The Mysterious Magical Matsuzaka

by Matt on April 18, 2011

in Red Sox

When the Red Sox famously spent eleventy monkillion dollars to lure Daisuke Matsuzaka to Boston from Japan, they thought they were getting an ace, a pitcher to front their rotation for the next six seasons. They weren’t the only ones, either. The educated guesses fell along the spectrum from ‘one of the best pitchers in baseball’ to ‘the best in baseball’ to ‘OMG, totally, like, you know, awesome’. (The last one was my fifteen year old sister.) Add gyroball, stir, rinse, repeat.

The end result has been quite different though. Just five seasons later Matsuzaka (I hate the “Dice-K” nick-name) finds himself at the back end of the Red Sox rotation and as recently as Monday at 8am, in danger of losing his rotation spot. It is hard to overstate how bad Matsuzaka was in his first two starts.  The final straw in the camel’s neck came against Tampa, where Matsuzaka threw either balls, or meatballs over the heart of the plate.  In doing so he single-handedly woke up a Tampa team that had previously scored negative eight runs on the season.  It was not only awful to watch but an act that bordered on treachery.

So Red Sox Nation was on high alert when the team skipped, not Matsuzaka, but John Lackey in the rotation.  Had Terry Francona lost his mind?  Did Theo Epstein have mad cow?  Can a cow get Mad Person?  No! (To all of the questions.)  Matsuzaka has owned the Blue Jays (as Marc noted on Twitter) in his career, so the call made sense at least from that perspective.  But Matsuzaka did us all one better by giving up only one hit through seven innings.  On Monday Matsuzaka was the anti-Matsuzaka.  He was Akazustam, and he was Super Effective!

OK, yes, he only struck out three batters through seven innings, but he got swinging strikes on nine of his 89 pitches, which is excellent.  What’s more he was able to throw all his pitches for strikes, except his slider and curveball which he generally throws out of the zone in attempt to get batters to chase (they did).  Again, as Marc noted on Twitter (Marc’s twitter account is my public library for useful Red Sox information) the Blue Jays aren’t the most patient of teams and that is a large portion of why Matsuzaka has been so effective (Super Effective!) against them.  But aggressive hitters or not, the Blue Jays led all of baseball in homers last season, so Matsuzaka still had to throw the ball to the corners.  Look at this strikezone plot:

vs Rays


That was his two inning, seven run performance against the Rays.  Note that most of the pitches are right down the ol’ chute.  Now here was Monday’s Patriots Day performance:

vs. Blue Jays

It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the two.  I make no claims of predictive value from this one game, but who knows?  Matsuzaka’s next two starts appear to be Saturday at the Angels and the following Friday at Oakland.  Those are two teams and/or parks that should help him.  Maybe in a week the Matsuzaka Terror Level can be lowered from ‘I’ll do it! I’ll jump!’ to ‘Uh… oh, fine, what ever.’  Dare to dream, my friends, dare to dream.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

PossumAloysiusJenkins April 19, 2011 at 7:17 am

Quick question on one advanced stat you referenced: Those swinging strike numbers. Are those broken down between swinging third strikes, and swinging first and second strikes? It seems like with fewer than two strikes, a hitter’s approach might be different, and that getting a guy to swing and miss at strike 3 is much more impressive than strike one. Is this taken into account?

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Roger April 19, 2011 at 8:26 am

No they aren’t. Swinging strikes are generally regarded as just swinging strikes. It’s possible to go through the pitch f/x data to look at only 3rd strike swinging strikes, though I doubt that it would be very informative, simply because the sample size would be minuscule.

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