Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Matsuzaka Joins the Red Sox—But How Does That Affect Me?

It’s official—the Boston Red Sox have landed prized Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, for the low, low price of $51 Million. Well, almost. There is still the whole matter of hammering out a deal with the dastardly Scott Boras in 30 days or less, or their money back. Thank goodness for guarantees.

All told, the venture will likely end up costing John Henry and partners in the neighborhood of $100 million if everything goes according to plan. That’s a steep price to pay for a guy with a shaky injury history who has never pitched in the majors.

But that’s chump change for the Red Sox. We’re here to talk about you, the decidedly un-rich potential owner of Daisuke Matsuzaka in your fantasy baseball league. Is he worth the high draft pick you’ll almost certainly have to expend to get him? Or is he just another high-priced, over-hyped pitcher?

There's much more after the jump...

In fantasy baseball, everyone is looking for the edge. That’s why so many owners find their eyes getting wide any time a new hyped up young prospect or Japanese import finds their way to the big leagues. But more often than not, with these types of unknown quantities, it’s a crapshoot. (You 2006 Felix Hernandez owners know what I’m talking about.)

I’d love to sit here and tell you that Daisuke Matsuzaka is a once-in-a-lifetime can’t miss pitcher who is going to strike out 313 batters next season while winning 23 games and posting an ERA of 2.07 and a WHIP of 0.92, en route to the Cy Young Award. But the fact of the matter is it’s just as likely he’ll put up a mere 158 Ks, 16 Wins, 5.01 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. It happens. Not every Red Sox acquisition is going to be Pedro Martinez. Some turn out to be Josh Beckett.

Here are the facts: Matsuzaka is a 26 year old RHP who has flat-out dominated the Japanese league competition in his 6 years in the league, accumulating almost 1,000 strikeouts, 14 shutouts, posting 76 wins, and a career ERA of 2.94, including a 2.30 ERA last season. For comparisons sake, let’s compare him to the most dominant pitcher of Major League Baseball, Johan Santana. Santana is a 27 year old lefty who has compiled 1146 strikeouts, 3 shutouts, 78 wins, and a 3.20 career ERA, including 3 straight sub 3.00 seasons. Obviously that’s a pretty favorable comparison.

Now, obviously we can’t reasonably expect Matsuzaka to be the Japanese Johan Santana. But what can we expect? The Hardball Times ran an article projecting a couple of different scenarios for Matsuzaka, the worst-case scenario pinning Matsuzaka at an ERA around 3.50, which would be very respectable here in the states, but not necessarily worth $100 million, or a high draft pick. However, the great Matsuzaka Watch ran their own analysis using Jim Albright’s formula and came up with the following numbers: 17 Wins, 181 Ks, 2.52 ERA, and 1.04 WHIP. Pretty impressive stuff. If Matsuzaka can put up those types of numbers then he’s absolutely worth a high draft pick, say round 3 even. However, there’s one factor we haven’t looked into yet: injury history.

Now, Matsuzaka’s durability is the stuff of legends in Japan, mostly due to a game in high school in which he threw 250 pitches in 17 innings in a prominent baseball tournament, and then went on to record the save in the next day’s game and throw a no-hitter in the third game of the series. Impressive—but a bit scary to think of the Red Sox prized acquisition throwing that many pitches on such a young arm. Indeed, it doesn’t look like things got much better once he graduated to the Japanese League.

Check out this great article on Matsuzaka Watch detailing his Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP). In sum, Matsuzaka would be the most abused pitcher in the major leagues last season—by far. Even perpetual Dusty Baker victim Carlos Zambrano and the rubber-armed Livan Hernandez don’t come close to putting up with the kind of arm stress that Matsuzaka went through in Japan. Additionally, Matsuzaka’s slight frame (he’s listed as 6’0” 187) also seems to bode poorly for Matsuzaka’s health.

Matsuzaka has had only one major arm injury, an elbow problem that kept him out the majority of the 2002 season. However, the injury did not require surgery and he came back stronger and better than before. Given this, it might be safe to assume that he’ll probably be fine for the long haul. With elbow injuries though, you never know.

So what’s our conclusion? In a word: caution. Matsuzaka could be great, but odds are he’ll be overvalued come draft day. There is really no comparison to Matsuzaka coming over here. Some have compared him to Hideo Nomo, others to Hideki Irabu, but the bottom line is that neither pitcher had the astounding success in Japan that Matsuzaka did. Therefore, there is really no way of knowing how the transition from Japan to one of the biggest—and most unforgiving—baseball markets in the world will treat him, and that makes him difficult to project. After all the number crunching and statistical analysis is done, we have to remember that not everyone can perform in Boston, regardless of how their stats should look (right Edgar Renteria?). My suggestion is that Matsuzaka will be worth taking in the early-middle rounds of a one year league, say the 5th or 6th rounds where you’re drafting your 2nd or 3rd starters. In a keeper league, it’s probably a good idea to go riskier and spend an even higher pick on him, depending on how deep the league is. In a 4 or 5 man keeper league, I’d go ahead and use a 2nd or 3rd round pick on him. In deeper leagues, he’s worth the first round pick. But remember the lesson of Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain—just because a prospect is hyped as the next big thing doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do it immediately.

Be careful overvaluing Matsuzaka, as adjustments are bound to happen, while a sub 3.00 ERA may not be.


Blogger Jose said...

One thing that has been bothering me is the people saying that $51 million is too much to pay to negotiate with him. I completely disagree. That bid does not count against the luxury tax, so if a team has it, why not spend it to boost a starting rotation that obviously needs help?

And yes, the rise in Fenway ticket prices is a downside to it, but the money that will be made in Japanese marketing exposure will be great. One ESPN columnist mentioned that any Yankees/Red Sox game will be just as hyped in Japan as it is here (well, in New England and New York at least)...

And when Matsui steps into the box against Matsuzaka, it will be pandemoneum.

4:31 PM  

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