The other night the Red Sox, who still haven’t won a game against anyone besides the Yankees, got blown out by the Rays (who have now amassed three entire wins), mainly because of a dreadful start by Daisuke Matsuzaka. Being in a contemplative mood at the time, I thought back to his signing – lots of exciting, tense negotiations and lots of freaking out by the Yankee fan base. I thought Matsuzaka was going to be an ace, or if not, at least a very good player. Why not? His career in Japan was fantastic. I can’t find it at the moment, but I remember writing something to the effect of, it’s going to be really tough for the Yankees to compete against that rotation now.
Mostly I loved the rumors about his mythical “gyroball.” So far as I know Matsuzaka didn’t start the rumors, but cannily, he didn’t deny them either, deciding that if batters wanted to psych themselves out waiting for the ball to do something crazy he wasn’t going to stop them. I spent a few weeks covering spring training in 2007, Matsuzaka’s first season in the U.S., and several batters who faced him in Grapefruit League games swore up and down that they’d seen the gyroball. In turned out that all they’d seen was a good slider, but the gyroball hype was a lot of fun, even though it didn’t last into the season. I wish more players would pretend to have imaginary pitches.
Anyway, Matsuzaka hasn’t exactly been a flop – not like, say, Kei Igawa, who the Yankees signed more or less in response, in a fantastic example of How Not To Make Baseball Decisions. Dice-K had an okay 2007 and a very a good (if lucky) 2008, got injured in 2009, and last year was mediocre but not useless. And of course his fate this year is hardly sealed; I don’t expect him to return to his 2008 form, but I also don’t expect him to keep being as bad as he was the other night, although I suppose it’s possible. In any event he hasn’t been the game-changer that it seemed like he could be, and while that’s good news for the Yankees it’s also somewhat sad. I don’t have much of a sense of Matsuzaka’s personality, largely because of the language barrier, but his body language and baby-face have always been expressive and he seems affable enough. It’s just yet another reminder, if we needed one, that when it comes to scouting players – especially pitchers – we still don’t know all that much.