It was about this time last year we started hearing about Daisuke Matsuzaka. Remember? He throws an unhittable gyroball. He’s one of the best pitchers in the world. He will change the balance of power in the Major Leagues.
The Red Sox bid $51 million for his rights than signed him to a six-year deal worth $52 million that included incentives for all the Cy Young Awards he would win. His plane trip from California to Boston to sign the contract was literally followed minute-by-minute by Boston television stations.
Now he’s 14-12 with a 4.44 ERA. He’s about as good as Jamie Moyer, Adam Wainwright or John Maine. Sure, he’s sixth in the league in strikeouts but he’s also sixth in walks. He’s pitching against the Yankees tonight and it’s not a good matchup for the Red Sox.
But what’s really troubling for Boston is that Matsuzaka is getting worse, not better. He is 1-4 with a 9.57 ERA in his last five starts. He throws mostly fastballs and like Kei Igawa, he has learned that the umpires here have no time for off-speed pitches high in the strike zone.
If history is any guide, Matsuzaka will not get much better. Japanese starters who switch to the majors have tended to have their best seasons early in their careers. That’s what happened with Hidei Nomo, Kaz Ishii, Hideki Irabu and others.
Is Matsuzaka different? Nobody knows. His defenders hope so. But these are largely the same people who hyped him in the first place. He turned 27 on Thursday. He probably is what he is at this point.
In the great tradition of Boston players, Matsuzaka has started to blow off reporters. It’s a matter of time before the media up there turns on him and the sports radio jackals call for him to be traded.
Boston may well have paid $103 million for a No. 3 starter. But Yankee fans shouldn’t crack jokes, their team dropped $46 million on Igawa and he spent most of the season in the minors.
One thing is certain. Whoever the next “great” pitcher is from Japan isn’t going to have teams in a bidding war.