Time to Move on from Daisuke Matsuzaka?

In the first part of this mini-series, we investigated Raul Ibanez. We looked at the issues the Phillies have to consider when debating his future role with the club this season. With legitimate prospects coming up behind him, the main dichotomy at play was a question of the risk and upside of a young player versus the predictability and downside of a veteran.

In the case of Daisuke Matsuzaka in Boston, the issues at play are slightly different. The options behind him are worse, and the extracurricular risks might be more dire. In the end, though, the answer could be similar. Once Matsuzaka is healthy again, is he still the best option in the rotation?

First, let’s think of possible off-field issues. As perhaps the most high-profile posting from the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, Matsuzaka has been touted as a possible human inroad to Eastern markets. During the negotiations for his contract, Scott Boras (admittedly a biased participant) claimed that the Yankees made as much as $21 million a year from the Japanese market when they signed Hideki Matsui. Dropping Matsuzaka could be seen as an indictment of the posting process with possible negative effects for a portion of the Red Sox fan base.

Except there’s no real evidence that this is all true. Even if Boras’ numbers are correct, the Red Sox never made the same commercial deals with Japanese companies that the Yankees pursued. The Yomiuri Newspaper advertisement that sat on the outfield wall in New York was never replicated in Boston, nor has any signage followed Matsuzaka on the road. Sales of hats and jerseys completed outside of Fenway Park are shared with the rest of the teams. And concerns about alienating future Japanese players and fans seem overblown and misguided. Every Japanese player is different – Junichi Tazawa picked a smaller financial package from the Red Sox because he preferred their development plan, for instance – and every Japanese fan is different.

Even the most ardent Japanese fan, for instance, would note the negative trends in Daisuke’s performance. His best ERA in the past three years was 4.69 in 2010, and his strikeout and walk rates have both been going in the wrong direction since his decent debut. Perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that his swinging strike rate has dropped every year (from an above-average 10.6% in 2007 to a poor 6.9% this year). His velocity has dropped more than a mile per hour on all of his pitches. All this, paired with his recent elbow ligament issues, does not paint a pretty picture.

But is it as bad as Yahoo columnist Jeff Passan has put it? In a scathing article posted this week, Passan called the pitcher a “bust” and “Another Chubby Easterner.” Passan pulls no punches and suggests that the Red Sox would be happy to leave Matsuzaka in Japan, where he is currently. He quotes anonymous sources as calling the pitcher “lazy” and “pigheaded.”

Matsuzaka has not performed so poorly that he deserves this treatment. Leaving aside his posting fee, he’s actually already been worth $43.9 million of his $52 million contract. His FIP has been better than league average in three of his four-plus years, and 622 2/3 innings of league-average work over that time frame is not quite bust-worthy. Of course, there is the matter of the posting fee, but it’s hard to quantify the benefits they’ve received over the past five years as well.

No matter. In the here and now, his walk rate is too close to his strikeout rate, he’s showing the worst fly ball rate of his career, and his elbow hurts. What’s in the cupboard?

The best prospect is Felix Doubront, currently at Triple-A for the second time. He’s even relieved and functioned as an emergency starter in the major leagues, so he’s close. But Doubront has also battled some forearm and groin issues so far this year and hasn’t cracked 20 innings pitched. The consensus is that he needs a little more time to work on his control and his secondary pitches. Going with him now might risk his development process unnecessarily.

Behind him the cupboard is nearly bare. The best option is Kevin Millwood. As exciting as Millwood’s 3.67 ERA in 2009 might look, his FIP over the past four-plus years has been worse than Matsuzaka’s. His velocity is long gone and his swinging strike rate hasn’t hit 6.7% since 2008. Even a reduced Matsuzaka has more things going for him than Millwood at this point in his career.

Once again, we’ve come to a similar conclusion. Despite a very different set of circumstances from those seen in Philadelphia, the best option in Boston is probably still the veteran. The best plan for the Red Sox, once Matsuzaka is healthy, is to phase him out slowly while giving Doubront time to get healthy, refine his command and work on his secondary pitches. And then the team can thank Daisuke Matsuzaka for services rendered and move on.

Thanks to Marc Normandin of Red Sox Beacon and Patrick Newman of FanGraphs and NPBTracker for their conversations in preparation for this column.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

34 Responses to “Time to Move on from Daisuke Matsuzaka?”

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  1. bartleby says:

    Good one. Should I sell all my VHS tapes, too?

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  2. mike wants wins says:

    Unfortunately, Kevin Slowey could be an option…..

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  3. Joe D says:

    “Leaving aside his posting fee, he’s actually already been worth $43.9 million of his $52 million contract.”

    Good article, but I can’t buy what you’re selling on this point. It first asks me to ignore half of the value of his Matsuzaka’s contract by leaving aside the posting fee. That’s ridiculous, unless perhaps one is of the opinion that Matsuzaka really would have received no more than a 6-year, $52 million guaranteed contract on the open market. The Sox paid $103 million for his services, not $52 million.

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    • Spiggy says:

      Not really, in the same way that here in charming ol’ Ontario, if I buy a TV for $200, I pay $226, though I’m only receiving a $200 item in return and have only technically paid $200 for the item itself.

      Which is all to say that if just think of the posting fee as an absurd tax or a tip to Dice-K’s former ballclub, I’m sure you’ll feel much better about the whole thing.

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    • Jon says:

      Leaving aside the part that makes him a complete a total bust for his cost he was actually a good player

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Despite the fact that I argue that it’s hard to see how much money they received from opening up new markets, I don’t believe that it’s zero. I’d prefer to leave that side (the posting fee) to be compared with the non-play benefits (possible marketing deals). In terms of their contract with DiceK and his services rendered, the deal has been okay.

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      • chuckb says:

        The “value of opening up new markets” may not be 0 but neither are they anywhere near $51 million. Your article even appears to be dismissive of the role that the Dice-K signing has on the Sox’ role in the Japanese market.

        Perhaps there’s a way to quantify the value the Sox have received in the Japanese market through the Dice-K signing. That number should be added to his contribution on the field b/c the total cost of the signing was $103 million. It’s difficult to argue that this has been anywhere near a $40+ million loss for the BoSox.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Well he’s still got a year left. Given his pace, if he stays in the rotation, he might ‘deserve’ all of his actual contract plus a million or two. So now you need $48ish million. Give em five mill a year in new money from new markets, which is not the $21 million that I dismissed, and you’ve lost $25 million or so on the deal.

        It’s a loss. Most big deals are.

        Is it worth calling him a fat bust? I don’t think it’s even on the Barry Zito level, and no-one has written this kind of article about Zito have they?

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      • JayT says:

        Eno, are you joking when you say no one has written an article like this about Zito? People started writing bust articles about Zito before the ink was dry on his contract!

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  4. Sam says:

    Wait. No mention of Aceves, who just threw a really pretty good game against the Tigers? I’m confused, man. And Wake too, technically. Not sure why they don’t get mentioned as rotation replacements for Dice-K.

    What I was hoping to see, now with Dice-K’s injury, was a rotation of: Lester/Beckett/Buchholz, Lackey, Aceves, and Wake to fill in if Lackey still can’t figure it out. Doubront is a more longterm solution I suppose, but Millwood is just a dead arm.

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  5. BigNachos says:

    You didn’t mention the #6 and 7 starters entering the season–Aceves and Wakefield. Both are in the rotation now, but Lackey’s return will push out one–probably Wakefield. I guess you could argue Matsuzaka is a better option than Wakefield (though they’re probably a draw), but there’s no way would displace Aceves at this point.

    Barring multiple injuries, it’s tough to see Matsuzaka ever breaking back into the rotation again for the Red Sox.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      It’s true that Aceves could have been considered in this column. But I don’t think it’s true that DiceK could not displace him. Aceves isn’t blowing any doors off any hinges.

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      • TylerTheCreator says:

        Aceves definitely should have been mentioned, it was clearly an oversight…and that happens.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Honest question. Does it matter? Would you really take a guy with a 5.95 K/9 career, mostly in relief, over DiceK? Especially when his career GB% is below average?

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  6. CampBrice says:

    I wonder if they could sell him to a Japanese club once he’s healthy…his junk might still work over there.

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  7. don says:

    i agree and glad u came up with this article, PASSAN may be too personal or very emotional without really digging into the facts. he even metions Irabu, well Irabu did well enough compared to other signing where PASSAN didn’t mention. it all seems to bash some certain class of players….yes japanese…lol…PASSAN is rather overpaid for his research and production..maybe its time to put a price on those journalists as well….

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  8. Eno says:

    Shoulda been more clear, articles with the vitriol that Passan showed. I guess Zito is not fat, but that article went beyond labeling dicek as a bust and seemed to put more of the honus on the player than the team. Zito articles if I remember them were more about Sabean. No?

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  9. neuter your dogma says:


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  10. NBarnes says:

    Even if you figure that, counting the posting fee, Matsuzaka represents about $40-$45 million down the hole in terms of value vs salary, it’s still talking about pro-rating that loss over 4+ above replacement level years. At that point, the Mastuzaka contract isn’t even in the conversation for Worst Free Agent* Pitching Contract Decisions Ever.

    * – Or Free Agent-Like

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  12. pft says:

    Daisuke is looking at TJ surgery in the near future. You can take that to the bank. Once he gets back from Japan, Boras is having him see Yocum who will confirm this. Boras wants Daisuke to pitch a couple of months in 2012 before testing the FA market, and the only way to do that is have the surgery in June instead of later in the season.

    As for how much Daisuke has earned for the Red Sox as a pitcher, I can only say this. They overpaid on the posting fee because it meant they would be able to sign him at a below market rate. Daisuke was not a FA, and there was no competitive bidding process. It was a take it or leave it deal, and Daisuke took it. The fact that Daisuke may only earn his salary without any profit in it for the Red Sox is a huge disappointment.

    As for any TV money that Daisuke generated, it should be noted that NHK only televised games Daisuke pitched, and not every Red Sox game. Daisuke has pitched only 102 games for the Red Sox. Since 1/2 of the games were on the road, and some of the home games were Yankees or Mariner games, NESN was left with the other 40 or so games in which to collect revenue. Probably not much in total.

    Of course, the Red Sox did receive a tax break from the Daisuke posting (instead of paying 103 million straight salary), so one could argue that from a cost viewpoint, that 53 million could as low as 37 million (actually less because the Red Sox were well removed from the tax threshold his first 2 years).

    Daisuke had 1 good year, and that was 2008. He was known as the 5 inning man that year, having trouble finishing the 6th and working the bullpen to death on days he started.

    As someone who was overjoyed he signed at the time, I hope I never see him pitch in a Red Sox uniform again, he was that awful to watch (aside from an occasional gem). If he does come back from TJ surgery next year, look for him to be traded to a NL WC team after a couple of rehab starts in Triple A.

    Good riddance.

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    • GreggB says:

      Good points. I’d also speculate that NESN’s ratings actually drop the last few years when Dice-K is starting. Most of the people I know, like me, find it painful to watch his starts.

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  13. 4i-8 says:

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call Dice-K a bust, but he certainly has fallen well short of expectations. Sometimes I wonder if his performance has been more of a detriment to Japanese baseball; do you want your team to be bidding for the next big pitching prospect from Japan, compared to using those money on other pitchers in different markets?

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  14. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Anyone who feels DiceK was a bust for Boston is spoiled. But most Boston and Yankee fans are spoiled. Spoiled by the money and the super stars.

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    • Jon says:

      you think that dicek was worth 100m?

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      • Dan says:

        Successful FA contracts can’t be measured against their total cost–most FA deals don’t return that much. They’re mostly overpays, but that’s the cost of rounding out rosters to stay competitive. If the total return gets to within striking distance (say 80%), you have to be satisfied as an owner, manager, or fan.

        If the tax savings are true in terms of the posting fee and ~$37m is a fair true cost of that fee, the net cost of the contract is about $90m, not $103m. Assuming 80% is a reasonable expectation for your return, the Sox need to get ~$72m in value.

        If Matsuzaka’s on-field performance yields about $45m total and Eno’s ~$5/year for extra revenue generated is fair, the contract adds up to about $70m returned. Not too far from breaking even (having already accepted that 20% of the cost is thrown away from the beginning).

        This kind of result is the norm for FA contracts.

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      • Telo says:

        Yes. 50 on field, 50 off field. It’s close enough that you can’t really argue.

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  15. bcp33bosox says:

    Interesting article…living in Japan, I am admittedly biased, but I have always liked the signing and still do. Even if just for his contributions in ’07. Lugo who also helped in ’07, to me was more of a bust due to the fact that he came from an AL East rival (meaning he had played in and played well in the AL East) and he was worht about 1.5 WAR in 2+ seasons. His previous 4 seasons were 11.7 WAR. That being said, I wouldn’t trade the deal for the ’07 title.

    On to Matsuzaka, who has been worth 10.4 WAR in his 4+ and as the author noted, has almost reached the value of his actual contract. Furthermore, I too, would leave out the posting fee as it is hard to imagine that much if any amount of the 51M would have been used on other players due to the CBT which the Sox have been at or around the last couple years and have shown thrifty and frugal actions in regards to going over it. It wasn’t counted towards the CBT, it has not prevented the Sox from spending, nor would it have been “put to better use” directly on a FA.

    I would like to add that I understand his style is not well liked and fans are certainly disappointed, maybe rightfully so due to the media hype and total cost of the deal, but it is far from a bust. And to just say it is 103M is oversimplifying and ignoring some higely important factors.

    As for the claims of lazy, Matsuzaka seems to always want to throw more and has even thrown in the bullpen or been seen running in the outfield after coming out of the the game. The guy obviously loves to pitch, loves big games, doesn’t make excuses and has a lot of pride. For me the biggest disappointment are the injuries, which not only have affected his performance, but also keep him out of the rotation. Those two gems came before his relief appearance and since then he has had the elbow problem.

    Finally, I usually like Jeff Passan a bit, at least his passion and honest seeming opinions. However, I am really not a big fan of anonymous sources that call people out or claim that other people said it withing the organization as it is really just hearsay. Where’s the other side of the argument? If you are going anonymous, it would be good to at least try to be a bit objective even in an editorial. I am also not a big fan of overstating the whole truth serum thing. What is wrong with proposing this is something they *might* think instead of claiming it as fact. The Red Sox seem to have a history of valuing things *very* different from the media and the fans.

    Excuse any typos, it is late here…lol

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  16. pinball1973 says:

    I can’t believe that even Boston deserves “sportswriters” (a craft I hold to be only slightly more worthy of respect than being Dear Abbey for the Nazi Party newspaper) like that.

    How do such people walk the streets without fear? Perhaps they use the sewers.

    I remember LIKING the Sox before they became the Yankees Pt. 2.

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