, the only year between ’72 and ’79 that Ryan would not lead the league in Ks. that year saw him strike out 17 Rangers in one game, 15 Twins two starts later and would also feature a 14-K outing, two 13-K games and a 12-strikeout performance. Some pitchers for this team have put in a whole season of starts without that many strikeouts in the whole year.
In addition to his heater, though, was excellent control and when the injuries took the fastball, that control kept him in the big leagues until he was forty years old. His 3.68 K/BB rate in 1975 led all of baseball and the 3.58 rate in 1976 led the American League. They rank as the sixth best and ninth best rates for a single season by an Angels pitcher. Overall Tanana’s 2.922 K/BB rate is third among Angels pitcher with more than 500 Innings Pitched as a Halo.
He is tied with John Lackey for the fifth most wins as an Angel with 102, and his ERA of 3.08 also ranks fifth among Angels pitchers with at least five hundred innings pitched. His 34.3 Wins Above Replacement ranks third all time and 23.2 of it came in three seasons: 7.4 WAR in 1975, 7.5 in 1976 and 8.3 WAR in 1977 (third best ever single season mark by an Angels pitcher).
While we can wistfully wonder what might have been with his career with better innings-pitched management, the mileage that Tanana put on his arm entertained Angels fans during the dry 1970s. In a lackluster 1979, just back from injury in late September, he fielded a grounder to the first baseman to record the out at 1B and notch not only a complete game but to clinch the Western Division for the club for the first time in their then nineteen year history.
That indelible image is but one of his many accomplishments in Angels history, but all celebrations on the field in Anaheim are descendants of that one shining moment in a great Halo career.