Matsuzaka’s Control: One Night Only or a Recovery?

Last night, for only the seventh time in his major league career, Daisuke Matsuzaka didn’t walk a batter. During his four years in the majors he has developed a reputation for wildness, which came as a surprise. In Japan, where he played for the Seibu Lions, he demonstrated quality control. From 2002 through his final season in 2006 he kept his walk rate below three per nine. In fact, in 2006 he walked just 34 batters in 186.1 innings. Once he reached the majors, though, that rate started to rise.

In 2008 he developed a reputation as a wild pitcher who could work out of jams. He walked 5.05 batters per nine innings, a mark that ranked second highest in the majors. Despite all those base runners, though, Matsuzaka finished the year with a 2.90 ERA and an 18-3 record. A number of factors aided this phenomenon, and few of them appeared to be sustainable feats.

What stands out most, and what plays most into his reputation for working out of jams, is an 80.6 percent strand rate. His expected LOB%, based on xFIP, was about 10 percentage points lower. Speaking of xFIP, it sat at nearly two runs higher than his ERA. This was due not only to the high walk total, but also because only 6.1 percent of his flyballs allowed left the park. That’s a considerable feat for someone who allows 43 percent fly balls.

Matsuzaka’s numbers with runners on base helped, too, as did his performances in high leverage situations. With the bases empty he walked 5.55 per nine, but once a runner reached base that dropped to 4.52 per nine. More helpfully, he induced more poor contact, holding opponents to 5.84 hits per nine. With the bases empty that figure was 7.84 per nine. The 40 batters he faced in high leverage situations didn’t find much success, hitting just .152/.300/.212, striking out 11 times.

It’s tough to gauge exactly how lucky Matsuzaka got in 2008, because he has spent most of his time since 2008 on the disabled list. After pitching just 59.1 innings last season he has only 17 this season after missing most of April. We’ve seen his LOB% come back to the mid-70s, and we’ve seen his home run rate more than correct itself, but how much of this was due to him pitching hurt, and how much was due to a statistical correction? I’m not sure anyone can really say.

Last night, though, Matsuzaka pitched perhaps his best game in the majors (though I’d vote for this one). He completed seven innings, allowing just three hits and one run. Even more impressively, he struck out nine and walked none. More than two-thirds of his 106 pitches were strikes. The only time he even remotely ran into trouble was in the sixth, when a double, wild pitch, and double allowed the Blue Jays to score their only run of the game. By that point, though, the Red Sox offense already had the game well at hand.

What impressed the most was how effectively he used his fastball. He threw the four-seamer 68 times, far more than he normally does, but generated seven swings and misses. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but he has decent movement on it and, at least last night, threw it for strikes. His two other fastballs, a cutter and a two-seamer, help, as does the changeup he has worked in more frequently this season.

What I’m not sure of is whether this signals progress for Matsuzaka, or if it’s a tease. On the progress end, he corrected the one aspect that has hampered him more than any other during his major league career, his walk rate. On the tease end, he’s done this before only to later revert to his wild ways. Now that he’s healthy we should get a good look at him this season. Surprisingly, he has only two more left in Boston after this. It feels like he just went there.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Michael
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Michael
6 years 2 months ago

Minor quibble: it’s actually the 7th time he’s started an MLB without walking anyone.

Matt S.
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Matt S.
6 years 2 months ago

Watching Dice-K since he first came to the Red Sox, I have often thought that his control issue was largely a combination of two things: first he tends to try to be overly fine with his pitches, nibbling at the the edges of the zone instead of challenging hitters early in the at bats and second, nearly everything he throws has terrific movement, making it harder for him to locate pitches at the edges of the zone. I don’t have the pitch f/x data to really back this up and I would love to see someone do a thorough break down on him, but that is what my eyes tell me. He seems to make a shift in approach when runners are on as well, attacking the zone more, as the numbers here suggest. It may be that he is more confident now that he is (presumably) healthy at last and trusting his pitches more. Only more performances like last night can tell us.

Greg
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Greg
6 years 2 months ago

Agreed. When I think Dice-K, I don’t think “wildness”. Instead I think “nibbling-ness”…

There are really few more frustrating pitchers in MLB to watch.

Steve C
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Steve C
6 years 2 months ago

http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=7775&position=P

Most of his pitches seem to have greater movement than average for what it is worth.

Josh H
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Josh H
6 years 2 months ago

I agree Matt. It’s fascinating to me that he seems to nibble away with nobody on but seems gets more aggressive attacking the zone when runners are on. When he gets wild, his fastball command is his biggest problem and he seems to miss with it low and away to right handed hitters.

tdotsports1
Member
6 years 2 months ago

He was brilliant last night. His command was solid and he was effectively wild at times also. V-tek called a great game and I think it could be wise to have them continue to develop chemistry together if at all possible. That change-up is ridiculous, it is almost a screwball he turns it over so much, that thing DIVES down and away from a lefty.

Ahh, the morbid fascination with a Japanese born pitcher.

tdotsports1
Member
6 years 2 months ago

As an add, if he didn’t completely GAS in his first start and have that horrendous inning vs LAA, his overall stats would look even better. Food for thought, of course we could say that for a handful of starters.

Keith
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Keith
6 years 2 months ago

Am I wrong, or did he not pitch against the Jays, and the Jays swing at everything?

Obligatory Sox Fan
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Obligatory Sox Fan
6 years 2 months ago

They do strike out the most in the AL, but they’re also 4th in the AL in runs scored. Not a push over offense.

tdotsports1
Member
6 years 2 months ago

You’re supposed to swing at strikes, which is what he threw most of the night. I

I watched every pitch, he got them to fish in pitchers counts, which is another goal – but overall he was pounding the zone.

Hank
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Hank
6 years 2 months ago

Exactly… pitching well overall against Toronto is impressive with their offense, but if you’re talking about the no walk accomplishment… doing it against the Jays makes it a little less impressive.

Part of his past walk problems is getting ahead early, then nibbling/trying to get guys to fish and then eventually walking guys (or running deep counts). The Jays are the ideal team for him to face as they don’t have the patience/discipline to work 0-2, 1-2 counts to 2-2, 3-2 counts.

Keith
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Keith
6 years 2 months ago

Thanks Hank for illustrating my point. Never said the Jays were bad. They are hitting for lots of power, but they swing from the heels, they don’t work the count or walk much. A good matchup for Dice.

tdotsports1
Member
6 years 2 months ago

Agreed.

Joseph
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Joseph
6 years 2 months ago

I’ve seen the vast majority of his outings, and I still say Matsuzaka’s best start was his major league debut against Kansas City. That’s taking into account more than just the stat line and the competition, which I understand anyone who isn’t watching every Red Sox game can’t necessarily do. Pretty much ever since then, even in his “good” starts I am entirely unimpressed with his stuff and his performance.

quint
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quint
6 years 2 months ago

The biggest problem with Matsuzaka is control, and he got better as the night got on last night.

He didnt pitch a brilliant game.

Watch the highlights of the strikeouts – the first 4 strikeout pitches are nowhere near where Varitek set up his glove. He missed badly (set down and away pitch up and in). And that is the problem. Matsuzaka misses badly on location of almost all pitches.

The good sign was his last 5 strikeouts he put the ball exactly where it was called for.

pft
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pft
6 years 2 months ago

As a Red Sox fan I have noticed that some of the Red Sox most impressive pitching performances of late have come against the Blue Jays (except for Beckett). Lester had his best start of the season against the Blue Jays. Over the past year, Lester, Buchholtz have combined for 9 starts with a game score of 55 or more (5 starts at 65 or more). This was the first start for the new and improved Daisuke against the Blue jays

Also, when a pitcher changes his approach as daisuke did, in the first game of such a change he can catch hitters off guard. Advanced scouting limits the surprise advantage in subsequent starts.

While the Blue Jays have a good offense, I suspect if one does an analysis they will find the Blue Jays offense struggle more against good pitching than most teams.

Daisuke pitched well. If he can carry it over to the next start against the Yankees, I may become a believer. Not until then. I do hope he can have a good first half so we can trade him to a certain West Coast team in the NL in July. Adrian you Adrian, where art you. Daisuke may win a Cy Young in the NL in a pitchers park, he will never come close in the AL East pitching at Fenway, so he should jump at the chance to waive his NTC and be 5 hrs closer, and 3 times zones closer to Japan.

Grant
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Grant
6 years 2 months ago

Take it from someone who watched the game and had gameday up. The umpiring was absolutely ridiculous, possibly the worst I have ever seen. Anything within 6 inches of the plate while Eveland was forced to throw get-me-over fastballs to get any sort of call.

jscjr64
Member
jscjr64
6 years 2 months ago

Well, if that’s true, Grant, Dale Scott certainly made up for it this afternoon.

http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/extras/extra_bases/2010/05/dale_scotts_str.html

Grant
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Grant
6 years 2 months ago

He had a wide zone, but if you look closely, the red sox pitchers did not throw any pitches just off the plate, that’s their fault.

Credit Shaun Marcum for recognizing that he was going to call that pitch and throwing it there. It’s not like there was a different zone for each team.

Judy
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Judy
6 years 2 months ago

Credit to Marcum for sure, but Wakefield can’t pitch to spots like that.

Mike C
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Mike C
6 years 2 months ago

Or, alternatively, one could wish for something that approximates a major league strikezone.

Judy
Member
Judy
6 years 2 months ago

I just looked at the individual charts, it really looks like it was Gregg who got the biggest zone of everyone, wasn’t really even close And I can’t imagine what he did to earn it.

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