A Few Thoughts on Dice-K

Matthew Kory of Over the Monster posed a very interesting, albeit incredibly unpopular, question yesterday:  Should the Red Sox extend Daisuke Matsuzaka?

“Oh, yeah. The idea of extending that contract may seem like crazy talk, but as difficult as it can be to take in a Matsusaka start, it’s important to separate the aesthetically displeasing nature of his starts from the production. As a famous GM once said in a book he wrote about himself according to a guy who never read it, we’re not selling jeans here. The way it’s done doesn’t matter. What matters is that it gets done. As much as we might not want to believe it, he’s not actually a bad player.

If you accept the idea that Matsuzaka was injured this past season, and it would be hard to argue that he wasn’t what with the whole Tommy John surgery thing, then the pertinent part of his career becomes his first four seasons with Boston. Surprisingly enough looking at the stats for those four seasons isn’t nearly as painful an exercise as you might expect. Despite his reputation for not going deep into games, from 2007 through 2010 he averaged six innings a start (OK, fine 5.97) while compiling an ERA ten percent above league average. That isn’t worth $21 million a year – his current salary including a pro-rated portion of the posting fee — but it is worth something. Fan Graphs says Shaun Marcum‘s 2011 season, in which he compiled an ERA+ of 110 in 200.2 innings of work, was worth $12.1 million.”

Given the relative disdain most Red Sox fans hold for Dice-K, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the mere suggestion of extending him was met with much hostility.  (Seriously, check out the comments section.)  I’ll be the first to admit that my initial reaction upon seeing the title of Matt’s article was, “Either he’s gone completely crazy, or he managed to get a hold of Jordan Schafer‘s magical peanut butter cups.”  It sounds crazy, right?  Sure, it sounds crazy, but maybe that’s just our emotional reaction.  Kory’s suggesting we move beyond the personal biases clouding reality to see Matsuzaka’s potential value.

I don’t envy the task he’s taking on.  Trying to convince people to get beyond their personal biases against Dice-K is like trying to convince Curt Schilling to keep his opinions to himself.  Try as you might, you’re going to lose that fight 97% of the time.  To be fair, it’s tough to blame anyone for their feelings on the subject.  Although I don’t personally feel this way, many of us feel burned by the Japanese import.  The Red Sox front office ponied up an impressive $51.1M posting fee just for the right to talk to him; signed him to a six year $52M contract; and performed well below the lofty expectations that had been set for him.  All told, fans consider his 10.6 fWAR on an a $103M investment to be a pretty poor return.

While I could argue that our expectations were too high (they definitely were), the perception he was lazy and truculent is hard to dispute.  During his five seasons in Boston, he frequently came into camp out of shape and overweight; was steadfast in his stubbornness to alter his style pitching and conditioning program; and put very little effort into learning English or communicating with his teammates.  Add in his brilliant performance for his native Japan during the 2010 World Baseball Classic along with the occasional flashes of dominance he showed during the regular season, and you get a pretty broad view of why fans were so frustrated with his overall mediocre performance.  He was an enigma:  brilliant one start, and mindnumbingly frustrating for the next three.

Despite all of the negatives, Matsuzaka has been a fairly effective pitcher when he’s managed to stay healthy.  As Matt pointed out in his article, Dice-K’s 4.26 career ERA was 10% above the league average, and his 4.54 xFIP hovered right around the league average.  Furthermore, while he had an unhealthy 11.1% walk rate, his 21% strikeout rate and 8.1% HR/FB rate certainly helped make up for his wild inconsistencies.  Lastly, although he rocked a less than optimal GB/FB ratio, his fly ball heavy batted repertoire actually worked in his favor; as he posted better than average BABIPs in four of his five seasons.

During his healthy seasons (2007, 2008, and 2010), he provided value consistent with a league average middle of the rotation starter (3.9, 3.3, and 2.6 fWAR respectively).  That’s unbelievable production from someone we were expecting to serve as the team’s number five starter this season.  Had he remained healthy all (or even most of the) season, it’s likely he would have provided enough production to help lift the Red Sox into the playoffs.  Say what you will, but I would have rather seen Dice-K pitch every fifth day, rather than the green Kyle Weiland or the should-have-been LOOGY Andrew Miller.

Now, back to Matt’s original question:  Should the Red Sox re-sign Matsuzaka?  Currently, the Red Sox have their four starting pitchers locked up through 2014 and beyond.  As for the number five slot in the rotation, the Red Sox don’t have a clear option waiting in the wings.  Felix Doubront, Michael Bowden, and Kyle Weiland seem destined for bullpen duty; Tim Wakefield will likely be relegated to mop-up duty or emergency starter status (if he’s asked back at all); Alfredo Aceves is a wild card at best; and Anthony Ranaudo looks like a potentially overrated prospect.  That essentially leaves the less than efficient free agent and trade markets as the best options for landing a starter.

As Matt details pretty effectively, the Red Sox won’t likely open up their coffers for another expensive free agent starting pitcher; at least not when they already have $50M+ on the books for 2013 their top four guys.  The trade market is also unlikely to bear any fruit.  After having emptied the farm system for Adrian Gonzalez and Erik Bedard, the Red Sox need to replenish their farm system.  As such, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where Theo (or his successor) puts the team in the precarious position of creating a barren support system of cheap talent.  This leaves the Red Sox with basically one option:  sign a low-risk/reward pitcher, like Matsuzaka, and hope for the best.

So how much should the Red Sox offer Dice-K in a theoretical deal?  Matt suggests offering him a $5M “make good” deal; similar to Adrian Beltre‘s 2010 contract.  While I see his point, I feel $5M is far too rich for a pitcher who wouldn’t have thrown a pitch in almost two full seasons by that point. Brandon Webb‘s one year $3M deal (plus performance incentives) with the Rangers sets the precedent for pitchers who’ve seen a lengthy lapse in real-time appearances.  Keep in mind that Webb is a former Cy Young Award winning pitcher that was among the game’s best pitchers for five season.  Dice-K’s not even in the same realm.  As such, it might be smarter to offer him a $2M deal plus a healthy bevy of incentives to entice him to return.  He doesn’t have a tremendous upside, but he’s a known quantity.  Plus, if it didn’t work out, the Red Sox could release him easily for minimal cost.

Should they re-sign him?  I can’t say for sure.  We’re still a long ways away from seeing how the market unfolds leading up to the 2012-2013 offseason.  It’s possible other low-risk options appear on the scene; thus making Dice-K less attractive.  At the very least, he’s certainly worth a long look to bring back for another season.  At worst, they’d have a healthy, motivated pitcher looking to put together a strong season; in hopes of striking it rich on the free agent market the following season.  I salute Matthew Kory for taking an unpopular position and running with it.  He’s not alone as I stand there with him.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

23 Responses to “A Few Thoughts on Dice-K” Subscribe

  1. Don October 7, 2011 at 8:57 AM #


    • Don October 7, 2011 at 9:06 AM #

      OK, so that loses a little something in translation. What I was trying to say is …

      Gotta wonder if Matsusaka would ever want to remain in Boston – or in the major leagues, for that matter – after his contract expires? He never seemed comfortable here. He even comes off as an outsider in his own clubhouse due to the language/cultural barrier.

      • TroyPatterson October 7, 2011 at 9:55 AM #

        Even Ichiro who builds up a persona of not knowing english seems like a good clubhouse guy, but Matsuzaka never seemed to get that.

  2. darryljohnston October 7, 2011 at 9:13 AM #

    I don't know what Don just but if I never see Dice-K put on a Red Sox cap again, I will be fine with that.

  3. darryljohnston October 7, 2011 at 9:15 AM #

    Well, I just translated Don's text and it doesn't translate great, but here it is:

    "After that contract has been expiration, probably even in Matsusaka city we would like to stay in Boston and the United States? He so was comfortable here. At his himself clubhouse of the barrier of word like the outsider you can think."

    • ChipBuck October 7, 2011 at 4:08 PM #

      That's surprisingly close to what he actually said.

  4. mattymatty October 7, 2011 at 12:52 PM #

    Thanks, Chip! Nice work.

    • ChipBuck October 8, 2011 at 2:37 PM #

      Thanks Matt!

  5. Don October 7, 2011 at 5:40 PM #

    Chip, with Dice-K not back until late 2012 (I presume) and his contract to expire, do you think the Sox would –gulp! — venture into the free-agent market this winter for a back-of-the-rotation starter? Myself, I hope they cut the cord with Wakefield this winter. The guy has been extremely valuable over the years, but he seems cooked at age 45.

    • Gerry October 7, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

      It's my hope the keep Bedard on board. He would be a remarkable #4 and he cost us prospects. He is as good an answer for 2012 as he was in August, moreso as he starts the year healthy. He obviously remains an injury risk, but with Miller, Tazawa, Doubront, Weiland in AAA this isn't a problem. And with Daisuke perhaps ready by July or August the problem is minimized further. I also hope Lackey is moved somewhere. It may cost $$ but it will also save a bit. He will be poorly received in Boston with his record setting ERA, his public snarling at Tito (which would put him at the center of clubhouse dissension) and his divorce during her cancer fight will combine for a pressure filled season which will further hurt the team. OTMs fan post about Oswalt is another option to restore this rotation to it's formidable self, as is Bard or Acevas and maybe an evolved Miller or Tazawa.

      • ChipBuck October 8, 2011 at 2:37 PM #

        I have no problem with Bedard for 2012, but I don't see Miller, Tazawa, Doubront, or Weiland as realistic options to fill rotation spots; save for a spot start. Also, Doubront is out of options, so the Red Sox can't option him to AAA without designating him for assignment.

  6. Ilana October 8, 2011 at 8:11 AM #

    chip buck apparently neglected that the red sox have a great pawsox starting pitching prospect in alex wilson who posted a 3.05 era in portland and a 3.48 era (or something like that) in 4 starts with the pawsox. while he needs more time in AAA, i wouldnt be surprised if they call him up mid year if lackey or dicek dont do well or if someone gets injured

    also you cant lock up dicek (or any mediocre pitcher really) when you havent seen how theyve performed coming back from tommy john surgery. while i do admit that injuries have probably been the main reason for his ineffectiveness we really dont know if he will be any better until he actually pitches in a real game……and that wont be till next season.

    • ChipBuck October 8, 2011 at 2:33 PM #

      @Ilana – I didn't "neglect" anything. I purposely left Alex Wilson off of the list. Most scouts and Red Sox insiders reportedly see Wilson as a reliever at the Major League level. He has a good fastball with decent velocity, a below-average change-up, a loopy curve, and a slider that hints at being a plus pitch but hasn't quite gotten there. Furthermore, his 7.96 K/9 rate in AA doesn't translate well to the MLB level as a starter, which puts him at risk of being a batting practice pitcher.

      Also, countless pitchers are signed to contracts after missing a season with an injury. They don't all turn out well, but it's worth a shot when you have the money. Dice-K has a reasonably decent reward return if he can maintain his health. We're talking about one season where he would be one of a couple of options coming out of spring training. If it doesn't work out, the Red Sox could release him without any real issues.

  7. Sports Hernia October 8, 2011 at 4:18 PM #

    Well…I actually made it through this entire article without puking on myself. Hooray me!!! I would rather shave Lackey's balls than have Dice-BB back.

    • darryljohnston October 8, 2011 at 5:17 PM #


    • ChipBuck October 9, 2011 at 6:50 AM #

      That's a lovely image. Excuse me, I'm going to gouge my eyes out…

  8. Lyndsay October 9, 2011 at 1:17 AM #

    I like it better when we pretend that Dice-K doesn't exist, and that his time in Boston was all a dream.

    • ChipBuck October 9, 2011 at 6:49 AM #

      I prefer that dream too Lyndsay. Unfortunately, he's not necessarily a terrible option for 2013 as a lower cost, reasonably decent reward pitcher. We won't know until we finish the 2012 season what the free agent market will look like, but at this point he's a reasonable option. I don't believe in shutting the door on anyone based on an emotional response. He's both failed to meet expectations, and is incredibly frustrating to watch. Still, when he's been healthy; he's been a lot better than most give him credit for being.

  9. Mr Punch October 10, 2011 at 3:18 PM #

    I could see bringing back either Matsuzaka or Bedard – expect the latter, not the former. But neither is what the Sox really need, which is a guy who can pitch a lot of innings. (I'd much, much rather have someone like Guthrie than either of these – is any such available?) The reason I expect Bedard back is that he was so obviously the wrong pitcher to acquire for '11 alone that I can't believe that was the plan.

  10. Bryan October 11, 2011 at 2:12 PM #

    Can we stop talking about the posting fee for Matsuzaka as if it's part of his contract? The fee represents an investment in Japanese baseball. I'm sure the Sox have sold $51 million worth of merchandise in Japan since the signing, and Matsuzaka's presence may have made it easier to sign and retain Hideki Okajima (remember when he was good?), Takashi Saito, and Junichi Tazawa. If we look only at the money paid *to* Matsuzaka, it wasn't a great contract, but it wasn't terrible, as he was a significant contributor to a World Series team and another that played in an ALCS game 7.

    • Don October 11, 2011 at 5:37 PM #

      Not so sure the Sox have recouped that $51 million posting fee. Let's say a Red Sox T-shirt costs 20 bucks in Japan. That means every man, woman and child in Japan (127 million population as of 2009) would have had to buy two of em for the Sox to break even on that ridiculous posting fee to negotiatewith Dice-K.

  11. Bryan October 12, 2011 at 9:21 AM #

    Don, 127 million people x $20 x 2 shirts = $5.1 billion. I may have been lazy to assume Japanese fans havespent $51 million on Sox gear in the Matsuzaka era, but it's possible that a half million people were converted to the Sox and will spend $100 each over the next several years. Throw in Japanese Americans and other new fans buying tickets and I don't think it's unreasonable to consider $51 million a worthwhile marketing expense.

    • Don October 12, 2011 at 10:16 AM #

      Bryan, you're right … i'm embarassingly wrong! Mea culpa. This is why I never passed the test to become a CPA.