Hate to Say, "I Told You So"
But, I told you so. The Tribe is powerful and probably the most legitimate threat to Boston in the AL this season. The pitching isn't quite the same caliber as the Sox, but they can flat out mash with the best of them. Matsuzaka was bound to have some problems today, but as a fan and a long time observer of Daisuke, I have to think that the illness also affected his between starts routine a bit. He likes his consistent workouts, and food poisoning will disrupt just about anything short of bed rest. No excuses, he stunk up the joint. His ERA is now 4.83 and he'll need a very strong June to get himself back to a respectable three-point-something.
My prediction was actually pretty close. Actual with my prediction in parentheses:
5.2 IP (7 IP)
12 hits (9)
no BB (3)
4 K (7)
1 HR (2)
6 ER (5)
Daisuke threw 106 pitches in less than 6 innings. 73 of them were for strikes, so you have to wonder if he should have worked a bit more carefully to a few of the Indians. He didn't walk anyone today, but he allowed 13 baserunners with the HBP of Garko. I had him at 12 baserunners on the day. More analysis and fallout from Japan as the news spreads that he was hit hard today....
I hate to say I have a bad feeling about this game, but I have a bad feeling about this game. The Indians are tied for 2nd in the Majors with the Red Sox for runs scored. They are 2nd in OBP, just behind the Sox. The Tribe is 4th in SLG and 6th in home runs. Fortunately for Daisuke, the Indians are also 4th in strikeouts. If he catches the Injuns on an off day he might tally double digits in Ks and walk away with a lights out win. If the Indians are in good form it could get ugly. I question how strong Daisuke is after his bout with food poisoning. Was his workout as rigorous as it normally is? Did he lose a little strength? Is he going to need another week to get back to 100%? We'll see. I'm going with the pessimistic prediction. Let's see.
Back in the Saddle
Just back from Italy, I find our hero 7-2 and sitting on top of the world. I also find my Yankees 12.5 games back of the Red Sox, buried and left for dead. I hesitate to say it's over, but let's face it. It's over. The Sox are such a good ball club that the Yankees would have to hire someone to pull a Nancy Kerrigan on the entire starting rotation to have a prayer. The wild card is an 8 game uphill battle, so it's possible that all the laughing that Yankee fans did when the Sox fell into 3rd place in 2006 will be revisited on them. The Yankees are the worst, most expensive team ever.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, seem to have spent very wisely on several fronts. J.D. Drew is neither here nor there, and Lugo has been a disappointment on a number of levels. That said, Beckett has recouped some of the value he lost last season when he gave up a load of home runs, Okajima has been a gem, and Matsuzaka is rounding into form as an ace-in-the-making.
Rather than go over the details of the last two Matsuzaka outings, of which I only saw a few innings, I'll take a moment to recap his season to date with a few comments.
In his 10 starts to date Matsuzaka has put up the following numbers:
67 IP (6.2 inning per start)
1058 pitches (106 per outing)
62 hits (8.3 hits per 9)
21 walks (2.8 walks per 9)
64 strikeouts (8.60 K/9)
Looking at what he did for Seibu last season, it's noteworthy that Daisuke walked 33 batters in 186+ innings. This season he's already walked 21 in only 67 innings. The OBA for Matsuzaka at Seibu was .240, but is up around .311 now. You can look at that one factor in determining why his ERA is so high, and his K/BB ratio is merely decent rather than world class. If you extend the numbers out to 200 innings pitched, Matsuzaka should reach about 190 strikeouts. He'd also hit around 62 walks, which is nearly double his total last year. If he doesn't get the control problems worked out, you can expect that he'll continue to give up runs.
I went back and checked out the PECOTA projection for Daisuke this year and found that he is projected to post a 3.83 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP. That's looking very good right now. With the Red Sox offense and solid pen, the 14-7 projection may need to be adjusted up. Daisuke could easily win 16-18 games at this pace. According to Baseball Reference, Matsuzaka's current ERA+ is exactly 100, which means he is exactly league average. The challenge for the next 10 games will be to reduce the walks, which will in turn reduce the baserunners, which will in turn reduce the runs allowed, which will in turn lower the ERA and help the team win some games. I expect that Daisuke will do just that and his next 10 games will be somewhere in the low 3's in terms of ERA and his WHIP will be closer to 1.100 over that stretch.
Next up is the Yankees again. Will he be victimized by the Bombers patient approach again and see his ERA back over 5.00? Will he take advantage of a simply awful Yankees club with one foot in the grave? I have no clue. I'll try to make a guess in a day or two as to the kind of numbers Daisuke will put up in his 3rd time round the Yankees lineup. I need to see how he's feeling and how badly the Yankees continue to tumble before I make my prediction.
I'll be in Italy for the next 10 days, so I may or may not be able to update MW. If you see me, it means I have internet and I can enjoy a little baseball. If not, see you soon.
The intentional walk. Do you or don't you? Discuss.
This would be quite an interesting test for Daisuke Matsuzaka as the young ace faced a tough lineup from the Central Division. Last year's AL Champs added Gary Sheffield to the mix, and have come out strong to start the 2007 campaign. Matsuzaka finally got his game back together in his last start, but the Tigers entered the game tied for 2nd in the Majors with 198 runs scored. The offense has carried the club after an astounding run of superior pitching last season. If you look at the Tigers numbers across the board, offense and pitching, they look exactly like the 2007 Yankees. Very very similar. The Yankees are under .500, while the Tigers are in 1st place in the Central with a 23-13 record. That's baseball.
Matsuzaka's day would be hard work according to the numbers, while the Red Sox could look forward to facing an underperforming Tigers staff. What would give?
After allowing a leadoff single to Curtis Granderson, Matsuzaka promptly began to mow down Tigers, retiring 8 in a row before meeting Granderson again. Daisuke has struggled with certain batters this season, while dominating others. In the Toronto contest, he couldn't seem to figure out Alex Rios who went 3 for 3 against him. Today Granderson continued that trend as he broke up the early string of outs with a home run. Matsuzaka's greatest strength on most nights this season has been his ability to mitigate damage, as he held Detroit in check otherwise. Comparing the pitching lines through 5 innings, it's noteworthy that Daisuke made one mistake to Granderson, but was fairly dominant otherwise. Nate Robertson gave up 11 hits to the Sox, but the Beantown Boys could only cash in on 3 runs. The numbers that we talked about at the start of this post held true to form with regard to Detroit's pitching. Either they're going to get it together soon, or their impressive record is going to head south a bit. As bad as the Yankees have been with the same basic results, the Tigers have played over their heads. Matsuzaka showed how good pitching against the Detroit lineup can allow a team to take advantage of the mediocre rotation.
It's interesting that Tito allowed Matsuzaka to come out for the 8th inning after finishing the 7th at 100 pitches. I was even more shocked to see the Sox allow Daisuke to go for the complete game victory. Something tells me that the Red Sox are going to increase Daisuke's pitch counts to keep him sharp. His routine in Japan was built on 10 years of conditioning, and changing him now seems dubious. He had 14 CG last season for Seibu and he can handle it. As long as the mechanics aren't falling apart late in games, injury is not really a concern. If he becomes an 9 inning pitcher for Boston from here on out...wow!
The most impressive part of Daisuke's outing was the lack of walks. His strikeout numbers weren't as dominant, but he worked relatively efficiently with A LOT of ground ball outs. The lack of baserunners via free pass helped him to work into the 9th inning and gave the Red Sox the opportunity they needed to scratch a few runs across against the Tigers. If the Red Sox hadn't scored those 4 runs in the 8th, something tells me it would have been Papelbon time. He was on his game today, and seems to have found his stride a bit more than during his rough times against the Yankees a few starts back. Daisuke allowed 2 baserunners after the 4th inning and went 1-2-3 in 4 separate innings, mainly inducing ground balls along the way. His final line was stellar at:
He lowered his ERA to 4.17 with his second straight dominating performance and it's noteworthy that eliminating the 3 tough starts from his season totals, Matsuzaka has posted the following results in 37 innings:
You can't take away things that have actually happened, so the Yankees games and the recent debacle against Seattle stand against his record. The results in the other 5 games look very strong though and are right in line with what he did in Japan. If he continues to put together starts like the ones on his good days, imagine what kind of results the Red Sox might enjoy by October.
Many people have asked me to write about the Japanese reaction to Hideki Okajima's performance so far. I think what he's done is beyond anyone's expectations on either side of the Pacific, but we have to note that Japanese relief pitchers have been the most successful players in the Majors Leagues throughout the migration of the last 10 years. Kaz Sasaki, Hidetoshi Hasegawa, Akinori Otsuka, Takashi Saito, and a handful of others have been unhittable at time from the bullpen and Okajima is following closely in their footsteps. "Okaji"'s numbers in Japan compare favorably with some of the most accomplished names on the Japan/MLB list of relievers, so it's not a complete surprise that he's been able to shut down opposing lineups. What is surprising is that he hasn't allowed a run since his debut, and has more strikeouts than innings pitched.
The Japanese are pleasantly surprised by his performance, and I think the best way to describe the mood is amused. Whenever people bring up the topic of Okajima's success for Boston, their is an air of pride mixed with a lot of grinning and head shaking. No one expects him to continue at this pace, as Japanese fans have memories of some of his struggles as well. People are generally enjoying the ride, wondering if and when it's going to get rocky. For my part, I think the league will catch up to Okajima at some point around the All Star break. His delivery is tough to pick up, but Major Leaguers watch a lot of video and they'll get around to hitting him. That said, he is a very good pitcher and I don't think that "catching up to him" means that he's going to fall apart or get rocked. I think he'll continue to be a rock in the Boston bullpen all year. Don't expect him to finish with a sub 2 ERA, but 2.50 is not out of the question.
Japanese Baseball Q&A
Eric over at The Exrapolater
sent me some questions about Japanese baseball a while back and we had an interesting back and forth. He's put the interview together for his readers, and I thought I'd link to it. It's a look at some of the important things to know about baseball in Japan, and I think readers here may enjoy it as well.
Wow. Are the Blue Jays struggling now. I imagine that some jobs are in real jeopardy in Toronto right now with 8 consecutive losses in the books. J.P. Ricciardi lied about an injury for months, destroying his credibility, and manager John Gibbons has rubbed more than a few people the wrong way. None of that mattered to Daisuke Matsuzaka as he looked to bounce back from some shaky performances that had a few members of the Nation in therapy.
His final line was even better than I expected, mainly because my prediction that Toronto would find a little offense after dropping 7 straight. Not on this night. If not for Alex Rios, the pitching line that Daisuke produced would be seriously frightening. Take away his 3 hits and walk and Matsuzaka would have gone 7 complete on 2 hits and 2 walks. Even so, the results were more in line with what we all expect from the talented rookie.
3 walks (still too many)
8 strikeouts (outstanding)
1 run (Overbay's HR)
Things are looking up for Matsuzaka as he was able to translate his recent struggles into an effective workout, and will now look to build on this win for the remainder of May. His K-rate remains one of the best in the sport at more than 10 Ks per 9 innings. If he can harness the control and avoid the walks, he will be unbeatable. Or, at least very very very very good. I'll bring you more in depth analysis of this start and the reaction from Japan shortly. Good to be back on track.
Blue Jays: Round 2
What a time to meet. Daisuke has taken his lumps in his last 3 starts, and has many of his fans in Red Sox Nation either jumping off the bandwagon or quietly wondering if all the hype is deserved. The walks have been up and the pitching has been erratic from the stretch, to say the least. Matsuzaka has had some time to work on his mechanics since his last rough outing, and we will be watching his progress carefully as he faces the Toronto lineup for the second time this season. In the first meeting, Matsuzaka was cruising until he completely broke down in the 4th inning. Pitching from the stretch, Daisuke walked in the decisive run. Looking back on that outing now, it's noteworthy that Red Sox fans were disappointed in his shaky showing. He only gave up 2 runs over 6 innings, while striking out 10. What we would all give for a repeat of that performance, even considering the awful 4th inning.
Toronto is now 0 for May, having opened the month with 7 consecutive losses. Over those losses, the Jays have scored a grand total of 24 runs, which makes a per game average of 3.4 runs scored. It appears as though both Daisuke and his Boston teammates have found our neighbors to the North at precisely the right time. When a struggling and demoralized lineup meets a super talented starting pitcher with recent control problems, something's got to give right? Who will budge first, the poweful Blue Jays offense that scored over 5 runs per game in April, or the Japanese ace who sported a stellar 2.70 ERA before meeting the Yankees and Mariners?
As I've been in the business of predictions this season, I'll give it a whirl again. I believe that you will see a combination of the two outcomes. The Blue Jays will find some success against Matsuzaka, but the 26-year old rookie will show his typical mettle in escaping real damage. Here's my prediction:
2 walks (both to Frank Thomas)
Matsuzaka will have a shaky inning when he gives up 2 runs, but he will escape it with a double play or some big "nobody out" strikeouts. Something along those lines. I also predict that he will finish May at 3-1 with 2 no decisions (the first being his last start against Seattle). All will be forgotten by the end of the month and Matsuzaka will start to get his fastball working to start ahead in the count more. The slider will also return to "plus plus" by sometime in mid-June, if not sooner. Buckle up folks.
The Best/Worst of...
To this point in the season we've seen the best and the worst of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Opening the year against Kansas City with 10 strikeouts and a dominating performance was a setting the bar a bit high for the Japanese ace as some bumps were bound to lie ahead. Matsuzaka did plenty to impress, and enough to win, in his second start against Seattle, but came up on the short end of a Felix Hernandez one hitter. That's baseball. The third start against Toronto was equally impressive, as Daisuke struck out 10 Blue Jays and allowed only 6 baserunners over 6 innings, giving up 2 runs. The Blue Jays start exposed something unsettling in the Major League version of Matsuzaka that I'd never seen before. He seems to implode from the stretch.
I can assure you that this was not the case pitching for Seibu, and I really have no explanation for it. I noticed it in the Toronto start, and my eyes grew wider and wider as his mechanics fell apart and his delivery became rushed and incomplete. With as much scrutiny on every pitch as there is in the Major Leagues, you can bet that the Yankees studied the situation and took advantage in the two meetings just a week ago. Matsuzaka looked bad in both starts and paid the price for his mechanical breakdowns. Still, it was the Yankees and the Yankees can make even the best pitchers look bad on occasion. Just as much as the Yankees were happy to see Boston go, the Red Sox starters must have been thrilled to put the boys from the Bronx in the rear view mirror. It was no picnic for them either. Then there was Seattle: Round Two.
Opening the first inning with three walks is just plain awful and inexcusable in the Major Leagues. That's Bush League stuff that should only happen to overmatched minor leaguers and Rick Ankiel. Daisuke has lost the plate, and doesn't look right. He has been known over the years for his flawless mechanics, and they have abandoned him. I don't know why, and I'm sure no one else has a good answer for it either. It could simply be a comfort level that he hasn't achieved on the mound in the Majors yet. A lack of familiarity with the way Major League hitters think. Whatever it is, he has to fight his way through it and get back to the 1-2-3 delivery that has made him the pitcher he is.
Looking at starts 1-3, Daisuke posted a 2.70 ERA with a 10.8 K-rate and a 6.00 K/BB ratio. Those numbers look very similar to his Seibu 2004-2006 production. His starts 3-6 have seen him produce a Kei Igawa-esque 8.50 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per 9 innings and a 1.50 K/BB. That's the bad of Matsuzaka so far.
The good of Boston is also something to look back on. The fans of Red Sox Nation, and the team itself, have been brilliant diplomats for the US and great ambassadors for New England. The reception that Matsuzaka has received is beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Yesterday, on the NHK evening news, the worst of Red Sox Nation was on display. The NHK cameras were on hand outside Fenway and in the various drinking holes around town, as they have been before and after each start, and it was not pretty. Where the cheerful drunks had been on display early in the season, and the jubilant fans carrying Japanese flags and signs had warmed the hearts of the Japanese to Boston, the idiotic underbelly of the Nation reared its ugly head after the Seattle game. Drunken frat boys with their hats turned on backwards slurred their disapproval at Matsuzaka and Theo Epstein.
"We paid $100 million dollahs fah this??!! Whatta waste."
"I saw this guy in the World Baseball Classic against Mexico and Cuba. This ain't Mexico or Cuba."
"He's wicked awful."
Okay, so I made the last one up. I don't remember all the comments exactly, but the tone and the setting was unmistakable. The tone was angry-drunk and the setting was adrenaline and frustration filled bars and exit gates at Fenway. It was venomous and immature. I've seen the same thing in New York. We have our own fraternity of drunken numbskulls too, but we haven't seen them on NHK since the Irabu days. So far, no Igawa backlash on TV, but it's sure to come. The honeymoon is over. Matsuzaka has TV announcers discussing their disappointment in his performances, and disappointment that the love affair with the fans in Boston has taken a hit.
In reality, you're only as good as your last start, so Daisuke can go out and throw a gem and all will be forgotten. The drunks on TV will be of the rosy-cheeked and goofy-grinned variety again and the Japanese announcers will beam with pride. For now, the adversity has begun. It's what makes the human interest side of sports compelling. As a friend just wrote to me in an e-mail, had Matsuzaka come in and lived up to the impossible hype from the start it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as seeing him fight through the lows as well. I agree. That's reality. No pitcher shows up on the scene and wins the Cy Young with a 0.98 ERA. There's a learning curve, and we fans of Matsuzaka are lucky that his genius will allow him to meet that curve sooner rather than later.
Yankee fans have a different bag of troubles with Kei Igawa. The two Japanese pitchers have both struggled, but where Matsuzaka has had some trouble in the stretch with his control, Igawa's trouble is pitching up in the zone with truly mediocre stuff. Matsuzaka's problems will be worked out with better mechanics. Igawa's troubles stem from the kind of pitcher he has been all along. One good day, and one awful. It's a tale of two pitchers. I expect that Matsuzaka will be in the running for the Cy Young at some point in the next 2-3 years, while Igawa will be lucky to hang onto his job.
Here's to better days ahead and less of the bozos on television.
Golden Week Amusement
It's Golden Week
in Japan right now, which means that people all over the country are hauling their families around on the only long vacation that many companies can afford to give to their employees. Carloads of people clog the highways and airline/hotel fares climb through the roof. It's boom season for the travel industry in Japan. Many people are taking their last chance to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom before the petals are scattered across the landscape.
For my part, I'm overdosing on baseball in between visits to family friends and long overdue errands. Pro Yakyu, Tokyo Big Six University League, Major League Baseball, you name it I'm watching. A little slice of heaven in an otherwise very busy routine. On one of my recent errand runs, I went to the local department store with my wife and baby boy. We had some clothes shopping to do for the little growing monster and I happened to stumble across a clothing display that you all might find very interesting.
You can see by the photos that (1) blond-haired Japanese mannequins are not all they're cracked up to be, and (2) the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is alive and well all over the country. (Throw in Manchester United and you have a rather odd trio.)
I went to a second store to buy yet another round of baby goods to keep the heir to the Matsuzaka Watch throne content, dry, fed, and otherwise well adjusted and found more Yankees/Red Sox apparel for toddlers staring me in the face. This is licensed MLB material here, so you know the proceeds go into the large pool of money that the league makes from merchandising. The other teams around baseball should be thanking their lucky stars and genuflecting at the NY/BOS altar for driving the engine of international merchandising. The small market clubs get an equal share of all the revenue generated by the sale of goods and apparel, and Japan is pouring money into their coffers at this point.
One can only imagine what will happen if and when the Red Sox sign an everyday player from Japan to guarantee the regular TV coverage that will go with their Matsuzaka/Okajima games. I'm sure you'll see the Mets in on this action before long, as well as a handful of other teams. What you'll notice in these pictures is the lack of other team merchandise. There may have been a Seattle shirt or two mixed into the rack, but I didn't see it. You don't see any White Sox clothing (Iguchi) or Tampa Bay good (Iwamura). Certainly you don't see any Cardinals (Taguchi) or Rockies (Kaz Matsui) shirts in those pictures. Buying a Japanese player for your club may help the team, but it's no guarantee that it will drive your merchandising. It has to be the right player that strikes the right chord with the Japanese fans.
I'll have more for you when Matsuzaka makes his next start, but in the meantime feel free to head over to some of my other blogs to reap the benefits of my abundant baseball watching during Golden Week.Yu Darvish WatchYuki Saito WatchKoji Uehara Watch