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Daisuke Matsuzaka

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Daisuke Matsuzaka
(Kaibutsu/The Monster, Dice-K)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Dice-K lets 'er rip.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was considered by many to be the greatest and most popular pitcher in Nippon Pro Baseball from 1999-2006 before going to the United States, though he only won one Sawamura Award. Named after high school pitching star Daisuke Araki, Matsuzaka also exploded onto the scene as a high schooler. He established himself as a superstar in the Koshien Tournament in 1998. In the quarterfinals, he pitched a 250-pitch, 17-inning game at age 17 for the victory. The next day he was a reliever and won again as his team rallied from a 6-run deficit for a comeback victory. He then cemented his legend with a no-hitter against Kyoto Seisho High School in the finale. He became the only high schooler to go unbeaten all year long and set a high school record for strikeouts (208, broken in 2005 by Masahiro Tanaka). He set a Koshien record with 14 Ks in a game. He also led Japan to the world amateur championship title, getting the MVP award for the tournament. He was the first-round draft pick of the Seibu Lions; Matsuzaka got a 50-million yen signing bonus and a 13-million yen salary.

In 1999 Matsuzaka had a great rookie season, winning Rookie of the Year honors in the Pacific League and making the Best Nine team as the top pitcher in his circuit (the first rookie out of high school to be so honored). He was 16-5, led the PL in wins and was third with a 2.60 ERA. He set numerous rookie records - he became the first kid out of high school to strike out 10 or more in his first exhibition game, got the most All-Star votes at pitcher (the first rookie to do so in 29 years), struck out 5 in the All-Star game (a record for a rookie out of high school) and tied Keishi Suzuki's rookie record with 15 strikeouts in a game. He pitched 5 perfect innings in his first start in Nippon Pro Baseball and became the second rookie out of high school to pitch a shutout in April since World War II. In his first match-up with Ichiro Suzuki, he struck out Ichiro in three consecutive at-bats. Matsuzaka then pitched for Japan in the 1999 Asian Championship, helping them win Silver. He was named to the tourney All-Star team as the top right-handed pitcher.

Matsuzaka continued to dominate his next season, when he became the first teenage opening-day pitcher in 15 years. He was 14-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 2000, again leading the league in wins and also topping it in shutouts (2) and strikeouts (144). He again made the Best Nine at pitcher. Off the field, he got into trouble, once being caught out after hours and later driving with a suspended license, earning a fine of 200,000 yen. In the 2000 Olympics, he was 0-1 with a 2.33 ERA and led the tournament in innings (27), hits allowed (21), strikeouts (25) and wild pitches (3). He lost the Bronze Medal game to Dae-sung Koo and the South Korean national team, 3-1.

In 2001 Matsuzaka had tough luck, going 15-15 and leading the PL in losses; he also led in wins for the third straight season. His 240.3 innings topped the league, as did his 12 complete games, 2 shutouts, 27 homers allowed, 214 strikeouts and 117 walks. He won the Sawamura Award as the top hurler in Japan. He became just the 9th pitcher in NPB history to make three Best Nines.

2002 was the only season Matsuzaka has failed to lead the league in anything, as he missed much of the year with an elbow injury. He was 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA and 78 Ks in 73.3 innings when healthy.

Matsuzaka bounced back in '03. He was 16-7, finishing second in the PL in wins and his 2.83 ERA tied Kazumi Saitoh for the top mark in the league (it was the first such tie in NPB history). He led the league with 215 strikeouts (in 194 frames). He starred in the 2003 Asian Championship, striking out 12 and allowing no runs as Japan won Gold; he was named the tourney's Best Pitcher, but Shinya Miyamoto beat him out for MVP honors.

In 2004, Matsuzaka played for the Japanese national team at the 2004 Olympic. He shut out Cuba for 8 innings in a win in those Olympic games then lost a 1-0 game to Australia when his offensive support vanished; Chris Oxspring got the win. The lone run off of Matsuzaka came when former California League batting champion Brendan Kingman singled home Brett Roneberg. In NPB that year, he was 10-6 with a 2.90 ERA. He beat Hisashi Iwakuma for the league lead in ERA. Matsuzaka was only okay in the Japan Series but the Lions won their first title in 14 years. He is the all-time leader in strikeouts in the Olympics through 2004, with 46, 8 more than Jose Contreras.

Matsuzaka again dazzled in 2005 though he got little offensive support. He went 14-13 despite a 2.30 ERA, his best yet, and 226 Ks in 215 innings. He completed 15 of 28 starts. He led the PL in strikeouts for the fourth time, was 3rd in ERA, tied for 5th in wins, 1st in innings, 1st in complete games (2 less than the 2nd and 3rd pitchers combined) and tied for the lead with three shutouts. Early in the year, he became the fifth-fastest NPB pitcher to reach 1,000 career strikeouts. That season he also won his sixth Gold Glove, as he had won all but one during his career.

Matsuzaka requested to be posted to Major League Baseball after the '05 season, but the Lions refused to honor his request. Numerous MLB teams have expressed interest in Matsuzaka, should he become available. By that point, his arm might have been irreparably damaged by the workload he has shouldered over the years. Matsuzaka had stated he may sit out the 2006 season due to the Lions' going back on a deal that they would post him to the majors if he had a good year in '05; he did not hold to this threat.

2006 Upper Deck WBC Collection Daisuke Matsuzaka

Matsuzaka was then named MVP of the first World Baseball Classic after beating Cuba in the final. He went 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in the tournament; Japan's other pitchers were a combined 2-3. He followed by going 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA, 200 strikeouts, 14 complete games and a .92 WHIP in '06. He even went 3 for 9 with a double and homer in interleague play. The home run came on June 9, when he beat the Hanshin Tigers 10-1 and struck out 14 batters. He was second to Kazumi Saitoh in all three pitching Triple Crown stats, finishing one win behind and five strikeouts off of the pace. He led the PL in complete games. He finished third in MVP voting, behind Michihiro Ogasawara and Saitoh. To that point, Matsuzaka was 108-60 in his career, despite a couple years with poor support.

At a press conference on November 1, 2006, Matsuzaka prepped the media for the strong possibility that he would be coming to the USA for the 2007 season. Seibu posted Matsuzaka after the 2006 campaign, living up to their word from a year earlier. Many big-league teams showed interest. Teams expressing the most interest in Matsuzaka were the New York Yankees and Mets, the Boston Red Sox, the LA Dodgers and the Seattle Mariners. The Boston Red Sox won the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka after a $51.1 million posting bid was accepted by financially struggling Seibu. That would be a posting system record for five years, before Yu Darvish edged it at $51.7 million. A day before the contract deadline, he inked a deal for $52 million over six years after intense negotiations between Theo Epstein of the Red Sox and Scott Boras, Matsuzaka's agent.

Matsuzaka made his major league debut on April 5, 2007 for the Red Sox. He picked up the win while striking out 10 in 7 innings in a 4-1 Boston victory over the Kansas City Royals. The next game drew quite a bit of media attention as the opposition Mariners featured Ichiro Suzuki. Suzuki went 0 for 4 against Matsuzaka but Daisuke took the loss, allowing 3 runs in 7 innings.

Matsuzaka fanned 10 and gave up just 3 hits in 6 innings in his third MLB start, becoming the first rookie since Fernando Valenzuela 26 years earlier to reach double-digit strikeouts in 2 of his first 3 games started. Gustavo Chacin and the Toronto bullpen turned in a gem, though, as Boston was held to one run and Matsuzaka lost again.

Dice-K in Boston red

Dice-K started for the Red Sox' final game in their series against the Yankees, and picked up the win, allowing 6 runs in 7 innings. It completed the first Red Sox sweep of New York at Fenway Park in 17 years. He hit Alex Rodriguez with his first pitch to him.

On June 22, Matsuzaka outdueled Greg Maddux, 2-1, striking out nine in 6 innings. It was the first time a Japanese pitcher had beaten Maddux and was the 400th win by Japanese pitchers in the major leagues. Matsuzaka reached 10 wins faster than any Red Sox rookie since Don Schwall in 1961.

Matsuzaka had a rough September with an ERA over 7 and finished the 2007 season with a 15-12 ledger with a 4.40 ERA (108 ERA+). He was 9th in the 2007 AL in fewest hits allowed per 9 innings (8.40) and was sixth in strikeouts per 9 (8.84) and total strikeouts (201). On the negative side, he tied Daniel Cabrera for 9th in homers allowed (25), was sixth in walks (80), 4th in hit batsmen (13) and tied teammate Tim Wakefield for sixth with 100 earned runs allowed. He was 1-1 with an ERA over 5.50 in the ALDS and 2007 ALCS. In game three of the 2007 World Series, though, he pitched five shutout innings before giving up two in the sixth to become the first Japanese pitcher to win a World Series game. He also got his first major league hit, a 2-run single off of Josh Fogg. Matsuzaka had gone 5 for 20 as a hitter in interleague play in Japan, including a double and home run.

Matsuzaka was chosen as Boston's Opening Day starter for 2008. He came close to missing the game as his wife was pregnant, but she delivered their child in time for Matsuzaka to pitch. It was notable as the game was held in Japan's Tokyo Dome. Matsuzaka allowed just two hits and struck out six in five innings but walked five in a no-decision. Matsuzaka was excellent to begin 2008 - through May, he was 8-0 with a 2.53 ERA, ranking second in the 2008 AL in ERA and tying for the lead in victories. He was then sidelined with a mild strain of his right rotator cuff and placed on the disabled list. Matsuzaka started the season 17-2, breaking Hideo Nomo's record for wins by a Japanese hurler in MLB; Nomo had won 16 games 3 different years. He finished the year 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA (159 ERA+). In 167 2/3 innings, he gave up only 128 hits. He was 1-0 in the postseason. He finished third in the 2008 AL in ERA, trailing Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. He tied A.J. Burnett for 4th in wins despite the time missed due to injury. He led the AL with 94 walks and was second to Lee in ERA+. He allowed the fewest hits per 9 innings in the league that year. He finished 4th in voting for the 2008 American League Cy Young Award behind Lee, Halladay and Francisco Rodríguez.

Matsuzaka repeated his World Baseball Classic dominance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He again went 3-0 and took home his second straight MVP honors, though he said that he felt teammate Hisashi Iwakuma deserved the award more. Matsuzaka got a win over South Korea in Japan's second game. Against Cuba, he beat Aroldis Chapman by tossing the first six innings of a combined shutout with Iwakuma, Takahiro Mahara and Kyuji Fujikawa. He then got the call in the semifinals against Team USA and allowed two runs in a win over Roy Oswalt. Matsuzaka led the tourney in wins and tied Hyun-wook Jong and Suk-min Yoon for third in strikeouts, trailing Yu Darvish and Iwakuma.

On May 27, 2009, Matsuzaka threw four wild pitches in a loss to Minnesota. He was the first Boston Red Sox hurler to toss that many in a game since Milt Gaston 80 years prior. However, his season ended after 12 starts, and there were many questions about whether he was overused in the WBC. For his part, Dice-K complained that the Sox training staff had forced him to change his training methods and this had led to his injury. His record was 4-6, 5.76 for the year. He was back in Boston in 2010, but his results were uneven, with a 9-6 record and a 4.69 ERA in 25 starts, as he again missed parts of the season with various injuries. There were concerns about his so-so results, but with Red Sox ace Josh Beckett struggling even more, he was a bit under the radar.

Daisuke had a terrible spring training in 2011, and then struggled just as much in his first few starts. He then pitched a few good games and had brought back his record to 3-3, 5.30, when he was placed on the disabled list for the third straight year in mid-May. This time, a tear in an elbow ligament was suspected, which led to his undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed the remainder of 2011 and the start of the 2012 season, returning to action on June 9th, when he lost a start against the Washington Nationals, 4-2. He gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, but his 8 strikeouts against only one walk were an encouraging sign. He made only five more starts before returning to the disabled list in early July, sporting a record of 0-3, 6.65. He returned on August 27th and finally earned his first win of the year - and his 50th in the major leagues - when he defeated the Kansas City Royals, 5-1, at Fenway Park. He only gave up an unearned run in 7 innings, while striking out 6. He finished the year with that game as his sole victory, as his record stood at at 1-7, 8.28 in 11 starts. Given his struggles in the last two years, the Red Sox elected not to re-sign him after the expiration of his contract.

Matsuzaka signed with the Cleveland Indians for 2013, making another attempt at a comeback under the direction of manager Terry Francona, who had been his skipper in his first five seasons with Boston. He lost out to another pitcher attempting a comeback, Scott Kazmir, in the competition for the fifth starter's job, but agreed to a minor league assignment with the Indians. He went 5-8, 3.92 in 19 starts for the Columbus Clippers, with 95 Ks in 103 1/3 innings. With the Indians doing well and not needing an additional starting pitcher, he asked for and obtained his release, signing with the New York Mets, who gave him 7 starts down the stretch. He continued to pitch decently, going 3-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 38 2/3 innings. In spring training in 2014, the competition for the fifth starter job went down to the wire between him and young Jenrry Mejia, with both getting a start in front of huge crowds at Montreal's Stade Olympique against the Toronto Blue Jays on the last two days of exhibition games. Matsuzaka made the most of his opportunity on March 29th, pitching 5 scoreless innings while walking none and striking out 8, but Mejia had done just as well the previous night, and in the end the Mets decided to keep the younger player to start the year, with Daisuke having to once again bide his time in AAA.

Matsuzaka throws a 90-94 mph fastball (tops out at 97 mph) with four-seam and two-seam movements, slurve, cutter and changeup. He is reputed to throw a "gyroball" but there has been no documented instance of his ever having used this mystery pitch, which reminds one of Satchel Paige's mind games by making up new pitches.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 15 Wins Seasons: 2 (2007 & 2008)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (2007)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (2007)
  • Won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007

[edit] Further Reading

  • Alan Nathan and Dave Baldwin: "An Analysis of the Gyroball", in The Baseball Research Journal, Volume 36 (2007), SABR, Cleveland, OH, pp. 77-80.

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