2010 Red Sox Preview: Will The Real Daisuke Matsuzaka Please Stand Up?

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2010 Red Sox Preview: Will The Real Daisuke Matsuzaka Please Stand Up?
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A little more than a month ago, Red Sox Nation learned that starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka told a Japanese magazine that he suffered a leg injury early last year while in training for the World Baseball Classic, and that he kept the injury hidden from the team.

He alleged the injury caused him to alter his pitching mechanics. He also said it was a combination of the injury, the altered mechanics, and the fact he hid the injury from the Sox that ultimately led to the shoulder injury that put him on the disabled list. (Of course, many observers believe his problems were the result of a lack of dedication and the fact that he showed up in Ft. Myers resembling the Pillsbury Doughboy… but that’s another story for another day)

At the time, I wondered aloud whether he was really injured, or whether his ego and pride were causing him to make excuses in an effort to save face in his home country. As we look forward to 2010, the answer to that question is probably irrelevant—in either case he’ll be motivated to have an excellent year.

He was good, but not great, in both ‘07 and ‘08 when he posted WARPs of 3.3 and 4.9, respectively. Therefore, regardless of what happened last year, it is not difficult to imagine that he could compile stats like that again in 2010.

But the question is: Will he?

Matsuzaka is a proud man. He will want to have an outstanding season in 2010 to answer all of the questions that were raised by his abysmal performance in 2009.

Red Sox pitching coach Farrell recently said that he’s been more receptive with respect to the club’s desires regarding his training regimen. He said Matsuzaka has had terrific workouts at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona, working with a program designed by the Red Sox’ training staff.

“(Daisuke’s) in a great frame of mind. The workout program at API has gone very well. He is extremely motivated to have a year reminiscent of ‘07 and ‘08…and I think the way he finished up the year and the starts he got at the end of the season allowed him to go into the offseason—allowed us to go into the offseason—knowing that he was healthy, that we could plan with him as a main part of all those plans from a health standpoint.”

I’ve read a bevy of articles recently in which writers have asserted that the three starts Matsuzaka had in September and October are a strong indicator that he will have a solid season in 2010. Those folks don’t understand the game if they think those starts indicate great things to come.

Don’t get me wrong—I think Daisuke will rebound nicely in 2010.

But my opinion has NOTHING to do with those last three starts. In fact, I think those last three starts indicate that he will struggle this year. He went 2-1, 1.96 in those starts, but he allowed nearly a hit per inning pitched, while striking out 13 and walking nine batters in 18.1 IP.

That figures out to be a command ratio of just 1.44—a figure lower than his full-season ratio of 1.80 and his 2008 ratio of 1.60. As a benchmark, the reader should be aware that the preferred ratio for a pitcher is greater the 2.5 (last achieved by Dice-K in 2007).

Furthermore, while his ERA in those late-season outings was under 2.00, his xERA in those outings was over 4.50. Sometimes you need to look at the peripherals to see what’s REALLY going on.

With that caveat in mind, I believe he will have a very good season in 2010. I believe last year’s debacle exorcised some of the hubris that prevented him from reaching his potential. According to Farrell and many others, he is motivated and has re-dedicated himself to getting into top physical condition.

THAT is why I believe he could win the AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010.

What kind of numbers will he put up?

The most widely-referenced projection systems are CHONE, Bill James, and PECOTA. Frankly, I don’t like any of them. CHONE projections tend to be strong for hitters but weak for pitchers. PECOTA is the opposite (strong for pitchers, weak for hitters). And while Bill James is one of the most well-known prognosticators—and an employee of the Red Sox—his annual projections are overly-optimistic (the final stats for your fantasy baseball team are never nearly what you expected if you used James’s numbers while prepping for your draft).

I prefer one relatively well-known source for projections and a second source that most readers likely will not know, but should: Ron Shandler (who is the godfather of 'fanalytics’) and Mike Podhorzer (the new kid on the block).

Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster is must-reading for any baseball fan, especially if he/she is a fantasy baseball aficionado. Shandler and his minions do great work. They can be found at BaseballHeadquarters.com .

Podhorzer’s predictions at fantasypros911.com went 42-0 when compared head-to-head with other projection systems last year. Seriously, folks, if you don’t know about fantasypros911.com , it’s time that you take a look. Great stuff!

So what do the systems project for Matsuzaka for the upcoming season?

Shandler: 13-10, 4.51 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 176 IP, 163 K, 85 BB (1.92 Command)
Podhorzer: 12 wins, 4.24 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 180 IP, 166 K

As for me, I’m not sure the projection systems can account for what’s in a guy’s heart. I think the extra motivation to prove himself will carry him to 14 or 15 wins. I’ll split the difference and project he’ll post an ERA of 4.40 and a WHIP of 1.40. I also think that he’ll walk fewer batters—his control will improve thanks to better conditioning—so I’ll project a command of 2.25.

And if he posts numbers in that general vicinity in 2010, then I think we’ll be able to say that the real Dice-K stood tall…and he’ll very possibly earn recognition as Comeback Player of the Year in the AL.

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