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Judging by Dice-K’s exit from the game last Friday night amidst a chorus of boos, a majority of the Fenway faithful certainly think Sox General Manager Theo Epstein made a colossal blunder.
This is quite a comedown for a pitcher who finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting last season, after finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year race the previous year. After two seasons, Dice-K had a record of 33-15, but how good was he?
The numbers tell us that he was pretty good, but nowhere near great. He struck out 201 batters in 2007, but had a 4.40 ERA. His ERA in 2008 was 2.90, but he led the league in walks, and averaged less than six innings per start. His postseason record is 3-1, but he has a 4.79 ERA.
So, the question is this: did the Red Sox pay $103 million for “pretty good?”
Obviously not. Although less than half the money goes to Dice-K himself, the remainder was paid to his former team, the Seibu Lions as a “posting fee,” the total cost must be factored in. The Red Sox were willing to commit this money, and give Dice-K a six-year contract, because they saw him as a “top of the rotation” guy. We were told at the time that he was a “Japanese Greg Maddux.” A power pitcher with pinpoint control and a myriad of devastating off-speed pitches, including the mythical “gyroball.” None of this has proven to be true.
What we have seen, instead, is a guy with a good—low nineties—fastball, an excellent slider, and mediocre complimentary off-speed stuff. His control, in particular, seems to have been wildly overstated. What, then, did Red Sox scouts see in this guy? A much different pitcher, in all probability.
Even a cursory examination of Dice-K’s record in Japan’s Pacific League reveals a pitcher with low ERAs and walk totals, coupled with lots of innings and wins. What happened? I think the World Baseball Classic may have provided the answer. As in the inaugural 2006 WBC, Dice-K was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. His numbers were very good, but I noticed something interesting about the way he pitched. In his start against the USA, he looked much like the Dice-K we see over here—a “power nibbler” as Tim McCarver once called him. In his other starts, however, he established his fastball in the strike zone, and used his slider and off-speed pitches as his “out pitches.” I think he has so much respect for Major League players, that he is afraid to pitch in the strike zone.
Will Dice-K ever live up to his advance billing?