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MLB First Half Analysis: The Enigma That Is Daisuke Matsuzaka

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MLB First Half Analysis: The Enigma That Is Daisuke Matsuzaka
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For Daisuke Matsuzaka, the hype was unavoidable.

If it wasn't the $51 million posting bid that the Red Sox gave to the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka's Japanese team until 2006, just to have the opportunity to negotiate a contract, it was the rumors of the dynamic stuff that Daisuke possessed.

Reports even surfaced regarding his ability to throw a legendary pitch known as the gyroball.

Fast forward almost three and a half years, and the general perception of Matsuzaka is very different. 

Matsuzaka's time in Boston has been anything but consistent.

Matsuzaka followed a somewhat lackluster 2007 "rookie" campaign with a much better 2008 season, in which he finished 18-3 (fifth overall in wins) with a 2.90 ERA (third), and finished in fourth place in AL cy young voting.

Yet critics accused Matsuzaka of being too complacent on the mound.

They pointed to the fact that he loaded the bases too often, and walked too many batters. Indeed, his 94 walks in 2008 led all American League pitchers.

Naysayers also attributed most of his wins to the run support and bullpen help he received, for he averaged only 5.2 innings per outing in 2008.

His 2009 campaign was a disaster.

After missing most of spring training for the world baseball classic, where he led his native Japan to yet another title, Matsuzaka struggled early on in the season and was sent to the DL.

Upon his return in late May, a string of bad starts triggered the Red Sox to shutdown Matsuzaka yet again and place him on an extended rehab assignment. 

He didn't pitch again until September 15 against the Detroit Tigers, where Matsuzaka dazzled, pitching 6+ innings of shutout ball, giving up only three hits and three walks.

From September until the end of the season, Matsuzaka was 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA.

Daisuke's first half in 2010 has been almost as unpredictable as the summation of his first three seasons.

His first start was delayed until the first of May because of neck and back injuries suffered in spring training. 

Throughout the year, Daisuke has shown flashes of brilliance (a near no hitter against the Phillies on May 22), as well as reminders of the painstakingly deliberate Daisuke who is unwilling to challenge batters.

Now, with the trading deadline approaching, more and more average performances by Matsuzaka will lead to the growing faction of Red Sox nation who want him out of Boston.

Despite all the injuries the Red Sox have suffered this year, at the break they are only three games out of a second place finish and wild card berth. Matsuzaka could prove to be a valuable trading chip if the Sox choose to pursue an outfielder to help in the stretch run.

With long term deals in place with Josh Beckett and John Lackey, as well as growing confidence in young stars Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the Sox can definitely afford to part ways with the inconsistent Matsuzaka if they so choose.

Daisuke has shown throughout his career that when he is at his best, he is a great pitcher that would be valuable at the top of any rotation. This potential could certainly attract many teams.

If Daisuke's potential isn't enough, his current contract yields him an average of only $8.7 million a year, fairly pedestrian by today's standards. 

With many teams willing to take a chance on a starter with high upside, and the Red Sox looking for the right combination of players to lead to a World Series title, continued inconsistency by the Japanese hurler will fuel rumors of a deadline trade.

Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein has a history of blockbuster trading deadline moves.

In 2004, hometown favorite Nomar Garciappara was shipped out of town in a deal that brought Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to Boston, ultimately resulting in the first World Series title for the Sox in 86 years.

In 2008, slugger Manny Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that brought Jason Bay to Beantown.

In 2009, Epstein was able to acquire all-star catcher Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians at the trading deadline.

If Matsuzaka does not noticeably pick up his play and show that he deserves a spot on the Red Sox during their second half run, he could very well end up dealt at the 2010 trading deadline.

 

 

 

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