Back in the SaddleJust 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)
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.