Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The End

Hello again Matsuzaka Watch fans. This will be the final post at Matsuzaka Watch. I am a bit sad to be hanging up the work I've done here. It's been a lot of fun and has helped to bring new perspective on the Japanese game to a broad audience. It has also given me a new perspective and has produced a good deal of thought provoking ideas that need to be explored further.

Matsuzaka Watch started at my Yankees blog Canyon of Heroes on March 26, 2006 and was dedicated to bringing Yankee fans information about a dynamic pitching force from Japan. Ironically, the first comment attached to the post there comes from someone calling themselves Sawx Rule and reads, "Hey, I think you made a mistake in your picture. Shouldn't you have Matsuzaka in a Red Sox's uniform?" The post featured a poorly "Photoshopped" likeness of Daisuke in a Yankee uniform (see left).

On June 27, 2006 I moved the Canyon of Heroes content over to this blog, hoping to work more seriously on this project for a broader audience. That move was one of the best things I've done as a blogger, as my audience surged and my ability to discuss the Japanese sport with a larger number of readers became reality. My interview with BP's Will Carroll helped to introduce me to the Baseball Prospectus family and a regular column with them took off.

The posting process saw traffic at Matsuzaka Watch go through the roof. I recall people contacting me at 2-3am with e-mails about rumor A or rumor B. Yes, there were actually people who couldn't sleep as the days before the announcement approached. During that period, I played around with a few different banners for the winning bid. Check them out below:

I was prepared for most realistic contingencies here at MW, and when the news hit that the Red Sox had won the negotiating rights for Matsuzaka, I put up the final banner you see in that group. The current banner came soon after he officially signed and we were off to the races. The image of Daisuke in the current banner comes from the Asahi Beer photo shoots he did prior to heading wearing the Red Sox uniform on the field. I'd hoped that Daisuke would be wearing pinstripes, as you well know by now, and mocked up an action photo of him pitching for the Yankees. When the news came down about Boston, I had to change gears and rework my art to reflect the tough reality. See below:

This is a poorly mocked up version of Daisuke as a Yankee, which looks perfectly ridiculous right now. Secret: The uniform I used was from a Carl Pavano photo. That might explain the bad luck the Yanks had in the posting process.

Here's the Red Sox version. This uniform was Pedro's. Don't look too closely at the picture or you'll see the extra jersey I had to create on his right hip, shadows and all.

The season was full of hype, over-hype, excitement, disappointment, promise, and in the end the Red Sox won it all. This story had the complete range of elements to captivate an audience. There was drama (the posting), mythology (the gyroball), rising action (his strong debut and the Ichiro meeting), falling action (the poor close to the season), and a triumphant climax (World Series victory). I have a lot of optimism about Daisuke's 2008. He's the type of pitcher that will make the adjustment, and he proved in Japan that he was able to rise to the level of his competition. It took a number of years with Seibu before the flashes of brilliance translated to full time domination. I expect that you'll see something very special out of this pitcher before his contract is up.

As for me, I will continue my work at Baseball Prospectus. I will be continuing my various "Watch" blogs for other Japanese players, and I will be using Baseball Japan as my home base for everything related to the sport in Japan. In addition, I have a couple of more ambitious projects in the works that might eventually come to fruition and really provide the English-speaking fan with the resources they crave for following amateur and professional baseball across the ocean. Stay tuned at BP and at Baseball Japan for more, and don't be a stranger. My e-mail is still in the right margin at the top, and I will leave this blog here for posterity. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and see you around.

Mike Plugh

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Quick Hook

I think Daisuke got a little bit of a quick hook by Francona right there. He's been flirting with trouble a bit the last couple innings, but with a 6-0 lead, you have to give the man a chance to work out of it. He wasn't happy to come out of the game. All of Japan is watching and this was his moment to shine. This was the championship game of the WBC all over again for Daisuke and for the entire nation of Japan. For him to come out mid-inning was slightly deflating.

5.1 innings pitched looks a lot less impressive than 6 complete. Now Hawpe swings at the first pitch and gives up an earned run to Daisuke. That's horses*&t in baseball parlance. Our man got a seriously raw deal.

It's All Over But the Funeral...

Top of the 3rd inning, bases loaded, Daisuke drives in 2 runs on his first Major League hit. 5-0 Red Sox. You can call the mortician. This series is over. Could the National League be any worse?

Congratulations Red Sox Nation! (As I type it is now 6-0.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Daisuke's Last Start

This will be the final start for Daisuke Matsuzaka in the 2007 season. I'm confident that the Sox will not need 7 games to win the World Series and take the lead in the race to become the team of this new century. As I see it, the Sox opened the 20th century by winning the series in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. Yes, it was 86 long and painful years until the team managed to win it again, but it will only be 3 short years between the most recent wins. The Red Sox will be the first team of the 21st century to win multiple World Series titles. There's no reason to believe that the franchise can't make a similar early century run at more championships, proving that this club is the class of the sport.

As a Yankee fan, I loathe to see the Red Sox playing in October. It makes my skin crawl. I'm no Rudy Giuliani. I know where my blood allegiances run. I'm also a baseball writer who wears his passion on his sleeve, but also wants to live in reality. The Sox collapsed in 2006 and Yankee fans rejoiced. I was not one of those Yankee fans. It scared me when the team went to Fenway and swept the Sox' season away last year. It was great in the short term, but these are not your father's Red Sox. There is a plan. It doesn't always work the way Theo wants (Drew, Lugo, Crisp), but it works more than it fails. The ownership is committed to spend. They should. With NESN and an entire region of the United States as a captive audience, the Red Sox have all the resources of the Yankees and have learned that using them may shake off the gritty, lovable underdog image that the team mired in for decades but it also makes them a champion. That's much better.

The Yankees are a team in turmoil. They'll be good every year because they spend and they've learned to build the farm aggressively. The problem is, this season is a failure on more than a baseball front. Joe Torre was one of the classiest ambassadors that the sport has seen in years. He was loved by almost every player to enter the clubhouse and the opposition as well. Papi even stuck up for Joe after the Yankees were eliminated. You have guys like Randy Levine and the Steinbrenner boys trying to figure out how to build a ballclub, if they even care about that. They strike me as bottom line first type people, where George was always a man committed to spending his money to win it all. The Sox may win multiple titles before we even get back to the Series.

That's my Yankee perspective. It's grim. For the rest of you, our there in Red Sox Nation, there is only glory ahead. One of the more disturbing turn of events from my perspective, which should make you smile, is that Matsuzaka and Okajima winning the championship will solidify the Red Sox as Japan's team. It has always been the Yankees since the days of Babe Ruth. Matsui is the darling of Yomiuri Giants fans in their 30's, 40's, 50's, and up. Matsuzaka is the darling of anyone younger and certainly every kid in the country. By winning it all, there will be a death knell for the future of the Yankees in Japan. It's all about Boston and the red, white, and blue.

When Matsuzaka came to the Sox, this wasn't how it was scripted. Yes, the World Series was in the picture, but Daisuke was supposed to be a fire-breathing dragon that helped to stand in front of the Red Sox army and lead the charge to the title. As the third starter, limping into the playoffs after a horrid end of the regular season, he's been mediocre at best. The last start against Cleveland was decent, but no one thinks Matsuzaka and 5 innings and celebrates. You want 7 innings and 10 Ks. You want a no doubt, lock down start that shuts the door on the series. I want to think we'll get that tonight, despite my allegiance to the Red Sox ultimate demise. This is the storybook ending that could shine a glimmer of hope for a better 2008 Matsuzaka. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Daisuke find it tonight. He will rise to the occasion and throw a gem. I have no empirical support for that guess. It's probably overly optimistic, but I don't care at this point. This is likely my last pre-game post and my last Daisuke prediction. I'm going to be a cheerleader and go with the following numbers:

7 IP
7 hits
1 walk
1 run
9 Ks

The Sox will win and finish the series off in 4 or 5 games. I'll be back when they do to put the cherry on top of the Matsuzaka Watch sundae. Thank you for following this interesting story for the last 2 years. It's been a great ride. Go Daisuke.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's Winnin' Time, or...'s dyin' time. Game 7. Big time pressure. Season on the line. Ultimately, Matsuzaka's legacy will be ignited by this single moment. If he's bad, and the Red Sox lose, it will take years of outstanding pitching to win back the fans he will lose in this moment. If he pitches great, and the Sox win, he will have found some measure of redemption after a troubled second half. A lot will be forgiven in this moment if he steps up. J.D. Drew had a bit of that redemption with his big grand slam last night. Will Daisuke hit a grand slam of his own, vaulting the Sox to the World Series? Will the Indians get the best of him yet again?

Win and I keep writing here. Lose and it will be one, maybe two, more posts before retiring.

7 IP
5 hits
4 walks
4 runs
6 Ks

Is that enough for a win? Ask the Red Sox offense.....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

2nd Chances

The Indian's Game Two victory has put an entirely new spin on the Red Sox position in the 2007 post-season, and a lot of weight has shifted onto the shoulders of Daisuke Matsuzaka. The fact is, had the Sox won Game Two and put themselves up 2-0 in the series, a lot less would be expected of the rookie pitcher tonight. The Tribe managed to gut out a tremendous win and put the specter of a long series into play. I'm still of the opinion that the Red Sox are going to win the World Series this season (and possibly next season as well). As a Yankee fan, I find that revolting, but this team is built exceptionally well. There are few holes in the roster, and what holes exist have hardly reared their heads this year (J.D. Drew).

A lot now depends on Matsuzaka. If he coughs up the game and puts the Sox in a 2-1 situation, you'd have to worry that Wakefield, Beckett, and Schilling would have to win two out of three against Byrd, Sabathia, and Carmona in order to send it to Game 7. In my opinion, you have a situation there in which the Indians seem to hold the advantage, if only by the slimmest of margins. It's debatable, but I don't think anyone in Red Sox Nation wants to find out about who's right and wrong. In that scenario, unless Francona were to change and pitch someone on short rest (Beckett), he'd be starting Matsuzaka again in a deciding Game 7. Hmmmm.....

All of it is moot if Daisuke wins tonight. How has he fared against Cleveland this year?

@ Fenway on May 30th (5.2 IP, 12 hits, no walks, 6 ER, 4 Ks) Grady Sizemore 2-run HR
@ Cleveland on July 24th (7 IP, 4 hits, 3 walks, 0 ER, 5 Ks)

It's a tale of two starts for Daisuke. One hideous late inning breakdown, punctuated by a Sizemore blast. One lights out, 7 inning, 98 pitch, shutout on the road. It's almost impossible to predict what we'll see from Daisuke tonight, but I'll give it a shot:

6 IP
8 hits
2 walks
3 ER
6 Ks
Garko or Hafner will play big roles in this game....

Just an off the cuff, gut prediction. Go get 'em Daisuke.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Big Moment

This is why the Red Sox paid $100 million. Daisuke in the playoffs. Frankly, it's the reason the Yankees spent unfortunate wads of money on Roger Clemens too. Of course you need the horses to get there, but the post-season is all about pitching, and not just pitching, dominant pitching.

This is a very big spot for Matsuzaka. He was shaky in the playoffs for Seibu over the years, but made his last start in a short series between the Lions and the SoftBank Hawks where he was matched up against Kazumi Saito. He won the game 1-0, and was absolutely unhittable all night long. That's what the Red Sox would like from Daisuke. One of the keys to this particular performance is the ability of Matsuzaka to get the Sox to the 8th inning with the lead. If he can go 7 strong, Boston can go to one of the setup men with the knowledge that Papelbon is available for 6 outs if need be. That's huge. That's the gift that Beckett bestowed upon his mates when he pitched the complete game shutout.

For his part, Daisuke will be facing the Angels for the first time. He has had his greatest success against ball clubs in their first hacks against him, so it bodes well. The only drawback is that I think Francona should have saved him for Game 3 in Anaheim. Matsuzaka's road numbers are better than his home19-5 record splits and he won the WBC MVP on the mound in Southern California. It probably makes no difference.

One piece of business is a quick peak at my pre-season projection for Matsuzaka, based on past performance and established translation methods. I ran two different sets of numbers in doing my analysis, the 2005 Seibu stats and last season's 2006 numbers. Here are my attempts and the real thing (keep in mind, I always said that the ERA projection was a run too low):

2005 projection
215 IP
185 Hits
16 HR
63 BB
200 K
2.74 ERA
1.154 WHIP
8.37 K/9
3.18 K/BB

2006 projection
187 IP
156 Hits
21 HR
39 BB
181 K
2.52 ERA
1.043 WHIP
8.71 K/9
4.64 K/BB

Actual numbers
204.7 IP
191 Hits
25 HR
80 BB
201 K
4.40 ERA
1.324 WHIP
8.84 K/9
2.51 K/BB

In retrospect, it would have been wiser to project Matsuzaka based on his 2003, 2004, and maybe 2005 numbers for this season. By 2005 and 2006 in Japan he had established a rhythm which allowed him to dominate everyone he faced. Prior to 2005, he was still figuring things out, as he was this season in Boston. You can see that the MLB numbers aren't terribly skewed from his 2005, but are quite a distance from the projection based on last season. What the two projections I provided may tell you, is that Matsuzaka has the upside to be what I have given you...again add a run to that ERA. I'm hoping you'll see Daisuke keep it together all season in 2008 and give you at least a 3.70 ERA, if not lower.

The game tonight is a tough one. I'm going to continue following my guts with my predictions. To the annoyance of some readers, I make my guesses by guts and a little feel for this player. I don't go through the trouble of real metrics-based crunching. I don't have time for it to be honest. I've been pretty good so far this year and will bring you an added up tally of every prediction to compare to the actual numbers. That will be fun. Here's the prediction:

7 IP
7 hits
2 walks
2 ER
7 strikeouts
115 pitches

Go Daisuke.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I'm late on this, but my buddy needs win #15 for a big payday. I've got out the Daisuke pom-poms and I'm going to predict:

8 IP
7 hits
2 walks
2 runs
10 Ks
WIN #15

Good luck Daisuke!!