Friday, April 13, 2007

Closeup Gendai

This has been a very busy week, and as such I haven't had enough time to completely recap the performance of our subject, Daisuke Matsuzaka, against the Seattle Mariners. I promise it will be up within the next day or two. In the meantime, I thought I'd briefly share a thought or two on the game, and tell you about a very interesting program I watched last night.

7 innings, 8 hits, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts, 3 earned runs

That's called a "Quality Start" in baseball circles, and that's what the Red Sox got from Matsuzaka on a night when his best stuff didn't arrive in time for the game. It's interesting how high everyone on both sides of the Pacific has set the bar for Daisuke that people are generally lukewarm on his Fenway debut. It wasn't so long ago that people were regularly heard wondering aloud if he'd be a huge disappointment, and now we're conditioned to say, "Meh." when he doesn't throw a shutout. No, he wasn't sharp. It is worth noting, however, that the Red Sox offense is expected to score 5+ runs a game this season, and a performance like the one we witnessed really is good enough to win more than 60% of the time under Pythagorean Win Expectations.

The issue so far this season has been the inconsistency of the Matsuzaka slider. That pitch is one of the most fearsome and unhittable pitches ever seen, but has been absent on too many occasions since the start of Spring Training. I've seen one or two of his world class sliders in the games he's pitched. That brings me to the program I saw last night. It's an NHK regular feature called "Closeup Gendai" which means "Closeup Today", with "Today" indicating modern times, rather than the day in question. The host of this excellent program is one of my favorite journalists in any language, Hiroko Kuniya. Kuniya is a graduate of Brown University with majors in international relations and international economics. She speaks both English and Japanese and has worked on both sides of the Pacific. She is brilliant, actually.

On this evening, her guests in studio were Tsuyoshi Yoda (yes, Yoda), a former Japanese Rookie of the Year for Lotte, and current NHK pitching analyst, and Robert Whiting, author of "You Gotta Have Wa" and "The Meaning of Ichiro" among other excellent publications. The topic was Daisuke Matsuzaka and his debut for the Red Sox. The trio discussed a number of things, ranging from the significance of a move of this kind by a Japanese ace to the United States, his prospects for success, his 10 strikeout debut, and his recent matchup with Ichiro. The most compelling portion of the discussion was the analysis of Matsuzaka's slider. An astrophysicist chimed in via taped presentation on the differences between the NPB and MLB baseballs, and the more slippery leather of the US version. He showed how it is effecting the rotation of Daisuke's slider, and Yoda (in his ever so wise way) demonstrated the adjustment that Matsuzaka would have to make with his thumb to get the bite back on his famed out pitch.

Whiting made a very good account of himself in Japanese, as one would expect, and helped to paint a picture of the Major League expectations and the frenzy on US soil over the Japanese hero. Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus also made a cameo by tape, and the 12-9 PECOTA-projected record was featured as a starting point for expectations that may have to be moved upward as we see more of Daisuke.

It was a great roundtable, and I learned a lot. I'll give you the recap soon. Stay tuned.


At 12:07 AM, Blogger miz said...

very good analysis and info. keep up the good work, man.

one thing that made me very proud as a japanese-american is how much attention they gave to the japanese players, japanese fans and japanese media during daisuke's fenway opener.

i couldn't believe what i was seeing. it made me very proud that the american media was making an effort to show japan in a good light through the vehicle of baseball.

in seattle, where i was born, it was amazing to see little leaguers of all races imitating the warmups, stance and seriousness of ichiro after he joined the mariners.

finally, asian-american kids have real sports heroes to look up to in america. heroes that go beyond stereotypes and are competing not only at the highest level of today's sports arena, but competing among the best in history (at least in ichiro's case).

as for daisuke's fenway start... in any other circumstance, it would probably have been enough to win the game. i'm sensing a rivalry brewing, not between ichiro and daisuke but between felix and daisuke. also the fact that the loss was to the mariners softens the bite a little, at least for me. :)

looking forward to your indepth write up of the game.

At 12:52 AM, Anonymous gj from watertown said...

You are absolutely correct that this was a quality start. I'm sure if you're diminishing your own point by following what you call a "That's what's called a quality start..." with "in baseball circles."

This actually goes to my initial point that the perception of Matsuzaka's success will be relative in Boston sports minds. Relative to what? Relative to impossible expectations.

If you monitored fan reaction to DM's first Fenway start, or at least listened to local sports show callers and watch local sports coverage, you would have seen fans acting rather disappointed. They came to Fenway expecting a fire-breathing, human-eating dragon, and instead got... a quality start.

I've admitted underestimating DM's talent and it remains to be seen whether or not I've underestimated his psychological armor. I'm going to ask you to consider the possibility that you may need to reconsider your estimation of the expectations of the Boston Sports media and Red Sox nation.

My measure of DM's success will not be a level, rationale diagnosis of his stats at the end of the year. It will be a subjective verdict on the pulse of the fans and media in this city. It won't be impossible to measure this - it will be quite easy, actually. We wear our hearts on our sleeves when it comes to the Sox around here, and you will be able to sense the mob coming at the end of the season...

To behead him... or to carry him on their shoulders.

At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great blog and great discussions here always.

dice-k had a decent outing which was definitely good enough to pick up a win for boston 60-70% of the time (especially when they play at home). Dice was pretty composed from what I could tell. he didn't really sweat when the pressure was on and found ways to get himself out of jams. he did manage to fan a few, and he kept ichiro from getting on base.

Dice-k is a real deal: a very good young pitcher with great skills and mental strength. However, to watertown's point, i think fans should go easy with these incredibly high expectations.

If you read the stuff written about dice-k before his first game at fenway, you would almost *expect* him to throw a game that looks as impressive as felix's near no-hitter.

Again, i think the story that night really belongs to felix. with the way he was pitching, no one in the major could beat him, at least on that night. look, felix sucked last year, but he made some adjustments. he's looking pretty good so far. the point is it might take some time for dice-k to establish himself here.

Another good example is Ching-Ming Wang. While you can argue whether he has REALLY good stuff, his record got progressively better each season. Certainly no one expected him to win almost 20 last year… a pleasant surprise is a lot better than bitter disappointments!

I don't think it's wrong to be optimistic about dice’s abilities; he is very good, but overhyping him won’t help him adjusting to games here any faster.

At 6:22 AM, Blogger miz said...

funny can't find any blogs on ching-ming wang. maybe it's chinese censorship at work.

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


wang is not from china, he's taiwanese, and, though i hate to sound like a boring history teacher, taiwan is not governed by china despite all the crazy chinese rhetoric you might hear. :)

a somewhat related interesting fact: japanese introduced baseball to taiwan during their 50 yrs of occupation before WWII.

if you can read traditional chinese charaters, search for "王建民" on the web, you might see blogs about him... i am too lazy to look, i just go to youtube.

in general, taiwanese players today are still a level below japanese pro league, but some of the best taiwanese players are good enough to play in japan, and a few young players are in the farm system of the mlb. obviously wang is a huge exception, after having his success with the yankees last year.

i hope the quality of taiwan's pro players will continue to improve, so more of them will become relevant to the major league that is becoming more internationalized in recent years.

for me, this blog is really the business! :) best writing on asian baseball - in english - on the web. only if someone can cover korean pro baseball too though. i was very impressed with the korean team during wbc, but i am not familiar with their mega stars that can come over here and impress the fans.


At 11:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ichiro is sucking big time. He struck 3 more times against the Rangers.

Send him back to Japan; he's getting over the hill. Maybe, Japan can give the Mariners a different import player as a substitute.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Dorasaga said...

Hi, Mike,

And perhaps other folks here can help me with this problem. We all should know that 2008 will be the last year baseball be played in the Olympic Games (Games). Even with WBC available, I still think current baseball fans and potential fans across borders need another event as globally popular and renown as the Olympics. The Games will provide a stage for more talents from Japan, Cuba, or even the younger baseball environment of Australia, Ghana, and Netherland, and be an incentive for potential players and fans to keep on supporting baseball.

Now, Chicago was just elected by US Olympic Committee as the pennant racer representing the States for the 2016 Games.

I've been thinking if Chicago will host 2016 Games, then with all rights due to do this, will install baseball back to the Olympics.

So, I wonder if we should endorse Chicago to be the ultimate host of 2016, or maybe there are simply less fans who care about Olympics and baseball on an international level?

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Edwin said...

As much attention that has been given to Matsuzaka and Igawa, Iwamura Akinori has just slid under the radar.

Sure, I'll give that Iwamura plays for the D-Rays, and that will always diminish a player's exposure. But I'll take a great fielding 3B batting 0.395, with 11 R, 3 RBI's and 3 SB's after 12 games. It's not the power numbers you'd want to see from a 3B, but I think it's still good nonetheless.

At 9:10 AM, Blogger miz said...

hey thanks for the info about wang. and yes, i do hear a TON of one-china rhetoric online. i hope wang has a great season, always enjoyed watching him play.


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