Monday, May 28, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Just back from Italy, I find our hero 7-2 and sitting on top of the world. I also find my Yankees 12.5 games back of the Red Sox, buried and left for dead. I hesitate to say it's over, but let's face it. It's over. The Sox are such a good ball club that the Yankees would have to hire someone to pull a Nancy Kerrigan on the entire starting rotation to have a prayer. The wild card is an 8 game uphill battle, so it's possible that all the laughing that Yankee fans did when the Sox fell into 3rd place in 2006 will be revisited on them. The Yankees are the worst, most expensive team ever.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, seem to have spent very wisely on several fronts. J.D. Drew is neither here nor there, and Lugo has been a disappointment on a number of levels. That said, Beckett has recouped some of the value he lost last season when he gave up a load of home runs, Okajima has been a gem, and Matsuzaka is rounding into form as an ace-in-the-making.

Rather than go over the details of the last two Matsuzaka outings, of which I only saw a few innings, I'll take a moment to recap his season to date with a few comments.

In his 10 starts to date Matsuzaka has put up the following numbers:

67 IP (6.2 inning per start)
1058 pitches (106 per outing)
62 hits (8.3 hits per 9)
21 walks (2.8 walks per 9)
64 strikeouts (8.60 K/9)
4.43 ERA
1.24 WHIP
3.05 K/BB
.244 BAA
.311 OBA

Looking at what he did for Seibu last season, it's noteworthy that Daisuke walked 33 batters in 186+ innings. This season he's already walked 21 in only 67 innings. The OBA for Matsuzaka at Seibu was .240, but is up around .311 now. You can look at that one factor in determining why his ERA is so high, and his K/BB ratio is merely decent rather than world class. If you extend the numbers out to 200 innings pitched, Matsuzaka should reach about 190 strikeouts. He'd also hit around 62 walks, which is nearly double his total last year. If he doesn't get the control problems worked out, you can expect that he'll continue to give up runs.

I went back and checked out the PECOTA projection for Daisuke this year and found that he is projected to post a 3.83 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP. That's looking very good right now. With the Red Sox offense and solid pen, the 14-7 projection may need to be adjusted up. Daisuke could easily win 16-18 games at this pace. According to Baseball Reference, Matsuzaka's current ERA+ is exactly 100, which means he is exactly league average. The challenge for the next 10 games will be to reduce the walks, which will in turn reduce the baserunners, which will in turn reduce the runs allowed, which will in turn lower the ERA and help the team win some games. I expect that Daisuke will do just that and his next 10 games will be somewhere in the low 3's in terms of ERA and his WHIP will be closer to 1.100 over that stretch.

Next up is the Yankees again. Will he be victimized by the Bombers patient approach again and see his ERA back over 5.00? Will he take advantage of a simply awful Yankees club with one foot in the grave? I have no clue. I'll try to make a guess in a day or two as to the kind of numbers Daisuke will put up in his 3rd time round the Yankees lineup. I need to see how he's feeling and how badly the Yankees continue to tumble before I make my prediction.


At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nope not he yankees, he goes against the indians on wednesday

At 3:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just going to post waht anonymous#1 did.

On another note, he was trending much better his last couple starts, until he hit the Rangers series. But he was seriously ill that game, so the upcoming game with the Indians should tell us more.

At 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good to see you back on the blog, Mike-san. hope your business trip to Italy was a good one. i can't wait to see Matsuzaka going against Jeter, A-Rod, and Matsui soon. Keep up your good work!

At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question to Mike concerning Dice-K's walk-rate. As you mentioned, he is on pace to walk nearly double the number that he walked in Japan. You suggest this is merely the result of adjustment, and Dice-K will very likely return to his usual level of control and start walking fewer batters. My question to you is, isn't it possible that MLB hitters are simply more patient at the plate, and Dice-K can't get away with hovering out of the strike zone as much? Maybe he's finding that batters don't chase as much as in Japan? Because if this is the case, I don't see how you can be even reasonably confident that Matsuzaka will be able to bring his walk total down. Your thoughts?

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Oops...Cleveland it is. I am out of whack since getting back from Italia!!

Matsuzaka has improved his control over the last 3 years to the point that he boosted his K/BB from the low 3's (as he is doing now in the Majors) to mid 4's and then up to 6+ in 2006. He knows how to locate his pitches. I haven't seen the same level of command much for Boston at this point, and he hasn't been nearly as sharp.

My optimism comes mainly from the knowledge that the quality of pitches hasn't been there just yet, and I think it will come. As good as he's been from time to time (inning to inning) I think he's yet to put together a whole "Matsuzaka game" yet. Once he does that and once he gets a few in a row under his belt, people will see what he's all about. He's only flashed his potential at this point.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe his pitches seem to have more "quality" when hitters are going after them when they're out of the zone, missing and looking foolish, whereas in the MLB hitters are simply hanging back and taking all the balls?

I'm simply trying to be devil's advocate, as I'm the biggest Matsuzaka fan there is, make no mistake.

By the way, keep up the good work, I love this blog!

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Thanks for reading. I appreciate the comments a lot.

I think there is a point where you can say that Japanese hitters swung at pitches outside the zone where Major Leaguers don't. That point would account for a jump in ERA from 2.00 to 3.50 for sure. It would also account for more walks and perhaps hits, accounting for a jump in WHIP from sub-1.000 to 1.100 or 1.200. I think there's more to it than that though.

The jump in leagues doesn't account for a near doubling of his 2006 walk total. Yes, an increase is to be expected for the reason you gave, but I think he's been a bit off. I think there are a lot of technical things he's adjusting to. The mound, the ball, the strikezone, the batters, the style of play, etc....

He's the type of pitcher to make the adjustments, but there are so many all at once that I think he's been victimized by trying to do too much. Once he gets his workouts into a comfortable place, and he relaxes a bit, I guarantee that the walks will drop some and so will the ERA. If he walks just a half a batter less per 9 innings he'll be right on target. If he can drop that walk total, per 9, more than a half a run, Cy Young here we come.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger John said...

Part of the growing pain.
But still, if it wasn't for the stomach flu last game we'd be seeing Matsuzaka at mid 3 ERA and ~1.10 WHIP right now.
With the enormous offensive support in each outing, like Mike said, we could be seeing 17~19 wins from Matsuzaka.

He'll only get better I believe.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger John said...

Oh and it should probably be brought to your attention that now we're heading into summer, you'll be pleasantly satisfied to see Matsuzaka's improvement.
Summer is his season :) it is also many japanese players' preferred season. Afterall, Summer koshien is the most sought event and summer often relates to "ambition", "energy" to yakkyu


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