Closeup GendaiThis 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.