Friday, October 13, 2006

Matsuzaka Redux

The recent barrage of news about Matsuzaka and his posting to the Major Leaguers has set off a frenzy for information about the player from many corners of the world. It's been kind of a "running of the bulls" with Matsuzaka in the lead. If I use that analogy, then Matsuzaka Watch is Pamplona. I've been discussing this player here since the beginning of the 2006 season, and have collected some important facts. I've engaged in fiery debate at many popular blogspots and bulletin boards, and I believe I have the means by which to frame the discussion of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

This post is designed to introduce people to the player, sources of information available about him, and the various analytical pieces that I've produced to add depth to the discussion. It is also designed for the fans who have followed Matsuzaka, or have faithfully read my work here already. Thank you for your support. I want to expand the understanding of my analysis for more experienced Matsuzaka followers, and to that end, I'll be re-posting links to each piece and adding some updated thoughts below each. Here we go:

I am a Yankee fan who has been living in Japan for nearly 3 years. I've followed Daisuke Matsuzaka since the beginning of the 2004 season, when I moved to the Far East, and really latched on after his stellar outing against Australia in the 2004 Summer Games (more on that later). As it's increasingly been speculated that Seibu would post him and allow him to pursue a career in the Major Leagues, I have become more and more interested in sharing what I know, and what I've seen of him over this time. There are many other players in Japan that would look nice in a Major League uniform, and perhaps we'll see some of them in the near future. In the meantime, this player is the best of the lot and the most imminent schedule for the US. To that end, I started this blog to chronicle the 2006 season, and provide the best possible analysis a fan with an understanding of simple metrics and Japanese language can provide. I've seen him pitch for 3 years with my own two eyes and hope that what I've seen will help you to paint a picture of the young ace.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is a 26 year old pitcher, for the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Pacific League. He made his pro debut at the age of 18, after a legendary high school career, which culminated in a no-hitter at the revered Koshien Summer High School Baseball Tournament in 1998. That no-hitter came on the heels of a relief appearance the day before that earned his team an important save, and a 17 inning, 250 pitch, complete game against legendary baseball powerhouse PL Gakuen two days before. He was dubbed "Koshien no moshigo", which means "The Heaven Sent Child of Koshien", and later fans in the same age group were labeled as "Generation Matsuzaka". He is a transcendent figure in Japan and one of the most loved players in the history of this country.

He won the rookie of the year in 1999 and was named to the "Best 9" as the pitching representative. It was the first time any rookie had been awarded that honor. In the following few years, Matsuzaka found his ERA in the mid-3's as his control often betrayed him. His walk totals were quite high, and the abuse on his arm was beginning to wear him down. He missed time in 2002 with a non-structural elbow injury that did not require surgery, but kept him out for the better part of that season. The interesting thing that developed from that experience was his newfound control and understanding of pitching as a professional. Since returning from the lost 2002 season, Matsuzaka's ERA has dropped more than a full run per 9 innings, and his walks have been cut in half. He uses his entire repertoire now, and has forgone the 100 MPH fastball that he once threw in Olympic competition in favor of better location and a wicked slider. His ERA over the last 4 years has been:

2.83
2.90
2.30
2.13

His K/BB ratio has also improved significantly over that period. Witness:

3.41
3.02
4.61
6.06

The 2004 season (2.90 and 3.02 above) was extremely truncated due to Matsuzaka's participation in the Summer Games in Athens. He won his first start against Cuba in a lineup virtually identical to the one he faced in the 2006 WBC. That start saw him go 8.1 innings before tiring in the 9th and allowing a couple of baserunners. His relievers let him down on the shutout by letting the inherited runners score, but the line was still impressive at 7 hits and a walk, with only 2 earned runs. The next start was a 1-0 loss against underdog Australia. Matsuzaka produced what is regarded as the 2nd best start in Olympic history by some accounts. I don't know what the best start was, but it was better than Matsuzaka's perfect game midway through the contest that ended in a 13 strikeout dominanting outing.

The last 2 seasons have been beyond description. The only reason he has played those seasons for Seibu, instead of the Major Leagues, is the club's refusal to release him through the posting system. At this point, they have let him go in order to assure themselves a giant chunk of money for the player, instead of losing him for nothing after the 2007 season when he's a free agent. That brings us to today. Here's where we know:

1. Matsuzaka will be posted in the first part of November.
2. Teams will have 40 days to submit secret bids to Bud Selig's office.
3. Selig and company will hold those bids in trust, before finally delivering the winner to Seibu.
4. That will happen in mid-December.
5. Teams will have 30 days to negotiate with Matsuzaka and Boras, before losing his rights.
6. If that happens, he MUST go back and pitch in Japan in 2007.

Beyond the posting process we also can speculate on dollars and cents:

1. The top bid will likely fall between $25-$30 million.
2. Boras will attempt to squeeze as much money as he can.
3. Rumors have that money anywhere from $8-$12 million a season over 3 or 4 years.
4. The posting money does not count against the tax penalty.

When you add it all up, you're looking at an average out of pocket expenditure of between $14 million and $22 million. The low end is acceptable. The mid-range is only acceptable if you are fairly certain that he's a legit #1. The top end is stupid by all accounts. When comparing this expenditure, it is important to remember to factor the US free agent's taxable salary against the soft cap, while Matsuzaka has none. As for his ability, there are differing opinions:

1. Most people who have seen him think he's a Major League frontline pitcher.
2. Many believe he's an ace.
3. Some people think he's a risk at any price, but especially at top dollar.
4. A few people think he's the second coming of Hideki Irabu.

His repertoire includes a fastball that is clocked at around 95-96 MPH, and at around 92-93 when he locates on the corners or at the knees. His slider is filthy and is thrown with the same motion as the fastball. It's clocked at 82-83 MPH. In addition to those pitches, he throws a nice change, a sharp curve, and an improving splitter. He does not throw a gyroball, as has been reported. The top contenders for his services are generally believed to be (in no particular order):

* Yankees
* Mariners
* Rangers
* Angels
* Red Sox
* Orioles
* Dodgers
* Diamondbacks
* Mets

A few other teams have scouted him, but until I see more substantial coverage in the local papers of those markets, I'll hold off on naming them. In my humble opinion, the best situations for the player are:

1. New York Yankees

I'm a fan, so I hope he plays in New York. Beyond that, the prestige value is the highest. People in Japan revere the Yankees, and are already bananas about the idea of Matsuzaka pitching in pinstripes. The possibility of a title is also greatest in New York, although you'd have to argue that the team hasn't demonstrated anything worthy of that impression in recent years. The money is also best in New York. The Yankees will overpay, and market the daylights out of Daisuke. The franchise worth a billion dollars isn't shy when it comes to the green. Hideki Matsui's profile in both countries also helps him fit in more easily.

2. Seattle Mariners

This one is a no-brainer. Japanese owner. Japanese catcher. Japanese superstar soon-to-be centerfielder. There are actually far more Japanese people in the New York metropolitan area than in Seattle, but the profile in the Pacific Northwest is much higher. The AL West is also a less explosive division from an offensive standpoint, so the lineups he'd be facing 18-19 times a year would be easier to manage. It's just a good fit.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

This franchise may be looking to spend. They splashed at the trading deadline and seem inclined to continue in the offseason. The Japanese population in LA is large, and very high profile in Japan. The NL is a weaker league and Matsuzaka would have the benefit of playing the Rockies, D'Backs, and Padres 18-19 times a year, with the pitcher batting in every contest. The precedent of Hideo Nomo would help him translate to the fan base and to the city, and there's every reason to believe he'd do well there.

The other teams have good cases to make, but those three situations make the most sense to me. I'm sure the fans of the other clubs out there will argue, but I'm sticking with my analysis. The final point that I want to address here is a one-by-one commentary on the links you see at the right:

Final 2006 Stats
This is a simple compilation of Matsuzaka's game log from the 2006 campaign. Each start is listed with the accompanying statistics. At the bottom of the chart you'll find many important ratios like ERA, WHIP, K/9, K/BB, and so on.

vs. Japan's Best
This post was written as a way to put Matsuzaka's pitching into context. Many casual observers want to lump him in the same company as Hideki Irabu. I try to show in this article that Daisuke's numbers are in most ways well superior to his contemporaries. The sample I chose to examine was Jim Albright's All 1990's Team and a handful of current aces that I believe make up the elite.

Abuse Points
The metric called PAP, or "Pitcher Abuse Points" is one way of framing the amount of work (or overwork) that a pitcher is subjected to on a start by start, and cumulative basis. It was developed by the good people at Baseball Prospectus, and I've applied it to Matsuzaka's 2006 mid-season numbers here. If you're looking for a reason to be shy in signing this player, this article is for you. It's not the be all and end all of analysis, but the numbers are alarming.

Koshien and 2005
This is a simple set of game logs that highlight Matsuzaka's 2-time participation in the Koshien competition, and a more recent look at his 2005 games. Nothing fancy, but more data to look at.

Crude MLB Projection

This post is likely to be the most controversial of the lot. It's essentially an attempt to translate the 2005 and 2006 season in Japan to MLB equivalents. The process is very rough, and I warn you that I'm no statistician, but I think it's good enough to draw some simple conclusions. The method was borrowed from the aforementioned Jim Albright, but the data set is very small. Take it with a grain of salt, but understand that there's reason to think highly of this pitcher in the Majors.

vs. Pedro
Again, a sexy idea for Matsuzaka supporters, but hardly a meaningful projection to Major League success. I attempt to show how Matsuzaka has dominated Japanese baseball, and how his level of ability in Japan can be examined in the same context as Pedro in the Major Leagues. The K/BB ratio plays a big part in this discussion, and I think even a guarded approach to this information will leave you with an optimistic outlook on Matsuzaka.

vs. MLB's Best 2006
For fun, I tried to imagine the exact 2006 numbers for Matsuzaka being thrust into a Major League context. It's purpose is not to say that the numbers will translate directly and that Matsuzaka is as good as Johan Santana, but rather to demonstrate how dominating he could be even by significantly dumbing down his numbers. If he's even half as good in the Majors as he's been in Japan, he'll still be a frontline starter.

Pacific to MLB Projections
In this post, I attempt to translate the numbers for the top 3 starters of all six teams in the Japanese Pacific League to the American League. I find the league average numbers for pitchers with over 100 innings pitched in both leagues, and create equivalents to translate the Japanese numbers. The flaw is assuming that a league average pitcher in both leagues is of the same quality. The benefit of this info is that it brings us a little bit closer to understanding the separations between the truly elite pitchers in Japan that have a chance to succeed, and those who would likely be overmatched even given a favorable environment.

vs. the World
This is a look at all the games (at least all the games I know of) that Matsuzaka pitched in international competition. It ranges from outings against Chinese Taipei in the WBC to the Cuban National Team on several occasions, and on to the MLB All Stars that toured Japan in 2004. The main value of this information is that it shows a steady level of excellence against whatever lineup is in front of him. Sure, the sample size is small, but it's still informative.

Each one of his 25 starts in the 2006 regular season are detailed at Matsuzaka Watch. Check the links at the right for any particular start. A You Tube video of his May 9th, 14 strikeout outing is available for your enjoyment. Look for other video clips in 2006 game recaps, indicated by the [VIDEO] next to the start in the linkroll. I'll be adding more to this site as we get closer to finding out where he'll be playing in 2007. I'm hoping to bring you an interview or two in the coming weeks to help add depth to my personal observations. Stay tuned and come back as often as possible.

9 Comments:

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Orlandu said...

What makes you think he'll be posted in December? Early November makes a lot more sense from the Seibu Lions standpoint in my opinion. After all, more teams will need to get pitchers in November than in December. And more competition means more money for Seibu.

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Typo....it's been corrected. Thanks.

 
At 12:34 AM, Anonymous Orlandu said...

No problem.

 
At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work
But I'm sure there will still be some ego-centric and narcissistic american baseball fans who'd think Matsuzaka is a bust if he didn't grow up in the states

 
At 3:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to say this again...Matsuzaka will go to whatever team he wants to because the posting system is a JOKE. If his favorite team is the Yankees, and 'HE' has the urge...he WILL play for the Yankees. If 'HE' thinks that Seattle is his best bet, he WILL go to Seattle. That's all it comes down to.

You are all kidding yourselves if you actually think the posting system is legit. The system has more holes than swiss cheese.

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

anonymous,

I respect that you feel that way, but do you have any evidence of that? Make a case. I'll buy it if you convince me.

 
At 3:34 PM, Anonymous ChrisV82 said...

Read this piece by Jon Heyman, SI.com -

"High-ranking Yankees executive Jean Afterman made multiple trips to Japan in their efforts to sign righthanded starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, so the Yankees will definitely be involved in the bidding for the Seibu star. The other teams expected to be in there include the Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Mets. ... Freddy Garcia couldn't be stunned if he's traded at this point, and one player who's close to him said that if he has to go, he wouldn't mind going to New York."

Excitement abound.

 
At 10:11 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

chrisv82,

I'm all over it. The Japanese papers are starting to bubble as well. It's wide open...anyone can win his rights. Someone may spend just obscenely stupid money, but the Yanks will be the hardest working on this front, I assure you.

 
At 8:57 AM, Blogger devin said...

Do you think there is any chance matsuzaka becomes a closer? He gets similar movement on his cut fastball that reminds me a lot of mo rivera. It seems like japanese pitchers do better as relievers(hasagawa, sasaki), and mlb hitters eventually figure out starters like nomo and are able to make adjustments-just look at the japanese/mlb series of november 06, the pitcher kobayashi pitched great for 3 innings, but then got lit up as the mlb players made adjustments and figured him out.

Matsuzaka has now said he would only sign with a new york team, so the mariners and dodgers said they would not participate in the bidding process.

If the bidding between the mets and yankees only tops out at $15 million because so many teams are pulling out of the bidding(which takes place today, wed nov 8) that the lions would not release him because they would make more money by keeping him? If this is the case, how much longer until he becomes a free agent? i am curious to see just how he would do in the big leagues. the cutter and slider look almost unhittable

 

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