Players To Avoid: Is There Any Reason To Still Believe In Matsuzaka?

There were rumors all offseason long that the Red Sox could look to move Daisuke Matsuzaka, though at this point it does not appear likely.  Instead, Dice-K will again open the season as part of a deep Red Sox rotation with an awful lot to prove.

After a tremendous 2008 campaign (18 W, 2.90 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), he has struggled tremendously.  Granted, one could easily argue that his success was buoyed by significant luck, like a .267 BABIP and 80.6% strand rate, but the whiplash has been severe.  He posted a 5.76 ERA over 59.1 innings in 2009 then put up the following line last season:

9 Wins
153.2 Innings
4.69 ERA
1.37 WHIP
133 Strikeouts (7.79 K/9)
74 Walks (4.33 BB/9)
.292 BABIP

He was actually a bit better than the numbers show, thanks to a 67.2% strand rate, but is that really enough?  Yes, he always has the allure of potential strikeouts, but they have been regressing since he debuted in 2007 with an 8.84 K/9.  While his 7.79 mark from 2010 certainly isn’t poor, it is far from an elite mark.  It certainly isn’t enough to help offset all of the negatives.

The first problem is his control.  The scary thing, when you look at it, is that he has actually improved his control over the past three years:

  • 2008 – 5.05 BB/9
  • 2009 – 4.55 BB/9
  • 2010 – 4.33 BB/9

If you have watched him pitch, the problem often is that he appears scared to challenge hitters.  Instead, he tries to make pitchers pitches every single time, no matter what the count is.  The problem is that, if he doesn’t throw a strike, he is consistently putting runners on and digging himself a hole.

It makes it impossible for him to pitch to a quality WHIP and the potential to allow runs increases exponentially.

His work in the AL East is also concerning.  The Orioles (7.56 ERA), Rays (8.62 ERA) and Yankees (5.60 ERA) all torched him in 2010.  The only team he pitched well against was the Blue Jays (3.71 ERA), but with the fire power they have it is no guarantee that he can replicate that.  Maybe their free swinging ways helped him (only six walks in 26.2 innings), but that clearly is the exception, not the rule.

Yet another problem could be his inability to generate groundballs.  In 2010 he posted a 33.0% groundball rate, compared to a 21.6% line drive rate and a 45.5% fly ball rate.  If he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, his groundball rate would be second lowest in the league behind only Ted Lilly (29.5%).  His fly ball rate would have been the sixth highest and the line drive rate would have been the third highest.

Why is that noteworthy?  Because his HR/FB rate was just 6.5% in 2010.  The idea of seeing Matsuzaka giving up significantly more home runs, further hurting his ERA potential, is extremely high.

We all know that Matsuzaka has plenty of upside potential, but over the past few years he has given us plenty of reasons to be concerned.  Could he pitch like a fantasy ace at times?  Possibly, but with the way he works he is never going to be able to post an elite WHIP.  He just doesn’t challenge hitters enough, generating walk after walk after walk.

You also have to be concerned about the division he plays in as well as the potential for a significant number of balls to start finding their way over the fence.  Is he a pitcher you could draft?  Yes, but do so only as a backend starter/bench option.

What are your thoughts on Matsuzaka?  Is he a pitcher you’d draft?  Why or why not?

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