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Was Signing Dice-K a Mistake?

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Pitching for the Seibu Lions (Image Courtesy

Now that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s third season with the Boston Red Sox has been suspended indefinitely with “shoulder fatigue,” it is time to ask the question: did Theo blow it?

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?

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9 comments for “Was Signing Dice-K a Mistake?”

  1. Was Signing Dice-K a Mistake?: Now that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s third season with the Boston Red Sox has been ..

    Posted by Sports of Boston | June 29, 2009, 9:04 pm
  2. RT @sportsofboston Was Signing Dice-K a Mistake?: Now that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s third season with the Boston

    Posted by Red Sox | June 29, 2009, 10:04 pm
  3. @ Was Signing Dice-K a Mistake? | Sports of Boston: Now that Daisuke Mats..

    Posted by Rick Eriksen | June 30, 2009, 12:35 pm
  4. As Mr. Phelps pointed out we all remember the hype that preceded Dice-K’s arrival in Boston and we wondered if he could live up to the hype. Perhaps it was unfair to put so much hope into one player’s arm, but Sox fans have come to expect a lot in recent years. Only time will tell if D-K’s arm can even what it was two years ago.

    Posted by Mike | June 30, 2009, 3:14 pm
  5. I agree, he has definitely not lived up to the hype, but part of what the Red Sox paid for was hype to translate it into marketing in Japan. I’ve heard that more Red Sox games are seen than any other team. Dice-K’s signing has led to Okajima’s, Saito’s, and Tazawa’s on some level. The biggest reason he hasn’t converted well is that they go deep into games with unreal pitch counts (140-160 without an issue), so they’re shelf life is shorter and is it a coincidence that his shoulder is tired? Or, that every outing is 5 innings and right around 100 pitches? I don’t know if there is a bigger strike zone in Japan, but he doesn’t attack hitters here, he is definitely trying to nibble and walking a lot of guys (and leading to the pitch count issues) here. He frustrates the heck out of me, but with the marketing backdrop and (at the time at least) talk of a “NESN” launch in Japan, it was worth it for that 2007 season 🙂

    Posted by Mike | June 30, 2009, 5:33 pm
  6. […] down. With that in mind, they could use this opportunity to swap out someone who has been doing the opposite: Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka is only 1-5 with an abysmal 8.23 ERA in eight games this season. His […]

    Posted by Could Roy Halladay Be Seeing Red … Sox? | Sports of Boston | July 9, 2009, 8:14 am
  7. […] To think that following this game, Beckett didn’t get to pitch in the All-Star game either. But, he pitched a masterpiece – one in which the Royals had no response, and brought his record to 11-3. This is exactly the kind of Beckett we know and love, and makes you (almost) forget we even had Daisuke Matsuzaka in the pitching rotation. […]

    Posted by Brady’s Back, Pedro Martinez signs with Phillies | Sports of Boston | July 16, 2009, 5:17 pm
  8. […] be doing something right.  This season, he’s been the same steady hand at the tiller: Giving the struggling Dice-K plenty of chances, but ultimately doing the right thing and yanking him, encouraging 2008 MVP […]

    Posted by Red Sox Midseason Review: The Management | Sports of Boston | July 17, 2009, 2:01 pm
  9. […] the last two months. We’ve had our biggest international superstar land on the DL twice and suck when he wasn’t on the DL. Brad Penny has been a nice surprise and what can you say about Tim Wakefield, who made his first […]

    Posted by Red Sox 2009 Midseason Report Card: Pitching | Sports of Boston | July 18, 2009, 12:38 pm

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