Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, June 23, 2007

DICE-K: A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

What to make of Daisuke Matsuzaka?

With a record of 9-5, and at least two starts remaining before the All-Star break, Matsuzaka could be halfway to 20 wins by the start of the second half.

Considering that there wasn’t a single 20-game winner in the majors last season, such an achievement for a first-year pitcher would be quite remarkable.

With his win against the Padres, in which he allowed just one run, Matsuzaka’s ERA dropped to 4.01.

Though he allowed just the single run over six innings, Matsuzka didn’t make it easy on himself. Granting the Padres five walks and five hits, the 26-year-old allowed 10 Padres’ hitters to reach base. And he threw 126 pitches in those six innings of work. When you throw that many pitches in so few innings, that’s just what it is – work.

It’s a troubling habit that Matsuzaka has gotten himself into, throwing an average of 110 pitches per start. That’s not economical and not good for one’s longevity.

But then there were the nine strike outs, adding to his season total of 102, third best in the American League.

Matsuzaka has gotten a decision in 14 of his 15 starts. And he’s a workhorse; his 98.2 innings leads the Red Sox rotation, and are 15 more than Josh Beckett and 24 more than Julian Tavarez. Barring injury, Matsuzaka will certainly give the Red Sox 200-plus this season.

Dice-K is nothing if not a series of contrasts as a pitcher. With 102 strike outs and just 93 hits in his 98.2 innings, Matsuzaka has revealed himself to be a front end starter and a challenge to opposing hitters.

But if you include the 35 walks he’s issued to those batters, Matsuzaka has allowed a staggering 128 base runners. With that in mind, it’s amazing that a lot more of them haven’t scored. It makes you wonder just how low his ERA would be if not for all the walks. And by the way, Tim Wakefield -- not exactly a master of control or location with his ‘throw it toward the plate and see where it lands’ knuckleball -- has just one more walk this season than his Japanese teammate. Add to that the fact that Matsuzaka has also hit more batters (6) than any of rotation mates, and it’s just another indication that his control has been problematic.

But none of that has stopped Matsuzka-san from winning. Sure, it helps playing on a balanced team with a solid, reliable bullpen. But, for a pitcher so new to the big leagues, he has showed plenty of grit and determination. Three A.L. pitchers have 10 wins (Beckett, Lackey and Sabathia), while Matsuzaka and Dan Haren both have nine. And Matsuzaka is the only rookie of the bunch.

But a pitcher’s win/loss record can be deceiving. Does that apply to Dice-K?

Consider this; on five occasions Matsuzaka has gone at least six innings, but his offense scored no more than one run while he was in the game. In his five losses, the Red Sox scored a total of six runs, or 1.2 per game.

On the other hand, in his nine wins, the Red Sox scored an average of 7.11 runs per game. And in his lone no-decision, the Sox scored eight runs. Apparently, it’s feast or famine for this guy.

Crunch the numbers and you see that Dice-K is a study in contrasts. In some regards, he stacks up quite nicely against his A.L. peers: second in wins (9); third in strike outs (102); and 9th in innings. But in others, he doesn’t fare nearly as well: 10th most walks; 21st in ERA; 22nd in WHIP; and only 14 pitchers have allowed more earned runs.

Opponents are batting .246 against Dice-K, 18th in the A.L. That may seem pretty good until you realize that the Red Sox fifth starter, Julian Tavarez, is 20th at .252. Perhaps that just speaks well of the surprising Tavarez.

Ultimately, Matsuzaka plays for a team with the best winning percentage in baseball, which benefits him greatly. But then again, having him on the staff has benefited the Red Sox as well. Matsuzaka is an innings eater who doesn’t put pressure on the bullpen when he pitches. And he strikes out batters at the stunning clip of 9.3 per 9 innings, fourth best in the A.L.

However, his 319 OBA (on-base percentage against), tied for 23rd, will need to come down for him to remain successful. A pitcher cannot allow so many base runners without it eventually coming back to haunt him. Sooner or later that luck will run out. Matsuzaka’s 1.30 WHIP is another reflection of this problem. He’s been whistling through the grave yard and getting himself out of jams, but he’s also melted down in at least one inning in almost every start.

It all comes down to location and control for Dice-K. He needs to become more economical with his pitch counts and throw more strikes. If he gets those issues sorted out, he’ll be even more successful and continue to frustrate and humble opposing hitters. If he does, the Red Sox will be even more successful as well. Imagine that.


Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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