Much like Yulieski Gourriel (see my previous article), I came to know Daisuke Matsuzaka from following team Japan in the World Baseball Classic of ’06. Much like Gourriel is considered to be the best infielder in the world not playing in the majors today, Matsuzaka is believed to be the best pitcher not in the bigs by scouts and GMs.
The 6’0″ 187lbs. Daisuke Matsuzaka was born September 13th, 1980 in Tokyo, Japan and made a name for himself at the age of 18 when he led Yokohama High school to the Japanese Highschool National Championship (The Koshien Tournament). In the quarter finals of that tournament, Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches over a 17 inning complete game (!!!), emerging victorious. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, THE VERY NEXT DAY Daisuke pitched in the final and threw the first no hitter ever in a final. Soon after that dominating performance, Matsuzaka was selected with the #1 overall pick by the Seibu Lions of the 1998 draft.
In 1999, Matsuzaka won Rookie of the year honours by posting a 16-5 record. Last year (2005) Daisuke led all Japanese pitchers with a 2.30 ERA with 226K over 215.0IP.
Matsuzaka possesses a fastball in the 92-94mph range which he can dial up to 96-97mph when needed. He has a full arsenal of pitches, including a slider, split-fingered fastball and a changeup which he throws with a consistent delivery. He also has been known to throw a gyro ball, though he does not admit to throwing it. For those of you who don’t know, the gyro ball was developed by two Japanese researchers, Ryutaro Himeno and Kazushi Tezuka, who used computer simulations to create a new style of delivery intended to reduce stress on the pitcher. At the point of release, instead of having the pitcher’s arm move inwards towards the body (the standard method used everywhere else in the world), the pitcher rotates his arm so that it moves away from his body, towards 3rd base. The unusual method of delivery creates a bullet-like spin on the ball, like a perfectly thrown football. When thrown by a right hander, the pitch moves sharply down and away from right handed batters and towards left handed batters. The gyroball is thrown with the arm speed of a fastball but goes much slower, and since it has a bullet-like spinning motion, on occasion (perhaps when the seams are hidden from view of the batter) it will make experienced batters swing wildly ahead or behind the ball. The ball comes at the hitter looking like a hanging curve and then takes a hard, flat turn away from a right-handed batter. Here is a video of Daisuke pitching the gyro ball.
So how good is he? He plays in an arguably weaker league in Japan, so would he fare as well Vs. big league hitters?
“Without question he could pitch in the major leagues,” San Diego Padres manager (and veterarn of International competition) Bruce Bochy said. “He has four major league pitches, and has a good idea of what he’s doing on the mound. It’s hard to compare him to anybody because of his unique delivery.”
In the WBC, Matsuzaka played against premier Major League players, for the most part. He was named tournament MVP and gained the victory in the final by giving up only one run in four innings while striking out five. He finished 3-0, 1.38 in three WBC starts – getting three of Japan’s five total WBC wins–by also defeating Chinese Taipei and Mexico in earlier rounds.
So when can you expect to see Matsuzaka at your nearest big league ballpark? Well, not so soon it seems. To discourage players from leaving for the Major Leagues, or to at least compensate teams that lose players, Japanese baseball and MLB agreed on a posting system for players under contract. MLB teams wishing to negotiate with a player submit bids for a “posting fee”, which the winning MLB team would pay the Japanese team for the right to negotiate. Japanese players are not eligible to be posted until they have accumulated 10 years of league service time. So, expect to see Daisuke Matsuzaka throwing gyro balls in North America sometime in the summer of 2009 or 2010.
For more information (especially you sabermetric nerds), check out the Matsuzaka blog at http://matsuzaka.blogspot.com/ it has a few comparisons as to where he would stand if playing in the MLB.