Daisuke Matsuzaka, Improving Via Injury?

In only 26 of Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s 110 career starts has he walked 5% or less of the batters faced. And 3 of those 26 starts came in June.

Daisuke has gone back to the DL since his brief five-start appearance, and it appears the Boston faithful have begun to doubt the Japanese import will provide much more value to the Red Sox this season or perhaps at all:

Valentine said they wanted to leave Matsuzaka sidelined until his neck pain had completely gone away. It’s anybody’s guess how long that will take. In theory he could return later this month or maybe he never pitches for the Sox again.

[emphasis mine]

Many in Boston are expecting Daisuke will be non-tendered after this year and will have to seek employment elsewhere. Given Daisuke’s recent injuries, maybe that’s the right financial decision (he could potentially be brought in on a cheaper deal than what he’d get in arbitration). But looking at the numbers from Daisuke’s five 2012 starts, we find the 31-year-old righty appears to have some good starts left yet.

Before leaving his fifth start with neck tightness, Daisuke had a 1.13 xFIP. Sure, his 5.23 FIP — a product of too many home runs allowed — was not great, but home runs have never been much of a problem for Daisuke; the walks have. And over those first four starts off the DL, Daisuke walked only 6.6% of total batters faced while striking out 22.0%.

He currently owns an 11% BB-rate on his career; that’s good enough to tie for the 8th-worst among qualified starting pitchers since 2007. But he also had the best FIP-minus among those 10 worst pitchers — a credit to his ability to limit home runs and strike out a decent amount of batters. If Matsuzaka can reduce his walk rate — even a little — he can potentially pitch at level acceptable, if not above average, for a third or fourth starter.

Looking back a Daisuke’s game logs, we see, as noted at the beginning, that three of his most recent five starts were exceptional. How exceptional?

If we limit his game logs to just the games where he finished 5.0 IP or more, we find he has 24 games out of 95 with a BB-rate at or under 5% — that is, in this case, games where he walked 0 or 1 batters.

We also find that 11 of those 24 games came in 2007, which means most of them. And in recent years, they have been a rarity:

In other words, the heartiest chunk of these low-walk games came in 2007 — his first and arguably best year in the league (92 FIP-, 3.99 SIERA). If we look at the low-walk starts per total number of games started, we see once again his recent success sticks out noticeably:

5.0 IP, Less-Than-2-Walks Starts per Total Starts

Year    Percent of Total Starts
2007:   34%
2008:   7%
2009:   17%
2010:   21%
2011:   14%
2012:   60%

So, in short, these first few, good starts are peculiar. In 2012, he has already had more low-walk starts than in 2008, 2009 or 2011 — and all with fewer games pitched.

Could it be an issue of distribution? A well-timed lucky streak? Quite possibly. There is a good chance that after or during his next five starts, the league will adjust to him, become more patient and resume walking at a normal rate.

Still, his PITCHf/x Plate Discipline numbers suggest he has one of the best Zone% of his career at 53%. Last year, he was at 49.6%. That’s about the difference of about 6 pitches over the course of a 100-pitch start. Is that enough to reduce his walk rate significantly? I don’t know. Bartolo Colon (3.9% BB-rate) leads the league with a 60.4% Zone-rate, while Randall Delgado (11.0% BB-rate) is last among qualified pitchers with a 39.4% Zone-rate. A 53% Zone-rate would rank Matsuzaka as the 11th highest Zone-rate in the league.

If he truly can (and chooses to) maintain that rate, he could very well be a late-season weapon for the Red Sox. And if he can maintain that low walk rate while keeping his homers down and his strikeouts up, maybe he could pitch 10% better than league average for 150 or so innings — that’s a 3 WAR pitcher. At that level, Matsuzaka for $12 million, or so, might actually be a bargain.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


24 Responses to “Daisuke Matsuzaka, Improving Via Injury?”

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  1. Eric says:

    This is when Sabr gets in the way of common sense. The reason they are walking less is because his pitches are flatter and thus easier to hit. I know this is sometimes hard for people who didn’t play baseball, but you don’t go up looking for a walk, you’re looking to hit.

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    • AL Eastbound says:

      Eric knows, he played.

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    • Caveman Jones says:

      I disagree, I think his breaking pitches have more life on them than they’ve had in years. The reason people are walking less is because he is getting his fastball over for strikes, getting into pitcher’s counts, and getting people to flail away at his breaking pitches.

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    • Ronin says:

      Eric has a point. Were there any changes in his other stats? Did his walks go down but his hits allowed (especially xbh) skyrocket ?

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    • I’m guessing you didn’t bother to look at his number before posting this comment? He has allowed only 23 hits in 23 IP this season. He has a perfectly normal .284 BABIP. He has allowed 5 doubles, 1 triple and 4 HR.

      I personally believe that home run number would be 2 or 3 in a typical 23 IP stretch, but even then, if you scatter 4 or 5 singles, 1 or 2 doubles and a home run across four, 6-inning starts, you have yourself a pretty standard if not good pitcher (if you can limit the walks and strike a few people out).

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  2. Sprot says:

    Horrific, telling and hilarious all at the same time.

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  3. Jason H says:

    So basically, if Daisuke just stops doing all the things that make him a shitty pitcher, he can be useful. Makes sense….

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  4. everdiso says:

    More in-depth articles on the .500 last place Red Sox’ borderline MLBers, please!

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    • Jason H says:

      They are busting out any minute. Have you checked out their team WAR? Run differential?

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    • everdiso says:

      D.Matsuzaka (31)

      Career: 110gs, 5.9ip/gs, 1.9k/bb, 1.39whip, 4.31era, 4.27fip, 4.52xfip
      Last4yrs: 49gs, 5.6ip/gs, 1.7k/bb, 1.48whip, 5.12era, 4.45fip, 4.71xfip

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  5. BX says:

    Has he really given up too many HRs this season if we’re not counting the neck stiffness start?

    He gave up 2 HRs in the neck stiffness 1IP start.

    Outside of that start, he’s given up 2 HR in 22 IP, which isn’t particularly bad.

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  6. Edwin says:

    Matsuzaka has thrown 23 innings this year. How is that enough innings to make any kind of reasonable prediction about future performance?

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    • Jason H says:

      Good question. It is almost certainly not. One way to test your hypothesis that the sample size is inadequate is to bootstrap his outcomes and then calculate the distribution of some summary statsitic (FIP, perhaps, since this is FanGraphs). The distribution would be pretty wide…

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    • kampfer says:

      For someone who sucks at throwing strike so bad, 23IP can be said to be a real improvement with a better than 50% confidence level, which is better than nothing.

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      • Yeah, I think that’s about right.

        The rarity of those above events were such that we may fairly suspect some unusual change. But who knows? Maybe it was crazy random variation.

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      • Jason H says:

        We can actually calculate whether the number of walks Dice-K has conceded this year is unexpected given his career numbers. Whether he walks a batter or not can be described by a binomial process with probability of a walk equal to his career walk percentage (11%). Dice K has faced 100 batters in 2012. The binomial probability of him walking 8 or fewer batters, assuming he is walking batters at his career rate is 21.7%. You can easily do the calculations yourself here: http://vassarstats.net/textbook/ch5apx.html

        So, given the small sample size, there is not yet reason to believe Dice-K is doing anything different than what he has done his whole career.

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      • And 21.7% doesn’t seem impressive to you? There is a 4 out of 5 chance Dice-K has turned over a new leaf? Sounds worthy of investigation to me.

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      • Jason H says:

        Bradley,

        You are interpreting that wrong. The observed data is expected 21% of the time under the null hypothesis. This doesn’t mean there is a 79% chance that something else is going on. It simply means that given that nothing has changed, 79% of the time in a sample of 100 batters faced you’d expect him to walk more than 8 batters. The 21% means that the observed data is not at all unexpected given the null hypothesis that nothing has changed in Dice-k’s ability to prevent walks (this result is less shocking than throwing a die once and seeing a six…). Dice-k very well may have found the ability to prevent walks, however the 21% means you don’t yet have enough data to know it.

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      • Jason H says:

        This all raises the question of how many batters will Dice-k have to face before we believe that his current 8% walk rate is real? The answer is around 320 batters. So we aren’t even a third of the way there yet.

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      • Dice-k very well may have found the ability to prevent walks, however the 21% means you don’t yet have enough data to know it.

        This all raises the question of how many batters will Dice-k have to face before we believe that his current 8% walk rate is real? The answer is around 320 batters. So we aren’t even a third of the way there yet.

        Says who? I assume you are just wanting to use one of the arbitrary P-values of .01, .05, or .10 — those delightful little numbers that relieve researchers of using critical thinking skills?

        What I am saying — and what you are welcome to reject — is that this little firecracker of an event included data that he has essentially never shown before — probabilities aside. If that doesn’t intrigue you, no probs. Just move along, nothing to see here.

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      • Jason H says:

        Bradley,

        “Says who?”

        The methods of established and rigorous Western scientific practice.

        “I assume you are just wanting to use one of the arbitrary P-values of .01, .05, or .10″

        I chose 0.05.

        “those delightful little numbers that relieve researchers of using critical thinking skills?”

        A fundamental part of critical thinking is rigorously evaluating the possibility that you are wrong. You failed to do that. Do you understand the “critical” part? A rigorous researcher is critical of themselves. The null hypothesis is that there is nothing extraordinary going on and that your favored explanation is unnecessary. Those “delightful little numbers” are a measure of how critical you are willing to be in your thinking. Throwing out the possibility that you are wrong, or not bothering to evaluate it does not represent critical thinking.

        I’m sorry, but it is a special sort of arrogance to think that you know better than the long established practices of Western science.

        “What I am saying — and what you are welcome to reject — is that this little firecracker of an event included data that he has essentially never shown before — probabilities aside. If that doesn’t intrigue you, no probs. Just move along, nothing to see here.”

        Intriguing is great. I fully support that. But a critical review of the data leads to the following conclusion:

        Dice-K has, so far in 2012, walked 8% of batters, which is less than the 11% he has walked in his career. Though the sample size is not yet sufficient to support any change in Dice-K’s walk rate, if he walks fewer batters he should be a better pitcher going forward (big surprise).

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      • Bradley,

        “Says who?”

        The methods of established and rigorous Western scientific practice.

        Well, sort of. They’re really the methods that Ronald Fischer (R.A. Fischer sometimes) devised — somewhat inexplicably — and then the scientific community slouched into under the weight of his influence.

        Meanwhile, William Sealy Gosset (“Student” of “Student’s T Test”) abhorred Fischer’s arbitrary approach. I’m in Gosset’s camp, not just because he brewed God’s bear — Guinness — but also because significance testing does not deal with substantive importance and it can create (as it has) a faux impression of objectivity.

        I’m sorry, but it is a special sort of arrogance to think that you know better than the long established practices of Western science.

        I’m not trying to be arrogant — though I think I write arrogantly often, which is a problem. I’m merely siding with Gosset — who was way smarter than me — and I’m siding with the many scientists of Gosset’s day who were then-untouched by Fischer’s textbooks.

        Dice-K has, so far in 2012, walked 8% of batters, which is less than the 11% he has walked in his career. Though the sample size is not yet sufficient to support any change in Dice-K’s walk rate, if he walks fewer batters he should be a better pitcher going forward (big surprise).

        Sure, that’s a fine interpretation. For some people, 21% is too high. I have no problem with that. But, say, if I’m hurting for SP help in my Ottoneu league, I’d happily grab Dice-K from the waiver wire. And if I’m the Red Sox (or a Red Sox fan), I play the waiting game on Dice-K because the potential reward here could be decent, while the costs are note huge.

        You can wait for 330 TBF, and maybe you’ll be right. If not, though, I’d be happy to trade him to you for a prospect or two.

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  7. jdm says:

    Sorry Bradley I’d have to side with Jason on this debate. P-values can seem arbitrary and are to a degree but they are based on the notion of how many standard deviations above or below the mean and a 21% chance suggests its somewhere around 1 standard deviation above the mean or “expected value” – his career walk rate. While the semantics of statistical inference can be debated and you do have a valid point that, in terms of looking for market inefficiencies, Daisuke’s decreased walk rate could present an intriguing opportunity, I still have to disagree based off of his peripheral stats.

    As you cited above most of his best BB rates have typically been in the earlier portion of his career, in addition to everdiso who pointed that out with his K/BB rate has been declining over his career. And you do cite an increased zone% for this year as a reason for the fewer walks but the fact of the matter is his zone% sits right around his career average but more importantly, his F-Strike% has constantly been decreasing throughout his career, and was at an all time low in his brief appearance in 2012. The reason I find this to support Jason’s point was due to another contributing editor on Fangraphs Eno Sarris’s article detailing the regression of BB% against both zone% and F-Strike% which clearly showed that the data suggests BB rates are predicated more upon F-Strike% than zone%. Based on these facts, I think that this improvement in his BB% is more due to sample size variability than to an actual change in his approach or some sort of improved control, which if true inherently limits his upside.

    Here’s the link to the article I referenced above.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/pounding-the-zone-walk-rate-peripherals/

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