If you had to put your finger on one problem that Daisuke has had this year, it's easy. He walks too many batters and wastes too many pitches in doing so. Looking at the monthly splits on Daisuke's numbers, June has proved to be his best month. Perhaps, his recent success can be attributed to facing NL clubs in 3 of the 4 contests he's started this month, 2 of those in NL parks where the DH takes a vacation.
Hold on for just a second. You mean to tell me that Daisuke had his best month of the season while allowing nearly 5 walks per 9 innings? How can that be? I suppose one theory is that batters made much more contact in May. Matsuzaka allowed a .280 batting average to hitters, and only struck out a very average 6.81 batters per nine. He was hittable. In June, despite missing more frequently, he prevented batters from making contact and kept them from driving in runs. Eventually, something like that is going to catch up to you. You can't expect to put yourself into jam after jam and wriggle out of it with a few well timed strikeouts.
I've enlisted "walking guru" Duke Saraie to help me figure out how Daisuke can get his "walking" under control and his dominance of batters back in line with his Seibu days. Duke is a 50-something former fashion model, who now splits time between his home in Monaco and his native Japan. His claim to fame these days is his fitness and wellness program called "Dukeswalk", in which participants engage in all manner of strenuous and contorted walking styles to unleash their inner confidence and tone their outer frame. Saraie, pronounced "sah-RAH-ee-ay", has been a staple on the Japanese variety television circuit over the last few years, and is kind of a cult guru for the young and restless.
When I asked Duke what he thought could get Matsuzaka back on track, he laughed boisterously and told me that he could work out the kinks in Daisuke's game with one quick training session in Dukeswalk. He recommended the "torso walk," arguably Duke's best-known exercise. It has been described thus: With your arms raised and crossed above your head and palms joined so that you look like a church steeple, you zigzag along, waving your "spire" and saying "Shyoot, shyoot!" as you go. By the magic of YouTube, I present you with a short peek into the genius of Duke Saraie and the famous "torso walk". The clip is just some random Japanese guy in his office, but you get the point:
Saraie promised that he'd work on this technique with Daisuke before his Seattle start, to improve on his pitch count. I'll take him at his word, and I'll also let his prediction stand as my own this go around.
8 IP 9 hits 3 runs 1 walk 6 strikeouts
The Mariners are last in MLB in walks, so it gives the Duke a little boost in his prediction, but Daisuke has walked 6 batters over 12 innings against Seattle this year and he's given up 10 runs. The Mariners are one of the best hitting teams in baseball, so we might see a short scoring outburst at some point. I think Saraie's "torso walk" will get Matsuzaka to pitch more economically, so 8 innings seems like a good bet. Less strikeouts as well. Hmmmmm.......I might have to tack another run onto that prediction myself and go with 4, but he's the genius, right?
This week's prediction comes directly from a personal favorite of mine, Go Hiromi. Mr. Go is a former teen idol, now in his early 50's and still going strong. Think of him as a kind of post-Miami Vice Don Johnson meets Ricky Martin and you have this wonderful "artist" down cold. Before we get to the prediction, you should check out the latest from this transcendent artist via the magic of YouTube. Ah.....if only there were more like this!
Boom! Boom! Boom! is the name of the new single and Boom! Boom! Boom! come the strikeouts for Daisuke against the Padres. Only the Marlins strike out more than San Diego and only the White Sox have a lower team batting average. The only saving grace for the "Fathers" is that they know how to take a walk. Hiromi told me that the walks will put Daisuke in a few jams, but the strikeout will save him in the end.
7 IP 5 hits 4 walks 2 runs 12 Ks
(Do yourself a favor and watch the clip at least until he starts to dance at about :52 remaining. You won't be sorry.)
Before I make my game prediction, there's a little business to do with regard to Matsuzaka. You've obviously seen the Asahi Super Dry beer ads that Matsuzaka has been featured in, and maybe you've had a look at the Toyota ad that ran a few months ago. Chances are, you missed the Aquarius Sports Drink ad that has been running in Japan lately. Actually there are two versions of the ad. You can watch them at the Aquarius website, as well as the "making of" video clips that might be of interest to you. Coca Cola produces Aquarius among other sports drinks and ion replenishing beverages. Coke has a relationship with MLB so you see the MLB logo in the commercials and drinks like Aquarius, unique to Japan, can also market themselves using MLB licensing.
What you see in the banner ad above is a note about a couple of Aquarius-related contests going on now. The bottom box tells you about the chance to win tickets to the September series against the Yankees, with seating up on the Green Monster.
In Japan, it's popular to put little giveaways on the tops of sodas and beverages to entice the thirsty masses to choose one drink or the other. Recently, the sports drink category of Coca Cola Japan has been giving away little MLB team towels with their drinks, pressure shrunken and neatly packaged in a little plastic hang tag around the necks of the bottles. I've been trying to find a Yankees towel, but can't seem to get one for the life of me. I stick my head into the refrigerator unit and remove each and every bottle with these "gifts" and can only seem to manage Tampa Bay, San Diego, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and a couple of Red Sox. Here you'll see a Red Sox towel being used as a drip catcher for a convenience store "hot pot".
Aquarius is a very thirst quenching beverage that has that unmistakable sports drink taste. Kind of coats your tongue activating salivation. I drink it fairly often and enjoy it a lot. The Matsuzaka ads are a little over the top with CG of fire engulfing the mound and water bursting from Daisuke's pitching hand, scorching the dirt and peeling it apart. You know the genre. What's interesting to me is the Pepsi counter attack to the Matsuzaka campaign. Check it out below:
If that looks familiar, it's because it's the exact pitching line that Daisuke produced in his debut against KC. The Giants' offensive metrics are actually slightly worse than KC across the board, in part thanks to the pitcher batting, but they are bad offensively. Watch our man dominate.
I will be hosting a chat at Baseball Prospectus on Thursday, June 14th at 12pm ET. For most of you that's today. For me, it's actually a 1am start on the 15th, so I'll be able to tell you all about the future.
Join me for a little Q&A and tell your friends. The more the merrier. I'll be ready to answer your questions about Japanese baseball, and hopefully anything else you might have on your mind about the current crop of Japanese players in the Major Leagues.
I just enjoyed my lunch here at work, and managed to survive the humid weather while I browsed the box scores by partaking in a thirst quenching new beverage from Pepsi. This is not in any way shape or form related to Daisuke Matsuzaka, but far too bizarre and quirky to keep to myself.
Pepsi Japan is clearly run by the insane. I know there are certain things that are unique to cultures around the world, including local tastes and seasonings. In India they don't eat beef, so Mickey-D's serves lamb burgers. The Dutch love jars of herring in cream sauce. There are some cultures that eat beetles and grubs. The Japanese love....well........see for yourself:
In case you didn't get a good enough look at that bottle, I will provide you with a closeup view to help your eyes adjust. For those of you who have been drinking, double check this in the morning and you will find that it wasn't a hallucination.
I'm sure some wise soul will point out that Dr. Brown's has been producing a very successful line of soft drinks for year, which not only offers Cream Soda but also the subtle palate of Celery Soda. I like Celery Soda. It's been around for a very long time and has had a chance to work its way into a nice little niche at delis around the NorthEast United States. That's Celery. This is Ice Cucumber. Not just cucumber, but ICE cucumber. You know ICE. It's that made up taste that you can find in Gatorade and Shaving Lotion and Mouthwash and Windshield Wiper Fluid. Combine that with cucumber and you have a surefire hit with the kids. Hell, next I'm going to make Ice Teriyaki Soda and then Ice Beet Juice. Maybe I can market the opposite sensation. FIRE. Kind of a cinnamon spin on the whole thing. I'll be rich. Fire Bacon. Fire Kim Chee. Or, SMOKED. Smoked Chicken with Flavor Crystals........
No wonder Matsuzaka got sick a few starts ago. He was among the focus group for this mess. Someone call Interpol.
Update: My aunt sent me this article from AOL Money News about the product starring in this post. Didn't believe me? Yes, it's terrifyingly true. I'm on the look out for Ice Cauliflower today.
The walk. It'll kill you. There is no more damaging part of the game for a team than the issued walk. You may say the home run is more damaging, except that a home run can occur on the first pitch of an at bat. Yes, it puts a run on the board, so there's an argument, but the walk can become something that spirals out of control. You throw more pitches. You lose the plate. You work out of the stretch. You make your teammates sit back on their heels waiting for something to happen. You get more and more tired, giving each successive batter a better chance at a mistake that will cost you more than a single run. Oh, the walk.
The base on balls has been Matsuzaka's cement collar this season. The rest of his game is getting better and better and you can see that he is All World under the mysterious control issues. He strikes out some of the game's best players multiple times in a game and he sometimes makes them look foolish in doing so. The game of baseball is also very fickle. Consider Matsuzaka's last 2 starts:
13 IP 11 hits 6 BB 17 K 4 ER 2 losses
Looking more closely at the ratios for those performances you see that Daisuke has put up:
The high pitch counts and the struggles he has in certain innings come from the walks. Everything negative in his pitching line comes from walking batters. 11.77 K/9 is nuts. (It's also one of the factors that helps him escape from tough spots he creates.) On the season, Matsuzaka has an 8.92 K/9 ratio, which is outstanding. The ability is there. The control is not. That said, you have to win a game in which your starter gives you a "quality start". 6 innings and 2 runs is a winnable game, but the Sox offense has stayed behind in Boston as the team has played out West. On the West Coast swing, the Sox scored 22 runs in 7 games, which is 3.14 runs per contest. That isn't winning baseball. That's pi. If you take out the big 10-3 win against Arizona in the first game of the current series, you have 12 runs in 6 games, which is easily calculated to a measly 2 runs per outing. Ouch.
Maybe the travel day will reunite the Sox with their luggage...er....offense and the team can get the bats back together. The Yankees are only a razor thin 9.5 back now. Uh....yeah. There's no place like home.
Thanks to Hiroko Ota, Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy, I was able to provide another stunningly accurate prediction for Daisuke Matsuzaka's last start. Continuing the trend of celebrity guests, I've enlisted famous Japanese film director, actor, and all around personality Beat Takeshi to make the latest guess. Here's what he had to say:
Yeah. At first he just kind of stared at me for a few minutes. Then, he had this to say:
"Lots of strikeouts."
"Lots of blood and screaming."
No. No. No. You're going to far. Just stick to baseball. This is real. No surrealism.
"A dog will bark in the distance and then a speeding police car will crash through the centerfield fence, followed by an ambulance."
Stop. This is about real baseball. Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Randy Johnson. Red Sox and Diamondbacks.
I was fortunate enough (in the cozy environs of my own imagination) to spend some time with several members of Prime Minister Abe's Cabinet as they left a recent meeting in Tokyo. Several of the ministers took a minute or two to weigh in on Matsuzaka and even offered a few predictions about his next start versus Oakland. Here's what they had to say:
Taro Aso - Minister of Foreign Affairs
Exporting a talent like Daisuke is a wonderful gesture by the Japanese people to the baseball fans of your country. If all goes well, we will be mass producing these pitchers in miniaturized form and sending more of them for you to consume. Of course, the gyroball is a national treasure. That will stay behind.
vs. Oakland 9 IP, no hits, no walks, no runs, 27 strikeouts
Tetsuzo Fuyushiba - Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport
The posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka eased the burden of one high priced young whippersnapper on the infrastructure. For what it cost us to support Mr. Matsuzaka's needs in Japan we can now afford to pay for 10 new whaling ships. Huzzah.
vs. Oakland 7 IP, 7 hits, no walks, no runs, 7 strikeouts
Masatoshi Wakabayashi - Minister of the Environment
Whaddya say? Matsu-whatsit? You'll have to speak up. If you're referring to the boy from Yokohama High School, I think he'll be a fine pro. I hope he plays for the Giants. America, you say? Never signed on to the Kyoto Protocols. Also, I don't like those Hollywood pictures these days. Too many effects and not enough story. When I was a young man.....
vs. Oakland Don't you mean Philadelphia Athletics?
Koji Omi - Minister of Finance
I don't know much about base..........ball. Fact of the matter is, I'm much more of shogi fan myself. Cleats irritate my corns. Matsuzaka-san certainly provided a boost to the economy though. With Seibu sinking into the abyss of financial uncertainty, a certain Boston-based benefactor, who will remain nameless, decided to bail them out with a hefty contribution. Uh...yes. The Red Sox. Who told you that?
vs. Oakland 14 IP, 112 hits, 12 "four balls", 10,000 runs, no strikeouts
Hiroko Ota - Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy
Well, right now we've only seen Matsuzaka's rawest ability. Early on his VORP is only 9.6, behind Beckett, Schilling, and Wakefield among starters. His Defense Independent ERA, adjusted for All Time, is 4.46. I expect to see him build on some early success, and get his ERA+ numbers back into positive territory. He's not a 93. That said, he's not as cute as Yuki Saito.
vs. Oakland 8 IP, 6 hits, 2 walks, 2 ER, 10 strikeouts
As for me, I'm going with Minister Ota's prediction. She was right about Pedroia, too. She said he'd hit when everyone else was beginning to doubt. Go Daisuke!!