Pedro vs. DaisukeI've wanted to do this for a while now. I often look to Pedro Martinez as the best comparison for Matsuzaka's level in the Japanese professional ranks. I think Daisuke is that dominant, and has the same control of his wicked arsenal. In an attempt to back up that comparison, I've looked at each pitcher's numbers in the 4 seasons from the time they turned 22 through the year they pitched most of their games as a 25 year old. The sample isn't perfect as Matsuzaka started pitching for Seibu at the age of 18, while Pedro was in the minors until he was 21 and pitched out of the pen his rookie season with the Dodgers. Pedro's minor league numbers run from age 16 and run into his first professional year as a reliever. Matsuzaka's first 4 professional years, from 18-22 years old, were excellent but certainly featured the same learning curve that Pedro faced in the minors.
From 1994 through the 1997 season, Pedro Martinez started 117 games for the Montreal Expos. He didn't become "Pedro Martinez" until 1997, his final year in Canada, when he posted one of the greatest seasons in modern history. Prior to 1997 he was a fine Major League pitcher with blazing heat and occasional control issues.
From 2003 through the end of August 2006, Daisuke Matsuzaka started 101 games for the Seibu Lions. He didn't become "Daisuke Matsuzaka" until 2003 when he mastered his control and dropped his ERA nearly a full run per game. Prior to 2003 he was an ultra-talented high school star, still too young to drink for the most part, learning how to be a professional on the fly. (Chart one is 1999 - 2005, and Chart 2 is this year's game log):
During those 4 years, from 22 until 26 years old, these pitchers showed the following numbers (click to enlarge):
Irrespective of the level of competition, these pitchers show a similar level of dominance against the batters that faced them. The extra professional seasoning that Daisuke had by this time in his career helped him to refine his control a bit more, and you see that manifested in his superior K/BB rate. The other numbers are strikingly similar. The ERAs are probably a rough equivalent based on the league averages in both the NL of that time and the current level of the NPB. There are a couple of pitchers now with sub-2.00 ERAs in Japan, and another handful with ERAs in the low to mid-2.00's. The leaderboard for the 1997 NL shows about a half run bump from the leaders in the current Japanese pro ranks, so 2.55 and 3.06 seem about even.
What followed for Pedro was a stretch of the finest 7 seasons in memory, including his 1997 season included in the above discussion. His 2000 season is the finest single-season by any player in the history of the game. His ERA+ of 285 that year is second only to Tim Keefe of the 1880 Troy Trojans who posted a 294 rating in 12 starts. At that time there were only 83 games and #1 starter Mickey Welch pitched 64 out of 65 complete games, going 34-30 on the year. Hardly a fair comparison for Pedro's 1997.
The 4 modern pitchers that hold spots in the top 25 of the single season ERA+ rankings (by rank, number, and age) are:
Pedro, Maddux, and Clemens appear a few more times in the top 50 with Randy Johnson the only other active pitcher in the group. What does this have to do with Daisuke Matsuzaka, you ask? Well, if you look at the numbers for these seasons they came in each pitchers late 20's and early 30's. Presumably, their power and control converged at some point during this stage of development to make them overpowering. The same thing can be seen in Matsuzaka's K/BB rate as he moves towards his late-20's.
Here are Pedro's K/BB rates in the 10 years from 22 to 31:
Here is Greg Maddux over that same age range:
Matsuzaka's K/BB rate is beginning to take the same kind of upward trend as his ERA goes down and he shows almost laser-like precision of his repertoire. Looking at video of him from 2003 to 2006 is like watching a completely different pitcher:
If he can continue this trend as a Major Leaguer, the next 5 or 6 years promise to be something very special. Of course the leagues are different, but power and control are a simple matter of physical strength combined with accuracy. Daisuke features a 95-96 MPH fastball, a 82-83 MPH slider, a beautiful change and curve. He locates them on the corners with ease, and it would be hard pressed to imagine that those skills, translated to MLB competition, would abandon him.
I can't say that Matsuzaka is Pedro Martinez in terms of Major League ability, but he is that good in Japan, and figures to hold most of his value in the US. Pay the man his money and watch him dominate.