Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mr. International

I've paid a lot of attention to Matsuzaka's 2006 season, his 2005 campaign, and how he stacks up in MLB conversion scenarios. Actually, I've tried to present as much information as possible on the young ace. The recurring question marks about how he will translate to the Major Leagues next year is one of my main missions. In an effort to present yet another sample of his work against a different level of play, I've compiled the complete Matsuzaka record of International Competition. I hope to discuss this sample in detail, as a presentation of the type of dominance he's achieved at another class.

The complete record for Daisuke includes:

1. 2000 Olympic Games - Sydney
2. 2004 Olympic Games - Athens
3. 2004 MLB All-Star Tour - Japan
4. 2006 World Baseball Classic

I will start with the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Entering these games, Matsuzaka was only just 20 years old. He was fresh off the 1999 Rookie of the Year Award and looking to test his ability against some of the best hitters in the world. At the time, the Associated Press wrote:

"Japan is expected to start Daisuke Matsuzaka, his country's version of the Chicago Cubs' Kerry Wood. Matsuzaka won the Rookie of the Year award in 1999 for the Seibu Lions and is Japan's pre-eminent player."

Matsuzaka met with bad luck as he was forced to watch from the bench as his team gave up a couple of hard luck losses to the US and Korea in the preliminary rounds. Against a US team featuring the 26 year old Doug Mientkiewicz and a handful of Major League journeymen Matsuzaka kept the game at 2-2 through 10 innings, before watching teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi give it up in the bottom of the 13th inning. Against Korea, he survived a rocky 4-run 1st inning, settling down to hold the rival team to a single extra run through the end of the 9th. Seung Yeop Lee was the hero of the ballgame, going 2-5 with a solo home run off Daisuke. Japan's lineup managed to knot the score at 5-5, but Yoseikazu Doi immediately surrendered the game winning hit in the 10th. The Bronze Medal game turned out much the same way, as Lee doubled in the winning run in the bottom of the 8th, as a huge error opened the doors for the loss. All 3 Korean runs scored in the frame....all 3 unearned. Click below for totals:

The next attempt to conquer the international stage came 4 years later at the Olympic Games in Athens. Matsuzaka was no longer a 20 year old youngster, wet behind the ears. Entering the Games, Daisuke was barely a month from his 24th birthday and gaining confidence as "Japan's Ace". He had grown significantly and his repetoire had matured a great deal. He would need every trick in his bag as he faced off against a potent Cuba team in the preliminary round of the tournament. The Cuban lineup he faced was nearly identical to the man to the squad he'd later beat for the Championship of the 1st World Baseball Classic in 2006. Eduardo Paret, Michel Enriquez, Yulieski Gourriel, Osmani Urrutia, and Frederich Cepeda were all there waiting to extend their dominance in international play. Matsuzaka was brilliant going 8.1 innings of shutout baseball. He tired in the 9th as Cuba made a desperate final rally, and was charged with 2 of the 3 runs that reliever Hirotoshi Ishii gave up before recording outs 2 and 3. In that game, Daisuke became the first pitcher in Olympic history to be clocked at 100 MPH. The Japanese squad was later derailed by a feisty bunch of Australians, as Matsuzaka fought into the 5th inning with a no-hitter in the works. The no-hitter and shutout were broken as the Aussies got on the board first 1-0. Chris Oxspring and Japan League reliever Jeff Williams combined on a shutout of Team Japan, ending Matsuzaka's dreams of gold despite striking out 13 batters. The Australian Press had this to say about the outing:

"Australia did it despite a dominant performance from Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who struck out 13 Australians over 7 innings, the second-best effort in Olympic baseball history."

Click below for the stats:

Later that year, the Major League tour of All-Star players came to Japan to take on the finest from the NPB. The MLB roster included Carl Crawford, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Moises Alou, Vernon Wells, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Michael Young and a host of other lesser names. The Major League team jumped out to a fast start by winning the first 4 contests by a combined score of 26-10 and looked to be an overwhelming power that Japan's squad had little hope of beating. The MLB starters in those first 4 games were Roger Clemens, Kyle Lohse, Kazuhisa Ishii, and Jake Peavy while Team Japan went with Koji Uehara, who lost despite a quality start, Shunsuke Watanabe, Kei Igawa (also a QS), and Nagisa Arakaki. Uehara and Igawa are very good pitchers, but Watanabe and Arakaki are questionable in this position. Game 5 starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who is a personal favorite of mine, pitched 7 innings of 1 run ball against the MLBers and beat Roger Clemens. It was a great performance for the struggling Japanese team and bode well for them leading into Matsuzaka's start.

Daisuke faced the following lineup on the following day (2004 VORP in parenthesis):

Carl Crawford (24.6)
Jack Wilson (42.8)
Hank Blalock (30.1)
Moises Alou (40.2)
Miguel Cabrera (43.5)
Victor Martinez (39.8)
Johnny Estrada(34.7)
Brad Wilkerson (37.0)
Alex Cora (13.4)

Missing from this lineup are Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Vernon Wells, and Michael Young, but I think you'd agree that this would be a top offense in the Majors nonetheless. Matsuzaka went the distance against this group giving up a single run on an RBI double from Jack Wilson, scoring Crawford in the 6th. Matsuzaka walked none and struck out 6 for the victory. Japan went on to win the 7th game as well on a stellar performance by Koji Uehara, but were unable to finish out the series tied at 4 games apiece, as the MLB players blanked Japan 5-0 behind Jake Peavy and homers by Ortiz and Wells. Click below for Daisuke's line:

That brings me to the 2006 WBC. It's fresh in our minds at this point, and I think many people had become aware of Matsuzaka before the open of the competition. His 3 performances were short as he pitched 4 innings against Taipei, 5 innings against Mexico, and 4 against Cuba. We know now that the young ace was named the MVP of the tournament and that Japan won the whole enchilada. The Japanese team was 1st in runs scored, and 3rd in runs allowed. They led the tourney in home runs, so don't be fooled by those people who would have you believe that the Japanese style of small ball trumped the Major League strategy of taking the walk and waiting for the 3-run homer. It's a lie. Matsuzaka's dominance was clear, as was the dominance of Koji Uehara. Pitching wins championships. Click the chart below for stats:

Finally, I've compiled the total ratios for Matsuzaka's nine international outings. I broke the chart into two sections. The first is the complete body of work, and the second excludes the 2000 Olympics. I did this not because there is some amazing split that you can observe from breaking the metrics apart, but rather to make the more recent sample more relevant as a gauge of what he's capable of now. In 2000 he was barely 20 years old and a completely different pitcher. It was in 2004 that he started to show signs of what he is today, so that's how I wanted to divide the results. Check out the stats below:

The totals are virtually identical, and I would argue that the first meeting with Korea in the 2000 Olympics is the only thing that separates the ratios from being identical. Matsuzaka gave up 5 walks and 5 runs in that game, with much of the damage coming in the 1st inning. It's safe to say that Daisuke has only pitched one bad inning out of 65 when you carefully examine the body of work. The results are identical across levels of competition as well. These ratios are very close to what he does for Seibu. What he did against Taipei in the WBC in 2006 against the low end of the talent pool isn't all that different than what he did in 2000 against Australia. The same is said for his results against Mexico and Korea in the middle of the pack, and the US roster of journeymen pros in the 2004 Olympics. On the high end the numbers are the same against a very talented team of Cubans and touring Major League All-Stars. Regardless of the opponent, Matsuzaka has risen to the occasion. At least in my book there's no reason to doubt that he'll do the same next year in the Major Leagues, with only a small spike in his numbers correcting for the consistently high level of competition.


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