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October 25, 2006

Matsuzaka - Worth The Price?

I was just reading SG's fine write-up on Daisuke Matsuzaka
over at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog and it made me think of Hideki Matsui's troubles when he first joined the Yankees. For those who don't remember, via ESPN.com, here was the issue:

...Matsui arrived in the big leagues without any weapons to combat the cut-fastball and sinking two-seamer -- two pitches that are virtually non-existent in Japan.

Even the traditional four-seam fastball posed a threat to Matsui, since Japanese pitches don't throw nearly as hard as major leaguers.

"That's what worried me at first, because the pitching here is better," Matsui said through an interpreter the other day. "There was quite a bit of adjustment for me. I was worried if I would be good enough to play here. The sinker and the cutter were much different than what I was used to."

Now, the reports say that Matsuzaka throws around 140-150 KPH. In the States, that's a range of 87-93 MPH. So, it's safe to say, on average, Matsuzaka is just touching 90 MPH on his fastball. Reports also say that Matsuzaka, in addition to his fastball, throws a slider, forkball, changeup, and two-seam sinking fastball.

Since Matsui said that you don't see sinkers and cutters in Japan, I would bet that has helped Matsuzaka - because he reportedly does feature these pitches.

But, in the big leagues here, batters are used to seeing pitchers who feature the forkball/sinker/cut-fastball tool belt. And, unless it's a sinker like Wang's or a cut-fastball like Rivera's, hitters are not going to be over-powered by these style pitchers.

So, unless Matsuzaka has Wang/Rivera type movement on his breaking pitches, he's not going to fool many hitters here with a 90-MPH heater and pitches with a slight wrinkle to them.

In fact, this could be some of the reason behind SG's projection result of 37 HRs allowed in 186 IP for Matsuzaka on U.S. soil.

I would have to believe that a pitcher who allows 35+ HRs in less than 200 IP in the majors would be looking at an ERA near five for the season - unless he walks few and whiffs a lot of batters.

Again, the question here is - Does Matsuzaka have the package of pitches that will make major league hitters whiff, and often?

Once White Sox scout was recently quoted as saying, on Matsuzaka -

"He is not coming with great movement, or deception on his changeup, or anything of that nature. He is just a good, solid pitcher."

No great movement, huh?

Anyone who signs Matsuzaka is probably looking at a $60 million total package between the posting fee and his contract. That's a lot of coin for someone who could end up pitching like Jose Lima in this country. It's too much risk for my nerves. I think the Yankees should pass on Matsuzaka, now, thinking it all over.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at October 25, 2006 02:24 PM

Comments

Any subject can be overanalyzed to death. But when I read "He is just a good, solid pitcher" then I can live with the possibility that it doesn't work because at least a few major league talent evaluators DO think he can succeed in the big leagues.

Ther are legitimate concern about signing anyone from outside our borders because they're being judged against non-MLB caliber talent. He might stink. He might not, however. And judging from the fact that you took one of the 12 quotes that SG posted on his blog and then extrapolated a negative from it, without even mentioning all the other positive reviews, I have to say that your pessimism is unbelievable.

Sign him, give it a shot. If it bombs, it bombs. But I'd rather be the Yanks who try things than the Royals who pin their hopes on Elmer Dessens ever year.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 03:20 PM

~~~I have to say that your pessimism is unbelievable.~~~

Even after reading this blog for 18 months? :-)

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 03:33 PM

HA! That was actually very funny!

The funny thing is that I'm something of a pessimist myself but I don't think I can run with the big dogs such as yourself.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 03:49 PM

And don't forget, they use 6-man rotations in Japan.

Posted by: Mike A. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 03:55 PM

I don't know.

There have been too many pitchers over the years that have bombed with great stuff, there are many pitchers who have done well with less than average stuff.

I think the Yanks should take a flyer on him, he can't be much worse than some of the guys they've trotted out there over the years.

If he bombs, he can be traded. No worries there.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 04:08 PM

Since when does $60 million = take a flier? That's my issue. If NY could get him for $20 mill, total, that's a flier. Sixty? That's a ton of money over three years - even for the Yankees.

MJ - maybe it's age? The older the dog the more he pess'es?

Mike - do you remember everything I say? LOL. Do I need to put you on the payroll?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 04:27 PM

Since when does $60 million = take a flier? That's my issue. If NY could get him for $20 mill, total, that's a flier. Sixty? That's a ton of money over three years - even for the Yankees.
==========
So?

If he stinks, the Yanks move him and a suitcase of $$ for a player.

Given the track record of Pavano & Wright, and the Yanks going so hard after them (even to the point of going after Wright after failing a physical), there should be no reason the Yanks shouldn't go after Matsuzaka.

From the RLYW;

"Physically, he could help any team. He is an American-type pitcher. He has the kind of stuff that American major-league pitchers have.
"He is not coming with great movement, or deception on his changeup, or anything of that nature. He is just a good, solid pitcher."
...
"He usually pitches based upon necessity. He might throw a fastball to a leadoff hitter, or to a hitter with two out and nobody on, that is about 141 kph. But if he is going for a strikeout, he will get that up to 147-150 kph.

"He has an above-average fastball. He has an above-average forkball. His control, most of the time, is above average. When he gets in trouble, it is just touching average."
...
"When we scout, we rank them from two to eight. Five means average, six is above average, seven is good, eight is excellent.

"Matsuzaka is a 'six' on everything. He is above average. He doesn't have the fastball of Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens -- which were 'eights.'
...
"He has an above-average fastball with some movement on it. I think he is good enough that he doesn't have to put the wear and tear on his arm that he does by throwing so many different pitches."
...
"He might throw you a 'seven' fastball every once in a while, but he can't do it 20 out of 20 times. He might do it three out of 20. He'll show you a flash."
...
"The pitches that he has command of are the slider, forkball, changeup, the four-seam fastball -- which is a riding-type fastball with increasing velocity, the two-seam fastball -- which has some sink. All of those pitches are above average.

"Unless his control falters, he will have success. Only injuries will prevent him from being a No. 1 to No. 3 starter."

When he saw Matsuzaka strike out 13 and hit four batters on Oct. 7 at Seibu Dome, in what was likely his last game for the Lions, the apparent contradiction did not raise a red flag for Poitevint.

"He struck out 13 and hit four batters, but those four hit batsmen served a purpose. He had those guys thinking up there. It's not a child's game.
...
While noting that Matsuzaka has the stuff to succeed in the majors, Poitevint also thinks the hurler possesses the fortitude required to achieve on the biggest stage.

Yeah, I think the Yanks should take a chance on him.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 04:38 PM

Sorry if this is veering off-topic a bit, but how is it possible that in Japan pitchers are still not throwing cutters or two-seam sinkers?

How hard would it be for a Japanese club to hire a former MLB pitcher to come and teach these pitches to their young pitchers? And once that club starts mowing down the league's hitters - which they would do even if only one or two pitchers got the hang of the new pitches - wouldn't all the other clubs follow likewise?

If Matsuzaka is pitching himself into the majors with this repertoire, where did he learn the pitches from? And, again, why can't anyone else in Japan throw them?

I just can't get my mind around the concept of certain pitches not being thrown in Japan. How is that possible?

Posted by: carla [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 05:05 PM

Everything that I've read about Matsuzaka suggests that we would have to spend around $70M to get this guy, right? ($30M for the bid and a $40M Pavano type contract)

For the same $70M, we could probably get two top of the rotation pitchers (3 yr/$30M for Schmidt, 2yr/$24M for Pettitte, etc) and have money left over to sign up Moose for another year or go after a guy like Mulder.

I'm not saying that Matsuzaka wouldn't be good, I just think we could get more value with some of the other Free Agents out there.

Posted by: christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 05:13 PM

~~~I'm not saying that Matsuzaka wouldn't be good, I just think we could get more value with some of the other Free Agents out there.~~~

Ditto.

Carla - I'm not sure, and, I know I should not say this, but...could it be the issue of smaller hands?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 05:16 PM

Carla - I'm not sure, and, I know I should not say this, but...could it be the issue of smaller hands?
==========
No; if that were the case, there wouldn't be many other types of pitches thrown other than a fastball.

I would say one of the differences is that people here throw harder.

As to the original question, I don't know myself. I would think that messing around in the bullpen or playing catch, you could come up with a few new pitches. I know I did.

I am a bit skepitcal about the lack of cutters and sinkers in Japan. Especially when you have pitchers there throwing everything else.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 05:40 PM

Though I'm still ambivalent - and I know beggers can't be choosers - I think I'm with you on this one, Steve. I realize it's not my money, but there are just too many unknowns for this guy to get the coin typically bestowed upon a bona fide MLB "ace." Normally, as a client of Boras, his asking price would exceed his worth anyway. But this guy (to me, at least) sounds like a high-end junkballer. I say sign Schmidt and hope that Hughes is ready after the All-Star break.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 06:23 PM

What is it about Schmidt that has everyone so interested in him? Why would the Yankees want a 34 year old pitcher who seems to battle injuries every season and has had exactly two good seasons in a 12 year career? Do the Yanks want to find out how much fun another pitcher can have in making the move to the AL?

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 07:01 PM

Schmidt has had more than 2 good years. He's averaged 200+ innings/yr over the past 5 seasons, has been a good post-season pitcher and has dominated the AL, including the Yanks and Boston. Even if he has only had two good years in the majors, that's two more than Matsuzaka.

Posted by: christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 07:59 PM

If you don't think the Yankees should pursue Matsuzaka nor pick up Mussina's option the rotation will be slim pickings in 2007.

I just hope they don't go after Schmidt - I think he's an accident waiting to happen.

Even Zito's looking OK now :)

Posted by: RICH [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 08:17 PM

If $60 million is the price, then they would be better off giving that money to Zito, who is a proven commodity.

Zito is a character guy and a professional. I think of Jimmy Key when I think of Zito.

Posted by: Joel [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 09:25 PM

MJ,

I don't have enough energy/desire to defend Schmidt. You're right in that signing him to a multi-year contract might be a huge disaster. Still, when healthy, I'd rank him as a top ten pitcher. Ultimately, they may just have to bite the bullet and sign Zito, a proven AL commodity (or mediocrity). But, it's a funny thing about Zito: He has quite a few miles logged on that left wing of his. At what point does it start failing him, and how many years will be left on his Yankees contract when it does?

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 10:11 PM

I think they'll sign Matsuzaka AND Zito.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 10:14 PM

Matsuzaka does not throw his fastball at 90. Go watch the WBC if you want to see his fastball (the clips are on YouTube). He throws his fastball 91-96, averaging around 93/94 and then dialing it up when it has to to 95/96.

The idea of calling this guy a junkballer is simply absurd. Junkballers can throw 96-mile-an-hour heat? In what world?

Forget about Schmidt. He came out of nowhere to be one of the top pitchers in the league a few years back, but he is NOT that guy anymore. His velocity is way down now and while he will throw innings, he's not an ace anymore. With the pitching being so slim, he will demand a lot of money.

I know there's a lot of doubt about Matsuzaka -- he's Japanese, which means people will automatically doubt him -- but this guy is the real deal. If you read the entire article that MJ quoted, you'll see a very respected international scout thinks he could be at worst a three-starter here, and maybe a number one or two.

People compare the Japan League to AAA. If there was a 26 year old in AAA who put up a 2 ERA and struck out a batter an inning, wouldn't we be calling him our future ace?

At the very LEAST, we'll be getting a good pitcher. At best we're getting a complement to Hughes and Wang.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2006 10:27 PM

All I know about Mats I read on Mike Plugh's blog. As informed and articulate as Mike P. is, I'm sure there are other perspectives/stats that I'm not familiar with.

However, YOU CANNOT count on Matsuzaka as some kind of savior. There's a good chance he will be a #2 or even a #3 pitcher, expecially in the brutal AL East. And, if that's the case, I'd prefer two proven ML pitchers, a la Lilly and Schmidt, for a slightly higher price.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2006 12:01 AM

"And, if that's the case, I'd prefer two proven ML pitchers, a la Lilly and Schmidt, for a slightly higher price."

Oh, good god: I'm turning into Joe Torre.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2006 12:02 AM

I think some people have a bad idea about how valuable young pitching is. I would put up a post of 40 million and then offer him 4 years 12 mil per year in the blink of an eye. Last year the Red Sox traded a great young shortstop and two very good young pitchers for a 25 year old power pitcher who had never pitched 200 innings. Matsusaka has thrown over 200 innings repeatedly and is only 26.

I would assume Matsusaka is a good #2 with a chance to be an ace that is invaluable there is no one of that caliber available.

Zito is a solid #2 and that is it. He will cost whoever wants him 5 years and 12-14 mil a year. Schmidt is an injury risk whos probably not cut out for the AL and he will get 3 years at at least 10 mil a year. Lilly is a #4 or #5 starter who will command at least 10 mil a year.

All of these guys are older than Matsusaka and only Schmidt is a power pitcher like Matsusaka. 26 year old power pitchers are hard to come by.

If the Yankees miss out on Matsusaka I will be greatly disappointed we need young arms and that is what Matsusaka is.

Posted by: Kyle [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2006 02:46 PM

sorry
my english is not well

I just want to say that Matsui could pitch cut-fastball.
It's one of his major weapons.

Posted by: freedom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 27, 2006 11:19 PM

sorry
it's not Matsui but Matsusaka.

Posted by: freedom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 27, 2006 11:24 PM