Matsuzaka Off To Rough Start

Thus far, 2011 has not been kind to the Boston Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Through two turns in the rotation, Matsuzaka has given up more earned runs than innings pitched. After allowing three runs on six hits in five innings during his first start, he lasted just two innings last night; surrendering seven runs on eight hits and two walks.

Full small sample size disclosure, but in seven innings of work, opposing lineups have 10 earned runs on 14 hits, and five walks against Matsuzaka. He has just four strikeouts and served up three home runs – including one to Sam Fuld. In addition to some rather alarming results, the process at which he’s going about it also leaves something to be desired.

Never one to throw a high-percentage of strikes to begin with, the right-hander is under 60% strikes on the young season. Over this past weekend, there was much discussion about another struggling American League East starter, Phil Hughes, and a lack of swings and misses. Of the 143 pitches thrown by Matsuzaka in the past week, only four have induced whiffs – and just one of those on a fastball.

Looking at Matsuzaka’s platoon splits, he shows a similar pattern as other right-handed pitchers. When facing like-handed creatures, he has been much better. His 3.84 FIP against right-handed batters is a more than a half-run improvement over his 4.61 against left-handed ones. The same can be said for his 4.17 xFIP against righties compared to his 4.76 versus lefties.

On Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays – like most teams – loaded their lineup with left-handed batters (seven to be exact) versus Daisuke. Although he did not stick around for long, the lefties in the Rays’ lineup went 7-12 against him. This included two home runs and double within the first 10 batters of the game. While he cannot control who is in the lineup against him, his approach has also been flawed.

According to pitch values, Matsuzaka’s cut-fastball has been his most effective pitch over the past four seasons. While some use the cutter to neutralize their platoon splits (John Danks versus righties comes to mind), Matsuzaka’s cutter has been more successful against righties. Since 2008, lefties have whiffed on just 6% of his cutters (h/t texasleaguers.com). Looking at his strike zone plot from last night, the righty left several cut-fastballs over the plate against left-handers. This included one to John Jaso (RBI single) and one to Sam Fuld (two-run home run). That is bad pitch selection and even worse execution.

I have not checked the local fish wraps in the New England area, but I’m assuming there are some not-so-kind things being said about Matsuzaka. Considering he is due at least $20 million over the next two seasons, it is hard to fault those who expect a little more than a 4.19/4.24/4.48 career slash line. Though the results cannot be described as another more than horrible, we are talking about two starts in early April. On the other hand, it is not as if Matsuzaka has simply been the benefactor of bad luck. While the results are likely to get better with time and a larger sample, he might be able to speed that up with a quick check of the ol’ process.




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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


36 Responses to “Matsuzaka Off To Rough Start”

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  1. Bill says:

    Do you end every post with your catchphrase.

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  2. Patrick42 says:

    Tommy, I am guessing that’s ERA/FIP/xFIP?

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  3. Tollk says:

    Wouldn’t K9/BB9/HR9 be a better pitching slash line.

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  4. taite says:

    I’m a red sox fan. Breaks my heart.

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  5. Bpdelia says:

    I think its probably fair to include the posting fee in any analysis of fice ks value. and as such this man is actually a 20 million a year pitcher. in which case I think it is now also fair to begin discussing him as one off the biggest bust signings in the history of the game. im a nyy fan but i feel I’m being objective here. I can’t think, off a worse investment. maybe alfonso soriano? worst 100 million player acquisition every.

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    • Arjun says:

      Vernon Wells… until AA traded him.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      kei igawa was bad, but at least he got paid slightly less and hasnt sucked in the majors (just in the minors!).

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      • jessef says:

        while daisuke matsuzaka costs a lot more than kei igawa, how can you say the investment was worse, even including posting fees?

        Matsuzaka: $103 M; has been worth 10 wins already and he’s signed for another two seasons, figure he’ll be worth 14 wins total

        Kei Igawa: $ 46 M; negative value thus far, only signed through 2011, let’s be nice and say he’ll be worth 0 wins total

        Say what you want about Matsuzaka being a bad deal, but there’s no way he was worse than Igawa

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    • pft says:

      Daiuskes cost is more like 18 million this year taking into account the posting fee, but you have to adjust for the luxury tax saved so call it 15 million for saving 3 million luxury tax for 2011.

      FG has him as a 10 million dollar value, but very very few players get paid what FG says they are worth.

      Hard to project picthers coming from Japan, apparently his fingeres are on the small side and MLB balls are smoother, so his game is off. Maybe he would do well on the NL west coast in a pitcher friendly park. If he has a few good games during interleague play, this would be the best time to trade him. How about a Daiuske for Barry Zito trade? I doubt anyone is going to give up top prospects for Daisuke.

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      • TFINY says:

        You can’t subtract money from his amount due just because it doesn’t get taxed. If it didn’t you could add it on, but not take it away.

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      • RC says:

        If we’re adding in the posting fee, we may as well add in the fact that the Daisuke signing got NESV the contract for all of MLB’s marketing in Japan. A contract that has been worth significantly more than his posting fee.

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  6. Keith_Allen says:

    I think a rough start was predictable. Here’s a guy that frequently walks 4 or 5 batters per start, and a few times he has walked 8 batters in a single game. When guys with poor control and command aren’t walking guys, they might be getting knocked around instead. DiceK is consistently inconsistent, so he might bounce back and have a few decent starts. Pitching for a last place team, that can’t hit or field doesn’t help matters though.

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  7. Dan G says:

    The first start was not good but not bad – 5 innings 3 earned runs. It was a typical Dice-K start. Lots of nibbling and lots of pitches, but he gave his team a chance to win. That is not worth $20,000,000 (or whatever amount anyone wants to adjust in that the Sox didn’t lose a draft pick in signing him), but it is worth a spot on the roster as it is not my money.

    The second start was batting practice. Pitches thrown with pinpoint accuracy and little movement or velocity over the middle of the plate. You know how announcers say that when a hitter has a green light on 3-0, he narrows the strike zone down to a tiny area – Dice was hitting that spot with every pitch in every count. I don’t want to think he was doing it intentionally, but the thought has crossed my mind. I’m thinking that Bobby Valentine is right, Dice simply can’t change to be the pitcher that the Sox want him to be, so in order to salvage any value, the Sox may need to consider letting him pitch however he wants (nibble, walk a bunch of guys, wriggle out of the inning, repeat next inning) and to let the pitch count get into the 120-130 range if need be.

    I hope they skip his next start and let him get another start. It is early, but if he repeats the second start anytime soon, he and Wakefield will be trading places.

    Based on WAR, he has been a $10,000,000/yr pitcher and he certainly has shown flashes of why MLB thought he was worth closer to 20M. I’m not greedy, I’d take the $10,000,000/yr Dice, I’d even take a league-average #5. The pitcher who threw that second start was worthless.

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    • B N says:

      I admit, I found the second start way more concerning than the first one. The first one is pretty much classic Daisuke- nibble a bit too much, walk a few, work out of some jams, put up a so-so line. The second one was scarily bad. He was throwing up ball after ball right down the middle of the plate. Another start like that and you really have to wonder if there is something seriously wrong with his mechanics or health.

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  8. RC says:

    So, we need an article for a guy who has one mediocre start, and one bad one? We’re 2 starts in here.

    If you want to analyse red sox pitching, tell me why Beckett and Lester were so much better in their 2nd starts after bad 1st starts. There might be something interesting there.

    Daisuke having a bad start isn’t interesting.

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  9. RC says:

    “he is due at least $20 million over the next two seasons, it is hard to fault those who expect a little more than a 4.19/4.24/4.48 career slash line.”

    20 Million over 2 years is a total of 2WAR per year. That 4.19/4.24/4.48 slash line has been worth 2.5 or so WAR per year, so how exactly should people “expect a little more” from a pitcher who is significantly out-earning his contract?

    Or do you just not believe your own stats are useful?

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    • fredsbank says:

      you’re forgetting his $50 mil posting fee

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      • RC says:

        No, I’m not. That goes to the Seibu lions, not Daisuke, and it has been more than paid back by NESV’s exclusive marketing deal with MLB in Japan.

        The organization has actually made money off that posting fee.

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  10. Dan G says:

    Lester and Beckett’s first starts were very much like Dice-K’s first start – not bad but not good, they both gave the team a chance to win. That is not exactly what the Sox hope for from those guys but it was one start for one guy who has typically started off slowly (Lester) and one guy who is coming off an injury (Beckett). That they pitched as well as they did in their second starts is not that surprising (especially if anyone had seen Beckett’s command in his last spring start against the Astros in Houston). When good pitchers pitch well it is not a story.

    Dice-K’s second start was, as the kids say, an EPIC FAIL. Beyond Dice-K being, in Keith Allen’s apt phrase – consistently inconsistent. And not only was a fail, it was a fail that has multiple story lines (the value of Japanese pitchers, how the Sox have handled Dice, how the Sox terrible start makes things worse, are Sox fans picking on Dice unfairly, are we missing other stories). Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, maybe it wouldn’t be mine if I weren’t a Red Sox fan, but when a pitcher with Dice-K’s stuff and salary pitches that badly – even if it is just one start, it is a story.

    If you take into account the posting fee as I think you should as it was money going out the door to secure his services – Dice costs the Sox upwards of 20/yr even though he is getting closer to 10/yr.

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    • RC says:

      As I’ve said repeatedly, the posting fee is not “money going out the door”. The posting fee has been more than recouped by NESV marketing deal with MLB in Japan. That marketing deal was not possible without the signing of Daisuke.

      The posting fee has been more than repaid. If you’re going to include the posting fee in what Daisuke “costs” than you really should add the revenue that posting fee produces, which is signifcant, and would most likely end up with the conclusion that NESV is getting paid to have Daisuke play.

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  11. Jon Y says:

    Notwithstanding any debate on whether the merchandising, etc did/did not pay off the cost of the posting fee, it’s also intellectually lazy to assume that that ~50M paid at a single point in time to his former club in 2007, can be transmuted to adding on ~10m to Matsuzaka’s salary every year forward. That “imaginary” 10M is not only subject to inflation but also does not count against the yearly luxury tax threshold.

    Simply saying “i’m going to add it to his yearly salary, OMG 6yr/100M BUST” is sheer intellectual laziness.

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  12. Jon Y says:

    Ugh just realized I repeated myself…way to go me.

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  13. Desdroia says:

    Am I the only person who thinks that Dice-K’s babyfaced, Opie act misdirects Americans from the fact that he’s been one of the largest sports stars in Japan since high school and maybe the Sox simply have a celebrity on their hands? A punk, baby, diva, mid-twenties, Lohanesque* celebrity who didn’t, doesn’t, and won’t ever stress or work as hard as is needed to be a big leaguer? (*Lohanesque in the squandering of prolific natural ability, not in nose candy consumption) Stats are stats, but who here would honestly put any faith in Dice-K (or doggone Saltamachnallia) as a PERSON to have stability or strength under any sort of pressure? The Sox don’t need weak spirited players like that in the middle of a shipwreck, even if they “project” “talent”, or get us what every Sox fan secretly covets…Japanese media coverage.

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    • RC says:

      “who didn’t, doesn’t, and won’t ever stress or work as hard as is needed to be a big leaguer”

      Absolutely not the case.

      Everything coming out of the redsox camp the last couple of years has been that they’ve been trying to REDUCE the amount of throwing he does. He wants to pitch a full session every day, they won’t let him.

      IE, they think he works out too much. Its entirely possible that they’re wrong, because as they’ve decreased his in-week workouts, his performance has gone down, and his time on the DL has gone up.

      The idea that Dice-K doesn’t work hard is ridiculous though. His workouts have been a major point of contention.

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      • Desdroia says:

        Throwing during camp and the season wasn’t what I was referring too. Most other starters are very public about their offseason workouts, and come into camp having clearly put in a lot of mental and physical preparation, especially when coming off a Matsuzaka-esque season. Daisuke has been a nearly identical pitcher for the past 4 years, while every other one of our starters has had at least one transformational offseason in that time. I’m not accusing him of skipping practices or anything, but I think his laziness has flied under the radar because every little adjustment with him is such a chore from a coaching perspective, and because the fans have absolutely zero relationship with him personally.

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  14. Dan G says:

    I prefer the term “judicious use of shorthand calculations” to “lazy”, but YMMV ;-)
    pft suggested it is $18M this year – sounds fine to me. I’m not sure if a discounted present value analysis would make enough of a difference to bother with. Dice-K’s second start was not worthy of a Double-A emergency callup making the minimum MLB wage.

    RC suggested that in Dice-K’s case, salary alone should be the measuring stick since the marketing value more than repaid the posting fee. Fair point, although, I guess I prefer the math of posting$ plus salary$ = pitching services and marketing benefits.

    Any high-profile signing has elements of marketing, I would suggest Crawford, Adrian Gonzeles and Jeter are examples. RC is right in reminding us that in Dice-K’s case, the marketing value was higher than average and perhaps when netted out means that the Sox are paying 5-10/yr for his pitching alone. I would suggest that the Red Sox task is more complicated by the marketing considerations – do they want to tick off upwards of 127,000,000 Japanese (I am too lazy to calculate the % that might be Dice-K fans and have totally discounted non-Japanese Dice-K fans or Japanese Dice-K fans that do not live in Japan).

    The second start was newsworthy because of his high international profile and the amount of money the Sox paid to secure his services (however anyone wants to adjust it), how good his stuff is when he is on and just how bad that start was. Lackey had a rough first outing – Dice-K had one of the worst starts I have seen in my life. It raises questions of how the Sox have handled him in the past and what they might do in the future.

    Beckett and Lester pitching well in a second start is not news. They are good pitchers coming off a mediocre first start pretty similar to Dice-K’s first start. Lester typically starts slow, Beckett seems healthy and it was not a huge surprise to anyone who saw his last spring training start against the Astros in Houston. I am used to Dice-K’s consistently inconsistent (in Keith’s great phrase) starts, but the second start was way worse than anything I remember – hence newsworthy.

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    • RC says:

      “RC is right in reminding us that in Dice-K’s case, the marketing value was higher than average and perhaps when netted out means that the Sox are paying 5-10/yr for his pitching alone”

      Again, the contract that NESV has with MLB and the japansese baseball leagues for marketing in japan is worth significantly more than DiceK’s contract and posting fee combined, and those resulted directly from the way the Japanese media was handled.

      Has Daisuke been great? No. Of course not. He’s been a league average pitcher making about what hes worth. But as a business decision, he has been a resounding success.
      People don’t seem to be grasping that this is not a baseball team. This is a Sports Management company that happens to own a baseball team, and a soccer team, and a racing team, and… MLB’s marketing contract, etc.

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      • pft says:

        “ontract that NESV has with MLB and the japansese baseball leagues for marketing in japan is worth significantly more than DiceK’s contract and posting fee combined, ”

        Care to back that up? What contract does NESV have with MLB or the Japanese baseball leagues?

        International revenues are locked up by MLB and shared with all 30 teams.

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  15. tompitt says:

    With just a year or so left on his contract (in which to theoretically wear himself out, why not just let him “do his thing” such as his preferred training routine and deep in-game pitch counts; see if the results occur and if not replace him if an available improvement seems to be there). But please don’t pretend that replacement should be Wakefield. Finally, please tell me why Francoma (excuse me but it fits my question) and his pitching coach is unable to discern after three or four consecutive walks and/or screaming line drives that it is not that pitcher’s night and odds are the team will be better off if he replaces a starter in the first or second inning?

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  16. everdiso says:

    Since signing their latest contracts:

    DiceK (30, $103m/$20m rmng ): 5.92ip/gs, 4.28era, 4.28fip, 4.49xfip
    Lackey (32, $82.5m/$66m rmng): 6.39ip/gs, 4.82era, 1.46whip, 2.1k/bb
    Beckett (31, $68m/$68m rmng): 6.11ip/gs, 5.44era, 1.48whip, 2.6k/bb

    throw in the Scoots, Cameron and Salty decisions, and the potential albatross deal he handed Crawford, and when does Young Theo start getting some criticism?

    this is starting to look like a Steinbrenner-run team.

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