Daisuke Matsuzaka, before coming to the U.S, played for the Seibu Lions from 1999 to 2006. In those 8 seasons in Japan, he faced 5,768 hitters, and struck out almost 1/4 of them, 1,355, or 23.5%.
He started 204 games and won 108 of them. And — get this — he threw whopping 72 complete games. That is more than one-third of his starts (35.3%).
But $51 million posting fee and contract of six years, $52 million later, he has started his 100th MLB game last Monday. He had 1 — ONE — complete game (May 14th, 2007 vs. Tigers) and pitched total of 591 1/3 innings, an average of 5.9 innigs a start. In his Japanese Pro Baseball days, Matsuzaka averaged at 6.9 innigs per start.
His 100th start was a disaster. I witnessed it first-hand at Fenway Park. Before he can record his 4th out of the night, in top of 2nd, he allowed 7 hits, 1 walk, and 7 runs — a deficit, to slumping bats of then-2-and-7 Boston Red Sox htters, an impossible run difference to climb out of. Frustrated Boston fans booed him mercilessly. After a three-run home run to make the score 7-0, it seemed as if the entire ball park was booing at him. That was followed by a loud mocking cheer when he finally recorded his first out of 2nd inning. It had to be hard for him. I can only imagine.
Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo had a very good article about Matsuzaka, and Japanese pitchers in general, trying to adapt to American way of baseball. This article actually ran a day before his start. Here is some excerpts from this excellent article:
…Through all the gyroball nonsense, and the rave reviews about Dice-K’s stuff and his diva status in Japan, the voice of reason has been Bobby Valentine.
The former major league player and manager, and current analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball’’ and “Baseball Tonight’’ was the Chiba Lotte manager for six seasons when Dice-K was the prominent pitcher in Japan. Valentine tried to temper the overexuberance about Matsuzaka. Not that he didn’t believe Matsuzaka was a good pitcher. He knew he was. He just knew the adaptation from Japan to Boston would include some peril. And he was right.
Valentine summed up the great divide between the Japanese baseball way of thinking and the American version: “In Japan the 3-2 count is immortalized. In America it’s frowned upon. The pitch count is a foreign concept in Japan.’’
Valentine said that because the Japanese are not so hung up on pitch counts, battling a hitter and not giving in to him, and then getting him on a 3-2 count is thought to be a great battle between pitcher and hitter.
“In six years managing in Japan, I never once had an arm injury,’’ Valentine said.
Valentine said that once the thinking started to change on pitch counts it spelled doom for Japanese pitchers who amass large amounts. Valentine also reminded us that Tom Seaver, Luis Tiant, and Nolan Ryan were three pitchers who threw a lot of pitches and often got deep into the count. That’s the way they set up the hitter to get him out.
“When you look at Dice-K now and the Dice-K who pitched in Japan, he’s different. He used to be a six-pitch pitcher and now he’s a two-pitch pitcher,’’ Valentine said. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good pitcher. He’s pitched important games and he’s won a lot of games. But he’s not throwing his offspeed stuff. He’s been Americanized. It’s nobody’s fault. There was a change in the way things were done here and throwing too many pitches is frowned upon by managers, coaches, and front offices and the Japanese pitchers had to adapt to it.’’
Valentine points out that Hideo Nomo, who also pitched a season for the Red Sox and had a no-hitter, didn’t have a difficult adjustment because Valentine said he was basically a two-pitch pitcher through his major league career. Matsuzaka is far different. Valentine recalls Matsuzaka had no qualms in Japan about throwing a 3-2 breaking ball, or changeup. He could throw all of his pitches on any count and be effective doing it.
Ah yes, but in Japan they pitched once a week. In major league baseball, it’s every five days. But Valentine thinks this is a poor argument for changing Matsuzaka’s approach. Because Japanese pitchers can throw so many pitches, the shorter time between starts should benefit them even more. Interestingly, first-year Red Sox pitching coach Curt Young decided to separate the long-tossing and bullpen side sessions that Matsuzaka used to do in the same day.
Now he long-tosses two days after he pitches and has his bullpen session on the third day. This experiment was tried in spring training and Dice-K responded well to it. But is it really that?
Valentine says he doesn’t blame anyone for Matsuzaka not living up to his billing, but if he had managed him he would have left him alone and allowed him to pitch and prepare just as he did in Japan.
Valentine’s comments make sense. You spend $103 million on a foreign player and you expect him to do it your way?
Do I think Daisuke Matsuzaka will be traded? Maybe. I do believe that there are teams out there willing to “roll the dice,” and at age 30, he has plenty of bullets left in him. It’s only possible if the Red Sox can get reasonable player(s) back in return, which is doubtful. Do I think he can turn himself around? It’s possible. I can tell you that Daisuke Matsuzaka is trying his best to achieve success, it is not lack of his will. Something has to happen, and hope he’ll find that out soon.