It seems Red Sox Nation has had two reactions to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s early season struggles and subsequent trip to the DL. One comes from only the optimistic fans: It was only two starts; he’ll be just fine. The other is universal: The World Baseball Classic is evil, like Ty Cobb evil.
Both are fair points. I suppose Dice-K could still go on to win the Cy Young Award and while I wouldn’t place the WBC in Cobb’s class, it is, at the very least, a questionable idea to ask guys to pitch in “meaningful” games a month ahead of schedule.
I have a different theory though and it’s a lot more worrisome than just a couple poor outings and a lot less convenient than blaming the WBC, which hasn’t seemed to have been a problem for the rest of its participants. Maybe the problem is a combination of all those years throwing too many pitches in Japan finally catching up to him and Major League hitters finally figuring out that Dice-K simply doesn’t throw a lot of strikes.
In other words, maybe Matsuzaka just isn’t that good.
When Dice-K signed with the Red Sox three years ago, he was billed as having a stealth arm that could throw 97 MPH with pinpoint control over somewhere between five and eleven pitches, which, as I wrote at the time, would make him better than even your best video game created player. Arm fatigue from the WBC, are you kidding? This is a guy who routinely threw 150 pitches per game for eight seasons in Japan, not to mention that whole 250 pitch, 17 inning shutout in high school that made him so famous in the first place.
Since coming to the states, he has never shown the velocity that he was supposed to have and he’s had about as much control over his pitches as Mo Vaughn had over his weight. Dice-K was down to 88 MPH Tuesday night and continued to miss the zone up, down and out more often than not.
His control has been the subject of debate his entire American career now. Some give him a pass, citing the idea that he feels more comfortable using his whole array of pitches, even if it results in him falling behind in the count. But of all people, baseball guys should know that when “gut feeling” and statistics differ, math usually comes out on top. The fact is that batting averages rise significantly, in some cases as much as 150 points, in hitter’s counts.
And it’s not as though he always battles back to get the out when he’s pitching from behind either. Dice-K led the American League in walks allowed last season, despite missing most of June. Did he really just bare down with runners on base better than anyone in the sport, or was his ability to prevent runners from scoring merely a statistical aberration? Again, I tend to side with math.
Some might think I’m out of my mind. Look at last season’s numbers. But I say, look at those numbers. How many pitchers go 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and aren’t considered one of the best pitchers in baseball? You could make the argument that he’s only the ninth best pitcher in his own division (Beckett, Lester, Sabathia, Burnett, Shields, Kazmir, Garza and Halladay). Subconsciously, we all know he’s not an elite pitcher.
The truth is Dice-K is nothing more than an average pitcher who put together a season that was just as lucky as it was dominant in 2008. And now with a diminishing fastball to go with lousy control, 2009 might prove to be a rough year for Matsuzaka and by extension, the Red Sox.