Friday, April 06, 2007

Matsuzaka Watch 2007: Episode 1

A year ago I started to blog about Daisuke Matsuzaka at my Yankees blog Canyon of Heroes. At that time, Matsuzaka Watch was merely a feature that I intended to run after each of his starts, but things gained momentum and I decided that MW merited its own space on the internet. I had to bring people information about this pitcher on a more full time basis. Just following the World Baseball Classic performance that earned him the MVP, I began to write. His first 2006 start was against the SoftBank Hawks. You can read that game recap here at Matsuzaka Watch.

Following the 10-day layoff after the WBC, which included a flight halfway around the world, Matsuzaka wasn’t all that sharp. In that game, he managed to go 8 innings on 126 pitches, giving up 3 runs, while striking out 6. The Watch had begun. A new watch begins here today, as Daisuke took the mound for the first time as a Major League player. The buzz has built to an electric level all over the baseball world, and many of his supporters on both sides of the Pacific held their breath as he pitched, inning by inning. How would this new chapter begin? Would it show the promise and the level of excellence that I’ve been trumpeting here for a year, or would the naysayers have their first feather in the “naysaying” cap? Pedro or Irabu?

By now, I’m sure you know that Matsuzaka went 7 strong innings, giving up 6 hits, one walk, and an earned run (on a home run), while striking out 10 batters on 108 pitches. The Red Sox earned him his first Big League win with 4 runs of support, although 2 would have sufficed. I sped around the internet in the wake of the victory to gauge the reaction of various fans. Red Sox fans were understandably jubilant, while many less-reality based Yankee fans wanted to poke holes in the performance, chalking it up to a AAA quality Royals team. Other, more objective fans were impressed and look forward to more from the Japanese ace. People here in the Far East have been proud and happy all morning, with wall-to-wall news coverage of the outing. I appear to be the only one at work visibly tired from my 3am wake up call, but I’m betting that there are others who are just better at hiding it than me.

As I will do with each Matsuzaka start this season, a batter-by-batter look at the pitcher’s approach will be found just below. You may be able to see the way that Matsuzaka works by following this analysis, and I hope to perform this portion of the recaps in a few different ways. Today, I have chose to go batter-by-batter, rather than inning-by-inning. I’d like to establish the way that Daisuke changes his approach (or doesn’t) to hitters in his 2nd, 3rd and 4th time through the order. In future recaps, you might find standard inning by inning account of the pitching from leadoff to the final out of each frame. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve as well to keep things interesting. Here we go:

David DeJesus (2-3, 1 HR, 1 run, 1 RBI – 11 pitches: 6 fastballs, 5 offspeed)

#1 – fastball (foul), change (high-ball), hanging curve (1B to center)

#2 – slider (inside-ball), curve (inside-ball), fastball (low-strike), fastball (inside-ball), fastball (foul), fastball (high-F8)

#3 – change (middle-strike), fastball (90 mph-HR to right)

Matsuzaka had the most trouble with DeJesus, who seemed to be waiting on the fastball. Daisuke missed with his location on the breaking pitches and DeJesus did what a good leadoff hitter should do, he waited for his pitch. The two hits that DeJesus worked against Matsuzaka were on a hanging curve and a flat fastball. Patience pays off when you get a couple of mistakes to hit. He did.

Esteban German (1-3, 1 strikeout – 13 pitches: 4 fastballs, 9 offspeed)

#1 - fastball (outside-strike), change (high-ball), slider (low/outside in the dirt-ball), fastball (low-G4 force out 4-3)

#2 – change (high-ball), slider (low/outside-swinging strike), fastball (on the hands-foul), slider (bouned-ball), fastball (low- called strike 3)

#3 – curve (strike), change (middle/in-strike), slower change (high-ball), change (low-out in front but popped up for a bloop hit)

Matsuzaka clearly wanted the ball down against German, and he managed to do so for the most part. The first 2 at bats saw Daisuke record outs on low fastballs, while he tried the change as an out pitch in the final at bat. He had German badly fooled, but was unlucky as the ball popped high into the air and dropped between Pedroia and Drew.

Mark Teahan (0-2, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts – 18 pitches: 5 fastballs, 13 offspeed)

#1 - change (low-ball), change (inside-strike), fastball (high-ball), change (outside/low-ball), good change (strike), fastball (outside-ball 4)

#2 - slider (high-ball), slider (strike), slider (high-foul), fastball (high-foul), splitter (down/in-ball), change (low-called strike 3)

#3 - fastball (outside-strike), change (outside-ball), slower change (outside-ball), change (outside-strike), fastball (outside-ball), curve (looking strikeout)

A lack of feel in the first inning forced Matsuzaka into a bad situation. He ended up walking Teahan on 6 pitches, and never really gave himself a chance. In his interviews with Japanese television after the game he remarked that the cold weather gave him some early control problems that worked themselves out as his warmed up later. That was evident as Teahan was sent to the bench looking in his final two at bats. A no contact day for the Royals number three hitter.

Emil Brown (1-3, 2B, 1 strikeout – 6 pitches: 3 fastballs, 3 offspeed)

#1 - curve (high-foul), slider (back to the pitcher-1-6-3 double play)

#2 - fastball (outside-strike), fastball (down-strike), fastball (high cheese-strike three)

#3 - hanging curve (2B to left field)

Brown's approach was clearly to look for his pitch early and hit it hard. He failed miserably in his first two at bats, letting Daisuke off the hook in the 1st inning, and only saw something he could handle on a mistake pitch in the 6th inning. The curve was only marginally effective all day, while the fastball and slider (Daisuke's bread and butter) worked to perfection.

Alex Gordon (1-3, 1 strikeout – 12 pitches: 6 fastballs, 6 offspeed)

#1 - fastball (high-foul), hanging change (F7)
#2 - curve (good low location-strike), slider (inside-swinging strike), fastball (up-ball), fastball (low-ball), fastball (94 mph-broken bat single through short)
#3 - splitter (low-check swing strike), splitter (low-strike), fastball (high-ball), splitter (low-foul), fastball (93 mph-strike three)

Daisuke had a rookie here in a tough spot. Gordon hasn't fared all that well so far in the Majors, and might be pressing. In the second at bat he played the classic game of 0-2 high fastball, but Gordon showed good patience. A broken bat single was the rookie's first Big League knock. Matsuzaka then gave him a very tough look in the third time around with the splitter. It's a pitch that he only started using fairly recently and it looks like a pitch he may be able to use in the Majors more and more.

Ryan Shealy (0-3, 2 strikeouts – 15 pitches: 10 fastballs, 5 offspeed)

#1 - fastball (strike), fastball (inside-ball), fastball (inside-strike), fastball (94 mph low/outside-ball), fastball (outside-line out to right)

#2 - change (outside-strike), fastball (inside-foul), fastball (foul), slider (way outside-ball in the dirt), curve (low-strike three looking)

#3 - fastball (on the hands-foul), slider (high and ugly-ball), fastball (low-foul on a good swing), slider (outside-ugly strike three swinging)

Shealy was a fun matchup. Matsuzaka went predominately fastball to him, and challenged Shealy to catch up. In the second at bat, you see that Daisuke went change to start him off after 5 consecutive fastballs in the first go around. He returned to the fastball, and then sat him down with a combination of the slider and the curve. Nice pitching. The third at bat was similar in that he showed fastball and then worked the slider (his best pitch) to make Shealy look foolish.

Ross Gload (0-3, 2 strikeouts – 11 pitches: 4 fastballs, 7 offspeed)

#1 - fastball (low-ball), fastball (low/in-ball), change (taking-strike), slider (inside-strike), fastball (91 mph outside -swinging strike three)

#2 - hanging change (line out to right)

#3 - curve (strike), slider (low/out-swinging strike), fastball (low-protective swing foul), slider (bounced to the backstop-ball), slider (low-swinging strike three)

Gload had no chance. He tried to stay alive a few times, but I think he had no idea what was coming. He struck out on the fastball outside and the nasty slider, and tried in vain to guess on the first pitch of his second at bat. Matsuzaka never gave him anything easy to hit.

John Buck (1-3, 1 strikeout – 11 pitches: 5 fastballs, 6 offspeed)

#1 - curve (strike), change (strike), fastball (outside-strike three looking)

#2 - curve (outside-strike), fastball (high/higher-swinging strike), fastball (foul), slider (bounced-ball), hanging curve (single to center)

#3 - curve (low-strike), fastball (just outside-ball), fastball (shallow F8)

Matsuzaka had a scouting report of some kind that told him not to throw anything straight with the first pitch to Buck. He featured the curve all three times. Buck was badly fooled along with his other "bottom of the order" compadres, but managed to escape in the second at bat when Matsuzaka foolishly hung a curve after being ahead 1-2. Otherwise, no contest.

Tony Pena, Jr. (0-2 – 10 pitches: 8 fastballs, 3 offspeed)

#1 - fastball (outside-ball), fastball (high-strike), slider (bounced-ball), nice changeup (ground out to the pitcher 1-3)

#2 - fastball (high-ball), fastball (high-ball), fastball (blew it by him-strike), fastball (low-strike), fastball (high/out-foul), fastball (foul), change (ground out to pitcher 1-3)

Pena is a solid rookie, just over from the Braves. He will be a very good player, but he fell for the easiest combination in the Major League book, fastball/change. Both at bats saw him way out in front and grounding out to the pitcher. That was good thinking by Daisuke. Understand the opponent.

There's the recap of game one. I'll keep you posted on more reaction by the fans in Japan, and anything else that may come out in the media related to the debut of Major League Baseball's newest phenomenon.


At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, great work here and at BP! Is this what we should expect to see velocity wise? Or will his fastball improve as the season moves forward? I know velocity isn't everything, but curious never the less.


At 2:06 AM, Anonymous Tully Moxness said...

Very nice recap, Mike!

I wouldn't expect to see Matsuzaka go higher than 92-93 with the occasional ramp up to 95 or 96 when he needs to get a K. I would expect to see even more break on his curve/slider/splitter as the season goes on; based on his outings last year, his slider will get nastier in a couple of months and all of his pitches will acquire more movement.

I saw most of his outings last year, but I haven't seen a ton of video of pre-2006 Daisuke-san. The notable exception is his dominant performance against the MLB all-stars in the 2004 post-season exhibition series; all the so-called 'experts' who doubted him before yesterday needed to do was watch that game to understand why he'll be successful in the US.

Mike, what patterns did you observe in Matsuzaka from previous years? Does he usually start out with less break on his pitches early in the season?

Finally, did anybody else find Paul Splittdorf's numerous butcherings of Daisuke-san's name as amusing as I did? He had more mispronunciations than Matsuzaka has pitches. My fave - 'Dye-sooke Matsu-suzaka'.

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My fave - 'Dye-sooke Matsu-suzaka'.

Better than the "Daisuke Matsui" thing.

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, great work you shoould do this after every Matsuzaka outing!!!

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Hi everyone.

Velocity: Yes. He might get a bit higher on the gun, but he doesn't usually need to. He learned 4 years ago that he doesn't need to hit 95-96 when he can pace his arm better by keeping hitters off balance with his breaking stuff, working off a 92 mph fastball.

Less Break: Not always. He isn't a guy who misses a beat with his routine, so he's usually fairly sharp out of the gate. He was out of shape when he reported in Ft. Myers, so I expect that he's catching up on his pitching, for having worked on his conditioning. Plus, it was FREEZING cold in KC and we all know what the cold does to numb our fingers. Breaking pitches are all about grip. When it gets warmer you'll see that slider biting hitters in half.

I'll be on every outing and give you this kind of detail. Eagerly awaiting Ichiro!

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Matsumiya, K. said...

This is very good news. American major league hitters have only witnessed a glimpse of Matsuzaka's rich repertoire. Matsuzaka only threw *2* changeup pitches in this entire game and his changeup is considered by many as his most devastating offspeed pitch. I also like the fact that he throws less fastballs than usual (in both American and Japanese standards), which means that his predictability is greatly lessened. I'm sure the Royals will scratch their heads again the second time around. It looks like Matsuzaka-san plans to save the best stuff for last.

My question to Mike: In terms of repertoire, has Dice-K added to his pitches since 2000? I ask this because this was the last time Ichiro batted against him.

Keep up the good work!

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Dorasaga said...

To Matsumiya, K:

1999, DiceK entered the pro world (NPB) with a considerably excellent control of four-seam fastball and forkball.

He mastered one new pitch every year: Slider, Changeup, Sinker (or Shootball, the Japanese name of it), Curveball, Cutter, Splitter, and maybe another variation of slider.

So yes, DiceK learned many more pitches after 2000.


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