Sunday, March 26, 2006

Matsuzaka Watch

In an effort to keep tabs on the hottest pitching prospect in the world, I've devised a new feature for Canyon of Heroes called, "Matsuzaka Watch".

The Japanese professional season kicked off on March 25th to great fanfare with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Manager Sadaharu Oh facing the Japan Champion Chiba Lotte Marines and our own Bobby Valentine. 13 of the WBC Champions play for these teams and the crowd reaction was outstanding.

I've been watching the early Seibu box scores to get a feel for when our hero would make his first start. The Lions are standing at 1-1 after splitting their opening two games with the Orix Buffaloes. Japan's lone medalist at the Torino Olympic Games, figure skater Shizuka Arakawa threw out the first pitch to open the year for the Lions. If only Matsuzaka looked this good, Seibu would win every year. Surprisingly, Matsuzaka will debut in Seibu's 3rd game against Oh and Soft Bank at the Fukuoka Dome. You can watch the game live via internet broadcast on Tuesday, March 28th at 1am PST/4am EST. If you're in Japan, tune in at 6pm for the game. You'll be getting Lotte against Nippon Ham on NHK's BS1.

Against Soft Bank in 2005, Matsuzaka posted a 2-4 record with a 2.65 ERA and 41 strikouts against 4 walks. He featured a 0.93 WHIP in 44.2 innings pitched against the Hawks. His downfall was 7 home runs against in 6 games, with 3 coming in one mid-season tilt. Those 3 dingers only accounted for 4 runs over 8 innings though.

Before I continue with this feature, I should say that I don't share with many of the US sportswriters the notion that Matsuzaka has done all he can do in Japanese pro ball, or that he needs to come to the majors to test his stuff against the best hitters in the world. If he played the rest of his career in Japan there would be no shame in it, and whatever accomplishments he chalks up should stand as a marvel, regardless of our personal feelings in comparing the Majors with Japanese "Pro Yakyu". I simply want him playing for the Yankees because I want the best pitchers in the world on my favorite ballclub.

I'll provide a recap of his performance against Soft Bank and track his stats for you over the course of the season. Check back for his upcoming games and regular updates on statistical information.


Sawx Rule said...

Hey, I think you made a mistake in your picture. Shouldn't you have Matsuzaka in a Red Sox's uniform?

Matchosan said...

Yous both be wrong.

But Daisuke will be wearing red, west coast SoCal red that is.


Mike Plugh said...

You guys can make your own graphic if you want. If I'm callin' the shots around here, the guy's in pinstripes.

Besides, if Ichiro is his sempai and he makes his decisions in any part due to Ichiro's advice, he may end up in Navy and Teal up in the Pacific Northwest. Matsuzaka and Johjima as a battery with Ichiro out in right. Seattle would be stupid to pass up the chance.

The Yankees will throw the most money at Seibu for his "posting" rights though. George is a big spender if nothing else.

Marie said...

Mike -- Do you think there is such a thing as a completely different way of playing baseball in Japan? Do you think it is something that can be analyzed? I'm curious about the different styles of playing and about your insights.

Mike Plugh said...

Yes Marie.

The styles are very different. I can write a lengthier piece about the basic differences between the Major League style and Japanese style baseball.

To take it to the simplest form, the Japanese style of baseball reflects the Japanese mind in that players generally don't take risks with their at bats in favor of the safe proven method.

The concept of "doryoku" applies to the way Japanese players train from the time they are old enough to stand on their own until their bodies finally quit on them in middle age.

Major League players, and North American players in general, will gamble on a big hit early in games much more often. If there is a runner on base, a Japanese manager will frequently ask his player to give himself up for the better percentage scoring chance. That requires a bunt. Major League managers give their guys freedom to swing away and play for a big inning (3 or 4 runs). The bunt is for crucial late game situations only.

Major Leaguers, and even many younger players these days, forgoe long grueling practices and pre-game drills to conserve energy for the hard grind of the season. Pitchers are carefully monitored and many say babied. In Japan, pitchers pitch until their arms fall off and many have much shorter shelf lives as a result. It's why Nomo defected to the US.

If you want a more comprehensive look at Japanese baseball try reading:

1. "You Gotta Have Wa" by Robert Whiting

2. "The Meaning of Ichiro" by Robert Whiting

3. "The Zen Way of Baseball" by David Falkner and Oh Sadaharu

4. "Slugging it Out in Japan" by Robert Whiting and Warren Cromartie

#2 is the most recent book and bears the most resemblance to the current state of affairs (1990's to present), but the others are well written and paint a picture of Japan in the 40's all the way through the 80's.

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