A Daisuke Matsuzaka Timeline

Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Way, way more than you ever wanted to know about Dice-K's time in Boston.

You're about to read -- or have already read -- a whole lot of things about Daisuke Matsuzaka and his career in Boston. Rather than add to that in the same way many are, which could just be something of a rehash of past Dice-K work, I thought we could try to see how literally rehashing my Dice-K work would go. Consider it a timeline into the madness that Dice-K brought about.

This might not be everything I ever wrote about Matsuzaka, but it's everything I could find with the help of the Baseball Prospectus archives, Google searching, and traveling through Red Sox Beacon, my previous Sox home. Sadly, my Dice-K writings don't seem to begin until 2008, but even during the season when he posted a 2.90 ERA, there were plenty of causes for concern.

Just a warning: this is long. Like, the kind of long you would expect when you compile work from 2008-2011 on a single, frustrating pitcher. I'm not including the 2012 work, because you just lived it, and frankly, once is enough, and this is already in tl;dr territory. Be adventurous, though: relive this with me.

May 7, 2008: Baseball Prospectus

This was a look at pitchers using quick ERA, or QERA, Nate Silver's old -- and easy to figure -- run estimator. It was based off of strikeouts, walks, and grounders, giving you a quickly-stabilizing look at the neighborhood pitcher's ERA should be in. Dice-K was a month into his luckiest campaign, so he was ripe for a look through the lens of this stat. (A note: this was a fantasy baseball piece, so there are references to holding on to Dice-K that otherwise would just look weird.)

Daisuke Matsuzaka has earned praise for adjusting to hitters in April and posting an improved ERA, but has his performance been a real step forward? Looking at his 5.85 QERA tells a different story than his 2.43 ERA. At 7.3 K/9, his strikeout rate is solid, though not as high as last year's totals. The problem is in the walks, which Dice-K has been allowing at a ridiculous pace, averaging 6.0 walks per nine innings pitched. Like Floyd, his low hit rate has staved off poor numbers for now, but no matter how filthy his pitches may be, Matsuzaka will not sustain a rate of 4.9 hits allowed per nine innings, and we will see a change in his production.

Whereas Matsuzaka threw a multitude of pitches last year, nibbling away at hitters when he could have put them away with his better offerings, this year he has cut down considerably and dealt primarily with a fastball, a slider, and his changeup. The nibbling has not stopped though, as Matsuzaka has thrown his share of balls this year, as indicated by the lofty walk rates. The one positive to note from the drop in number of pitches used is that Matsuzaka has reined in his home run rate, dropping it from 1.1 to 0.7 per nine with just 5.8 percent of fly balls going for homers.

Even with the drop in homers, Matsuzaka is in line for some poor production. He's managed to strand 85.2 percent of baserunners so far, but that will be harder to do as his 1.20 WHIP climbs when the hits start dropping in. Matsuzaka struggles with his control more pitching from the stretch than he does from the windup, as his .163/.338/.265 line with runners on versus .156/.269/.289 line without runners shows; this small sample is a larger skewing than last year's Isolated Patience lines of .084 with runners on and .075 without runners, but it's something to pay attention to going forward. The good news is that this is most likely something mechanical that the Red Sox can fix, meaning you will want to hold onto Dice-K, though watching his progress on how many walks he allows is going to be key for your own success.

Reading that last line -- about something mechanical the Red Sox can fix -- elicited a sigh in the present.

August 3, 2008: Baseball Prospectus

This was later on during that year of immense luck, post-Dice-K's trip to the disabled list. You can start to see the beginnings of the Dice-K issues that would plague the rest of his Red Sox career.

Prospectus: Dice-K continues to post impressive surface numbers, with a low line-against on the year (.214/.327/.329) and a 3.04 ERA and 7.7 K/9. There are some issues with his performance that make his current record and ERA look like the results of a good amount of luck, though. Matsuzaka has a 5.5 BB/9 on the season, and this is something that hasn't improved since he returned from injury; since June 21 when he came off of the disabled list, Dice-K has walked 5.9 hitters per nine, yet posted an ERA of 3.93. Part of the reason for this is the lack of hits that have come against him, especially hits for extra bases. His BABIP is a well below-average .261; given his line drive rate of 18.4 percent, Matsuzaka should have a BABIP of .304. He can thank Boston's defense, one that's catching 71 percent of all balls in play (and that was withManny Ramirez patrolling left field). As for the balls-in-play scatteration, 17 percent have been grounders to the left side for a .196 batting average, 20 percent have been grounders to the right side for a .218 batting average, 13 percent have been infield popups, and Matsuzaka has yet to allow a home run to left field on the year. All of this has contributed to that low BABIP, and despite Boston's defensive excellence, that number should see some regression as the year moves forward.

One other thing to note with Matsuzaka's performance is that he's been a much better pitcher earlier in his pitch count:

Pitches    AVG/ OBP/ SLG
01-15     .186/.333/.372
16-30     .269/.400/.365
31-45     .140/.265/.158
46-60     .137/.274/.176
61-75     .188/.316/.250
76-90     .250/.361/.404
91-105    .286/.312/.612
106-120   .267/.389/.267

Dice-K has only faced 18 hitters from pitches 106-120, so that sample is not as important as the others. Matsuzaka dominates during the earlier portions of the game, but once he's about three-fourths of the way through, the wheels start to come off. His performance suffers with fatigue, and much of that fatigue is self-inflicted, given his P/PA (4.0) and his tendency to waste pitches. Via Inside Edge, we can see that some of Matsuzaka's favorite places to throw the ball are outside the strike zone:

The Red Sox need to work with Matsuzaka to stop wasting so many pitches over the course of an at-bat, because it racks up his pitch count and taxes the bullpen. If Matsuzaka were able to spread his more effective early offerings over more plate appearances, he'd be able to go deeper into games and would more than likely drop his walk rate, the only severe negative in an otherwise quality line.

That last paragraph could have come from any single year of Dice-K's major-league career. Except for the "otherwise quality line" part, I mean.

Baseball Prospectus 2009: Daisuke Matsuzaka Player Comment

Dice-K was maddening last season, brilliant at times while shutting down the opposition for innings at a time, yet each frame seemed like watching the ninth of an important game with an unreliable closer on the mound, as Matsuzaka would nibble with pitch after pitch rather than putting the hitters away or forcing them into contact. His P/PA increased, as did his walk rate, but fewer home runs and a low BABIP helped him survive that. Dice-K stranded nearly 81 percent of his baserunners thanks to a .164/.285/.288 line with runners in scoring position; relying on both that and his BABIP to hold up in '09 is just asking for trouble.

If you have legitimate complaints about a pitcher who posted a 2.90 ERA, then you know something is amiss. The fact that this much negativity surrounded his follow-up campaign ended up being prescient, but also kind of depressing.

Baseball Prospectus 2011: Daisuke Matsuzaka Player Comment

Matsuzaka has thrown 200 innings only once in his major-league career, and has managed just 39 starts over the past two seasons. Inefficiency contributes to his low innings totals, with Matsuzaka averaging 4.0 pitches per plate appearance for his career, granting every hitter that faces him the patience of Wade Boggs. The Sox were encouraged by an uptick in four-seamer and slider velocity over the last two months of 2010, a period during which Dice-K also averaged over 6.1 innings per start. On the surface, he appeared more efficient, lowering his rate to 3.8 P/PA, but that deceptive improvement was due to his being hit harder earlier in the count: Dice-K had a 5.34 ERA (and 4.45 SIERA) over those 64 innings, so maybe the team's expectations should be as low as his K/BB ratio.

For some reason, there are no Matsuzaka writings of mine around from 2009 and 2010 at Baseball Prospectus other than these player comments. I wasn't writing about the Red Sox exclusively back then, and because of the specific beats I had over at Baseball Prospectus, he just didn't come up very much. These do a good job of summarizing where Dice-K was at these points in his career, though: heading into 2011, he still nibbled, was having continual injury issues, and what little efficiency he had carved out was more about the hitters destroying him than it was about actual progress in working faster and better.

September 27, 2010: Red Sox Beacon

At this stage, it seemed like the problem for Dice-K might just be pitching in the AL East, and at Fenway -- maybe a trade to the NL, and a pitcher-friendly park, would make a lot of sense for him.

Expectations were lofty for Daisuke Matsuzaka before he ever threw a pitch for the Boston. The Red Sox spent over $51 million just for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka, and then agreed on a six-year, $52 million deal with the right-hander-even though Dice-K did not reap the full benefits of this, as his former team the Seibu Lions were able to pocket the $51M, Boston essentially handed out $103 million for him.

Saying that is a ton of money is an understatement, and it's amazing that we live in a world where certain members of the media will bash Boston for handing J.D. Drew a five-year, $70M contract, but you hear barely a peep about the $51 million dished out just to negotiate with someone when that could have been invested in many other areas of the team or the farm system. It's a bill that has been paid though, and was therefore a sunk cost before he ever put on a Boston uni-if you're just talking about the terms of his contract, Dice-K, for all the aggravation he causes those who watch him, hasn't been overpaid thus far.

Inflation changes the value of contracts over time, so let's just assume a flat figure of $5M as the cost of a win on the free agent market-it's close enough for what we are trying to look at. Over the first four years of his deal, Matsuzaka has pulled in $32 million ($30M in salary, another $2 in a signing bonus). Over that stretch he has been valued at 10 wins above replacement exactly, or $50 million worth of value on the free agent market, so he has surprisingly given Boston a surplus.

That is a bit misleading though for a few reasons that make the next two years of the deal worth moving in a trade. The first two seasons of Matsuzaka's tenure were worth 8.2 of those 10 wins, and therefore $41M of the value. He missed most of 2009 with an injury and was ineffective when he did pitch, and in 2010 all he has done is show everyone who watches him that he has learned nothing about adjusting to American League hitters since he arrived in the majors.

Here is something that many people do not consider when looking at something like WAR or WARP-it's simply a reflection of results, and is not predictive in nature. Matsuzaka had five WARP in 2008, not because he is a five WARP pitcher, but because of a Boston defense that helped him to a .267 BABIP (well below the league average, never mind the average for someone who has to pitch in hitter-friendly Fenway) and also assisted him in stranding over 80 percent of his baserunners, a full 10 percentage points above the league average in that category.

xFIP and SIERA account for these kinds of things (as well as home run rate) and they paint a consistent story of Matsuzaka's true talent level. From 2007-2010, Matsuzaka's xFIP have been 4.31, 4.70, 4.83, and 4.67, while his SIERA have been 3.69, 4.35, 4.46 and 4.34. With the exception of that first season, every one of those performances is worse than the league average, meaning Matsuzaka is barely worth the $10 million he will be paid each of the next two seasons (a league average player is worth roughly two wins, or about $10 million).

Boston can afford, monetarily, to have a pitcher like Matsuzaka aboard, but given the way Josh Beckett and John Lackey have pitched during the first year of their new contracts, can they afford, from a performance standpoint, to stick with him in the rotation rather than find someone new? He is the holder of the lone rotation spot they can upgrade, as Beckett and Lackey are entrenched due to their deals, and moving Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz is out of the question and would accomplish nothing.

As we have seen, he's not a bad deal from a monetary standpoint, and if the Red Sox agreed to eat a few million off of the top to the team they moved him to, he would be more like a bargain, especially in the proper environment-think a pitcher's park or in the NL (or both). It's very easy to envision a scenario where Daisuke Matsuzaka joins say, the Cardinals rotation, and immediately posts an ERA under four due to Busch Stadium and pitching in the least difficult division in the majors.

It's difficult to pinpoint what he could bring back in such a deal in terms of players, but if moving him opens up a rotation spot that can be filled with a superior arm, then there is value in moving him no matter the return. The Red Sox can live with Dice-K in the rotation as the fifth starter, but given the long list of decisions they have to make in terms of 2011, and the limited number of areas they can feasibly upgrade at by then, moving Matsuzaka and replacing him with a superior pitcher has to be something to consider.

All salary data pulled from the peerless Cot's Contracts

September 28, 2010: Red Sox Beacon

If he wasn't going to be traded, maybe putting him in relief made a lot of sense.

On Monday I suggested that Boston find a trade partner to take Daisuke Matsuzaka off of their hands in order to open up a rotation spot and upgrade the club for 2011. While it is an option, and even a potentially viable one-please see what the St. Louis Cardinals gave up for two months of Jake Westbrook, and then try to tell me Matsuzaka is immovable-they may not be able to, or may not wantto deal him. What other options are there, outside of keeping him in the rotation?

The bullpen could use an assist, as we have shown time and time again in our short existence here. There is some reason to be enthused by the idea of moving Dice-K to the bullpen, and it comes from looking at his splits. Over the course of his four seasons in the majors, Matsuzaka has been a more effective pitcher with runners on, runners in scoring position, and, in an odd twist, the more outs there are. The samples for pitching from the windup and from the stretch are the largest (nearly 1400 plate appearances from the windup, and over 1100 from the stretch with men on base) and may give us some insight into what role Dice-K is suited for on the 2011 Red Sox.

The differences in these numbers do not appear to be significant at first, but with some context they make more sense. In general, pitchers are more effective from the windup than they are from the stretch, and that is reflected in their splits with the bases empty or with runners on, respectively. In 2010, with none on, the league allowed an OPS of 712, while with men on it was 755-that is just one year of data, but that's the way it generally has trended as of late with roughly the same differences from 2007-2009 as well. For Matsuzaka, this is then somewhat of a reverse split, but since it's that way over the course of four seasons we can have more confidence in it being a reality for him.

With none on, from 2007-2010, Dice-K allowed hitters a line of .257/.344/.400, and struck out 21.3 percent of batters while walking 10.7 percent of them. With runners on, the batting average drops somewhat and the line is .228/.316/.380, while the punch out and free pass rates are basically the same as with none on. With runners in scoring position though (662 plate appearances) Matsuzaka is at .220/.319/.364, with strikeouts 22.7 percent of the time and walks 12 percent of the time.

Again, the differences are not huge, but since we expect them to trend in the other direction, they are worth paying attention to. Is it a focus thing? Matsuzaka is known to nibble, and his propensity for falling behind in the count after getting ahead of the hitter is well documented. Rob McQuown was kind enough to do some digging for me on this very subject, and it turns out that Matsuzaka's pitches per plate appearance rates in each of these situations is similar-he's still a nibbler, so the cause may lie elsewhere, such as the pitches he prefers in these situations.

The most curious part to me is Dice-K's production depending on how many outs there are. With no outs, Matsuzaka whiffs 19.4 percent of hitters and lets 12.2 percent on via base on balls. With one out, his punch out rate climbs to 21.7 percent and his walks drop to 8.8 percent. Nearing the end of an inning, Dice-K strikes out 23.4 percent of hitters, his loftiest rate in any of these situations (though his walk rate returns to normal). There's an emphasis on striking out the batter the more outs there are, which makes sense in many ways, especially with two outs when all you need is to retire one more batter-Dice-K certainly has the stuff to miss bats. Dialing it up from the stretch does happen as well, as research by Mike Fast earlier this season shows.

Nate Silver wrote extensively on the topic of converting starting pitchers to relievers back in 2006, when Jonathan Papelbon's career looked like it could go in two directions. He stated, as he had researched earlier in the year for the Baseball Prospectus 2006 annual, that:

...the typical pitcher will have an ERA about 25% higher when pitching in a starting role than when pitching in relief. That is, if you take a given reliever with a 3.00 ERA, your best guess, all else being equal, is that his ERA as a starter would be 3.75.

Does that mean that the average starting pitcher has an ERA 25% higher than the average relief pitcher? No, it does not. Over the past decade or so, ERAs of starting pitchers have run about only about 7% higher than relief pitcher ERAs.

Why the disconnect? The simple answer is that starters, as a group, are better pitchers than relievers. Starting pitchers, after all, are throwing the bulk of your innings

This works in the other direction as well-Matsuzaka could, based on these results, lower his ERA by 25 percent with a move to the pen-based on this year's numbers, that would give him an ERA of 3.54 or so. There's also a chance that pesky walk rate would improve, again, via Silver:

Walk rate-command-is strongly associated with the consistency of a pitcher's mechanics. Pitchers who have difficulty maintaining the same release point from inning to inning, or have trouble keeping their focus, are prone to bouts of wildness. Turning such a pitcher into a reliever can minimize this disadvantage, as he is less prone to fatigue, and may be able to get away with using just one or two pitches.

Matsuzaka's most significant problem, walks, would not be as much of an issue out of the bullpen. Assuming an uptick in velocity and strikeouts, with more emphasis on using his very best pitches to get hitters out, Matsuzaka's K/BB ratio would improve even if he didn't cut into his walk rate-this would finally give him a K/BB more closely resembling the league average, which is one of those things you can't envision him doing if he remains a starter. If he cut the number of free passes to boot, then you would have something worth trotting out from the bullpen for sure.

Between his stuff, his numbers from the stretch (relievers oftentimes enter games with runners on or in scoring position) the fact his walk rate may improve, and that he may have more value as a reliever for Boston than as a starting pitcher-especially if they find an upgrade in the rotation over the winter-Matsuzaka makes a lot of sense in a bullpen role, maybe even more so than in a trade, especially since he can also spot start if necessary and provide more innings out of the pen than your standard reliever.

The problem with making him a reliever, of course, was the amount of time it took him to warm up. You would need to warm Dice-K up in the third inning to have him ready for the sixth. It's always something.

March 4, 2011: Red Sox Beacon

A retrospective look at Dice-K's health over the years. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the longest Dice-K pieces I ever wrote.

This isn't the first time you have heard me express concern over Daisuke Matsuzaka. Back in September, I discussed Dice-K's history with the club, and how the Red Sox may be better off trading him to open up room in the rotation for a free agent or another acquisition, as he was the lone piece they could upgrade on. There was a follow-up piece that detailed why a move to the bullpen made the most sensefor both the Red Sox and Dice-K, who has had problems staying healthy, often pitches himself out of the game early (he's averaged under six innings per start in his career with Boston) and, as a pitcher with control problems, could benefit from shorter relief stints.

Neither of those events came to pass. Matsuzaka is still in Boston, and still in the rotation. Boston needs him to stick in the rotation-there are already enough question marks surrounding Josh Beckett and his health-as the replacement starters on hand are Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves, two pitchers with their own injury histories. Dice-K has his own lengthy list of aches and pains, which is why the back of the rotation is the only serious question mark Boston has heading into the season.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, we recently hired Corey Dawkins, an athletic trainer who I co-author our injury content with. He has a database that we are integrating into our site, and that database lists every injury-big or small-that has occurred to players over the past several years. Matsuzaka's career spans that time frame, and it seems there is always something he is dealing with. Below are the injuries that caused him to miss time (there are some other day-to-day ailments, but he didn't miss any days because of them):

Day-to-Day

  • 4/23/2008: Flu (seven days missed)
  • 2/15/2010: Back strain (38 days)
  • 8/22/2010: Low back stiffness (11 days missed)

15-day DL

  • 5/28/2008: Shoulder strain (24 days missed)
  • 4/15/2009: Shoulder strain (37 days missed)
  • 4/03/2010: Neck strain (28 days missed)
  • 6/08/2010: Forearm strain (16 days missed)

60-day DL

  • 6/20/2009: Right shoulder weakness (87 days missed)

Given his history, chances are good that Dice-K will see more time on the DL in 2011. Matsuzaka crossed the 200 inning threshold in his first season in the states, but has not even come close to it since-167 2/3 innings is his second-highest career total. The depth charts projections are Baseball Prospectus have Dice-K down for 157 innings pitched over 28 starts-that's a combination of time missed as well as an expectation that he will average around 5 2/3 innings each time out. Neither of those thoughts are appealing, but they are an accurate reflection of his past work.

PECOTA doesn't think he will be bad when he does make it to the mound, though it's pretty clear the system still thinks he's going to pitch himself out of games in the fifth. His projected ERA is 4.14, he is slated to have over eight punch outs per nine innings pitched, and he is also forecasted for 14 quality starts. I'll be so shocked that my monocle will pop out of my eye if Matsuzaka has an ERA of 4.14, but the rest of it sounds accurate-especially the 4.2 walks per nine and the WHIP of 1.40.

Matsuzaka has had an ERA of 4.14 or lower exactly once in his career, and it was when he was so lucky on balls in play that he posted the lowest hits per nine innings pitched rating in the league. His 2008 season featured a .260 BABIP in a park that inflates BABIP, and even with the lowest rate of hits against in the majors, Matsuzaka still posted a WHIP of 1.32-now, WHIP is pretty much pointless to me outside of its use as a fantasy baseball stat, but as a simple way to show that he still walks far too many people for his own good even when he can avoid giving up hits literally better than anyone in baseball (which was luck, not skill, but either way the point stands). I wrote the Red Sox chapter for Baseball Prospectus 2009, which also served as a history of the 2008 campaign, and this was my comment for Dice-K:

Dice-K was maddening last season, brilliant at times while shutting down the opposition for innings at a time, yet each frame seemed like watching the ninth of an important game with an unreliable closer on the mound, as Matsuzaka would nibble with pitch after pitch rather than putting the hitters away or forcing them into contact. His P/PA increased, as did his walk rate, but fewer home runs and a low BABIP helped him survive that. Dice-K stranded nearly 81 percent of his baserunners thanks to a .164/.285/.288 line with runners in scoring position; relying on both that and his BABIP to hold up in '09 is just asking for trouble.

Dice-K threw just 59 1/3 innings in 2009 due to the major injury listed above, but he was as horrific as expected when he did make it to the mound (5.76 Run Average, 4.6 walks per nine, 12.3 hits per nine, and four quality starts out of 12). Part of that was injury, and part of that was his own ineffectiveness-the difference between 2008 and the following years is that it didn't come back to bite him.

Maybe he will hit that 4.14 mark this year, thanks in no small part to the Boston defense, which is expected to be one of the top units in the league. But expecting that ERA is asking a lot, given his history, his inconsistency, his approach-given everything we know about him and his ability. He is supposedly in top (for him) physical and mental shape, which is one of those things that the optimism of the spring makes you want to believe. I've heard that song from Dice-K before though, so he's going to have to prove it's fact before I can take him and his health at his word.

April 12, 2011: Red Sox Beacon

Dice-K had already broken our spirit, but on this night, he stamped all over it. It turned out that he needed Tommy John surgery not too long after this, but still, it was just so Dice-K-ish regardless.

Two innings. Just 16 batters faced. Seven runs. 42 pitches. Those short sentences, in a twitch-inducing nutshell, make up Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s start against the Tampa Bay Rays last night. It is painful to go into more detail unless you are a Rays' fan, but relive the start we must, for how else will we learn?

Thanks to mlb.tv, I was able to go back and check Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s targets against where Dice-K's pitches actually ended up. As you can discern, given the final score, Matsuzaka wasn't so good with the hitting of his spots in the second inning.

Ben Zobrist led off the inning. Salty setup low in the strike zone, but down the middle for the first pitch-Matsuzaka left it down the middle, belt high, but for strike one. For the second pitch, Saltalamacchia setup nearly in the right-handed batter's box for the lefty Zobrist, but Dice-K left a fat breaking ball over the middle, belt high yet again, and it went for a double the other way.

B.J. Upton drew a walk in six pitches in the next plate appearance-strangely enough, despite the free pass, this is the one batter faced during the carnage where Matsuzaka was able to hit his intended targets. Salty continued to setup outside and either in the middle or high portions of the strike zone, and Matsuzaka hit his targets for the most part, though once Upton stopped pulling the trigger on balls out of the strike zone, he was able to trot to first.

Things went south after that. Saltalamacchia setup middle-in on Felipe Lopez, and Dice-K threw a ball out of the zone down the middle. Salty setup in the same place for the next pitch, and Matsuzaka nearly threw a ball in the dirt. Pitch four was an honest-to-goodness quality pitch, as Matsuzaka threw a changeup in a fastball count and got Lopez swinging at it, but, on the very next pitch, he threw a flat fastball right down the middle, thigh high, and Lopez got a hit out of it.

John Jaso came up with the bases loaded, so the emphasis was on throwing strikes. Salty setup in the zone, down the middle, but just knee high-Jaso would have to golf it and may pop up if he made contact. Instead, Matsuzaka gift wrapped it, throwing it right down the middle between the thighs and his belt.

Reid Brignac was next, and once again, the at-bat was over in one pitch. Saltalamacchia setup outside, thigh-high, and Matsuzaka delivered the pitch in the middle of the zone, right at the belt-he couldn't have caught more plate with the pitch if that was his intended goal. Dice-K got the wheelhouse hat trick with his next offering to Sam Fuld, as the pitcher took another thigh-high, outside target from Salty and turned it into a middle, belt-level meatball-this one ended up wrapped around the Pesky Pole, clearing the bases and eliciting boos.

To say he lacked command does a disservice to players who struggle with their pitch location.

The chart below shows the pitches Dice-K threw last night that had results, be they outs, hits, walks, whatever. Notice a pattern?

If you read the above, you have already visualized this chart, but just to hammer the point home, look at that pitch distribution. None of those pitches in the middle were supposed to be where they ended up.

You have heard me complain about Dice-K's inability to attack hitters, and how his nibbling causes him to be worse than he should be, but the very worst version of Matsuzaka is the one that cannot hit his spots and turns every pitch into an adventure down the middle of the plate.

The Red Sox were encouraged by Matsuzaka's improvement in his pitches per plate appearance during the last two months of the 2010 season, as he dropped from his career of 4.0 P/PA to 3.8-not great, but better than giving every hitter he faces, as I wrote in Baseball Prospectus 2011, "the patience of Wade Boggs." The problem is, over the last two months of the season, Matsuzaka was worse than he had been when he was using more pitches per hitter. He was hit harder earlier in the count during his final 64 innings-his ERA was 5.34 during that stretch, whereas it was 4.22 beforehand.

Those are small samples, of course, but the problem is that Matsuzaka doesn't understand how to pitch more aggressively, and doesn't have the command to pull off what he does know. When he doesn't nibble, he "attacks" the zone with easily hittable pitches.

This is even more of a problem at Fenway, where Matsuzaka has a career 4.72 ERA, 1.8 K/BB, 0.9 HR/9, and an opponent line of .258/.347/.420 (and .269/.359/.468 since 2009). On the road, he is somewhat better: 3.88 ERA, 2.0 K/BB, 1.0 HR/9, and an opponent line of .235/.327/.370 (.274/.357/.407 since 2009). Fenway kills whatever chance he has of being effective, and that isn't going to change.

His first start in Cleveland went better, although not by much-he struck out just two, walked three, gave up a homer, and lasted just five innings. Dating back to August 1, he has a 6.08 ERA, 1.3 HR/9, a 1.8 K/BB ratio, and is averaging under six innings per start. It is getting to the point where Boston has to replace him in the rotation with someone who can actually put together the production of a fifth starter. Just 10 games in to the season, it is far too early to panic about this Red Sox team, but throwing Matsuzaka out there every fifth day to get shelled is is not going to help them pull themselves out of the hole they are digging.

There is talk of Matsuzaka being the "scapegoat" for Boston's poor start, but, unlike Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, or any of the hitters who are not yet where they should be with their production, there is no reason to believe he is anything but what he has shown himself to be. "Scapegoat" makes it sound like this is unwarranted, like the concern over his performance and the calls for him to lose his rotation spot are uncalled for and undeserved. What, exactly, has Matsuzaka done in the last three years that would lead you to believe losing his spot in the rotation has not been something he has earned?

April 25, 2011: Red Sox Beacon

The last thing written about Dice-K besides news about his Tommy John, and what came in 2012. Fittingly, it expresses frustration with his inability to be consistent, mixing in dominance with awfulness.

Daisuke Matsuzaka had one of his monthly dominant starts, striking out nine while walking three, limiting the Angels to a single hit and no runs. As for the monthly dominance thing, I'm not joking. Matsuzaka had such a trend in 2010, with one of these starts where his command worked every few times out, in between his frustrating showings. Going backwards:

Sep. 26: 8 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 2 R, 110 pitches

Aug. 21: 8 IP, 8 K, 3 BB, 4 R, 109 pitches

Aug. 5: 8 IP, 7 K, 2 BB, 1 R, 109 pitches

June 7: 8 IP, 5 K, 2 BB, 0 R, 112 pitches

May 11: 7 IP, 9 K, 0 BB, 1 R, 106 pitches

There is no denying that Dice-K is excellent when he is on, but it's that very thing that drives me crazy: he has great stuff (ask the Angels who dealt him with yesterday) but never seems to be able to utilize it properly consistently. The work in between those five great starts in 2010, when combined with the great starts themselves, added up to a 4.69 ERA, 1.8 K/BB ratio, and just over six innings per start.

More succinctly, it's good to see Dice-K pitching well over his last two starts, but let's not go overboard just yet, either. It's a long season, and, as he has shown us many times before, that long season can involve a number of long outings and long innings.

I do have a feeling that Matsuzaka's low point of his Red Sox career-the start against Tampa Bay that saw him get lit up for seven runs in two innings of work-may have opened the door for pitching coach Curt Young to instruct him on how to utilize his stuff. It will take more than two starts for me to believe that rather than just consider it, but the fact that he is throwing far more two-seamers and is throwing a different looking breaking ball (and with far better results) in the games since at least makes it plausible. Besides the whole, you know, it's Curt Young's job thing, I mean.

As to that end point? Probably didn't happen, but what else are you to do but dream on Dice-K, anyway?

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