Predicting mucho interest from the Yankees and Red Sox, the Lawrence Eagle Tribune’s Rob Bradford writes that between the sealed bids for WBC MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka’s negotitating rights and a lucrative long-term pact for the Seibu Lions righty, the winning suitor “will have potentially invested $80 million to $90 million in a pitcher who hasn’t thrown a single major league pitch.”
“It might depend on the team, but he could potentially be a No. 1 (starter),” said Kat Nagao, a writer for Monthly Major League, a Japan-based magazine, who has seen Matsuzaka pitch eight times over the past five years. “He has the best slider in Japan right now. His fastball was clocked at 96 mph in the WBC, but that was just in spring training time. Usually, it’s in the low to mid-90s. The only thing that worries me about him is that he has pitched a lot.”
Like many Japanese pitchers, who usually operate in six-man rotations for the country’s top professional league, Matsuzaka consistently operates with pitch counts well over the major league norm. It was, in fact, a 250-pitch, 17-inning high school performance by the 6-foot-1 hurler which helped build his legend.
A stigma also accompanies some Japanese pitchers, such as former New York Yankees righty Hideki Irabu, which suggests their effectiveness wanes after big league hitters get used to their different approach.
“If you remember, for a couple of months Irabu was the best pitcher in baseball,” Nagao said. “That was something the Japanese people dream about. But with Matsuzaka, instead of one month, they think it can be for a whole season.
“The one thing I can say is that Matsuzaka is a very, very smart pitcher. He’s got good stuff, but his way of pitching is also very smart. He learns a lot from his mistakes. Every time I see him, he is always changing. The last time I saw him, which was this season in Japan, he was much more mature a pitcher than I had seen before.”
According the Web site Matsuzaka Watch this season, his eighth as a professional, he totaled a 2.04 ERA, .195 batting average against and a .234 on-base average against, all of which would have been tops among major league pitchers. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings of 9.86 would have been second only to Scott Kazmir, and Curt Schilling would have been the only big leaguer to best him in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (5.97).
And if you think that the pride of Japan hasn’t become the latest hot commodity for a league starved for pitching, realize the subtle shot across the bow the Yankees have already sent. In September, New York hired Shoichi Kida to become one of its main scouts in the Far East.
This appears to be no coincidence. Kida not only played with Matsuzaka in high school, but briefly played with him with the Seibu Lions. Whatever the motivation, just like when Boston hired Cuban Euclides Rojas while wooing of Contreras, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Japan Baseball Daily reports that Matsuzaka has hired Scott Boras.