Saturday, February 9, 2008

Breaking Down Matsuzaka's Rookie Season

It may have been the biggest story of the Red Sox season. Japanese hero Daisuke Matsuzaka took the plunge into the highest level of competition in professional baseball. As he left his country behind, and undertook this difficult task, his every pitch, every step, and practically every breathe was inspected scrupulously from half way around the world. No one truly knew what to expect.

Looking back on Matsuzaka's rookie year, it can be broken down into three distinct periods. From April through May, Matsuzaka struggled in the majors. Then from June through August, he was one of the elite pitchers in the league. Finally, in September he was completely ineffective. Here's how the three segments of the season break down.

1st Segment (April and May)

72.2 IP, 4.82 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 9.16 H/9, 2.60 BB/9, 8.42 K/9

2nd Segment (June, July and August)

103.2 IP, 3.21 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.38 H/9, 3.91 BB/9, 9.20 K/9

3rd Segment (September)

28.1 IP, 7.62 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 10.17 H/9, 4.45 BB/9, 8.59 K/9

Matsuzka's introduction to the major leagues was a bit shaky. That's not to say he was ineffective, but rather hit or miss. Believe it or not, six out of the 11 starts he made in April and May were actually quality starts. But there were days that he went out there and just didn't have it.

There could be any number of reasons for this consistency. It could be due to the harder competition, nervousness, starting more frequently than he was used to, the different size of the ball in the majors, etc. Whatever the reason, Matsuzaka simply wasn't consistent.

In July, Matsuzaka really turned the corner. He rattled off eight quality starts in a row, and overall from June through August, 69% of his starts were quality starts. He was a dominant ace for the Red Sox in the heart of the season. He was holding hitters to a .222 BAA and unlike April and May, when he had a bad day, he was able to limit the damage.

This was the Matsuzaka the Red Sox thought they were getting. At one point in August, Daisuke had his ERA back down to 3.59. His control wasn't superb but he was so unhittable that men weren't able to get on base against him.

Then came September and things got ugly. It's likely that fatigue caught up to him at this point. Matsuzaka was 20 innings over his innings total from 2006. And unlike Japan where you pitch once every week, Matsuzaka was pitching once every five days. And considering this, the Red Sox weren't very cautious with him.

In the first half the season, Daisuke's innings total had already gotten up to 119.2 and he had thrown 1,977 pitches. To give you some perspective, that's well over half the major league leading 3695 pitches that Carlos Zambrano threw over the course of the entire season.

In 2008, Matsuzaka will be more prepared to pitch every five days. His body will naturally adjust to some degree. And perhaps he can adjust his heavy training regimen accordingly. But it may take Daisuke another year or two to adjust to the new schedule completely. We'll have to wait and see.

What To Look For in Spring Training

Matsuzaka pitched well overall in Spring Training last year, but he did struggle with one thing - his control. Matsuzaka walked 4.57 BB/9 IP in Spring Training last year and it predicted his higher than usual walk rate in 2007. In fact, Matsuzaka's walk ratio was the largest change in his stats from Japan to the U.S. If Matsuzaka exhibits good control in Spring Training, it could be a sign that he will return to his dominant, controlled self in 2008.


Gerry said...

For all the reasons you stated, Daisuke will become a dominant #2 this year, or maybe another true Ace. Those who say he could win 20 are probably far more accurate than those who say he could win 15. He already did that, and a few of those 2007 losses could easily have been wins. My concern about the 2008 rotation, now that Schill is down, is that great arms like Daisuke, Lester, Buckholz and Wake just can't pitch 200+ innings and stay strong for the WS run. How do we compensate for that: trade? Give Hansack, Pauley, Masterson alot of innings? How do we protect the pen from fatigue from the too many innings and pitches that we can already anticipate will be needed? We are taking care of Buckholz pitch count. Why not the others? We only win if we avoid injury and fatigue . . . why not LOTs of preventive maintenance and medicine up front?

Olde Town Glory said...

Matsuzaka definitely had bad luck last year with his win total. He pitched six games in which he made a quality start and got a loss and he had two games in which he went at least seven innings allowing a run or less and didn't get a decision. That just demonstrates how inaccurate win/loss records can be in judging how effective a pitcher was.

It will be interesting to see how they manage the innings. Last year they pulled off to such a far lead at the beginning of the year that they could be really cautious with their pitchers. They gave Lester a lot of extra time to rehab in the minors.

The reason people are so concerned about Buch's pitch count however, (and Lester's too) is because they've never pitched a full season before. It puts them at risk for injury and fatigue to expect them to increase their innings total by more than 30 IP from last year.

Olde Town Glory said...

I'm not real big on Pauley, but Hansack's a guy I like a lot going back to last year. As for Masterson, if he plays a role on the 2008 Sox, I have a feeling it will be as a reliever.