Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rolling the Dice

Have the Sox come up snake-eyes with Dice-K? Bob Ryan seems to think so:

There's a lot of financial craziness out there in modern professional sport, but we have not yet reached the point where a third or fourth (and in this case, fifth) starter is worth a total investment of $102 million for six years.

There's really not going to be any kind of debate about this, is there?

He’s not what he was supposed to be; this much we know. He was billed as a superpitcher, a guy who threw in the mid-to-high 90s and who augmented this uberheater with as many as five auxiliary pitches, all, as they say, in the “plus’’ category. (We won’t go anywhere near that gyroball nonsense.)

We’ve never seen that guy.

What we’ve seen at his best is a guy who throws in the low 90s and who has decent auxiliary stuff. We have seen that, in common with pitchers in his basic category, he needs to hit spots to be effective. He has got to locate that fastball on the corners. If he can do that, everything else has a chance to work.

In other words, he’s like a hundred other guys.
Pretty honest review, Bob.

The Sox are in a wonderful position to withstand the loss of Dice-K for any period of time. Penny, Smoltz, Masterson, Buchholz, Bowden... not to mention the financial might to absorb dead money on the books. The Sox are more than able to withstand this loss, no matter how long he's out. And given that Dice-K's annual salary (averages $9M for the next 4 years) is not extraordinary, the Sox would likely have no problem finding a suitor should they put him on the market (though he does have a full no-trade clause). First they have to get him healthy.

Before we blame the WBC, Dice-K was already established as a major league nibbler, frustrating everyone. So what happened? Failure to live up to the hype, the unreachable levels predicted for him? Pressure? The cumulative effects of all those pitches in Japan (and in the Koshien Tournament)? Or maybe he's just hurt?
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci pointed out earlier this year there is an eerie pattern of Japanese pitchers losing it during their third year in America. At the time, the Sox rejected this as a reason for Dice-K’s problems, saying he was physically sound and citing the fact he was 26 when they signed him. With the exception of Hideo Nomo, the Japanese pitchers who broke down did so in their early 30s. They insisted Dice-K was physically sound. But now he’s going on the DL, citing shoulder woes? Something doesn’t add up.
Verducci's article, published 4/21/09, looks awfully prescient right now.
Matsuzaka was 26 when he joined the big leagues, the same age as when Hideo Nomo made his jump. The other relevant comparisons are Kaz Ishii (28 when he joined MLB), Hideki Irabu (28) and Masato Yoshii (33).

Nomo, Ishii, Irabu and Yoshii all had initial success. But the third and fourth seasons became treacherous. Nomo was much worse in his third year and released by the Dodgers in his fourth year. Ishii was done after his fourth year. Irabu made only five more starts after his fourth year. Yoshii was released after his third year.

In every case, the third year was a pothole. Their ERAs soared and, in all but one case, their strikeout rate dropped. Nomo did recover to post two good seasons with the Dodgers later in his career, but otherwise he was mostly ordinary after the initial burst.

The biggest concern for such a track record is the difference in how pitchers are used in Japan and in the majors. Matsuzaka pitched every sixth or seventh day in Japan in a shorter season, but his individual pitch counts wouldn't be allowed in America. He threw, for instance, 250 pitches in a high school game, 189 pitches on Opening Day 2003, 160 pitches in his second start of 2005 and 145 pitches in his penultimate start before signing with Boston. Perhaps most ominously, Matsuzaka threw 588 innings as a pro in Japan as a teenager.

1 comment:

tHeMARksMiTh said...

He's been worth $15 million a season in his first two. If he can reproduce that over his last 3 seasons, he will have been worth $75 million. They paid for an ace but didn't get it. That's not all that uncommon, but we haven't seen all of Daisuke yet. I just hope they write articles like this when Burnett's elbow blows out. ;)