Scouting Report: Daisuke Matsuzaka - RHP
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on October 26th, 2006
Daisuke Matsuzaka is the be-all, end-all, let’s face it. If the Seattle Mariners land the Japanese superstar, their offseason can be labeled a success, almost regardless of what else, if anything significant, accompanies his arrival this winter.
Personally, I LOVE the idea of adding him to the M’s pitching staff, and I don’t care if it costs $40 million in posting fees and $10+ million per season through 2009. But it seems that somewhere along the way some folks got the idea that Matsuzaka is the greatest pitcher in history of baseball, in any country in any era.
That simply is not the case, though Matsuzaka is clearly a very, very good starting pitcher, and he’s worth as much or more than any free-agent starter this league has seen in quite a few seasons - including the 40-something Roger Clemens.
The 26-year-old hurler, however, should not be expected to roll into the U.S. and post sub-3 ERA’s and lead the league in strikeouts.
So, what exactly can we expect?
That’s hard to tell for sure, and, contrary to what some ‘net rats would have you believe, there is a lot of value in a professional’s opinion, particularly those who have followed Matsuzaka’s 2005 and/or 2006 season.
We’ve read the analysis of those who have followed Matsuzaka’s past few campaigns from afar, using statistics, comparisons and a few minutes of footage over at youtube as evidence. Now it’s time to back those up with the trained eye.
Two have agreed to reveal their team affiliations in retro if their club loses out on the bidding…
What I found most interesting is that the scouts thought somewhat differently of Matsuzaka than the others. One spoke very highly of the way he uses his fastball, even as an out pitch, rather than falling in love with his curve or forkball.
Another thought Matsuzaka indeed fell into spells of overusing one of his offspeed pitches and a third saw no particular pattern at all, which he thought was sensational.
“I can’t get enough of a pitcher who will not use a pitch when he doesn’t need it,” said the AL scout. “Far too many pitchers show a hitter everything in each at-bat and all that seems to do is help the hitter and the rest of the lineup. If someone can’t hit a well-located fastball, what’s the point in using anything else.”
Matsuzaka’s four-seam fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range with average movement. The key to his 4-seam heater is the plus command he displays of the pitch on a regular basis.
“He’ll fight the corners until he finds the zone,” said the AL scout. He’s not afraid of walking a couple while he’s feeling out the strike zone. He rarely shows poor control and when he does it’s typically with his breaking stuff and offspeed stuff. He usually has good command of both of his fastballs.”
Yeah, he said both. Matsuzaka also uses a two-seam variety, in which he can cut in and out off the plate, as well as sink down out of the zone. It’s not a pitch that any of the scouts saw a lot of in 2006, but enough to know it’s there. Rafael Chaves is a big proponent of the two-seamer, especially the kind that induce ground balls, and Matsuzaka can often end an at-bat with a ground ball, when he’s looking to do so.
“Most strikeout pitchers give up the fly ball, and therefore the home run, too,” said the veteran scout. “But Matsuzaka hasn’t been looking for the strikeout, at least not regularly. He seems to understand that getting outs, no matter how they come about, is the name of the game.
“You see those Ks and think he’s Nolan Ryan, but he’s not. He can pitch, and that sinking fastball he’s got is probably underused. If he focused on that pitch more, it might be a 6 or better (on the 2-8 scale.”)
Matsuzaka’s 2-seam heater typically hit the 89-91 mph range, but touched 92-93 in one start in May, which led the NL scout to believe that he’s intentionally taking velocity off the pitch.
“I’ve seen him throw nothing but fastballs and sinkers for two innings at a time, maybe three, and give up zilch. He overmatched a lot of clubs but even when he was fighting his command, he was tough.”
Now that’s pitching.
The four-seamer received a 65 from one scout and a 60/65 from the other two. With the average MLB fastball believed to be about 87-88 mph, Matsuzaka’s velo alone is worth a 60 grade.
Matsuzaka’s BEST pitch is his curve ball. At times, it appears to be a slurvy style offering, but he throws it like a curve ball, so that’s what we’ll call it.
If you have not seen the video of Matsuzaka from last May and June, google that sucker, because he throws a few curves that will boggle the mind.
“That thing can be devastating,” said the veteran scout. “It’s a real good curve, one of the best you’ll see on any continent. He can hang it every once in awhile, but when it’s working it’s a late, and sometimes double-breaking pitch.
“It always shows a sharp downward break like most curves do, but sometimes it slides in on left-handed guys and away from the right-handers. He’s tied up more lefties on that pitch…”
Usually clocked between 77 and 81 mph, Matsuzaka’s curve ball needs a nickname, because it’s a plus-plus pitch, and I don’t care what anyone else says.
“I think it’s a 70,” said the veteran scout. “If he can get outs with it in the states, I’ll rethink that, but for now, I’ll stand by that.”
The NL scout said: “It’s well above average, I like it a lot. After you’ve seen a few good fastballs on the corner, you can’t adjust to a curve ball like this. It’s certainly a plus pitch.”
The soon-to-be 26-year-old’s most important pitch might be his change. Matsuzaka uses a forkball type grip and with his flawless arm action, he creates great deception in both speed and movement on the forkball.
I’d prefer not to call it a forkball, but apparently it’s more of a fork than a split, due to how deep the ball sits in Daisuke’s fingers. It’s more like a dead salmon being thrown 83-86 mph down at Pike Place, but instead of reaching the hands of the fish market gurus, it smacks a glass wall that we can’t see with the naked eye, and slides to the floor, uncatchable, unhittable.
“I agree, that’s got a good chance to be the most critical pitch for him in America,” said the AL scout. “Power arms with good change-ups can’t miss over here and he’s got the makings of a pretty good forkball.”
“I’d give it a 55 or 60, for now,” said the veteran scout. Most of this is, of course, based on how the pitches fared in Japan, since that’s pretty much all anyone has seen thus far.”
“It’s above average,” said the NL scout. “His arm speed is solid and the action is pretty good, but it’s a feel pitch and he does tend to lose a good feel for it at times. Sometimes it appears to be unavailable to him.”
Four above-average pitches, plus velo, good command, good arm speed… what else is there?
“He’s not all about stuff,” said the NL scout. “He’s not a thrower – if he was, he wouldn’t be any good over here in the U.S. He thinks out there on the mound, and the key for me is the way hitters react to his pitches. They just don’t have good Abs and they are rarely locked in. That’s a great sign.”
Matsuzaka drew comparisons to Hideki Irabu in these conversations, based on Irabu’s Japanese success and the way he could intimidate hitters and force an uncomfortable experience in the box.
“Yeah, he’s got some of that,” said the AL scout. “But as you watch him start after start, it’s not just about the hitter not being confident – they aren’t – but he’ll drill a guy, he pitches inside, which is a bit rare over here.”
So, he’s pretty smart, confident, has no qualms about buying back the inner half of the plate.
Sign me up.
“I’d take him in heartbeat,” said the veteran scout. “I know we’re interested or I wouldn’t have spent so much time typing up all those reports. I’d pony up the dough if it was my money to give. He’s a terrific talent.
“The workload would worry me after 30 (years of age) or so, but not until then. And there aren’t many clubs in baseball that would allow him to surpass 125 pitches regularly, or go much past 215 innings, so he should be fine.
“I think he’s a strong No. 2 pitcher who will eat 200+ innings. He’ll dazzle at times and struggle in others. But the good will outnumber the tough ones by a large margin. He’s the best option on the market, and it’s not close.”
“I don’t know if I’d ever expect him to be a (number) one,” said the AL scout. “Not so much because he can’t, but why put pressure on him? Just wind him up and let him go, and keep a reasonable pitch count on him. Major League teams will probably prepare him for a little bit longer schedule, and his innings should be monitored.
“The work he’s got over here was pretty heavy for awhile and that is a factor with all pitchers. He’s a frontline arm with electric stuff and a ceiling as high as just about any righty in baseball.”
“It’s an easy question to answer. Get him a physical, jump for joy when he passes and shelter your $60 million investment. He’s a risk; I’d be worried, but only because of the financial venture. I wouldn’t bet on him breaking down anytime soon – he’s probably worth that risk, anyway, ya know? He’s a legit top-of-the-rotation type, though he may need some time to adjust to the ways of the American game - and it’s hitters.
“Say what you want about the Classic, but he’s never faced Manny and Papi one week, Thome, Konerko and Dye the next, and then Giambi, AROD and Matsui the next. The biggest thing to watch for is how the best hitters in the world react to his best, once they’ve seen him. That’s going to be his biggest challenge. It’s going to be tough, but there’s no doubt in my mind, or anyone else’s that I have spoken with, that he’ll be a success in Major League Baseball.”
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP – Seibu Lions
Agent: Scott Boras
4-Seam Fastball: 65+
Sits 91-94 mph, touches 95+ on rare occasions. Good movement, can tail away from lefties and in on righties. Slight downward plane keeps ball near bottom of zone.
Sits 87-90 mph, has sinking, cutting action. Can change speeds on demand, improving pitch.
Curve Ball: 70
Sits 77-81 mph, sharp, late bite. Immediately one of best curves in game. Can adjust break to gain lateral movement like a slider with vertical break of typical curve. Good depth, consistent arm slot.
Usually 83-87 mph, split-finger type change-up. Baffling at times. Can change speeds effectively - and at will.
May have trouble holding runners in the states with his slow wind up, but doesn’t lose stuff from the stretch. Very consistent arm slot helps all of his pitches.
Straying Power: 65
He’s just 26 and though his workload is a popular issue, he’s showed very few signs of breaking down and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be very good through and beyind his original MLB contract, which is likely to be three years.
There is no reason Matsuzaka won’t be a legit TOR starter who dominates at times.
Scott Boras is certainly going to want free agency granted after any three or four-year deal, rather than arbitration. It’s a simple procedure where the signing club contractually agrees to decline to offer arbitration at the end of the contract, making the player a free agent.
But three years at $10 million per? Sounds like he’s worth it.
The latest word, as of Tuesday night, was that so many clubs that were originally interested aren’t very confident about their chances, due to the full-blown efforts of the two heavy favorites, the Evil Empire and the Seattle Mariners.
Odds on the Winning Bid – Teams
Favorites : New York Yankees – 5-2, Seattle Mariners – 3-2.
Contenders: New York Mets – 10-1, Los Angeles Dodgers – 15-1, Boston Red Sox – 15-1 .
Long Shots: Texas Rangers – 25-1, Los Angeles Angels – 30-1, Chicago Cubs – 30-1, Chicago White Sox – 30-1, San Francisco Giants – 40-1, Philadelphia Phillies – 50-1, Baltimore Orioles – 50-1, Houston Astros – 75-1, St. Louis Cardinals – 75-1, Arizona Diamondbacks – 75-1, Detroit Tigers – 75-1, Atlanta Braves – 100-1, Toronto Blue Jays – 100-1.
Odds are based on the opinions of 11 baseball executives who have expressed their thoughts on the posting process, some publicly through a number of media sources, or via private conversations.
I can say this about the Seattle Mariners… they are PLANNING on winning the bid. But they also don’t want to be baited into going so high that it doesn’t make sense anymore.
My amateur advice would be to go hard after him, keep your plans close to the vest, but make sure that the financial investment doesn’t exceed the potential payoff. Both on and off the field of play.
Rumor has it that Matsuzaka’s first choice by far is to play in Seattle and the Mariners can offer more than any other team in all of baseball.
The money will be there wherever he ends up. You can argue, successfully, that on the surface the Yankees and other clubs can offer a better chance to win now, and a better shot at consistent postseason play, but the M’s aren’t that far away, especially if Daisuke joins the roster this winter.
The Yankees (Matsui), Dodgers (Nomo) and Angels (Hasegawa) have all had success with the Japanese stars, but the M’s blwo them all away with Ichiro, Sasaki, and the biggest advantage the M’s have, in regards to where Matsuzaka’s desires may lie.
Kenji Johjima, the M’s starting catcher, plays a large role in this process and several news reports, both recently and over the past year, have suggested that the idea of a Japanese-speaking catcher is a big part of why Matsuzaka sees Seattle as the best fit
Yeah, I know what you are thinking. This is a bidding war and Matsuzaka’s desires don’t really matter all that much, if at all.
I don’t buy into this blind bidding, not at all. I tryly think that if Matsuzaka wants to go to Seattle bad enough, that is who will “win” the bidding, some way, somehow… which leads me to the following:
Prediction: Seattle wins the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka with a $28 million bid and signs him to a three-year contract worth about $11 million per season. The Mariners will not balk at Boras’ demands of free agency at the end of the pact.