Why Dice-K Should Top Red Sox Postseason Rotation

Don SpielesCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2008

One might expect Josh Beckett to be the topic of conversations about Red Sox pitching today.  Beckett's return from the DL last evening came in Texas, and he pitched five innings of shout-out ball, giving up four hits and no walks while racking up seven strike outs.  His outing was limited by a team imposed pitch count, to help save his ailing elbow.  It's with all this in mind that one can't help but believe that Diasuke Matsuzaka will be the ace of the staff should the Red Sox make the post season this year.

When the Red Sox won the bidding for the right to negotiate with Dice-K ($51.1 million) they had hig hopes for him.  One of the best prospects to ever some out of Japan, Matsuzaka had a very impressive resume to back up the six year, $52 million contract (not including the money Boston spent in the bidding) that could actually make Dice-K $60 million in incentives.

His first season with Boston was strong, but most felt it was not $52 million strong.  He finished the season 15—12 with a 4.40 ERA.  His post season performance was mediocre, certainly the soft spot in the otherwise stellar rotation and bullpen.  He had a no-decision in the ALDS, went 1—1 inthe ALCS, and got a win in the World Series (along with 2 RBI at Colorado).  Even as the Red Sox celebrated their second championship in four years, the hope was that 2007 was an adjustment year for Matsuzaka.

As the 2008 season has developed, Matsuzaka has had moments where he has looked anything but adjusted.  Over his first 10 starts, Dice-K had games where he surrendered 5, 4, 6, and 8 walks (May 5th against Minnesota).  The most amazing thing about the choppy start?  Dice-K was 8—0 after those 10 games! His 53 strike outs, coupled with adequate run support had bailed him out of his apparent problem with control.  His first loss did not come until June 21 against the Cardinals, his second on July 26 against the Angels.  There has been no third loss.

Aside from the walks, a good label for Matsuzaka would be "consistent".  His WHIP in '07 was 1.32 (not great, not horrible.)  His WHIP in '08 is 1.33.  He averaged 17 pitches per inning last year and 17.2 this season.  Strikes out per nine innings; 8.84 and 8.04.  

With the on and off issues that the Red Sox have had with pitching, consistency is a high commodity in Boston. Beckett has been on the DL twice this season and has amassed a record of 12—9, well off last season's pace.  Clay Buchholz has been demoted to AA.  Jon Lester, 13—5, while being a definite asset, has ranged from a no-hitter against Kansas City on May 19th to a trouncing at the hands of Toronto on August 23 where Lester gave up 8 hits and 7 runs in just 2 1/3 innings.  The bullpen, making a comeback as of late, has been the weakest point of the Boston franchise all season, with the obvious exception of Jonathan Papelbon who has 35 saves, blowing only 4 and posting a solid 1.68 ERA.

In Matsuzaka's last start he passed Hideo Nomo as the Japanese pitcher with the most wins in a single Major League season (16).  In his next start, his second pitch will be his 6000th in the Major Leagues.  While it is unlikely that he will make it to, or even have a chance at 20 wins (the Sox have 20 games left) he stands to be the winningest hurler in Boston this year and, as the model of consistency, the obvious choice to pick up where he leaves off and top the rotation when and if the Red Sox play in October.