November 22, 2006

BOWING TO PRESSURE:

Manny dangles as Sox woo Matsuzaka (SEAN McADAM, 11/22/06, Providence Journal)

[B]y paying such a huge figure up front, the Red Sox have an unlikely ally in their negotiations: the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka's Japanese team.

If Matsuzaka doesn't agree to a contract with the Sox, the Lions must return the posting bid to the Red Sox. For a team that had hoped to realize a bid of $25-$30 million from auctioning off Matsuzaka, the Red Sox' post was beyond their wildest dreams. How interested will they be in forfeiting that?

Undoubtedly, Matsuzaka will feel pressure at home to accept the Sox' offer, especially after badgering the Lions to post him for the last two seasons. Within Japanese culture, to reject the Sox' offer and return to Seibu would be viewed as greedy and dishonorable, something Matsuzaka doesn't want to risk.

There's additional pressure on Boras, too. If he can't get a deal done for the highest profile Japanese player ever, what chance will he have of representing another in the future?

Let's assume that the Sox had budgeted a total of $80 million to secure Matsuzaka. It was wise for them to earmark the lion's share of that in the posting bid, because while the pitcher doesn't see any of that money, it accomplished three goals.

First, it guaranteed the Sox would win the bidding and gain exclusivity. Second, the majority of the outlay won't count toward the Competitive Balance Tax (luxury tax) since the post is exempt from such accounting. Finally, the Sox have created an environment where Matsuzaka will feel pressured to sign -- by everyone except Boras, that is.

MORE:
Matsuzaka Madness (Christina Kahrl, 11/10/06, Baseball Prospectus)

As with any import, you might wonder whether a guy's worth it, as we've had some pretty high-profile success stories (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Tadahito Iguchi, for example), and some not-so-successful cross-Pacific leaps (Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kaz Matsui and Keiichi Yabu, among others). So, to start off with, thanks to the powers of Clay Davenport's translations, let's take a look at Matsuzaka's performance for the last four years, as well as the closest line to it in baseball (again using just the last four years):

IP NRA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 PERA dH dR
736.1 3.37 7.5 0.6 2.5 7.4 3.41 -28 +2
765.0 3.11 7.1 0.6 2.5 7.6 3.30 -47 0

Some terminology to get out of the way: NRA is Normalized Runs Allowed, where the scale to compare a guy against is a world where an average pitcher allows 4.5 runs per nine innings. PERA is a pitcher's ERA based on his peripheral statistics-his hits, homers, walks allowed, that sort of thing, also set to where 4.50 is the baseline. The two at the end might be particularly foreign to you, but "dH" describes how many (in this case) fewer hits a pitcher allowed than you might expect, and "dR" is how many fewer runs. Although BABIP rates fluctuate for most pitchers, there's a level of quality at which it stops looking random and starts speaking to simple dominance, and this comparison indicates that Matsuzaka is one of those guys. The runs element is the sort of thing where a pitcher who induces a lot of double plays would wind up trending more negative (say, Greg Maddux), and somebody like Nolan Ryan--poor fielder, poor at holding runners, and all-time wild-pitch record-holder--does worse than your average hurler. In this instance, it says that there are no such surprises, for or against.

The first line's obviously pretty good, so it's fair to say there's data to support the suggestion that Matsuzaka can pitch in the major leagues. The question is, how well? Considering that the second line belongs to Roger Clemens 2003-2006, really well. That's why teams are bidding so much for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. He's not simply a really good pitcher, he's arguably the best starting pitcher on the market this winter, eclipsing Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2006 8:06 AM
Comments

OJ, It's been said that Matsuzaka has a pitch no one's ever seen. Do you get the feeling that once people see him pitch, that hitters will tee off on him? I remember folks saying the same thing about Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu, before they became sky-high ERA guys.

Posted by: Brad S at November 22, 2006 12:01 PM

The gyro ball. He denies it, though YouTube has video. It's just a slider thrown like a football.

Posted by: oj at November 22, 2006 12:21 PM
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