Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Best/Worst of...

To this point in the season we've seen the best and the worst of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Opening the year against Kansas City with 10 strikeouts and a dominating performance was a setting the bar a bit high for the Japanese ace as some bumps were bound to lie ahead. Matsuzaka did plenty to impress, and enough to win, in his second start against Seattle, but came up on the short end of a Felix Hernandez one hitter. That's baseball. The third start against Toronto was equally impressive, as Daisuke struck out 10 Blue Jays and allowed only 6 baserunners over 6 innings, giving up 2 runs. The Blue Jays start exposed something unsettling in the Major League version of Matsuzaka that I'd never seen before. He seems to implode from the stretch.

I can assure you that this was not the case pitching for Seibu, and I really have no explanation for it. I noticed it in the Toronto start, and my eyes grew wider and wider as his mechanics fell apart and his delivery became rushed and incomplete. With as much scrutiny on every pitch as there is in the Major Leagues, you can bet that the Yankees studied the situation and took advantage in the two meetings just a week ago. Matsuzaka looked bad in both starts and paid the price for his mechanical breakdowns. Still, it was the Yankees and the Yankees can make even the best pitchers look bad on occasion. Just as much as the Yankees were happy to see Boston go, the Red Sox starters must have been thrilled to put the boys from the Bronx in the rear view mirror. It was no picnic for them either. Then there was Seattle: Round Two.

Opening the first inning with three walks is just plain awful and inexcusable in the Major Leagues. That's Bush League stuff that should only happen to overmatched minor leaguers and Rick Ankiel. Daisuke has lost the plate, and doesn't look right. He has been known over the years for his flawless mechanics, and they have abandoned him. I don't know why, and I'm sure no one else has a good answer for it either. It could simply be a comfort level that he hasn't achieved on the mound in the Majors yet. A lack of familiarity with the way Major League hitters think. Whatever it is, he has to fight his way through it and get back to the 1-2-3 delivery that has made him the pitcher he is.

Looking at starts 1-3, Daisuke posted a 2.70 ERA with a 10.8 K-rate and a 6.00 K/BB ratio. Those numbers look very similar to his Seibu 2004-2006 production. His starts 3-6 have seen him produce a Kei Igawa-esque 8.50 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per 9 innings and a 1.50 K/BB. That's the bad of Matsuzaka so far.

The good of Boston is also something to look back on. The fans of Red Sox Nation, and the team itself, have been brilliant diplomats for the US and great ambassadors for New England. The reception that Matsuzaka has received is beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Yesterday, on the NHK evening news, the worst of Red Sox Nation was on display. The NHK cameras were on hand outside Fenway and in the various drinking holes around town, as they have been before and after each start, and it was not pretty. Where the cheerful drunks had been on display early in the season, and the jubilant fans carrying Japanese flags and signs had warmed the hearts of the Japanese to Boston, the idiotic underbelly of the Nation reared its ugly head after the Seattle game. Drunken frat boys with their hats turned on backwards slurred their disapproval at Matsuzaka and Theo Epstein.

"We paid $100 million dollahs fah this??!! Whatta waste."

"I saw this guy in the World Baseball Classic against Mexico and Cuba. This ain't Mexico or Cuba."

"He's wicked awful."

Okay, so I made the last one up. I don't remember all the comments exactly, but the tone and the setting was unmistakable. The tone was angry-drunk and the setting was adrenaline and frustration filled bars and exit gates at Fenway. It was venomous and immature. I've seen the same thing in New York. We have our own fraternity of drunken numbskulls too, but we haven't seen them on NHK since the Irabu days. So far, no Igawa backlash on TV, but it's sure to come. The honeymoon is over. Matsuzaka has TV announcers discussing their disappointment in his performances, and disappointment that the love affair with the fans in Boston has taken a hit.

In reality, you're only as good as your last start, so Daisuke can go out and throw a gem and all will be forgotten. The drunks on TV will be of the rosy-cheeked and goofy-grinned variety again and the Japanese announcers will beam with pride. For now, the adversity has begun. It's what makes the human interest side of sports compelling. As a friend just wrote to me in an e-mail, had Matsuzaka come in and lived up to the impossible hype from the start it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as seeing him fight through the lows as well. I agree. That's reality. No pitcher shows up on the scene and wins the Cy Young with a 0.98 ERA. There's a learning curve, and we fans of Matsuzaka are lucky that his genius will allow him to meet that curve sooner rather than later.

Yankee fans have a different bag of troubles with Kei Igawa. The two Japanese pitchers have both struggled, but where Matsuzaka has had some trouble in the stretch with his control, Igawa's trouble is pitching up in the zone with truly mediocre stuff. Matsuzaka's problems will be worked out with better mechanics. Igawa's troubles stem from the kind of pitcher he has been all along. One good day, and one awful. It's a tale of two pitchers. I expect that Matsuzaka will be in the running for the Cy Young at some point in the next 2-3 years, while Igawa will be lucky to hang onto his job.

Here's to better days ahead and less of the bozos on television.

14 Comments:

At 12:30 AM, Anonymous DaisukeM18 said...

The drunken yahoos probably aren't the best representation of sox nation. When Daisuke pulls off another Toronto performance, expect the same fans to be crowning him Cy Young.

I think that most Red Sox fans haven't given up on Daisuke yet. Some are concerned, but most are willing to give him a season or two to work things out.

On radio WEEI, they're comparing Daisuke to Josh Beckett. They expect him to struggle in his first year because of the adjustment from Japan to the MLB. They believe that he will improve in his second year because he'd more comfortable.

Personally I feel that his mistakes are correctable. He doesn't have mediocre stuff like Igawa. I also expect him to make adjustments, just like the hitters have.

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger Ash said...

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At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not yet give up on Dice-K but not impressed either. He's about to bounce back with a good start soon. My concern on him is his mentality to deal with the MLB-level hitters. He seems to have troubles from the stretch. He may have more troubles as teams have seen him more. There's no point to talk about Cy Young now. That's too far away for now.

 
At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those comments by Red Sox Nation faithful are kinda funny. They're what you would stereotypically think (drunken) Boston fans would say.

One website even had a problem with the LoHud blog describing Boston fans as a "pack of drunks."

http://yanksfansoxfan.typepad.com/ysfs/2007/04/question_of_pro.html

It's wicked priceless.

 
At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember that guy on this site who said Matsuzaka's gonna fall on his face because his telephathic instincts tell him so?

Maybe he's right.

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Matsumiya said...

I'm not giving up on Matsuzaka. He'll make the necessary mechanical and psychological adjustments that come along with adapting to the major leagues from another culture.

However, in my opinion, I have to disagree with Mike here. I think it's rather a *good* thing that there's some degree of criticism aimed at Matsuzaka in Boston. In Japan, one hardly hears boos from the fans. In the US, especially in hardcore East Coast cities like New York and Boston, boos are always expected. Even if your name is Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, or even Mr. Ted Williams, before he even came. Such bashing adds fun to the globalized game. Matsuzaka, at least from Japanese sources, knew about Boston's legendary critical attitudes.

Let them boo! I'll boo too! As long as he can live up to the humongous investment and attention that the generous Americans gave to him, he's another Byung-hyung Kim. If not, Matsuzaka will come back to Japan with his head down, (see Hideki Irabu), because expectations were not met. That, in my opinion, is even a more cruel fate due to its *silent* booing.

 
At 2:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been curious.

What's the perception over there of what Okajima's doing?

 
At 3:05 AM, Anonymous matsumiya said...

Okajima's been gaining some attention in Japan. In the US, we are starting to hear more and more comparisons between Matsuzaka and Okajima; the latter being the former "shadow" of the former. Major newspapers are starting to ask why Okajima did not pitch this well back in Japan!

 
At 2:40 PM, Anonymous mouse said...

I'm not down on Daisuke at all. Frustrated/concerned perhaps, but it's way, WAY too early to draw any conclusions about him.

Right now, I believe he'll be fine in time. His stuff is not indicative of a 5 ERA pitcher, and I'm sure he and the coaching staff are smart enough to figure out how to correct his mechanics. Patience.

 
At 12:15 AM, Blogger John said...

Not concerned here at all

Much of Matsuzaka's problem originated from his incosistency in control. He doesn't really get rocked by power-hitting teams; many times he lost control; which results in a few walks in a row thus a hit would cost him several runs
Once he regains his usual form he'll be fine

 
At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

matsuzaka is a great pitcher, and he will improve with time

"That's Bush League stuff" ?? crappy joke

 
At 12:38 PM, Blogger lostinube said...

The Sons of Sam Horn weigh in here.
Surprisingly calm and interesting discussion as to the many possible reasons why he's struggling.

 
At 1:43 AM, Blogger Edwin said...

I have to wonder whether Matsuzaka's struggles can be attributed to the fact that he isn't able to continue his training regiment like he did in Japan. Not a great excuse mind you (especially with Okajima doing well), but it could have some effect early.

 
At 5:01 AM, Anonymous Tully Moxness said...

I can't believe that so many people are ready to give up on Daisuke-san after 6 starts. Regardless of the issue with the walks, which is an adjustment thing and not a stuff thing, he has shown flashes of brilliance. Also, pitching in a hitter's park and against 'wicked-tough' AL East batting orders, he's only given up 2 homers in almost 40 innings. If you believe that players generally play close to their average level of performance over a season, I expect to see the walks fall off and his ERA drop to the high threes. The only worrisome item is that he seems to be completely off in terms of his relationships with Farrell and Varitek. I've been really surprised at some of the pitch selections at different points in the count; it appears that they're struggling to establish his breaking stuff on a consistent basis, so it's leading to some sketchy game plans. Even so, just realize that ERA is an overrated statistic in the short term and that WHIP and OPS against are better basic stats for a small sample size.

 

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