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Up in arms

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff July 22, 2008 10:12 AM

In the month of July, all Daisuke Matsuzaka has managed to do is go 1-0 in three starts with 0.49 ERA. Overall, heís 10-1 with a 2.65 ERA and conceivably could have 12-13 wins if he hadnít missed a month with shoulder fatigue.

Looks like an ace. Sounds like an ace.

But Matsuzaka is, of course, no ace, thanks to his continued maddening inability to throw strikes consistently. Matsuzaka is fourth in the AL with 57 walks, despite having pitched only 88 1/3 innings, far fewer than top three Daniel Cabrera (62 walks in 134 innings), Dana Eveland (60 in 118.1), and A.J. Burnett (59 in 133).

Then again, no other AL starter with anywhere from 80 to 100 innings pitched this season has allowed fewer hits than Matsuzaka, whose 65 contribute to a bizarre hits-to-walk ratio that's dangerously creeping to 1:1. In nine of his 16 starts, Matsuzaka has allowed four or fewer hits.

In seven of his 16 starts, Matsuzaka has walked four or more, including three times in which he doled out six or more free passes, which includes the two-hitter at Detroit in which he walked eight over five innings and still somehow managed to win.

That game, in fact, sums up Matsuzaka's season in one tidy package. The escape artist won't let you breathe for at least one inning per start, but opponents remain 0 for 11 against him with the bases loaded.

A year after his American coming out party, there's still little consensus that Matsuzaka is the player the Red Sox sold the world for back in late 2006. Yes, that 10-1, 2.65 looks awfully nice, particularly for a guy considered a No. 2. But for the dollars and marketing behind him he remains maddening to watch, bewildering to understand when he comes away with another victory.

The trouble is there is so much good about Matsuzaka's season that is being overlooked for the main reason that we have to watch. It's a laboring process to endure Matsuzaka on the mound, not totally unlike what it once was to see Matt Young toss balls in the dirt. That's not to compare their physical abilities because it's evident that Matsuzaka is a far superior athlete. But from a standpoint of not putting a foot through the TV, sort of the same guy.

It's difficult to defend the stance that Matsuzaka thus far has been worth the money and the hoopla, but the potential for greatness pops up in flashes all the same. There is just such a difficult balance in determining just how dominant he can be. For indeed, if he found the plate more, logic would suggest he'd allow more hits. That's not the case now. For instance, when batters run the count to 3-1 against Matsuzaka, they're hitting him at just a .111 clip, but with a whopping .724 on-base percentage. After the 3-1 count, batters are hitting just .077 against him, yet still with a .561 OBP. Those disparities are not that uncommon from other pitchers in similar situations (When Josh Beckett runs the count 3-1, the opposition puts up a .615 OBP), but the virtual certainty that Matsuzaka is going to dish out at least a quartet of walks per start, and very likely 2-to-3 of them in a single inning, makes it a much more dangerous stat for him, particularly if his luck runs out one day and someone starts eking out a bases-loaded hit or two into center field.

Matsuzaka makes his first start of the second half tonight in Seattle, where the Red Sox aim to make it two straight against a team tied for the worst record in the game and earn just their 23rd road win of the season. Matsuzaka is 4-0 on the road this year, with an ERA of 2.15, far and away the best of any Boston starter.

He has also walked more (24) batters than he's allowed hits (20).

It's his fatal flaw, of course, one that keeps him from being lumped into the discussion of the game's elite hurlers. Perhaps it is what he is and what he is to be. Looks like an ace, sounds like an ace. Then you watch him and can't figure it out. He's 10-1. Batters are hitting .202 against him. And yet ... you're already nervous about having to endure his next start.

That's tonight. Deep breaths.

41 comments so far...
  1. In Japan they have 6-man rotations. Dice-K had a reputation for throwing a lot of pitches. So it sounds like his game was to throw a lot of pitches -- whether they were balls or strikes -- each game and then rest up for his next start 6 days later. He found that to be successful in Japan, and he's doing the same thing here. The problem is that with 5-man rotations, his pitch count is limited and he can't pitch as deep into games as he could in Japan. But he's not going to (or can't) change what made him successful in the past. Perhaps his stuff just isn't good enough to challenge hitters like Beckett can, especially wiith (better) MLB hitters. So I think that what we're seeing from him is what we're going to keep getting.

    Posted by Mike B July 22, 08 12:08 PM
  1. The biggest mistake people make when commenting that Dice-K isn't worth the money is counting the $51.1 posting fee as part of his salary, or at least part of the cost of bringing him here. He did not get a 6 year, $103 million deal, he got a 6 year, $52 million deal. For what he has given the Sox and what the going rate is for pitchers, it has been a bargain.

    The posting fee doesn't count against the luxury tax or as part of the team's salary, and the Red Sox are printing money by virtue of sellouts with the highest priced tickets in baseball, $15 Red Sox Nation cards, owning Game On, and selling everything else that isn't nailed down. I wish Dice-K wouldn't waste so many pitches and throw so many walks, but for what the Sox have gotten from him so far, it has been a great deal and it appears that it will continue to be a great deal.

    Posted by internet_king July 22, 08 01:05 PM
  1. The way lester is pitching now, I have no doubt that DiceK will get it eventually.

    Posted by Dan July 22, 08 01:28 PM
  1. Worth the money, end of story. He had a rough go last year, like any new pitcher/rookie. He ended up with a world series ring on his finger at the end of the year. This year he is 10-1 (so far). He can walk 12 batterers in a game for all I care, whatever he needs to do in order to get the win. I think the Sox should go with a 6 man rotation, unless there is some MLB rule that stipulates that a team can't. Allow Dice-K to pitch the way that made him so strong in Japan plus getting more rest for the starters and allowing younger talent to get some seasoning without putting too much pressure on them. Dice K doesn't play conventional American baseball, so what, just as long as he wins. And don't kid yourselves, he is the ace, not Beckett, not this season!

    Posted by Thomas July 22, 08 01:33 PM
  1. But do you think he's ever going to "get it"? Sure he's got the stuff and talent. But is it a learning curve or stubborness? Will he give into the fact that you can't throw off speed and have guys chase when he's behind in the count.

    I read (don't know if it's true) that in Japan, he wanted to embarrass hitters. I'm not sure, but maybe that mentallity of "you can't hit me" has something to do with it. All I know is I can't watch his games. It's painful.

    Posted by Bernie July 22, 08 01:51 PM
  1. I agree with Mike B on the first post. I believe that Dice K is used to pitching out of the strike zone since he has a much higher pitch count in Japan and only pitches once every 7 days. Also the lineup in Japan is not as deep and hitters in the lower part of the order are AA at best, so he gets them to swing at his pitches out of the strike zone. This means that he can afford to walk the middle of the lineup hitters in Japan by giving them nothing to hit and get to the weaker part of the lineup and still get out of the innning, even though he racks up the number of pitches per game that way.

    I guess the biggest question is that is his stuff good enough to stay in the strike zone without getting hit hard. I know the coaches and managers have told him to trust his stuff and throw strikes, but his tendency is to waste pitches and hope hitters swing at them, which is not happening as often here as in Japan

    Posted by H C July 22, 08 01:53 PM
  1. The walk ratio is overrated. A walk can never be more than one base and rarely leads to an RBI. A hit is far more damaging. What you're seeing is a pitcher who takes giving the hitter nothing to hit to an extreme level. Eveyone talks about how he manages to escape innings...it's not luck. He does it by not surrending hits.

    We're talking about a pitcher who has 1 loss and a .909 winning percentage through July 21st. Looks like an ace, sounds like an ace, IS an ace.

    Posted by Ron July 22, 08 01:56 PM
  1. Ron makes some good points, but the trouble with this logic is that racking up a high pitch count exposes and overworks a shaky bullpen. Going no more than 5 or 6 innings per start doesn't cut it in the AL, no matter how few hits you give up.

    Dice-K is maddening to watch. That said, with pitching what it is these days, I'm still glad the Sox have him.

    Posted by Jeff V July 22, 08 02:15 PM
  1. you can't be considered an ace if you don't make it out of the 5th inning. An Ace is a stopper, someone that you can count on for a win, and someone that can keep pitching late enough into the ball game to hand it over to the closer. What you can count on with DiceK is eeking out 5 innings of baseball at 25 pitches an inning, and then handing it over to the bullpen and hoping they can hold it.

    Posted by geoff July 22, 08 02:24 PM
  1. He needs to learn that it is OK for the batter to make contact and to trust his fielders. Guys like Mussina and Smoltz have been doing it for years. They pitch to the corners and are not afraid if a guy gets a piece of it. Many of the Japanese pitchers believe the strikeout is better. In actuality it drives up the pitch count. I do not think it is just coincidence that star Japanese pitchers have not excelled beyond a couple of good seasons in MLB.

    Posted by Mike July 22, 08 02:29 PM
  1. In consideration of the ace talk, I think it's time to start seeing Jon Lester as an ace. He has shaken off his earlier mentality of throwing balls and has begun putting up filthy numbers... especially working deep into games to save the Sox bullpen. The true definition of an ace, like geoff said, is someone who can close teams down. Lester just stopped a tough losing streak by pitching masterfully for the team. He is a 1A type ace with Beckett and Dice K is the number 2.

    Posted by Matt M. July 22, 08 02:47 PM
  1. You can be considered an ace if your team is 13-3 with you in and 45-40 without you. That jumps out, doesn't it? Also minus his anomalous 1IP 7 ER game, his ERA is a freakishly low number. Will he give you 5 innings as often as 7? Yes, but still he's averaging 6 a start and only 1-2 runs a start. That's ace stuff. Yes, he's maddening, but bottom line he earns you wins, and you're never out of the game once he's gone. He might strain the bullpen, but with inning eaters Lester, Beckett, and Wakefield it should be an issue of the pen's effectiveness not their overuse. And that's how it's gone this year. Sure, you'd like to avoid using them, but would you rather take a Wakefield /Beckett start where you're tied 3-3 after 7, or a typical Daisuke one where he goes 6IP, 4 BB, 3H, 110 PC, ER and you lead 3-1.

    Posted by Noah July 22, 08 02:54 PM
  1. If the playoffs started today, quite likely Tito's preferred rotation would be Beckett, Lester, Wakefield, then Dice-K (who one wag on another blog changed to Dice-BB).

    The tendency to load the bases will catch up with him, likely in an important game.

    Isn't bullpen abuse a crime in Massachusetts?

    Posted by Jim July 22, 08 02:56 PM
  1. yeah...but um...his wife is hot.

    Posted by chip July 22, 08 03:08 PM
  1. This is perhaps the single dumbest blog I've ever read. Who gives a good goddamn how many people he walks? Would it be better if he walked nobody but was 1-10 with a 6.34 ERA? God, this is such a dumb argument. The ONLY stats that matter are won-loss and ERA. That's how many wins you have, and how many runs you give up per game. What else matters in baseball? YOU ARE PAID TO KEEP RUNNERS FROM SCORING AND WIN GAMES. PERIOD.

    IF his walks start coming back to bite him, and runs start scoring, talk to me then. Right now, Dice-K is an ace, end of story. and he sure as hell was worth the money if he keeps winning like this.

    Posted by Nate kenyon July 22, 08 03:39 PM
  1. I agree that watching Dice-K is maddening. What overshadows that for me, however, are memories of the way he pitched in the 2007 postseason. He was terrific. Just get him to the dance, boys, and let him do his stuff. He's a great big game pitcher. Haven't seen any big games in June or July yet...162...patience...

    Posted by boo-boo July 22, 08 04:41 PM
  1. IN jAPAN their baseball is on par with our Triple A leagues, so Dice-K was dominant, and might have only pitched to one batter that could be considered to have ML talent, but in the States all hitters are generally better than the players in Japan. Thus he is more reluctant to throw more strikes over here, I believe he has the talent to be a very good major league pitcher, but must learn to trust his ability more. Can you imagine some one like Beckett going to Japan, it would be like having him pitch in Pawtucket all year. My advice to Dice-K would be, believe you belong and trust your stuff. Trust is a must.

    Posted by john missita July 22, 08 04:46 PM
  1. If our bull pen had pitched in Dice-k's games like most of the other games he might be 1-10. He lives in a glass house and I still say he won't win 16 games. Give me Derek Lowe.

    Scott

    Posted by Scott Mauldin July 22, 08 04:48 PM
  1. geoff said it best, an Ace does not pitch 5 innings per game. Though, it is odd that the Sox' bullpen has been a weakness this year and Dice is 10-1. Not sure how that works. Kind of the anti-Pedro, when Pedro would give up one or two runs over 7 and could not get wins.

    Of course Dice is worth the money. The Sox would do this deal again, and the Yanks would have outbidded them, in hindsight.


    Posted by diceok July 22, 08 05:22 PM
  1. I like Dice-k on that "Glad the Yankees don't have him" level. It's really hard to guess what the real story is with some of these situations, like shoulder fatigue in May, signing Schil with a bum shoulder, and sending a pretty good Masterson down to bring a screwed up Bucholz up.

    Go figure.

    Posted by MAC July 22, 08 05:34 PM
  1. There's no doubt Dice-K has a unique way of pitching and he has a knack for getting into and out of trouble with little to no damage. However, as the first commenter said, baseball in Japan is different from MLB in their number of starters in the rotation. With only 5 in MLB, as opposed to 6 in Japan, pitchers are throwing on less rest and therefore need to economize their pitches in order to go deep into games. In addition to the difference in the rotation, the MLB has a necessary in order to keep the arms fresh for the length of the season. Dice-K's style of pitching is the opposite of economical, which limits the number of innings he can go in a game and forces Francona to rely on an extremely unreliable bullpen. His numbers are impressive, but it would benefit the team more if he could be more economical.

    Posted by Kris July 22, 08 05:37 PM
  1. Me gusta Dice K.

    Ellos siempre van a ganar con el.

    Posted by Julian Tavarez July 22, 08 05:39 PM
  1. Three things: (1) Matsuzaka is shaking off Varitek a lot -- probably too much. Watch for the grimaces on the coaching staff. (2) He saves his best pitches to get out of jams rather than using his best pitches to keep the bases empty. (3) Hitters are vastly more patient with him this year, and that's a trend against all the Sox pitchers; teams are not swinging as freely and that is a contributing to the massive early pitch counts from our starters, as well as the ineffectiveness of our bullpen. [There are other factors to those high pitch counts, but the opposition is onto something...being patient against this staff will pay off.]

    Posted by nesn_chicago July 22, 08 06:10 PM
  1. My take on Dice-K is simple. He doesn't show me the "heart" of a leader or ace. Not only are walks a problem, but his attitude bothers me, his lack of fire & concentration at times. Lets be honest, his record is a shaky one at best, as his lack of finding the strike zone will catch up with him, and the hitters will start teeing off when he starts to throw strikes.

    I'm a life long Red Sox fan, but I'm also honest on how I feel.

    Any bets on tonight?

    Posted by Ron R. July 22, 08 06:17 PM
  1. How has he been worth the money? "Let me count the ways". His value in PR, Filled Seats and Merchandise alone has been worth up-front fee and his TOTAL contract.

    The wins have been a bonus, and what a bonus! Look at the "Names" that fill the Red Sox roster: Ramirez, Ortiz, Schilling, Youk, Pedroia, Dice K, Lester, Drew, Tek, Lowell, Papelbon, Beckett, Oki---stories all; the product of the greatest sports marketing machine of all time--bar none.

    Posted by Bob from Ft. Myers July 22, 08 06:18 PM
  1. For all the Dice K apologists; You've got to admit he is a heart attack pitcher. He taxes the bullpen whenever he's pitching. The bullpen knows it's going to be a long night when this guy's on the mound. He's average at best.

    As for the bullpen; Delcarmen is a bum! --He s*)cks big time!

    I watch ALL games and quite frankly turn the TV off as soon as I see this guy warming up!

    Posted by Josh July 22, 08 07:07 PM
  1. Dice-K. What a fitting nickname as all of his starts are like rolling a pair of dice. So far he's been extremely lucky in pitching out of jams.

    His pedestrian WHIP, K/BB ratio and dangerously low FO/GO however, all dictate that he will come back down to earth eventually. If Theo saw those numbers now, I doubt he'd agree this man is worth a total package of $103 million.

    Posted by Jimmy F July 22, 08 07:17 PM
  1. the problem is not Dice-K's, it's ours. we need to re-learn what an ace is. an ace wins games. just because Dice-K views a walk as favorable to giving up a double, does not mean he has control issues. he is putting the ball exactly where he intends to. get over the walks and look at the WHIP and the ERA, he's an ace.

    Posted by Bill July 22, 08 07:32 PM
  1. so would u rather have dice-k win less games in order to reduce his walk count? dice-k comes from japan so obviously his pitching style is different. but in the end, isnt the final result what ultimately matters for the team? let dice-k walk as many batters as he wants, as long as he is pumping out the wins the way he has(so far) this season i have no qualms. fans who are not acquainted with dice-k's career and japanese baseball may find dice-k's pitching style to be "strange" but isnt it precisely his "strangeness" that makes him successful? dice-k is succeeding this season precisely because he is dice-k and not josh beckett . quit trying to make dice-k into someone he is not and learn to accept and respect him for who he is and then u may start to appreciate his 10 wins 1 loss record.

    Posted by Doug July 22, 08 07:43 PM
  1. Assume that all of DK's walks were hits: what would opponents BA be against him? Do the same for Lester and Beckett... What do those numbers say?

    Posted by newcanaanite July 22, 08 09:11 PM
  1. Geoff's comments are closer to the reality of baseball than others. Here's another one: on a good day 1/3 of the time the best hitters who swing at pitches and actually hit it reach base safely; 100% of those who don't swing at balls and are walked reach base safely. Also, runners already on base score more frequently than those standing at the plate. When runners are on base the defense plays differently. When runners are on base the pitcher throws from a different starting position. Some pitchers are less effective in the stretch, some are more effective. Is Dice-K more effective throwing from the stretch? Is the defensive better when Youk has to hold a runner? Is it a good idea to test a suspect middle-relief bullpen? I doubt them all. The guy is skilled, electric and maddening. 10 and 1 is an anomaly and should be shared with the others who pick him up in the middle of the sixth inning.

    Posted by Don July 22, 08 09:38 PM
  1. It is maddening to watch and I hate it, but he would rather walk a guy or give up singles by nibbling at the strike zone than give up extra bases. I also believe the sox should take away some pitches and give him 3 choices for the game, Fastball, changeup, and slider. Teach him how to get outs before he gets cute with the other crap he throws.

    Posted by Jason July 22, 08 10:00 PM
  1. Dice K sparks a lively debate.
    The numbers are awesome. The fact that he has gone less than six innings nine times is troubling especially, as was noted earlier, it brings the bullpen into play early.
    The question I have is about his confidence. Does Dice K feel that his pitches will be hammered unless he is nibbling at the corners? I would love to see a game where he went out and just threw strikes. When watching him I feel like he is afraid of throwing a pitch that is to good to hit unless he is behind 2-0.

    In terms of salary, does it matter? There is not a hard cap and as someone already said the bid is not part of his salary. He makes less then Barry Zito and Mike Hampton among several other pitchers.

    Lastly, Beckett is the teams ace. Season on the line I want Beckett, this year, next year and for the foreseeable future.

    Posted by Brendon July 22, 08 10:08 PM
  1. A base on balls is ALWAYS going to do less damage than a hit. Always. The objection to high walk rates is conventional wisdom, and it holds true if the hit rate is average.
    What Dice-K does is against the conventional wisdom, but so is Ichiro's game, he takes a hit every chance he can get, eschewing the walk. Hits drive in runs far more often than walks do.

    Posted by Brendan July 22, 08 10:52 PM
  1. hard to say. don't forget salary factors in merchandise and coverage overseas. i think us in the us of a prob expected his hype to be a more dominant pitcher like beckett or pedro. i agree with the comment below. i think he'll improve marginally better, but his numbers and performance won't ever be overpowering. he's at best a very efficient #2 or #3 starter.

    Posted by Bayley July 22, 08 11:24 PM
  1. He does a lot better on an extra day's rest. Someone posted stats not too long ago, showing that he gives up walks and hits when he doesn't have enough extra rest, and is really good when he does. Since then, I've been watching that, and it's been reliable. If I'd thought to post earlier, I've have made a prediction about tonight, but it's a bit late for that now: extra rest, 2 hits, 2 walks in 7 innings (so far).

    Posted by Daniel July 23, 08 12:27 AM
  1. I don't agree with much of your premises. ERA and wins may be less an indicator of quality pitching than they surely used to be, but they are still none the less valid. And as time passes, they become more and more statistically relevant to the assessing the overall performance.

    Additionally, while numbers may not tell the whole story, there is validity in the words 'clutch' and 'testicular fortitude'...in other words "when the going gets tough....."

    Dice has a 'shut down' mentality. If we garnish praise to Curt and Josh for their big game performances and we believe what we say that they are 'big game. big money' pitchers. well then how can we say anything less about Dice at the moment. The statistics are still only 1.5 years worth, but the win count and big game victories are presenting a telling story.. Dice = W's

    Posted by stevefiji July 23, 08 03:18 AM
  1. Retarded premise. 2.65 ERA. Period. A walk doesn't count until they end up at home plate.

    Hack.

    Posted by Soog July 23, 08 11:54 AM
  1. Wait, I thought we knew exactly what kind of pitcher Dice-K is and what kind of career he's going to have based on that one start in late April.

    When considering whether he's been worth the money, you have to figure in how much money the Sox have made off of him.

    Posted by J-Bone July 23, 08 12:37 PM
  1. Please keep writing these sorts of well-timed commentaries. The day it comes out, Matsuzaka gives up all of two runs in 7+ innings and runs his scoreless streak to 24 1/3 innings.

    Can you write some crap about Beckett next?

    Posted by Char July 24, 08 01:16 AM
  1. Dice-K is 11 - 1 with the 3rd best record in the American League, and yet still many of these comments make him sound like the second coming of Eric Gagne.

    I wonder if Dan shaughnessy was the ghost writer of some of these?

    Posted by austintxfan July 24, 08 12:53 PM
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