"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Rolling the Dice-K

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.

Categories:  Baseball  Emma Span

Tags:  Daisuke Matsuzaka  Red Sox

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1 joejoejoe   ~  Apr 13, 2011 2:29 pm

I wonder if there is something about umpiring in Japan that effects the success of these Ace-type pitchers in the US. Maybe batters actually follow the rules in terms of the batting box in Japan, maybe the strike zone is bigger. Pure speculation on my part of course. Maybe if you brought over a 100 pitchers from Japan they'd wash out at exactly the same rate and we are only seeing a small sample size of talent.

2 bp1   ~  Apr 13, 2011 2:40 pm

I believe the desperation for pitching depth and talent causes executives to evaluate with rose colored glasses. How else can you explain some of the Yankee signings in recent years? It seems like pitchers are always given a contract based on base case scenarios. If they pass the "he could be an ace if all goes perfectly" test, kaboom! Big bucks, lots of years, deal with the problems later. In many cases, the test isn't even that strenuous. "Do we think he will be healthy for 35 starts? If yes, then offer max contract as quickly as possible.

It's crazy.

And getting crazier!

3 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 13, 2011 2:49 pm

Good points Emma, I especially like that you note that he has been a mixed bag, with good years, bad years and mediocre years.

When I look back, I think if the Yanks had won this bidding, it mostly would have been a good thing. They could have used his pitching in 2008 especially and possibly would have avoided missing the playoffs. In 2007, I don't know if his presence would have meant beating the Indians or finishing ahead of boston in the east, but could not have hurt.

would having him have enticed the yanks to trade hughes or joba? and would that have even mattered in the 2009 championship as those guys did nothing? would they still have signed CC? yes. AJ? maybe not, and AJ did win some postseason games...

i can't see a really bad consequence to having him, i still think the yanks win it all in 2009 and they are clearly better off in 2008, and maybe in 2007. and they've never had 5 decent starters on the team at one time since he came over anyway, so it's not like he'd be blocking anybody.

he's not the "solution" i'd have hoped for at the time, and since 2008 ended, he'd be accurately labeled a big disappointment, but given the yanks wasted all that money on igawa right after, i think the yanks would have been better off getting him than not getting him.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 13, 2011 2:50 pm

[3] i meant joba and hughes did nothing in the 2009 postseason, not that they did nothing during the year...

5 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 3:11 pm

[0] I don't think Igawa was a response to Matsuzaka, they were presented differently, and had different levels of success in Japan. Igawa was brought in to fill in the back end of the rotation, IIRC several articles written at the time mentioned that.

[1] Attrition rate for pitchers is high, no matter the country. Japanese pitchers are still something of a novelty, given the attention they garner, so if they fail, they fail with a higher profile, than if it were someone from the states or from the Caribbean.

6 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 13, 2011 3:18 pm

[5] Yes their expectations, and $, were much different. But it's safe to say Igawa would not be a Yankee if they won the Matsuzaka bidding.

7 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 3:20 pm

[2] Other than Burnett, Pavano and Wright, I don't see many "red flag" signings made by the Yanks in recent years.

[3] From Matsuzaka, to Halliday to Johan Santana, the Yankees' pitching staffs could've had a lot of different looks

8 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 3:27 pm

[6] Maybe, maybe not; the Yanks but bids on both pitchers.

9 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 13, 2011 3:32 pm

[8] Were the bids conducted at the same time? That doesn't ring a bell, but I guess it could be. Either way, if they won both bids, they could have just sent Igawa back w/o signing him since they didn't need him anymore.

10 bp1   ~  Apr 13, 2011 3:55 pm

[7] Maybe you are right. I lumped Javy Vasquez, Kevin Brown, and Big Unit into the "bad signings" category, but that might be 20/20 hindsite (although most of us hated the Javy signing). And of course the Roger "Oh my goodness gracious" mid season signing. It's easy to evaluate pitching after the fact, and maybe that is what I was guilty of.

11 Mattpat11   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:03 pm

Never, ever liked Matsuzaka. He mastered that Pedro-Schilling-Beckett "throw at hitter, stare smugly, and than act appalled when they call you out on it" routine from almost day one.

12 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:13 pm

Good stuff, Emma. Somehow the Matsuzaka Affair seems like 10 years ago.

I remember feeling very bummed that we didn't get him, and bitterly scorned that the Red Sox won the bidding. Blew us out of the water.

Remember Bronx Banterer Mike Plough? (anybody seen him around?) He'd seen a lot of Matsuzaka in Japan, and wrote with such conviction that his talent would translate to big things here. Out of all the good things, and hype I'd read about Matsuzaka, Plough's analysis was the most convincing to me.

Anyway, I don't really have anything of substance to add to the conversation, but when I think about Matsuzaka in pinstripes, and what could have been - i still like to think he would have been better off in NY.
I don't know why I think that. Maybe it's just my Yankees superiority complex (this is a documented condition yes?).

Im not suggesting the Yankees would have handled him better, or gotten more consistency out of him, but something tells me he would have taken a shine to the Big Apple along with his fellow Japanese superstar, Hideki Matsui. I think Matsuzaka was bummed that he didn't come here, and the adjustment would have somehow been easier for him.

I dunno, probably just New York Yankee jive talk, but whatever.

13 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:27 pm

[10] Javy was young starter signed to a reasonable contract, taking advantage of a Montreal fire sale. When Javy was reacquired in 2009, he was to be a league average innings eater, solidifying the rotation. This time, Atlanta was the benefactor of salary relief. Kevin Brown was acquired for Jeff Weaver (another young starter signed to a reasonable contract), and was having a decent 2004 up until he took on a clubhouse wall in Baltimore. He fell apart in 2005. The logic behind acquiring Randy Johnson was the same as acquiring Roger Clemens back in 1999; Wells (Vazquez) was good, but if the opportunity to get a pitcher the caliber of Clemens (RJ) comes up, you have to take it. Clemens was reacquired when the Yankees' pitching staff suffered an overwhelming number of injuries, including Clemens himself.

14 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:31 pm

[9] I'm not sure if they were, but given that the Red Sox bid for Matsuzaka was so high, I wonder if the Yankees' bid for him was similar to what they bid for Igawa.

15 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:36 pm

[14] I recall the Igawa bid was well after Matsuzaka, and yes, I think they were similar bids even though Matsuzaka was widely seen as the superior talent. I think it's safe to say that the Yankees spent wildly too much on Igawa partially, if not mostly in response to losing out on Matsuzaka.

16 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:42 pm

the yanks reportedly bid about 33 for dicek and 25 for igawa. not the same, but too close for comfort.

17 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:47 pm

and the bids were accepted 2 weeks apart in November 2006, so they weren't conducted at the same time.

18 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:49 pm

[15] Wildly too much on Igawa would've been paying him similar to what they paid Matsuzaka. As it was, they would up paying him around 10M (counting posting fee) a year, which I suppose was reasonable for a mid rotation starter back then; IIRC, Ted Lilly & Carl Pavano signed similar contracts.

19 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:55 pm

[16] Didn't realize they were so close. I guess the rest of the teams that were in on Matsuzaka submitted similar bids? The thing that stands out to me was shock that the Red Sox bid was so high.

20 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 13, 2011 4:55 pm

[18] I meant to say "bid"wildly too much on Igawa, and let's face it, they spent wildly too much on him when you consider what they've gotten in return.

21 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 13, 2011 5:25 pm

[5] I agree. It was Iggy of Ted Lily, who was rumored to get around 4/$40m. Since $25m if Iggy's cost was 'Tax Free', his actual cost (compared to paying salary + Tax on another player) was a bit over $7m.

Since Iggy led the leagure in K's one year, and was considered a top pitcher in Japan, Cashman simply though the Iggy ($7m) was a better deal then Lily ($10m)

It was a bust, but the thinking behind the deal was sound.
Schedule Aug/Sep
(3) Angles
(3) Rays
(3) Athletics
(3) J's
(3) O's
(2) Rays
(3) Red Sox

(4) White Sox
(3) Red Sox
(3) Royals
(4) Twins
(4) O's
(3) Red Sox
(3) Angels
(3) M's
(3) J's
(3) Rays

Frankly, that's a sucky last 2 months. The 2 rainouts (and maybe another tonight) means we may get 2 (or more) additional home games late in the season. So while I hate a night without baseball, having Minn (or another team) have to make a special out-of-their-way trip to NY for a make up game, is a good thing for us.

22 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Apr 13, 2011 6:36 pm

Not a scout or pitching coach but after watching Japanese pitchers routinely throw 150+ pitches from the time they are 18 years old, I wouldn't sign any of them past age 25.

23 Raf   ~  Apr 13, 2011 7:15 pm

[20] In hindsight, yes it was a mistake. But given the information on hand at the time, it was a perfectly reasonable signing.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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