THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

It just doesn't add up

Boston.com article page player in wide format.
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 23, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

May we agree on one thing?

Daisuke Matsuzaka was not worth $103 million.

There's a lot of financial craziness out there in modern professional sport, but we have not yet reached the point where a third or fourth (and in this case, fifth) starter is worth a total investment of $103 million for six years.

There's really not going to be any kind of debate about this, is there?

The issue before us as Dice-K begins his open-ended stay in the Japanese Pitcher Witness Protection Program, otherwise known as the disabled list, is whether the bigger story is his almost complete collapse or that his absence is actually a blessing as the Red Sox attempt to seize control of both the division and the entire American League.

We can’t expect to get the straight skinny from the Red Sox. They will insist the DL thing is legit, that their honest belief is that Dice-K’s troubles are strictly medical. We may hear more about the evils of the World Baseball Classic. They have too much at stake to say otherwise.

But it’s pretty obvious something else is going on. Dice-K has made a couple of veiled allusions to an issue outside of baseball. If that’s the case, he should be given as much time as he needs to address the situation. It’s not as if he’ll be missed.

No one is going to miss a starter with an ERA of 8.23 and a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 2.20. No one is going to miss someone against whom opponents are batting .378 with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of 1.091. No one is going to miss someone who routinely gives up four- or five-run leads.

The fact is the Red Sox are uniquely prepared to replace Mr. Matsuzaka. We’ll see the first option Thursday night when John Smoltz makes his Red Sox debut in Washington. A second option is already in place. His name is Justin Masterson. Option three is down there in Pawtucket, where an increasingly restless Clay Buchholz has proved to be too good for Triple A.

Of course, no one in power will say the team is already better off knowing that Dice-K will not be pitching for the foreseeable future. But we all know that happens to be the case.

The goal now is to restore him to, well, what, exactly?

He’s not what he was supposed to be; this much we know. He was billed as a superpitcher, a guy who threw in the mid-to-high 90s and who augmented this uberheater with as many as five auxiliary pitches, all, as they say, in the “plus’’ category. (We won’t go anywhere near that gyroball nonsense.)

We’ve never seen that guy.

What we’ve seen at his best is a guy who throws in the low 90s and who has decent auxiliary stuff. We have seen that, in common with pitchers in his basic category, he needs to hit spots to be effective. He has got to locate that fastball on the corners. If he can do that, everything else has a chance to work.

In other words, he’s like a hundred other guys.

We’ve also found him to be someone who wants to be too fine. If there is a Japanese equivalent of the phrase “trust your stuff,’’ he doesn’t subscribe to the theory. Whatever “nibbler’’ is in Japanese, that’s him. Or, at least, that was him in 2008, when he led the league in lowest opponents’ batting average (.211) and led the league in walks (94), which was hard to do, considering that 38 American League pitchers threw more innings than Dice-K’s 167 2/3.

This year he’s walking substantially fewer, but now everyone’s hitting him. He needs to get this thing calibrated.

Someone might look at what he did last year and wonder why anyone could complain. After all, he was 18-3. Well, there’s 18-3 and there’s 18-3, and to construct his 18-3 he pitched well, but not that well. He enjoyed hefty run support (5.7 runs per game) and he was amazingly - or should I say cleverly - coddled by Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell. In one-third of his wins he pitched five innings.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci pointed out earlier this year there is an eerie pattern of Japanese pitchers losing it during their third year in America. At the time, the Sox rejected this as a reason for Dice-K’s problems, saying he was physically sound and citing the fact he was 26 when they signed him. With the exception of Hideo Nomo, the Japanese pitchers who broke down did so in their early 30s. They insisted Dice-K was physically sound. But now he’s going on the DL, citing shoulder woes? Something doesn’t add up.

No one can say his first two years represented failure. He struck out 201 in 2007, and he pitched three or four outstanding games. But at no point did he resemble an ace. Josh Beckett in 2007, that’s an ace. Josh Beckett now. That’s an ace. Jon Lester in 2008, that’s an ace. Daisuke Matsuzaka at his best has been a solid No. 3, with occasional flashes of being a No. 2.

Understand that over half the $103 million John Henry paid to obtain Dice-K’s services was a posting fee to his old club. So the just under $9 million he gets in actual salary might be something approximating market value for a pitcher of Dice-K’s caliber.

But that’s not the way he was billed.

He was supposed to be one of the elite pitchers in the world. He’s not. When he’s right, he’s an OK pitcher. When he’s not right, and right now he’s far from right, he’s a massive liability.

No longer. He has been made redundant, and the 2009 Boston Red Sox aren’t going to miss him.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

Red Sox player search

Find the latest stats and news on:
Youk | Big Papi | Jason Varitek |

Red Sox audio and video

Sox-related multimedia from around the web.