Monday, April 02, 2007

The Spring

The Spring has wrapped with a final Matsuzaka go round. It wasn't his best performance, but it was certainly enough to get by. Matsuzaka's problem the last 2 starts has been his abnormally high walk totals. It is apparent that he is displeased by the lack of control he's displayed after being able to hit any spot he's wanted for the last 3 years. I've been saying since he signed with the Sox that there will be times when we are all left scratching our heads about a game, as a result of the adjustments he'll be making to a new league, a new culture, and a heavy travel routine.

The final tune up for Daisuke was a 4 inning affair in which he gave up only 2 hits, while striking out 7. The downside was the 4 walks and 3 runs that he gave up to Philadelphia, including a 2-run homer to red hot Pat Burrell. That's the good and the bad of it. We'll see what kind of fireworks the man from Yokohama brings with him in his regular season opener against KC. I'm guessing you'll see the best of Daisuke Matsuzaka in that start and a lot of people will be super impressed. Let the naysayers do their nay saying now, while they can.

The last thing I wanted to do this Spring, before things get going, is compare the exhibition numbers of Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa. You all know I'm a Yankee fan and that I'm hoping for good things from Igawa. As I've been singing the praises of Matsuzaka to anyone who will listen, I've also been talking up Igawa. Yankee fans need to hear me tell them that Igawa isn't in the same ballpark as Matsuzaka, while Sox fans need to be told that he's a legitimate MLB starter, who is more than a consolation prize. The truth lies in the middle. Matsuzaka is a brilliant once in a generation talent. Igawa is a strong Major League #4, with #3 potential. Here's the stat lines:

Igawa's enemy is the walk. Always has been. Matsuzaka has been plagued by walk-itis in the Spring, but should get that straightened out soon. His 10.80 K/9 ratio is stunning. If he had walked 1 less batter he'd have a WHIP under 1.000 and if he'd gotten Pat Purrell out rather than surrendering a 2-run homer he'd have a 2.08 ERA. Nice.

For Igawa's part, the WHIP is about where I expect it to finish. His ERA will be a little higher. That K-rate is fair and I think he'll get the walks a bit more under control. I'm predicting 17 wins for Daisuke and 15 for Igawa. Matsuzaka's numbers will be better across the board, but Igawa will get the slightly better run support. There's nothing left to it, but to do it. Let's get ready to rumble......


At 2:47 AM, Anonymous GJ from Watertown said...

As you suggest, I will say a nay while I, a nay sayer can naysay.

Our dear Matsuzaka-San will become the replacement player for our favorite MIA athlete - the Wide World of Sports Ski jumper who falls, spins and crashes into a wall of oil drums.

Practically speaking, he is not only adjusting to a new culture - he is specifically adjusting to the Boston sports culture. Moreover, the Boston BASEBALL sports culture. It's a major adjustment to a player from Cincinatti, let alone a player from Japan.

I'd expect a modicum of success if he was a regular position player. But as a starting pitcher, the harsh, bright, infraredsox spotlight will be focused on him in the most dramatic way, and I fully expect him to melt. This is a young man who is accustomed to almost God-like laud and reverence... but more importantly, he is accustomed to respect, honor and privacy. If someone offered me 52 million to surrender my honor and privacy, I'd say thanks but no thanks.

Matsuzaka-San didn't. He's taking a terrific risk. I wish him luck, but I don't expect much. Which begs the question, will he fail simply because he cannot possibly live up to the expectations? I argue, he cannot possibly live up to the expectations. There is a new direct, express flight from Japan specifically to get fans from there to here on his day of rotation. The entire legion of Japanese sports journalists are following him. Anyone who knows three strikes make an out knows how to say his name. (Maybe they can't spell it yet.) And... he's human. Oh... and young.

It will simply be too much for him. Most of the Red Sox don't particuarly love playing in Boston, how can we expect this foreign fellow to flourish?

The only question I think is debatable is to what extent he will fail. My prediction: Shaky start, average mid-season, then a Kamikaze-flaming-screaming-crash of an end. Lastly, a premature exit from Boston baseball.

I've said my nay. Thanks for the opportunity.

At 3:15 AM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...


At 4:19 AM, Blogger John said...


Another "penis envy" fan

At 4:25 AM, Anonymous GJ from Watertown said...

I also called in to 850 and told them the Yankees would collapse and the Sox would win 4 in a row back in '04. They said the same thing. "Insane".

Do me a favor... promise me you'll buy me a beer at the Halfway Cafe in Watertown when it turns out I'm right. I'll promise you a comparable reward if I'm wrong. What's your poison?

At 6:21 AM, Blogger John said...

Mike you might wanna frame the Waterboy's comment and put it on your website since he's truly the wise one

It's pretty obvious he won't show up again when Matsuzaka succeeds. He just doesn't have the guts to come back in that case

Trolling exists in everywhere

At 8:18 AM, Anonymous gj from watertown said...

Don't worry, I'll see you two lovers at the end of the season.

I drink Guinness, btw.

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Tully Moxness said...


On the outside chance you're a rational person and not actually insane, you should realize that baseball players in Japan, especially the stars, are under an even brighter spotlight and face much more scrutiny than American baseball players (with the possible exceptions of Pete Rose and Barry Bonds). Remember when Jeter was criticized for his late night behavior, and the press was all over him for it? Take that press coverage, and then square that 2 or 3 times. Daisuke-san has a GENERATION of kids named after him, he became an overnight superstar after the Koshien, and he has been penalized for mistakes made in his private life that ballplayers in America would never tolerate (imagine if Canseco was suspended for his little interlude with Madonna). There is a reason the Red Sox paid $51.1 to the Seibu Corp. for his negotiating rights, and this is because he is both a rare talent and also the most equipped player to handle the Boston spotlight since Yaz.

I'll be in Boston in a couple of weeks to see him kick the crap out of the Angels, and I am looking forward to seeing the naysayers scratching their heads with the same befuddled look as the hitters who strike out on a Matsuzaka change-up with their bats firmly affixed to their shoulder, completely motionless.

If you're interested in knowing what Japanese players face from their press, read Warren Cromartie's book about his career as the greatest gaijin of the 1980s. You'll realize why these guys are going to be coming over here and succeeding for generations to come.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Gregg said...

Game one, and the Sox lost already.

I know your a Yankee fan, but I'd pray for Beckett to win Thursday. If the Sox lose that game, starting the season 0-2 puts enormous pressure on our boy Daisuke. That's the last thing he needs for his first big league start. I know what it's like here in Boston, and the pressure is high enough without having to make your debut in a must win game.

Just tossing that out there.

Keep up your good work.


At 12:52 PM, Anonymous neno said...

to gj

White laughed when asked if Matsuzaka might be burdened by great expectations.

"I don't think he cares, " he said. "I think everyone misunderstands the concept of pressure on a player. A player, especially a great one, puts pressure on himself.

"Expectations? I don't think he gives a damn."

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Dorasaga said...

To Tully Moxness:

You were telling something that most baseball fans didn't pay attention enough! Japanese highschool tournaments have been extremely competitive! These great players in Japan didn't come to the pro-world or some SHAKAIJIN without their skills and minds prepared!

*SHAKAIJIN = amateur teams funded by either individuals, government bureaus, or corporations that are not aimed at using the team for making money, say, like the professional teams).

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...


I really shouldn't dignify anything you wrote with a response, but I feel up to it today. Boston sports culture is no more or no less a pressure cooker than Japan. If you think it is, you have no idea what kind of social pressure exists in a culture as rigid and demanding as Japan. This has to be one of the world's most intensely pressure packed society's. Boston looks like South Beach compared to the scrutiny and self-imposed stress that Japanese culture demands. Besides, Matsuzaka doesn't understand a lick of English, so how would he even comprehend the vitriol?

As for being young, he's been under the microscope since he was 17 years old. This is his normal life. The madness in New England is how he lives every day. You act as though he's suddenly facing something that will turn him into a deer in the headlights. What you seem to know about his background is shockingly limited.

As for the brutal crash you predict, what's the precedent? Lesser players have survived the scary Boston spotlight. Do you think Edgar Renteria went home weeping at night? Josh Beckett was pretty miserable last year, he seems to be ready for more this year. He's the same age as Matsuzaka. It's clear that you're a troll, and as such I shouldn't reply to you. I don't need to make bets with those people living under bridges acting like they know something special that the rest of us has missed.

I just encourage you to come back here and admit you were wrong when he dominates. If he crashes and burns, as you suggest, I will be the biggest fool of all for having spent a year of my life blogging about him in this way. I don't think a little side bet with you is nearly as much humble pie as what I'll face to the 150,000 people who have read this blog since June.

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous gj from watertown said...

Mike, thanks for the reply. I appreciate it, as opposed to the "insane" comment. Allow me to reply, and make some admissions. You, and others wrote I have no idea what kind of pressure Japanese players are under. You are absolutely right. I've never been to Japan, I only have limited knowledge from a few books, articles and the occassional TV story. So I definitely defer to you.

My only experience has been in the New York, Boston, and for a short time, West Coast markets.

I enjoyed reading what you have written - I admit, I'm only through a few of your posts, and looking forward to reading more. Perhaps I should read more before replying, but it was kind of a spontaneous reply, having heard soooooooo much about this stranger from Japan, and not being able to fathom how he could possibly live up to the expectations.

Let's say we had a genuine, honest wager on his success. It might be impossible to determine a winner, because what I'm talking about is perception. The expectations appear so unattainably high to the casual fan, they may not perceive a "good" year to be good enough.

I'm guilty exaggerating the relative failure I expect to make things interesting. It's fun to have an opposing view. It makes things interesting. Can I really inspire bile and vitriol by throw a thimble of water on your fire? Better to come with with two big red engines, hoses and a ladder.

But for today, Round one, let's call you the winner, because my criticism comes from only one perspective. That of a Boston fan of 38 years. I don't have the broader perspective of a Japanese baseball expert such as yourself. I only have my Masters and PhD in Psych from Harvard, my Master from Yale, and bizarrely accurate instinct in winners and losers who ride into the Olde Towne on a horse, and ride out on a rail.

Incidentally... I have no idea what the vernacular meaning of troll is. I'm a fan, happened upon your site recently, you seemed to have an invitation or call to action for nay sayers with an implied deadline, and I responded. Does this make me a troll? I'm not asking rhetorically, I'm genuinely interested, and sincerely hope I'm not.

Lastly, Renteria was a tragedy. I was pleading to the radio and NESN (clearly without effect, the radio and TV unfortunately have not learned to listen to my advice yet) not to let Cabrera go. He was one of those rare guys that truly wanted to be here. Renteria was not, in my opinion, equipped for Boston. My opinion was based more on instinct than fact, but I was right nonetheless.

So, round one to you. You are the more Japanese baseball educated, certainly. I'm just out on a limb with my gut (and what I know about human nature as a Doctor) here. Instincts have beaten stats, brackets and paper many times before. That's what makes sports so much fun. So, enjoy the year, enjoy Daisuke-San, and thanks for the teriffic blog.

(Of course I'll visit again at the end of the season and catch up. I've been right, and I've been wrong, and have never had trouble admitting either. Let's just not get involved in a rubber band match game-by-game. I won't gloat if DM has a single tough outting, and won't expect the same from you if he has a single brilliant one.) Thanks again.

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Very nice post gj.

I think we've struck an accord on civil conversation regarding this player. The point I took particular exception to in your original post was this:

"The only question I think is debatable is to what extent he will fail. My prediction: Shaky start, average mid-season, then a Kamikaze-flaming-screaming-crash of an end. Lastly, a premature exit from Boston baseball."

First, the finality and absolute certainty that Matsuzaka would be a failure is a bit harsh. Second, the kamizaze imagery is a bit cheap in my book. In my opinion, that sort of comment places too much unneeded emphasis on the Japanese characteristic of the player. Adding multiple adjectives to more intensely color the WWII metaphor makes it that much more egregious.

Someone of your academic achievement must certainly see things in tones of grey, rather than in such stark black and white. Matsuzaka may fail in some regards, while succeeding beyond the wildest imagination in others. We've already seen that to some degree with his disappointing walk totals in the Spring, contrasted by his 10+ K/9 ratio.

I suppose the part I don't understand is how you presume to know such a great deal about human nature as a doctor, but yet neglect to adhere to the most basic rule of your profession. A personal trained in the ways of the human psyche can never make accurate judgements on a person he/she has never actually interviewed. Most psych experts will even decline to comment on a person they have no firsthand knowledge of. Matsuzaka's state of mind is well outside your realm of expertise both from lack of personal familiarity and from diametrically opposed cultural characteristics as well.

What's left is the science of baseball. In terms of that expertise, I can tell you that this pitcher has an easy repeatable motion, with tremendous movement and deception in his delivery. He has plus velocity on all his pitches, and a change that most Major League starters would die to have. He is unflappable in the tough spots, and never loses focus with a big lead. He's been in the cooker since he was a teenager and has seen it all. The advanced metrics show that he is a cut above his own Japanese peers, and most scouts who have seen him say he's something special.

I'm not certain there's much room for naysaying, but you are entitled to your opinion, wherever it may come from. In the end, I'm happy we could discuss this in more intellectual tones, rather than the spittle of the blogosphere. That's one of the joys of writing.

Come back often and make me eat crow if I'm wrong. I promise I will be humble and accept defeat gracefully.


At 1:57 AM, Blogger John said...

"I only have my Masters and PhD in Psych from Harvard, my Master from Yale, and bizarrely accurate instinct in winners and losers who ride into the Olde Towne on a horse, and ride out on a rail."

"Instinct beats stats"

I cannot believe you just said that. That whole statement seemed oxymoron to me. It simply makes me think you didn't get your degrees in Psych.

Besides, a typical troll feels the need to make a statement on his/her "superiority" in certain background (whether it's factual or fictional)in order to make his/her trolling argument valid and more reliable

I appreciate the fact that you spent some time to come up with a better-written comment, but afterall, you're still trolling

At 2:43 AM, Blogger dingbat said...

GJ's not trolling. He's simply offering up a contrary opinion. Funny how all the people who buy into the hype, spouting platitudes, don't get the same scrutiny for their comments.

The mystery of how well DM will do is what makes this story so fascinating. I think he'll be fine, and I'll be rooting for him. But his story has a familiar ring to it....

"To come to a new country, to communicate without knowing the language, to stay focused in a circus atmosphere... to do all that takes not only tremendous intelligence but also tremendous heart." - Catcher Joe Girardi raving about Hideki Irabu's first victory as a Yankee - July 21, 1997

"Steinbrenner dismissed Irabu's detractors as jealous naysayers." - same day article

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the best way to gauge Matsuzaka's potential success/failure is to see him comparatively with other Japanese players. Boston Globe has its own section called "Matsuzaka Mania" here:

Now look under the link "history of Japanese Players in MLB"

The stats indicate that Japanese pitchers fare very poorly compared to Japanese Hitters in MLB. The comparisons are not even close. These statistics indicate that Japanese hitters more or less retain the same batting average but lose a great deal of player. Japanese pitchers, however, gain about 1+ ERA in the majors.

Let's hope Matsuzaka falls into the "extraordinarily unusual" category. If we look more at comparative statistics rather than instinctual feelings and visual perceptions, it could be safe to say that Matsuzaka won't be as advertised.

That said, I don't think there's *one* pitcher who has such a varied and expert repertoire as Matsuzaka. As long as he keeps his head high, he very well could be one of the best pitchers we've seen in a while.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

The one major problem with comparing Japanese pitchers to their hitting counterparts is that two of the best hitters in Japan are available as a gauge. Ichiro and Matsui.

There is no other ace pitcher from Japan, save Nomo, that remotely compares to Matsuzaka. The other pitchers to attempt the jump were 2nd or 3rd starters, converted relievers, or just plain bad. It's like comparing Mark Mulder to Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez. It doesn't work.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Aubrey said...

I wonder where gj is?

At 11:57 PM, Anonymous gj from watertown said...

I'm here. I'm enjoying the Sox season, and thought DM did fabulous in his first outing. I predicted a shaky start. A shaky start would require a measure of success along with some troubles. I'm delighted he's doing well so far, and looking forward to the next few months, that we may truly gauge his progress.

I won't retract any of my instictual predictions... unlike my work, or my investments, sport is an area in which my brain doesn't mind throwing sense and caution to the wind. Human brains were not designed drom scratch. Rather, their most critical functions were desined first, and their less critical fuctions were added on like bells and whistles as the millennia passed, which is why the really important parts of your brain (e.g., the ones that control your breathing) are down at the bottom and the parts you could probably live without (e.g., the ones that control your opinions on Japanese pitchers) sit atop them, like ice cream on a cone. Our brain answers instictual questions before rational or inquisitive ones. For example, if you saw a pair of red glowing eyes, sharp fangs, and heard a loud growel in a cave, you would run before you decided to find out what it was. Your brain would answer "What should I do!" before "What is that?".

Competition and the will to win is as primitive an instinct as there is, and therefore I allow my life of reason and fact to take a brief respite when it comes to sport.

My brain's basic (literally, as in the base of my brain) instinct said to me "Ooh, he ain't gonner do reeeeeal good" before my frontal lobe could consider what may come for him based on his past success and experience.

I regret that I'm treating as a roullette wheel what is science to most of you out there, but it's admittedly "fun" for me, and I invite you to use me as your foil. Honestly, being a Red Sox fan wouldn't be any fun if it were not for the Yankees.

Keep the slings and arrows coming. Go Dice K.


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