Scouting DaisukeI was referred to a nice article in the Japan Times this morning. The feature is written by Jack Gallagher, and is based on consultation with Chicago White Sox super scout, Ray Poitevint. Poitevint is actually the Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President/General Manager, International Operations. He is famous for his work in the Orioles organization where as Western Regional Scouting Supervisor he signed Hall of Famer Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez. He was a long time scout in the Brewers organization, and moved up the ladder to hold a similar post with Milwaukee. He spent a number of years, recently, in the Red Sox organization scouting the Pacific and Japan in particular. During the Hideki Matsui free agent run, he compared the player to Fred Lynn. Over the years, Poitevint has become one of the most well-spoken experts on Japanese talent and chimed in on Matsuzaka. A few of his choice comments:
"He may eventually be a No. 1 starter. If you are looking at a first-division ball club, that has a good pitching staff already, you are looking at him maybe being your third starter at the outset," Poitevint said by telephone from his California home recently. "If he stays healthy, by the second year he would be at least your second starter. He has all of the ability. It has to do with the non-physical things and the adjustments."
That's a fair and conservative prediction from a guy that's been watching Japanese baseball for 40 years. I think there's also the possibility that he can come in as a #2 right away and take off from there. Poitevint goes on to say:
"Physically, he could help any team. He is an American-type pitcher. He has the kind of stuff that American major-league pitchers have. "He is not coming with great movement, or deception on his changeup, or anything of that nature. He is just a good, solid pitcher."
I agree with this point as well, with the exception that his slider has as good a movement in the zone as any slider in baseball. Later in his discussion of the pitch selection that Matsuzaka features, he also fails to praise that pitch:
"When we scout, we rank them from two to eight. Five means average, six is above average, seven is good, eight is excellent. "Matsuzaka is a 'six' on everything. He is above average. He doesn't have the fastball of Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens -- which were 'eights.' "There are some 'eight fastballs' in Japan, but Matsuzaka doesn't have one. "He has an above-average fastball with some movement on it. I think he is good enough that he doesn't have to put the wear and tear on his arm that he does by throwing so many different pitches." "The pitches that he has command of are the slider, forkball, changeup, the four-seam fastball -- which is a riding-type fastball with increasing velocity, the two-seam fastball -- which has some sink. All of those pitches are above average.
In my humble, and significantly less experienced opinion, Matsuzaka's fastball is a 'seven' more often than he is perhaps being given credit for. Poitevint talks about the fastball being 141 to most guys with a little extra that notches it up to 147-150 against the big boys. That means he throws an 87-88 MPH fastball to most guys and notches it up to 91-93. I just don't see that. Unless we're watching a different guy. Every game I watch has Matsuzaka up around 147(91-92) to most guys with a ceiling of around 153(95) against tough hitters in big spots. It may seem like a small discrepancy, but it's a huge difference actually. A guy who throws an 88 MPH fastball with little movement is throwing batting practice. That is MLB home run speed. I don't recall seeing any of Daisuke's fastballs that low on the gun.
His slider is an 'eight'. No one throws a wicked slider that buckles knees better than Matsuzaka. To call his slider 'above average' is like calling Derek Jeter's girlfriends 'alright looking'. Aside from those points, I think he's right. The rest of the repetoire is 'above average' and occasionally good. Poitevint makes some other excellent points about the wear and tear that might make teams worry. He recommends that anyone looking to shell out big money should give him a thorough physical. He also praises Matsuzaka's bulldog mentality. He is a mentally tough, and some say cocky, young player. The spotlight doesn't faze him, and being in a jam isn't going to have him pacing around the mound with jitters. That much is universally agreed upon. No Irabu or Contreras choke jobs from Daisuke. The mental part has been mastered. The final point that I'll quote from Poitevint is this:
"Unless his control falters, he will have success. Only injuries will prevent him from being a No. 1 to No. 3 starter."
There you have it. My only objection was to the assessment of his fastball and slider. I think he's better than Poitevint says, but that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.