By Jason Fukao
On November 14, the Boston Red Sox bid $51 million for the rights to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in hopes of luring one of Japan’s most heralded superstars from his native country. After almost a month of anticipation and deliberation between the BoSox and Matsuzaka, the two sides agreed on a six year, $52 million contract.
Now the MLB is ready to see the pitcher the Japanese nicknamed, “The Monster.” The sports world was buzzing with news on the signing as everyone tried to figure out how to properly pronounce his name. “Dice-K,” as one news reporter labeled him, had created a frenzy that no other Japanese player had brought, even before his first game in a Major League uniform. The Red Sox, as well as Bud Selig, are expecting the type of mania that Hideo Nomo created 12 years ago. But will he be the next Hideki Matsui? Or even the next Ichiro?
I am sorry my friends, but be ready to think more along the lines of Hideki Irabu and Kazuhiro Matsui.
Matsuzaka seems to have chosen one of the worse predicaments that any foreign player could have been placed in. Firstly, he is pitching for the Boston Red Sox. He did not join the Texas Rangers or the Florida Marlins. These are the Red Sox, arguably one of the most spotlighted teams along with their hated rivals from New York. In addition, the city of Boston is not known to be one of the most patient and understanding cities. Their fans are used to having a competitive team each year and they are going to expect Dice-K to produce from the beginning.
Granted, the organization is only 3 years removed from their last World Series title, but they did fail to make the playoffs last year. Worst yet, they have not won a playoff game since their title, and the Yankees have made it each year. The Sox are going to have an unreasonable expectation on Matsuzaka to turn their team around, especially with a questionable pitching staff led by an aging Curt Shilling, an injury prone Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon who will most likely be moved back to the bullpen to fill the void at the closer position. Dice-K is not going to be able to hide behind other pitchers and is going to have all eyes on himself.
The Red Sox were out of their minds to bid $51 million for a pitcher that is all made up on hype. Matsuzaka is primarily a power pitcher with an average splitter and slider. He also has his gyroball, which has almost created as much interest as himself. He has a career ERA of 2.95 with three seasons posting consecutive ERAs of 3.97, 3.60, and 3.68, repectively. That is not going cut it in America.
Albeit, Matsuzaka did everything right to market himself properly in the steps leading up to his signing. Last March during the inaugural World Baseball Classic, he was awarded the MVP title. He did win all three of his starts, struck out 10 in a total of 13 innings, and did claim a team best 1.38 ERA. Also, in his last season with the Seibu Lions of Japan he posted career highs of 17 wins, a 2.13 ERA, and 200 strikeouts in only 186.1 innings. Those are strong numbers, as Dice-K is in his prime at the age of 26.
However, his arm has to be that of a 35 year old.
One of the classic stories of Matsuzaka is his 250 pitch, 17-inning game that he completed back in high school during the Koshien Summer Tournament. He may be a freak of nature, but most pitchers do not do that, especially in high school. Taking into consideration that he is a power pitcher with a slider and a fastball that tops at about 96 mph, his arm is bound to tire out. Also, he is only 6 feet tall weighing a modest 187 pounds, and those are not the typical dimensions for a power pitcher.
I am not saying that he is going to be a straight out bust in the major leagues. He is probably going to be the number four starter in the BoSox rotation and should pick up some wins against weaker number fours of other teams. It should take some time for hitters to get accustomed to him, so Matsuzaka should get the advantage during the early parts of the season.
If the Red Sox are looking for a one year wonder who will keep their rotation afloat while younger guys like Papelbon and Jon Lester develop, then they have their guy. If they are looking for an ace to anchor the staff, then they were better off saving that $100 million for someone else.
But don’t worry guys, even if he totally tanks we can still look forward to the gyroball.
All images courtesy of NY Times