Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Red Sox Rolled the Dice on Matsuzaka and Came Up Short

So much was expected of Daisuke Matsuzaka when he arrived in Boston that perhaps he was destined to disappoint. But no one ever expected this level of futility.

After all, Dice-K was a six-time All Star in Japan and was crowned the MVP of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. He also led his league in strikeouts four times, wins three times and ERA twice.

That pedigree led the Red Sox to bid $51,111,111.11 just for the right to buy Matsuzaka out of his Japanese contract and to attempt to sign him to a major league deal. The enormous figure — two to three times the Lions' payroll — shocked the baseball world, from Japan to the U.S.

The Sox then spent an additional $52 million to sign the Japanese righty to a six-year contract. The deal was negotiated on Red Sox owner John Henry's private plane en route from Southern California to Boston. As a sign of the Dice-K mania to come, the flight was followed by both the Boston and the Japanese media.

Matsuzaka arrived in Boston like rock star. He had his own entourage, including a massage therapist, physical therapist, interpreter and personal assistant. He also had an enormous flock of Japanese media that followed him wherever he went in his first spring training, as well as at every game that season.

Matsuzaka was said to possess up to seven pitches, including the infamous "gyro-ball". It appeared he had the stuff to be an ace, and he had certainly cultivated that pedigree in international competition.

But his tenure in Boston hasn't gone anything like Red Sox executives or fans had hoped.

In 2007, his first year with the Sox, Dice-K was a bit of a mixed bag, going 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. Matsuzaka allowed 8.4 hits and 3.5 walks per nine innings. Those numbers were signs of what was to come in subsequent years.

The upside was that Matsuzaka made 32 starts in 2007, threw 204.1 innings and struck out 201 batters.

Clearly, wins and losses are team stats. But given the fact that Matsuzaka had an advantage over hitters who were seeing him for the first time that season, losing 12 games was a surprise. That said, the greater concerns were his high ERA and WHIP.

However, Dice-K helped the Red Sox win the World Series that season. He was expected to improve as he acclimated to life in the Major Leagues and the U.S.

All was well... we thought.

In 2008, Dice-K had by far his best year with the Red Sox, going 18-3 with a 2,90 ERA. But those numbers, while impressive, overshadowed some more troubling stats. For example, Matsuzaka made just 29 starts and threw only 167.2 innings. The latter was a byproduct of the righty's typically short outings.

Matsuzaka's innings per start dropped from 6.4 in 2007 to just 5.8 in 2008. He was undermined by high pitch counts and a lack of command that led to 94 walks, fourth highest in the Majors.

The striking reality lurking beneath the flashy 18 wins was this: Dice-K threw the fewest innings of any pitcher to have ever won at least 18 games in the history of baseball.

The following year, a pattern of injuries began to set in, which became a recurring theme over the remaining four years of Matsuzaka's Red Sox contract. He made just 12 starts in 2009; 25 in 2010; eight in 2011 and just five this season.

Over the last four seasons (2009 - 2012), Matsuzaka is 16-18 with a 5.17 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP, a 1.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and zero complete games. This is the guy that was supposed to be an ace, a Japanese wizard of pitching. Go figure.

Matsuzaka never seemed to trust himself or his defense. He wouldn't challenge hitters and attack the strike zone. Instead, he nibbled at the corners and threw too many pitches to each batter. All too frequently, he succumbed to high pitch counts early in games, often by the fifth inning.

For their $103 million investment, the Red Sox got a total of 49 wins over six seasons; an average of 8 wins per season. In six years, Dice-K gave the Red Sox exactly one complete game.

Matsuzaka was never worth all that money, or all the hype that accompanied his arrival in Boston.

Dice-K went on the disabled list once in 2008 (tired shoulder), twice in 2009 (weakness in his throwing arm) and then missed most of 2011 and 2012 due to Tommy John surgery.

Now he is back on the DL yet again — for the eighth time in his six-year carer — with an injury to his trapezeus muscle.

It is possible, though not certain, that we have seen the last of Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform. Most Sox fans can only hope. However, in the second half of the season, the Sox will likely need pitching depth.

Lefty Felix Doubront threw a total of 87.2 innings last season and is already up to 89.2 this year. Clay Buchholz threw just 82.2 innings last year and is already up to 86.1 this season. Franklin Morales started the season in the bullpen and has made three starts. The last time he made more starts in the majors was in 2008, when he made five.

The point is, the Sox may well need Dice-K again at some point this season.

And that is a very scary prospect.

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