Matsuzaka Redux: The End is NearThe posting process is underway and we've learned a lot about the field of players in competition for Daisuke's services. I posted a version of this article a few weeks back, entitled "Matsuzaka Redux", and I think it's worth revisiting again. 1000s of people have begin to visit this site with the intrigue of the outlandish bidding war in progress. A little refresher on what this is all about, and who Daisuke Matsuzaka is, seems to be in order. First, what is this blog all about.
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.
To avoid a lengthy recap of the Matsuzaka credentials and background story, I'll refer newcomers to a story I wrote for Pending Pinstripes at the Most Valuable Network. That story should catch you up to speed on who Matsuzaka is, and why many people are falling over themselves trying to acquire him. That brings us to today. Here's where we know:
1. Matsuzaka has been posted.
2. Teams will have until Wednesday, November 8th 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. The winner will be announced immediately.
5. The winner 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 $20-$30 million.
2. Boras will attempt to squeeze as much money as he can.
3. Rumors have that money anywhere from $8-$15 million a season over 3 to 5 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 four seam 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, a forkball, a two seamer, 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):
* Red Sox
A fnumber of teams have reportedly dropped out of the bidding. The Mariners, most prominently, decided that the cost was prohibitive, and some reports suggest that Matsuzaka and Boras have informed a number of clubs that he won't play in their cities. That's unsubstantiated, but likely. The other cities in question are Los Angeles, Baltimore, and San Francisco. I wrote in Matsuzaka Redux that the best situations for him would be the Yankees, Mariners, or Dodgers. Since that time, the Mariners and Dodgers have opted out, prompting me to rethink the situation that will best suit Daisuke from the remaining teams. In my humble opinion, the best situations (in no particular order) 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. New York Mets
The Mets are an exciting young team, with a chance to steal the spotlight from the Yankees. Minaya and company would love to do that, and may need a big time replacement for Pedro Martinez should he retire or be completely unavailable in 2007. The past track record of Japanese players in Queens suggests two things. One, the Mets aren't afraid to enter the Japanese market. Two, they've been burned by the likes of Yoshii, Ishii, Shinjo, and Kaz Matsui. My opinion on this is more favorable to the first point than the second. Some writers have suggested that the Mets won't spend so big on an unknown after their past disappointments. That may be true, but I think Omar Minaya isn't connected to past regimes, and seems to have a good nose for talent. The Mets would do well to sign Matsuzaka, and he's perform very well at Shea.
3. Is there a clear #3?
The Cubs need offense more than anything, so they should probably avoid dumping a truckload of money on one pitcher, but Matsuzaka would do well at Wrigley. Yes, it's a hitters park, but it's also home to a team in the NL Central, which isn't exactly the AL East. Facing the pitcher every few innings would help Daisuke, and being around a competitive manager like Sweet Lou would assure that the team would be out there trying to win every night. It's an improving situation, but not ideal. The Rangers won't be competitive on many nights thanks to a weak rotation, and probably need more than one pitcher to win that division. Matsuzaka would play in a hitters park, and Texas isn't exactly a hotbed of Japanese culture. Boston would be a great situation for Matsuzaka, with an aggressive front office and a good lineup, but I'm not sure the Sox want to splash that much money on him.
Here are some of my earlier posts. There are links to these in the right hand margin, but they are listed here with some comments to clarify or elaborate on my reasoning.
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.
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. I actually think that Daisuke will post a mid-3.00 ERA in his first year, rather than the Cy Young-esque mid-2.00 in this post, but I think he has that kind of potential.
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. An updated chart featuring the years each pitcher played from age 22-25 is featured just below. Pedro pitched at this age from 1994-1997 and Matsuzaka from 2003 to the present. (click to enlarge):
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. When the posting is complete and the winner is announced, I'll be back with a big post. In the meantime, look for some small contributions with any news or rumors that are floating out there. Take them with a grain of salt, as I don't believe anyone knows anything.....