At stake in the final regular season start of Matsuzaka's season was the Pacific Division crown. If Seibu had won and Nippon Ham lost, the Lions would edge the Fighters by percentage points in the final margin. Who would you rather have on the mound than Daisuke Matsuzaka? How did he fare in this high pressure situation?
The answer is......terribly. In an unfortunate turn of events, Matsuzaka saved his worst for last. Over the course of the entire season the young ace had tossed 2 clunkers in his 24 previous starts. One start was also a two-thirds of an inning affair that ended thanks to a tight groin. 24 previous starts, 2 stinkers and a minor injury. His last loss was on August 2nd against these same Lotte Marines. In that game he gave up 3 runs over 8 innings, so lack of offense was to blame. The loss before that was two starts earlier on July 15th....also against Lotte. In that outing he gave up 1 run over 8.2 innings, so again lack of run support. Going back further, we find a loss on June 2nd against the Yomiuri Giants in which he gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, over 6. Finally, Matsuzaka coughed up a game in his first start of the season, against SoftBank, when he gave up 1 run over 8.
As you can see the 4 games he lost before tonight we all stellar performances. Only an 11 hit, 7 run (5 earned) outing against Yokohama looked worse than tonight. His other stinker was a 4.1 inning, 4 run job that was cut short before he had a chance to recover. Let's get to the grizzly details.
5 innings, 6 runs (all earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, 2 hit batsmen and only 3 strikeouts.
Ouch. Way to come up small in a big spot Daisuke. The game began well as Matsuzaka struck out the first two batters and induced a weak grounder to short for a fast 1-2-3 first. He then followed with an equally impressive 1-2-3 second on a grounder to third, a lazy flyball, and a pop out to third in foul territory. That's when the fairy tale ends. In the third inning 2005 Japan Series MVP Toshiaki Imae led off the inning with a line drive single to left. One out later Matsuzaka hit centerfielder Akira Otsuka, a .244 #9 hitter. Leadoff man, and WBC standout, Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled on a line drive to center and the inning was set up. Bases loaded, one out and the heart of the order coming to the plate. The rest of the inning went:
Kazuya Fukuura - groundball single to left scoring 2 Tomoya Satozaki (WBC Best 9 Catcher) - walk Benny Agbayani - bases loaded walk scoring 1 Shouichi Omatsu - infield single to second scoring 1
As fast as can be, Seibu and Matsuzaka were in a 4-0 hole. His control was noticeably absent as he was behind every hitter in the sequence. In the fourth, Daisuke's control was back and he only allowed a little bloop single with no further damage. 4-0 is a blemish on his statistical record and a difficult blow to a Seibu team watching Nippon Ham with the lead on the scoreboard, but a good Matsuzaka closing the Marines down the rest of the way would give the offense a chance.
It was not to be tonight. After getting the leadoff man, Fukuura, to pop out to third, Matsuzaka hit his second man of the night. Tomoya Satozaki has been a Matsuzaka killer all year after catching him in the World Baseball Classic and while he didn't get a hit in this situation, he took advantage of the wildness that Daisuke displayed and got on base. It appeared as though Seibu would get out of the jam as Agbayani flew out for the second out of the inning, but a line drive double to center by Omatsu and a groundball single up the middle by Imae put 2 runs on the board and sealed the deal for Matsuzaka and the Lions.
It was only the 2nd and 3rd batters of the year he's hit, I believe. Last season he hit 10 batters, but his control has been very good this year. I suppose the regression to the mean occurred at the most inopportune moment. Nippon Ham now sits in 1st and can clinch with a win or a tie tomorrow. Let's take a look at the season stats and put them into perspective:
It would have been nice to see Matsuzaka finish his final regular season in Japan with a sub-2.00 ERA, but 2.13 isn't too shabby. Since the start of the 2003 season, Matsuzaka has an ERA of 2.50 and a WHIP of 1.067 over 741.1 innings pitched. During that 4 year period he has struck out 768 batters, which amounts to a 9.32 K/9 ratio. His 4 year K/BB ratio is a stellar 4.09. This year it stands at 6.06 even with the final flop.
Next up is some kind of playoff appearance. If Seibu gets a bye, Matsuzka will pitch once before any potential Japan Series. If Nippon Ham earns the bye tomorrow, you'll see Matsuzaka pitch in the opening series with SoftBank before any further starts down the road. One playoff start is assured, with a potential 3 or 4 should the Lions reach the Japan Series and go 7. Only the games on the field will decide it at this point. I will continue to cover the playoffs game by game here. Each Seibu game has some bearing on Matsuzaka's future, so whether he takes the mound or not, I'll be there to cover the story.
I will also revise the links in the right hand column. You will see a link to each of his 2006 starts, plus some additional links to important metrics-based projections that I've done and so on. Until the playoffs then.....Go Lions.
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.
Before I get into the main feature here, a few short points:
1. Peter Gammons wrote a nice piece about his illness and subsequent recovery. It is a heartfelt thank you to those who worried about him and helped him fight his way back. He takes a moment to comment on baseball near the end, and seems to think that Matsuzaka to the Yankees is a forgone conclusion. I hardly think that's true, but he must have his reasons for saying so, beyond the obvious. I'm sure we'll hear more as the season closes and the posting period begins.
2. A lot of Red Sox bloggers and bulletin boards have started to link to me. The same can be said for Cubs fans. Thanks for the support folks. You know my allegiance is with the Yankees, and I would give my right arm to see Daisuke in Bombers' pinstripes next year, but I'm also very happy as a Matsuzaka fan that you have all entered the arena. Welcome.
Now for the main attraction.
In an attempt to normalize the numbers between the Japanese Pacific League and the American League, I compiled the numbers to date for the 2006 season of all pitchers with 100+ innings pitched to their names. I use these leagues as my sample because Matsuzaka is most frequently associated with the AL, and the Pacific League is the half of NPB with a designated hitter, making the samples a bit more equivalent. That sample included 54 American Leaguers and 23 Pacific Leaguers. It's not a perfect 1:1 ratio, but it is large enough to draw some basic conclusions about what we might expect from a player in the Pacific League should he enter the AL as a starter.
The following table represents the league average 100+ inning pitcher in both leagues. It also included a "per 9 inning" set of ratios to compare the numbers on a more even footing, and a conversion rate for some Equivalent Averages I'll use later. I'll take the next step after you've had a chance to digest the numbers below, and I've made a few comments.
These numbers can be understood by referring to a series of pieces written by Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus on the Japan to MLB conversions. Read the piece to get yourself up to speed on the educated reasoning on the high level of Japanese play as compared to the Majors, but I can sum it up for you quickly here. Davenport, and many other SABRmetricians, have concluded that Japanese baseball is generally closer to the Major League level than it is to AAA. Many believe Japan is a kind of AAAA league, but the BP guys have placed NPB even closer to the Bigs than that.
By my personal estimation, the difficulty in scouting Japan is that there are scores of Major League caliber players mixed in with guys that would struggle at the AAA level in the US. It's not that the league as a whole is AAAA, but rather that each team has some below replacement level players eating up space. On a whole, the stars in Japan will fare very well according to the metrics. The numbers you see above show that a league average pitcher in the AL is roughly the equivalent of a league average pitcher in Japan's Pacific League. There is a slightly favorable set of ratios in the Pacific, mainly due to the playing style and the presence of replacement level players on each team. I've used the "per 9 inning" ratios to build conversion rates that I will apply to a handful of pitchers in Japan, including Daisuke Matsuzaka. I contend that these pitchers would approach the EQAs I am producing once inserted into a Major League rotation. All statistics are projected out to a 200 IP standard.
I see a couple of things that need a bit of tweaking right away. The ERAs seem to be a bit low, even given the conversions. I think there is a park factor element that has kept the Japanese numbers a bit on the low side, as well as the amount of sacrifice bunting that goes on. That having been said, I think it's fair to say that the viability of most of these pitchers as American League prospects is great at the top, but tapers off to average and below fairly quickly. Let's examine the sample against the AL average pitcher.
There are 11 pitchers on this list who fare better than the AL average. That amounts to about half the frontline pitchers in the Pacific League. If we add a quarter to a third of a run to all the ERAs, we only eliminate two pitchers from the + side of things. Seibu rookie Hideaki Wakui, and Nagisa Arakaki of SoftBank get booted. Even with a margin of error that would account for some extra run production, the Japanese #1s and 2s fare well in the AL.
Again, 10 players find themselves above the AL average in WHIP when we do our math. A slight bump in these numbers cuts the sample to around 7 players, which isn't great, but still looks good for the aces.
3. Hits per 9
11 guys are again on the plus side. Add another hit per 9 to everyone and you whittle the number to 6. I would guess that this number, more than any of the others would become inflated and help to raise the ERAs a bit. Major Leaguers swing away and Al batters especially never bunt.
4. HRs per 9
9 players are above AL average in this category, but I think the 3rd starters may see more of a power surge in their balls put in play in the AL and I think most of these guys will be hurt by the huge sluggers and live ball in the Majors. The DHs in the Pacific League are often good hitters, but there aren't so many Mark McGwires running around Japan.
5. BBs per 9
There are 8 players that qualify as + control pitchers here. I think the general trend among Japanese starters is that they possess good control and make hitters swing the bat. The problem is, players generally oblige and you see a lot less working the count in Japanese ball. The style of play that has been made popular by high OBP clubs that have had success may inflate these walk totals, although I think it's a fairly accurate sample.
6. K-Rate (Ks per 9)
11 pitchers feature better than average K-rates in the American League. I think there's a big fall-off from the top guys to the league average pitchers that are near the bottom of the list. I have a hard time believing that Ryan Glynn would have a better K-Rate than C.C. Sabathia, Randy Johnson, or Roy Halladay. Dropping these numbers doesn't hurt the two aces too much, but evens the playing field to MLB standards just a bit.
7. K/BB Ratio
I love this stat and I think this is where we see the value of Daisuke Matsuzaka against his peers. A 5.31 K/BB ratio would put him hundredths of a point behind Johan Santana, and the rest of the field would find themselves gradually tumbling down the list with the Paul Byrds and Carlos Silvas of the world.
When we consider Daisuke Matsuzaka in this equation, and Kazumi Saito for that matter, we have to recognize that there is top shelf talent in Japan that can dominate AL batters. I would argue that, including the Central League, there are probably 10-15 pitchers that would fare better than the MLB average. Remember, that means simply that there are a dozen or so Japanese starters that could come to the US and avoid embarrassing themselves every 5 days. If you really examine the sample of players that could come in and dominate at the front of a rotation, you're talking about 6-8 guys that would make an MLB top 3, and 4 or 5 that could front a rotation. That sounds reasonable, and helps the case that Matsuzaka is a #1 in the American League.
The final word on this is that Kazumi Saito turns 29 this year. Hiroyuki Kobayashi is 28. Shingo Ono is 31. The rest of these players are very young, including Matsuzaka and you might see the next generation of Japanese stars emerging from this list as some of the old guard faces a decline period. Provided the arms stay healthy, a handful of these guys may actually get a chance to pitch in the Majors before their 30 birthdays, and maybe sooner.
In the heat of a fierce three-way battle for first place, Daisuke Matsuzaka took the hill against SoftBank, the team tied for second in the standings. Whoever emerged victorious tonight would hang onto second, dropping the loser into third place. Earlier in the evening, the Nippon Ham Fighters, who recently passed Seibu for the division lead, bested bottom dwelling Rakuten 2-1 in a game where they were out hit 10-5. It was up to Matsuzaka to lead the charge and keep first place a half game out of reach in the standings.
Daisuke started strong, with a 1-2-3 first inning, before giving up a leadoff double in the second to WBC star and former Triple Crown winner Nobuhiko Matsunaka. SoftBank's cleanup hitter has fared well against Matsuzaka this season, but his extra base start to the second frame went wasted as his teammates went down in order to close a scoreless inning. Seibu strung together a hit, a walk, and two groundouts to scratch across the game's first run in the second. The third inning, however, was perilous for the Seibu ace as back-to-back two out hits spelled the first real danger of the game. Working out of further trouble, Matsuzaka got his man to pop up holding the score at 1-0.
The home team took Daisuke's cue and got some runs on the board thanks to a huge 2-run bomb from superstar Alex Cabrera, his 31st on the season. Getting the lead early for Matsuzaka has been a recipe for success for the Lions in 2006, and he didn't disappoint. Working a 1-2-3 fourth, Daisuke found himself in the position of having to pick up his teammates in the fifth. A leadoff error put a man on for the Hawks. As he's done all year, Matsuzaka retired the side in order, 1-2-3 stranding his man and keeping the shutout intact.
The Hawks are a very good team and did not go down without a fight. WBC shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, a slap hitter speedster, lined a single to center to start off the sixth inning. One out later, Matsunaka snuck a ground ball past third base to set things up for the number 5 hitter, Julio Zuleta. He made his chance count with an RBI line drive to center field, making the game 3-1 in favor of Seibu. The first chink in Matsuzaka's armor was made. Fortunately for the Lions that was all SoftBank could muster. The seventh inning returned to form for the young pitching phenom, as he retired the Hawks 1-2-3.
The Lions found a way to get an insurance run against SoftBank in the 7th, as they lined up a hit, a walk, an error, and a bases loaded free pass to raise their lead to 4-1. This was a sloppy game by both teams as SoftBank committed 3 errors to the Lions 2. The Lions second error cost Matsuzaka a run in the eighth as Zuleta was again able to bring a runner home on a ground out. No problem. Seibu closed things out in the home half of that inning with a huge RBI double by Cabrera for his 3rd and 4th runs batted in on the day, and his 99th and 100th on the season. This brings me to the lone troubling aspect of this ballgame....
With a 6-2 lead and the bottom of the SoftBank lineup coming to the plate, Lions manager Tsutomu Ito sent Matsuzaka to the mound for the 9th inning despite having thrown 132 pitches. It boggles the mind that Japanese baseball people remain so clueless to the danger of this kind of madness, but nevertheless Daisuke put the Hawks to rest on 13 pitches, ending things at 145 all told, and his 17th win. The final line was one earned run over 9 complete. 7 hits, no walks, 8 strikeouts. He's now won his last 6 starts down the stretch, and has 14 complete games on the year. The updated stats and ratios can be found below, as well as some video highlights at the bottom of the post. (click stats to enlarge):
Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Daisukeeeee. Happy birthday to you. On his 26th birthday, Daisuke Matsuzaka took the hill against fellow playoff qualifier Nippon Ham. It's a three way race for the 1st round bye, as Seibu, Nippon Ham, and Softbank are all within a game of one another. Fortunately, Seibu is hanging onto it's slim lead. Matsuzaka leading the charge late in the season is a powerful advantage, although Softbank ace Kazumi Saito is sporting a sub-2.00 ERA and pulling a few rabbits out of his hat as well.
How did the birthday boy do tonight? I always ask that silly question in my recaps. The answer is always the same. Complete game victory. This one was of the shutout variety. Nippon Ham only managed 5 hits and 2 walks against the ace, as he struck out 10. He tossed a hefty 121 pitches over 9 innings, which is actually a pretty dominant feat. Here's the gory details.
Akira Eto, hitting .229, started at DH and immediately made an impact by following a hit batsman with a resounding grand slam in the 3rd inning. The logic of starting a DH with a .229 batting average escapes me, but you have to love a guy who produces a big fly in that situation. Especially when it follows a teammate getting plunked. Matsuzaka made that big blow stand up as he scattered 5 hits and two walks over 9. I make that point again, because he really did scatter them. He had two baserunners on in the 3rd, and never more than a single man on first in every other inning. He was never in danger.
The 8th inning saw some insurance runs cross the plate for Matsuzaka, as his teammates produced a leadoff hit, back to back walks, and back to back RBI singles to extend to 6-0. That's where the game ended as Daisuke worked a 1-2-3 9th, culminating in a swinging strikeout of human mannequin, Shinjo. It sealed the 16th win of the season for the young ace, which is the rough equivalent of 19 wins in the Major Leagues. His ERA is now 1.93 after getting his 5th straight win. He has also put up double figure Ks in 3 of his last 4 starts. This is the kind of toughness teams covet in their high paid stars. The heat of a pennant race has brought out the best in the Lions' #1 guy.
UPDATE: Reader, Krish, has posted a pitch-by-pitch rundown of the game in the comments section, featuring batter, pitch type, balls and strikes, and speed. Enjoy!
Word is the Mets have entered the scouting of Matsuzaka. A dozen teams had scouts in the stands for this game, and you know they liked what they saw. The Mets have money and have been very aggressive, so it would seem there's a bigger race emerging for Daisuke's services. Whoever pays Seibu to negotiate with him will get the benefit of the following statistics. Pay attention to the ratios at the bottom. (click to enlarge):
In the time off between starts, I like to do a news update or another analysis type feature. Today, in the absence of any real news, I'll take a look at the pitching ratios that Matsuzaka has posted so far this season and put them in a Major League context. What you will see is the full stat line below, followed by an MLB Top 10 list for each individual category. Matsuzaka will be sandwiched somewhere in his appropriate place. Before I start, I'd like to briefly say that all 3 Pacific League playoff teams have been decided. Seibu, Softbank, and Nippon Ham have all clinched playoff berths and will fight it out for the 1st round bye. Now for the feature:
Let's start with the most recognized statistic associated with pitchers, ERA. With a 2.04 ERA, I'm sure we'll find Daisuke at the top of the MLB comparison chart. Let's look.
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka (2.04) 2. Johan Santana (2.75) 3. Chris Carpenter (2.97) 4. Brandon Webb (3.00) 5. Roy Oswalt (3.15) 6. Justin Verlander (3.19) 7. Josh Johnson (3.20) 8. Roy Halladay (3.21) 9. Scott Kazmir (3.24) 10. C.C. Sabathia (3.24) 11. Bronson Arroyo (3.29)
Okay. So he's the top pitcher on the list. If you add a full run to his ERA, he ranks 5th. If you add 1 run and a half, he ranks tied for 15th (Lackey), and add 2 runs and he's 33rd, ahead of Schilling, Bonderman, and Jake Peavy to name a few. Mind you, that's adding 2 full runs to his ERA, and he's still the 13th best ERA in the American League! How about WHIP. Is there anyone who qualifies that has a lower WHIP than 0.918?
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka (0.92) 2. Johan Santana (0.98) 3. Chris Carpenter (1.04) 4. Roy Halladay (1.10) 5. Mike Mussina (1.12) 6. John Smoltz (1.15) 7. Brandon Webb (1.16) 8. Dave Bush (1.16) 9. Chris Capuano (1.16) 10. C.C. Sabathia (1.17) 11. Roy Oswalt (1.17)
Hmmmm.....there he is again. Add 2 hits and a walk for every 9 innings he pitches and he would have a 1.25 WHIP, and rank 21st in MLB and 10th in the AL. Right now he looks like the Johan Santana of Japanese professional baseball. Let's move on to Batting Average Against.
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka (.195) 2. Carlos Zambrano (.212) 3. Johan Santana (.212) 4. Matt Cain (.213) 5. Chris Young (.226) 6. Chris Carpenter (.228) 7. Scott Olsen (.235) 8. Jason Schmidt (.236) 9. Josh Johnson (.238) 10. Scott Kazmir (.240) 11. Jake Peavy (.242)
Wow. At the top again. Whaddaya know? It's clear that the level of competition is a major factor here, but the thing you understand very quickly is how dominant he is against his league. If you add 50 points to his BAA he sits at .245 and is tied for 13th place in the Majors with Sabathia, Smoltz, and Ervin Santana. That's fine, but how do guys fare against him when it comes to On Base Percentage Against?
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka (.234) 2. Johan Santana (.256) 3. Chris Carpenter (.275) 4. Mike Mussina (.282) 5. Roy Halladay (.283) 6. John Smoltz (.291) 7. Bronson Arroyo (.292) 8. Chris Capuano (.292) 9. C.C. Sabathia (.293) 10. Brandon Webb (.296) 11. Roy Oswalt (.298)
This is getting silly. He's 64 points better than the 10th place Major Leaguer. Add 75 points to his OBPA and he posts a .309 and ranks 23rd, tied with Greg Maddux. Here's a nice SABR metric to chew on, Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). Let's bet he's first here too. Not too much of a stretch at this point, I know.
1. Chris Young (.242) 2. Kenny Rogers (.246) 3. Carlos Zambrano (.250) 4. Daisuke Matsuzaka (.254) 5. Matt Cain (.254) 6. Josh Beckett (.254) 7. Chris Carpenter (.257) 8. Jeff Francis (.259) 9. Ervin Santana (.260) 10. Randy Johnson (.260) 11. Clay Hensley (.260)
There you go. I was quick on the draw. Matsuzaka is near the top, but a few guys have had a bit more success. For the record, 12th place on this particular list is Johan Santana followed by Barry Zito, Kris Benson, and Roy Halladay. Add 25 points to his average here and Daisuke is tied for 32nd with Mike Mussina. Now that he's been dethroned in one category, I'm prepared to see him fall even further on the K/9, or K-Rate, list.
1. Scott Kazmir (10.14) 2. Daisuke Matsuzaka (9.86) 3. Johan Santana (9.73) 4. Jake Peavy (9.64) 5. Jeremy Bonderman (8.78) 6. Carlos Zambrano (8.77) 7. Brett Myers (8.57) 8. Matt Cain (8.53) 9. Scott Olsen (8.43) 10. Aaron Harang (8.41) 11. Chris Young (8.31)
Impressive. I didn't figure that only one qualifying Major Leaguer struck out 10+ batters per 9. Losing 2 strikouts per 9 would drop Daisuke to 7.86 K/9 and seat him 17th in the Majors, just behind Mussina, and 8th in the AL. Now for my favorite, K/BB. Bet he's up there.
1. Curt Schilling (7.13) 2. Daisuke Matsuzaka (5.97) 3. Johan Santana (5.35) 4. Mike Mussina (4.67) 5. Roy Oswalt (4.53) 6. Chris Capuano (4.41) 7. Dave Bush (4.28) 8. Chris Carpenter (4.27) 9. Dan Haren (4.08) 10. John Smoltz (4.07) 11. Roy Halladay (3.94)
I've written here before that I expect that Matsuzaka's MLB K/BB will be in the 4-5 range in his first season. If that's true, He'd still place on this list of 10 pitchers. I won't bother to rank the GO:AO ratio or his STRESS rating, because the GO:AO is reserved for groundball pitchers, which he is not, and the STRESS rating is something he will lead by about 10 lengths. I will say that within .05 on the GO:AO scale, Matsuzaka finds in desceniding order: Johan Santana, Paul Byrd, Randy Johnson, Scott Kazmir, Javier Vazquez, Jamie Moyer, Jake Peavy, Ramon Ortiz, and Bronson Arroyo.
My point in doing this is not to directly associate his Japanese numbers with MLB players. The samples are very different. The competition is different. No one expects Matsuzaka to jump into the Majors and be better than Johan Santana. My point was to show that spiking his numbers to the point of absurdity still ranks him among the top 20-30 pitchers in the sport in most cases. By giving him a reasonable spike, we see him falling into the top 15 or so. As a power pitcher with great control and movement, he translates a lot better to a higher level than a finesse pitcher. The measurements on his pitches at 95-96 on the fastball and 82-83 on the slider, when combined with the outstanding forkball and change, would also outdo almost every Major Leaguer out there. All of these measurements have me convinced he will translate very well to the #1 role in the Bigs.
Down the stretch they come. The Lions running neck and neck for the Pacific League championship with the Softbank Hawks and Nippon Ham Fighters, sent Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound to face Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines. Lotte is a distant 12.5 games back, but Softbank and Nippon Ham sit 1.5 and 2 games behind Seibu, respectively. The Lions would gain ground on one of those teams with a victory, as they faced off against one another in a pivotal matchup.
The Hawks perservered in their contest by blanking the Fighters 1-0 behind 25 year old starter Tsuyoshi Wada, and former Triple Crown winner Nobuhiko Matsunaka. What would Matsuzaka and the 1st place Lions do tonight? Would there be a letdown as Daisuke went for his 15th victory for the 1st time in 3 years? That's a dumb question. You already know the answer to that.
Matsuzaka was so dominant in his start tonight that he managed to strike out 9 batters, while giving up 3 hits and no walks, over 7 innings. I know. I know. How many pitches did he throw, right? The answer, my friends, is......drumroll please......175. Just kidding. He completed 7 innings of shutout baseball with only 70 pitches. That's 10 pitches an inning. Remember, he struck out 9 batters. That accounts for at least 27 pitches. That means he would have recorded the other 12 outs and on a maximum of 3.3 pitches per batter. That's if all his strikeouts came on 3 pitches. Basically, without precise data, you could say that Matsuzaka threw about 3 pitches to every batter he faced tonight, recording 21 outs and 3 hits. 27 for the strikeouts, 3 for the hits, and 40 for the other 12 outs. Nuts.
The Lions hitters staked the ace to an early 3-0 lead as catcher Tooru Hosokawa blasted a 3 run shot in the top of the 2nd inning off WBC third wheel starter Shunsuke Watanabe....he of the submarine delivery. That's all Daisuke needed as he cruised to a 4-0 win, holding first place and picking up his 15th win on the year against 4 losses. By MLB standards, it's like a player going 18-5. His 9 strikeouts were punctuated by 6 consecutive swinging Ks in a 1-2-3 5th, and an identical 1-2-3 6th.
The funny thing about the outing was that Matsuzaka's dominance came while he was experiencing stiffness in his buttocks. He had a hard time getting loose in the bullpen and quiclkly decided to work from the stretch for the entire game. He was determined to work as efficiently as possible to reduce the number of times he had to throw and utilized everything in his bag of tricks to accomplish the uncanny result. He credits the use of his forkball as an out pitch for the 6 consecutive swinging strikeouts. He and his pitching coach, Mr. Araki, indicated that the discomfort was nothing serious, that Matsuzaka would need minimal medical treatment, that he would practice the next day, and that his next start would go on schedule.
One final note, Yankees scout and former Yokohama High School teammate, Shoichi Kida, was in attendance in the VIP section. The Japanese newspaper played up his high school connections and alluded briefly to their extrememly short stint as Seibu teammates. Doubters beware. This guy is going to cost a pretty penny once Boras finds his lucky victim during the offseason. Click below to see up to date statistics on DM's 2006 campaign:
I'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 Martinez 2/285/28 9/245/27 16/227/25 25/212/31
Greg Maddux 4/273/28 5/259/29
Roger Clemens 12/226/34 16/221/42
Kevin Brown 22/214/31
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:
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:
3.41 (22) 3.02 (23) 4.61 (24) 5.67 (25)
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.