Wednesday, August 16, 2006


With so much traffic picking up lately in the mainstream press about Matsuzaka and his 2007 destination, I thought I'd nip a couple of things in the bud before they become the accepted truth. A lot of people who have never seen Daisuke Matsuzaka want to compare him to Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu. A lot of people are willing to forgoe the young ace because they don't trust a Japanese pitcher to be worth $10+ million at the front of their rotation. Questions about pitch counts, and the level of competition have sprung up in various places.

For me, it's in the best interest of the teams that know the truth and really want him to let these myths and misconceptions balloon. The more people with doubts about Matsuzaka's ability, the fewer suitors there will be in their way.

I wanted to put Daisuke's career to date into perspective. I've chosen 5 pitchers from Jim Albright of Baseball Guru's All 1990's team, and 4 of Matsuzaka's contemporaries, to show the kind of ratios he has in comparison to the best of his generation. Here are the other 9 pitchers and a short list of their credentials:

1. Hideo Nomo - 1990 Sawamura Award Winner (Japan's Cy Young), 1990 MVP, 1995 NL ROY
2. Hideki Irabu - 1994 and 1995 "Best 9" member
3. Masaki Saito - 1989, 1995, 1996 Sawamura Award Winner, 1990 Central League MVP
4. Shinji Sasaoka - 1991 Sawamura Award Winner, 1991 MVP
5. Shinji Imanaka - 1993 Sawamura Award Winner
6. Kei Igawa* - 2003 Sawamura Award Winner, 2003 MVP
7. Koji Uehara* - 1999 and 2002 Sawamura Award Winner
8. Kenshin Kawakami* - 2004 Sawamura Award Winner, 2004 MVP
9. Kazumi Saito* - 2003 Sawamura Award Winner

* Denotes player is still active

I calculated the following ratios for comparison between these pitchers:

K/9 - a measure of a pitcher's strikeout ability
K/BB - a measure of a pitcher's control and power
WHIP - a measure of a pitcher's ability to keep runners off base
ERA - a rough estimate of a pitcher's ability to prevent runs from scoring

The first chart employing these ratios is a rough sample of each player's career. In principle, I aimed to select the time period between a player's debut through the season he pitched the most games while at age 25. I tried to use this criteria to match Daisuke Matsuzaka's career to date. For some of the active pitchers that proved problematic because they chose to pitch in college before entering the pros. Some Japanese pitchers are wisely choosing this course, as they are given the chance to mature and develop their arsenal before being thrown into the mix. Pitchers like Matsuzaka are often drafted out of high school and tossed in the fire at age 18. In the case of those active pitchers, I used the span of their entire career to date, which was a sample size roughly the same as Matsuzaka's games and innings pitched. Click the chart to enlarge:

To keep the Nomo/Irabu conversation going, let's compare where they place with Matsuzaka's results:

K/9 - Nomo (1st), Matsuzaka (2nd), Irabu (3rd)
K/BB - Matsuzaka (6th), Nomo (9th), Irabu (10th)
WHIP - Matsuzaka (2nd), Nomo (9th), Irabu (10th)
ERA - Matsuzaka (2nd), Nomo (6th), Irabu (10th)

Right away it's easy to see that scouts fell in love with Nomo and Irabu's K Rate, before they could more critically analyze their all around talent. Nomo is near the bottom of the list here in most categories, while Irabu is clearly the worst of these players. Matsuzaka joins the former Major Leaguers in showing a mediocre K/BB ratio, but we will account for that later. One note on these statistics. You'll see that several players have significantly less innings as a sample, despite the amount of service they put in. It's common practice for Japanese professional teams to break in their 18 year old rookies by starting them in the pen for a couple of years before putting them in the rotation. It affects the stats just a bit, but not overwhelmingly.

Let's look at the leaderboard in these categories, 1 through 3:

K/9 - Nomo, Matsuzaka, Irabu
K/BB - Uehara, Kawakami, Imanaka
WHIP - Uehara, M. Saito, Matsuzaka
ERA - Saito, Matsuzaka, Uehara

Koji Uehara is the ace pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants. At 31 years old, he has been trying to escape the rapid collapse of that storied franchise to show his stuff in the Majors. They have not agreed to post him at any point. His uncanny ability to keep runners off base makes him a real treasure, and his dominance alongside Daisuke in the World Baseball Classic should keep him on Major League radar screens for as long as he can keep it up.

The next chart is a comparison of these players in the seasons when they pitched the majority of their games at age 25, as Matsuzaka is doing now. You'll note that Matsuzaka's stats are in progress, but the ratios will be representative. Also, Nomo's stats are from the previous season, as he was injured in his 25 year old campaign, and opted to retire to "defect" to the US. Again, click to enlarge:

Again, let's compare Nomo, Irabu, and Daisuke:

K/9 - Irabu (1st), Nomo (3rd), Matsuzaka (4th)
K/BB - Matsuzaka (2nd), Irabu (6th), Nomo (9th)
WHIP - Matsuzaka (1st), Irabu (6th), Nomo (9th)
ERA - Matsuzaka (1st), Irabu (5th), Nomo (7th)

Again, an indication of the love of the strikeout to the detriment of other evaluation criteria. Nomo and Irabu impress with their Nolan Ryan impressions, but fall well short in every other category. Let's look again at the leaderboard in these categories:

K/9 - Irabu, Igawa, Nomo
K/BB - Uehara, Matsuzaka, Igawa
WHIP - Matsuzaka, Uehara, M. Saito
ERA - Matsuzaka, M. Saito, K. Saito

The recurring names of Matsuzaka and Uehara are joined on this list by the ace of the Hanshin Tigers, Kei Igawa. He is an excellent pitcher who has also requested a posting to the Major Leagues. Like the Giants, Hanshin has declined that request more than once. I suppose I can't blame them. Where are you going to find a guy to replace your ace pitcher? Tough luck for Igawa, who is 27 and watching his best years fade away.

The ratio I'd like to focus on for the final part of this analysis is K/BB. I like this metric a lot. It is a simple to understand glimpse at a guys control. It combines a player's ability to create outs without a batted ball in play, and his control in the strikezone. Half the equation measures power and movement, and the other half measures control. There are certainly a host of other statistics that can pinpoint these things more precisely, but for the sake of simplicity, K/BB is a good snapshot.

I've argued that Matsuzaka's pitching has become ultra-refined in the last 2-3 seasons, and that any examination of his form, arsenal, and control before the 2004 season is not a great measuring stick for the pitcher he is today. Most players and pitchers hit their stride around their 25th or 26th birthday. Matsuzaka is no different. His control and power have converged very quickly to make him an ace of the highest caliber. Let's look at his K/BB ratios for the last 2+ seasons, and deposit him in the context of Major League players. It's not a fair or accurate measure with completely different data contexts in collision, but it should give some kind of rough guess at the range of his ability.

2004 K/BB Ratio

1. Ben Sheets - 8.25
2. Randy Johnson - 6.59
3. Curt Schilling - 5.80
4. Jon Lieber - 5.67
5. Brad Radke - 5.50
T15. Daisuke Matsuzaka/Bronson Arroyo - 3.02

2005 K/BB Ratio

1. Carlos Silva - 7.89
2. Johan Santana - 5.29
3. David Wells - 5.10
4. Brad Radke - 5.09
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 4.61

2006 K/BB Ratio

1. Curt Schilling - 6.95
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 5.27
3. Johan Santana - 4.92
4. Mike Mussina - 4.63
5. Francisco Liriano - 4.44

Finally, looking at the K/BB ratios of today's top pitchers at the ages of 24 and 25, and their career best #, we find:

Johan Santana - 3.60/4.91/5.28
Pedro Martinez - 3.17/4.55/8.88
Curt Schilling - 1.82/2.49/9.58
Roger Clemens - 3.08/4.69/4.69
Mike Mussina - 2.66/2.36/5.10
Roy Halladay - 3.84/2.71/6.38
Greg Maddux - 2.03/3.00/8.85
Randy Johnson - 1.00/1.35/6.59
Barry Zito - 2.33/1.66/2.56

That list is a short tally of the Cy Young winners in recent history. Many of them took a long time before they were able to harness their power and learn to control their stuff. The notable performance on this list is Barry Zito. He has never posted a remotely acceptable K/BB ratio, especially when compared to the greats on this list. He's Matsuzaka's main competition for the big free agent dollars this offseason. Which guy would you rather have for your money?

More of this type analysis will appear at Matsuzaka Watch along with the regular recaps of his starts and news bulletins. Please use the comments section to fill in any blanks I may have missed, or offer any additional analysis of your own. Go Daisuke!


At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome work. This is a great aurguementative peice for Matsuzaka. I agree with you that he's going to flourish in the majors, mostly because of the reasons you've listed.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Lucen said...

I know this was written quite a while ago, but I wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this and found it to be personally vindicating. I did similar research into Matsuzaka's Japanese league stats for a debate I was having at and came to the same conclusions you did.

Matsuzaka, while not as big of a strike out guy as Irabu or Nomo, has far greater control and command, and should translate to the major leagues more favorably than they did.

It's understandable why people, at a glance, would just compare the three of them since they are all Japanese pitchers who crossed the Pacific, but analysis like this does a great job of showing why you shouldn't be using Nomo or Irabu as comparisons for Matsuzaka.

Great article.

--Lucen from and


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