Daisuke Matsuzaka Bio

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.

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10 replies on “Daisuke Matsuzaka Bio”
  1. says: Kman

    Good Article, but that blog’s ‘sabermatic’ “add a run to his ERA and he places 5th” is a joke. I remember reading somewhere that the ten year rule is for national pride and “fighting spirit”. I can see the wisdom behind waiting to sell off your players but 10 years is a long time. After something like seven years they would most likely be able to extract maximum funds from a US team. You figure after 9 or 10 seasons your asset may depreciate.

  2. says: Callum

    Yeah, 10 years is a long time. By that point most players are on the decline. Imagine Ichiro if he started playing in the Majors even 5 years sooner. Apparently Matsuzaka requested to be posted last year and was given the straight denial. Too bad because it appears he is in his prime right now, and I wouldn’t want to see him a washed up bum like Chan-Ho and Nomo are right now when he gets here.

  3. says: Early

    When those Japanese players are already 30ish when they hit North American shores, National Pride would be to let Ichiro come to Seattle when he is 22, he could threaten Pete Rose’s record. Matsui is old too, HOF if he has another 5 years in ML, Nomo, that releiver for Seattle – name evades me now. All of them, its a shame, like when Larionov and Makarov came to the NHL as 32 year old rookies. Wonder what the strength really is of the Japanese Leagues if these guys are dominant in Japan and still superstars in ML.

  4. says: Callum

    I think you are thinking of Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Total stud. It is interesting to think about what the strength is of the Japanese League (as well as the Cuban League) considering they did win the WBC and their stars kick-ass when they get to North America. Maybe there is some sabermetric way to judge how good the Japanese league is vs. ML based on the performance of players in Japan and their performance after they reach the Majors? K I am looking in your general direction…..

  5. says: Kman

    Here’s an example the other way around.

    Comparing stats from the Japanese to the major leagues can be tricky. I think the main thing that goes against the Japanese stats is the success of low level “gaijin” players. For this example I’m consulting a 1997 Baseball America Almanac. This book outlines the 1996 Japanese league campaign. Ichiro won his third batting title in a row, hitting .355, with 16 HR. But two americans who never did anything in American Proffessional Baseball tore the league up. The first player is Troy Neal, a player who bounced around the minors but never played a game in the MLB. He led the pacific league with 32 HR & 111 RBI. The second player is Alonzo Powell. In limited mlb playing time in 1991 (111 ab), Powell hit .216/.288/.369. For the 96 Japanese season he hit .340, which led the central league. He also led the central league with 42 doubles.

    On the pitching end, Eric Hillman had a decent MLB season in 93, but he blew up in 94. Over in Japan during 96 he tied for the pacific league ERA title (2.40 with Irabu) & was in the top ten in wins & IP.

    These Four AAAA type players usually have success in Japan, which makes it difficult to translate stats. Although, I don’t beleive that you should be faulted for playing in a lesser league, especially when you don’t have a choice. That’s why I’d still give Matsui decent HOF consideration, but that will probably never happen.

  6. says: Callum

    What about Big Daddy Cecil Fielder? He went over to Japan as a somewhat mediocre player and came back and tore the league up by hitting 51 jacks. Fielder attributed his success to the training and conditioning regimen that all Japanese teams employ as well as intensive fundamental practice sessions. Perhaps that could be a reason why these AAAA players do so well. If only Alex Cabrera would come back over and we could see what he is made out of…
    Also, Major Leagues struggle mightily when they go to Japan. Gabe Kapler is one example, but I am sure that cultural differences factor into the equation a great deal.

  7. says: Kman

    I was going to put it in my post but of course there are a few old time examples that everyone quotes, but the fact is there are many more AAAA players that have had success than a few MLB players that couldn’t get it done. It seems to me that success for a gaijin probably depends upon your fundamentals. Cecil & Gabe have never been known for their fundamentals. Cecil was a strong fat dude and Gabe is roided up. The AAAA players that have toiled in the minors probably have their fundamentals down, thus their success.

  8. says: Mike

    Hey everyone.

    I’m Mike from Matsuzaka Watch. For the record, I have never claimed to be a statistician or a SABR scientist of any kind. I’m an enthusiast and a blogger that follows Japanese baseball up close. The blog, and my comments about adding a run to his ERA, blah, blah, blah….is meant to simply take the conversation above “Matsuzaka and Irabu are Japanese pitchers and therefore Matsuzaka will suck.”

    I write as a fan, with a slightly SABR bent, and seek to inform and entertain as much as anything else. Kman is right to point that out, but the “joke” thing stings, bro. 😉

    Thanks for the link.

  9. says: Gail McGough

    Good evening everyone. I post from the wonderful world of Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Not only has the honorable Matsuzaka taken Red Sox Nation by storm with his abilities, he is now the proud owner of the 2007 World Series Championship – the prize that most baseball players never win. Thank you Japan for this wonderful individual. We are so happy he is now a member of our beloved Red Sox and we hope he will succeed for many many years to come. Thank you again.

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