Japanese Future MLBers: #1 – Daisuke Matsuzaka

The only thing in recent memory less surprising than Gary Sheffield’s involvement in a contract dispute is the #1 player on this list, Seibu Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Seibu Lions RHSPLike as not, you’ve already heard of Matsuzaka. Just in case you haven’t, here’s the scoop: he’s probably the best baseball player in the world not on a major league roster (I can hear the Cubans griping already – calm down, will y’all?). He’s 26 years old and has been dominating Nippon Professional Baseball for eight seasons. 2007 is the final year of his contract with Seibu; rather than lose him to free agency for no return, they plan on using the posting system to sell his contract rights to a major league team.

Matsuzaka stands 6 feet tall and weighs about 185 pounds, so he’s a little smaller than you’d like for a right-handed pitcher, but he has proved fairly durable. The stories of him pitching in the Koshien Tournament are already legendary – he pitched 17 innings and threw 250 pitches one day for the victory, then came out in relief and picked up the save on the next. This year, he’s averaged around 140 pitches per start, albeit pitching on longer rest than he will in America.

Matsuzaka’s statistical record is excellent. He won the Sawamura award with a dominant season in 2001, although the heavy workload he endured that year might have caused him to miss time the following season. These days, he strikes out over a batter per inning, walks few, and doesn’t give up many homers. His statistics have been basically the same as those of Saitoh the past few seasons, but Saitoh came away with the hardware.

Matsuzaka throws a lot of pitches and throws them for strikes. He hit 94 on the gun many times during the World Baseball Classic as he spotted his fastball in and around the strike zone, although he usually sits in the 88-92 range. His slider has a very sharp break, like a yo-yo being snapped backward; he uses the pitch to make batters look foolish. And then there’s the gyroball. Right now, Will Carroll is hiking through the Japanese hinterlands with a crappy camcorder attempting to record footage of this mythical beast.

Buttercup: Westley, what about the G.O.U.S’s?
Westley: Gyroballs of Unusual Size? I don’t believe they exist.

In my opinion, Matsuzaka’s arsenal is exciting enough that it doesn’t need the added hype of a mystery pitch that Matsuzaka himself claims he doesn’t really throw. No, really – his stuff is great. Check the video if you don’t believe me.

Despite his obvious talent, Matsuzaka is anything but a sure thing. He has an awful lot of mileage on his young arm; as hard as it was to witness Francisco Liriano’s elbow pop, imagine if your team had just invested $90 million in him. Also, Matsuzaka might struggle under the microscope of a major media market like New York or Boston. Finally, the effects of culture shock, while probably minor, are still unpredictable at best.

Me? I’m optimistic. I expect 200 IP, 180 K, 45 BB, 25 HR, and a 3.40 ERA from Matsuzaka, and won’t be surprised if he beats that projection. He’s good enough to do it. Jeff Sackmann thinks that will earn him roughly $50 million in guaranteed salary, plus a posting fee of $25 million to Seibu. That seems reasonable enough to me, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number ended up even higher. We’ll know for sure in the next couple of weeks.

Daisuke Matsuzaka 2006 Stats:

 W  L   ERA  GP  GS CG ShO Hld  GF Sv     IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO
17  5  2.13  25  25 14   2   0   0  0  186.1  138  50  44  13  34  200

Daisuke Matsuzaka Career Statistics
Daisuke Matsuzaka Biographical Data
Detect-O-Vision on Matsuzaka

9 Responses to “Japanese Future MLBers: #1 – Daisuke Matsuzaka”

  1. yourblankfile Says:

    This 44 second highlight I found of him does a bit of justice to this guys talent. The best part is that it showcases his mythical “Gyroball” This is probably the most disgusting pitch I’ve ever seen. Makes him dangerous to both rightys and lefties

  2. yourblankfile Says:

    Sorry. THought it would embed in my last post, Guess not. Heres the link though

  3. yourblankfile Says:

    Ack! That one decided to fit the screen and make it WAY too choppy.

    Heres the link to the Youtube site:

  4. Kyle S Says:

    Nice clip. Are you sure that’s the gyroball? It looks like it’s breaking in on right-handed hitters, which to me sounds more like the shuuto. The gyroball, as I understand it, is supposed to break away from right-handers (if thrown by a righty), but break much more sharply than a typical curve or slider. The way to tell is supposedly by seeing how the hand follows through after the pitch – the palm faces away from the pitcher, like with a screwball, after a properly-thrown gyroball.

    Anyone who wants to jump in and correct me, feel free; I’m just reporting what I’ve read.

  5. yourblankfile Says:

    You’re right acctually. My Bad. Although Im still having trouble figuring out what that second pitch is, It has the action of a screwball, But it’s much harder, Almost like a reverse cutter.

  6. Rick Mc Says:

    Kyle,
    Sean McAdam is certain that Matsuzaka has two years before NPB free agency. Do you know anything about this claim?

  7. Kyle S Says:

    The latest rumor that I’ve heard suggest that Matsuzaka was taken off Seibu’s active roster for about 30 days in 2002 when he was injured, and thus will need that much service time before he’s eligible for free agency (in addition to another full year), which would make him eligible in May 2008 if he doesn’t sign with the Red Sox. I don’t know why McAdam thinks he needs another full year, and can’t speculate further on that subject.

  8. Rick Mc Says:

    Kyle,
    How could Matsuzaka use up 30 days of service time and become a free agent in the middle of a NPB season? Wouldn’t he have to sign a one year contract with Seibu to play in 2008? The equivalent in MLB would be mid season free agency for players who met six year service time because they were called up in May.

  9. Kyle S Says:

    Rick,
    my understanding is that service time in Japan accumulates by the number of days you have on the active roster. Thus, you haven’t completed a year of service time until you reach 135 days (or whatever the number is). So, if you play 80 games in year one, then get hurt and are taken off the active roster, you’re still considered in your first year of service until you’ve spent 55 more days on the active roster.

    This is according to a poster I know on a message board who lives in Japan and knows more about NPB than I do. I trust that he’s right, but it’s possible he isn’t. As I said before, I don’t know who McAdam’s source is or what he has been told.

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