The Red Sox by all accounts — Gammons, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times — have completed their masterstroke. They have landed sole negotiating rights to the top starting pitcher on the market, simultaneously opening untapped revenue streams on another continent while filling a large gap in their rotation and blocking their chief rivals from obtaining what nearly everyone had already ceded to them.
What have $42 million (plus $10 million or more per year, assuming they can sign him) bought the Red Sox? Daisuke Matsuzaka, yes. But Matsuzaka the Ace, Matsuzaka the Flop, or someone in between?
Matsuzaka Watch, run by Yankee fan Mike Plugh, says the 26-year-old Japanese phenom is "a legitimate #1 starter that will get better in his 2nd and 3rd years, to the tune of Cy Young contention."
There’s no question he was a No. 1 starter with the Seibu Lions.
2003: 16-7, 2.83, 194 IP, 215 K, 63 BB, 13 HR
2004: 10-6, 2.90, 146 IP, 127 K, 42 BB, 7 HR
2005: 14-13, 2.30, 215 IP, 226 K, 49 BB, 13 HR
2006: 17-5, 2.13, 186.3 IP, 200 K, 34 BB, 13 HR
If he put up those numbers in Boston, there’s no question we’d be looking at the greatest acquisition since the Pedro Martinez trade. Particularly, look at Matsuzaka’s rate stats:
2003: 1.18 WHIP, 9.97 K/9, 2.92 BB/9, 3.41 K/BB
2004: 1.16 WHIP, 7.83 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 3.02 K/BB
2005: 1.03 WHIP, 9.46 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, 4.61 K/BB
2006: 0.92 WHIP, 9.66 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 5.88 K/BB
Just for kicks, those 2006 numbers in the American League would have placed him first in WHIP, first in K/9, fifth in BB/9 (Schilling, Halladay, Mussina, Silva) and second in K/BB ratio (Schilling).
By comparison, Hideki Irabu had just two seasons of nine (at least 20 starts) in which he posted an ERA below 3.00 (Matsuzaka has seven of nine), and his K/BB numbers only occasionally approached what Matsuzaka has done consistently.
Hideo Nomo, probably the most successful of the Japanese pitchers in America, struck out far more hitters than Matsuzaka has, but his walks also were sky-high, as were his homers.
The Japanese leagues clearly are weaker than Major League Baseball. Nomo, although posting two excellent seasons in Los Angeles, faltered. He went on to have a productive career, threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter in his lone season in Boston, and became a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter. His career ERA of 4.21 isn’t shabby, although his last two seasons (8.25 and 7.24) certainly were.
Irabu stunk out of the gate (7.09 ERA in 13 games, nine starts) but rebounded in 1998 to post decent 13-9, 4.06, 1.30 marks. His 1999 wasn’t terrible either, but it was mediocre. The general consensus is that he lacked the mental fortitude to withstand the withering expectations of the Bronx. He was out of baseball after a not-so-good 2002 relief stint in Texas.
So how will Matsuzaka do? His numbers are the best of the three, and the Japanese leagues presumably are better now than 10 years ago, during Nomo’s and Irabu’s primes (after all, they’ve since produced excellent hitters like Ichiro and Matsui).
Baseball Guru’s Jim Albright has used a set of formulas to recalibrate JPL stats into MLB equivalents. Using those numbers, Plugh took Matsuzaka’s 2005 stats and calibrated them for the 2005 Yankee season. If Matsuzaka had been a Yankee in 2005, his numbers would have looked like this (keep in mind the Red Sox and Yankees finished with the same record):
- 19-5, 2.74, 215 IP, 200 K, 63 BB, 16 HR, 1.15 WHIP, 8.37 K/9, 3.18 K/BB
The Hardball Times, unsure of the optimism surrounding these numbers, translated Matsuzaka’s Japenese stats into the International League. Thus, assuming Japanese leagues are no better than AAA ball in the states (they’re believed to be better than that), Matsuzaka in 2005 would have finished with a 3.44 ERA, 189 K and 65 BB — still 7.91 K/9 and 2.91 K/BB.
So Matsuzaka is far from unproven. In a system better than the American minor leagues, he has put up numbers that would easily translate into No. 2 starter material. And he’s 26 years old. While anything can happen, and the transition from Japan to America seems to have taken its toll on pitchers more than hitters, the stats are there.
Now take those stats and put them in a rotation with Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon, with Lester and Buchholz on the way. How do you not take a chance on a pitcher like this — without even delving into the revenue opportunities in Japan, with China and South Korea right next door?
Indeed, this is a coup for the Red Sox.