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Japanese baseball expert Robert Whiting's Matsuzaka chat

Tuesday Nov. 21, 2006
Cho_DanHow important is it to the chances of the Red Sox landing Matsuzaka to be tuned in to Japanese cultural protocol?
Robert_WhitingAs long as they show basic human courtesy, they'll be OK. There's no magic formula for dealing with the Japanese. Just be polite and patient.
xcubbiesBob, it's Roy, in Geneva, a friend of your wife. Even to a Red Sox fan this seems like an awful lot of money to spend on a pitcher. Especially one untested in MLB baseball. Is there a significant difference in pitching styles between the two countries? I've always felt that the Asians are a bit more nuanced, less power.
Robert_WhitingThe Red Sox are buying more than the rights to Matsuzaka with this money. They're making a statement and establishing a presence in the Far East. Japanese pitchers in general have more pitches and better control than Americans. They practice a lot more, starting in Jr. High School and High School where it's required to practice 11 months a year. Japanese have turned baseball into a martial art.
theUnderdogDoes this guy have the stuff to get it done in the AL East?
Robert_WhitingI think so. Marty Brown, an American who manages the Hiroshima Carp, and played with Curt Schilling, says that Matsuzaka reminds him of Schilling in his prime. Matsuzaka has five pitches, none of which is the Gyroball by the way and he's got speed in the low to mid-90's and can get you out with the breaking ball on a 3-2 count.
sign_nixonHow do you think the experience of living in such a different off field environment will impact Dice-K's on-field performance? How well does he speak English, if at all? And does all of this lead to the feeling of isolation from the rest of the ball club (see Byung-Hyun Kim)?
Robert_WhitingI don't think English really matters. Think of all the Latin stars in MLB who couldn't speak English, e.g. Fernando Valenzuela. Matsuzaka will have a good support group from the Japanese community in Boston. He's got a pretty tough mental makeup. Stronger than Kazuo Matsui's, a lot stronger. When the Boston fans start hurling abuse at you, not being able to understand English is an advantage.
flcomicHow much does Matsuzaka know about current Red Sox players especially starting pitchers?
Robert_WhitingI'm sure he knows a lot more now than he did last week. But everybody in Japan knows about Schilling and the bloody sock.
dave26262It has been said that Mr. Matsuzka plays in an inferior league in Japan (The Pacific League). How does that league compare to the central league in Japan where Hidiki Matsui of the Yankees played prior to coming to MLB?
Robert_WhitingThese days the Pacific League is superior to the Central League. Interleague play started last year. PL teams have won the majority of the games. PL has a DH, makes it harder to pitch.
bredeWhat do you think will be the biggest challenge for Daisuke Matsuzaka to overcome?
Robert_WhitingLearning the hitters. Avoiding the temptation to try to blow his fastball by hitters in a tight situation... that could result in disaster. That's his weak point.
branaticalMatsuzaka has not come out yet and said he is excited about being a Red Sox player. He has said he is looking forward to being a MLB player. Is he upset at all that he isn't going to the Yankees?
Robert_WhitingHe said, before the posting began, that he wouldn't mind going to the Yankees, Red Sox, or the Mets. I don't think it matters that much to him. I think he understands what a great organization the Red Sox are.
DanaMr. Matsuzaka appears to have filled out in his body type in the past few years. He appears to take his career very seriously. Do you think he will keep working hard after getting his big contract?
Robert_WhitingYes. There's 120 million people in Japan that are following his every move. If nothing else, to avoid embarrassment... he'll work very hard to succeed.
rsfHi, Robert. People say Matsuzaka's slider is devastating and tops out at 90. Is that actually a cutter instead? And how about his "shuto"? Is it a synonyms of sinker in Japanese? Thanks.
Robert_WhitingYes on the slider. The shuto is a fast cutter and sometimes it breaks down. The Americans used to say shooter back in the 20's.
jordanThey've already spent $51.1 million on the bidding. How much will they spend on his contract?
Robert_WhitingAnother $50 million over four years at the most. Boras would want him back on the market sooner rather than later.
Johnny_MacHello Robert. Regarding the hitters that he faces in the Japanese league, how do they compare to major league hitters in the US? Is a .300 hitter in Japan the same as a .300 hitter in the majors?
Robert_WhitingJapanese hitters are harder to strike out than American hitters. They're very patient. They tend to go to 3-2 a lot. They don't have the power of Americans, generally speaking. There's nobody like Pujols or Howard in Japan.
ejpA lot has been said about how many innings he has pitched and some minor elbow problems. How is his velocity?
Robert_WhitingHe was on the DL for almost three months with the sore elbow. His speed has gone down a MPH or two, but he's becoming more of a pitcher than the thrower he used to be. He's using his head more. He used to try to strike everybody out. He doesn't do that anymore.
VEGASHow much does the Lions team need the $51 million from the posting fee? Will they "urge" DM to sign?
Robert_WhitingJapanese teams are not profit-oriented businesses. They are run by parent corporations who use them as promotional tools. So the team is funded by the parent company's advertising budget. Seibu has been having financial problems so they could certainly use the money. $50m will pay two years of payroll for the Lions.
petedubHow will the Red Sox pitching coach handle trips to the mound? Will they have a translator, or will D-mat work on his baseball English?
Robert_WhitingYou can't take a translator out to the mound, so you'd have to hire retired Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa as an assistant pitching coach. The language barrier is overrated. Not difficult to master "how do you feel?" and "keep the ball down."
drew1Hi Robert, what role will Jason Varitek have on bringing Matsuzaka into the fold? How has he worked with catchers in Japan? Has he ever had the opportunity to work with someone of Tek's caliber?
Robert_WhitingNot really. In Japan, the catcher runs the show. Pitchers do what they're told, generally speaking. So he shouldn't have any problems. It's in America where pitchers tend to take the lead. You see a lot of shaking signals off. How can you not get along with Jason Varitek?
rcros50In order to get the average dollar expense down (including the posting fee) the Sox are likely going to want to go at least 5-6 years in contract length or a 3 year deal without any language voiding his arbitration status in years 4-6, do you see that as a deal-breaker?
Robert_WhitingI don't think that Boras will agree to a deal that long.
yankeestuckThanks, Robert. Matsuzaka or Kazumi Saito, who is the more "polished" pitcher in NPB? Is there any indication that Saito would like to go to MLB? Thanks.
Robert_WhitingThis year Saito was the best pitcher in Japan. He and Matsuzaka were neck and neck all year. Saito, who was 18-5 with a 1.75 ERA, edged him out as the best pitcher. The two met head to head in a playoff game. Saito won 1-0. Saito is awesome. He's 6' 4" and weighs 220 but he is very loyal to Softbank, so the question is whether he wants to go or not... thanks for chatting folks! Good luck Daisuke... please don't call him D-Mat!
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Robert Whiting is the author of several highly acclaimed books on Japanese baseball and contemporary culture. Whiting has written for The New York Times, The Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, and US News and World Report.

He has also written ten books in Japanese, mostly collections. "You Gotta Have Wa," published in 1989, is a work on Japanese society as seen through their adopted sport of baseball, was a Book of the Month Club selection and is required reading in the Japanese Studies departments of many American universities. In 1991 it was selected by a panel of Japanese literary experts for Bukusu magazine as one of the best non-fiction books ever published in Japan.

A sequel to "You Gotta Have Wa," published in 2004, is entitled "The Meaning of Ichiro."