January 17, 2007

NOTHING PREPARES YOU FOR THE AL EAST:

Matsuzaka needs to shoot for Nomo's numbers (Rob Neyer, 1/17/07, ESPN Insider

[W]e do have one interesting point of comparison: Hideo Nomo, who pitched brilliantly in Japan before joining the Dodgers when he was only 26. [...]

Here's what he did in his last three seasons in Japan's Pacific League and his first three in our National League:

IP ERA BB/9 K/9
Pacific Lg. 574 3.63 5.5 9.9
National Lg 627 3.34 3.7 10.1

Somehow Nomo cut his walk rate significantly, which allowed him to lower his ERA as well. Does anybody want to explain how this particular pitcher improved upon facing tougher competition? We may theorize, of course. Perhaps Nomo benefited from better medical attention, or better instruction, or less strenuous workloads. Or perhaps he was, at 26 during his first season with the Dodgers, just hitting his stride.

Here again are Nomo's last three seasons (1992-94) in Japan, now accompanied by Matsuzaka's last three (2004-06):

IP ERA BB/9 K/9
Nomo 574 3.63 5.5 9.9
M'zaka 545 2.41 2.1 9.1

Obviously, Matsuzaka compares favorably to Nomo. He's slightly behind in both innings and strikeout rate, but has big edges in ERA and walks. Of course, we're considering neither ballpark nor league contexts, so all comparisons must be taken with a few grains of salt. And while Nomo and Matsuzaka were roughly the same age when they signed to play in the U.S. -- both of them rookies at 26 -- they're entirely different types. Nomo featured a devastating forkball/splitter, a passable fastball, and not much else. Matsuzaka is famous for his wide assortment of pitches: good fastball and splitter, yes, but also a changeup, slider, curveball, cutter and shuuto.

The point, though, is that we've seen exactly one top Japanese starting pitcher join our major leagues, and he was immediately outstanding; over Nomo's first three seasons (1995-97), he struck out 703 batters. Only John Smoltz (710) struck out more during those three seasons, and right behind Nomo were Pedro Martinez (701), Roger Clemens (681) and Randy Johnson (670).

Based purely on Matsuzaka's numbers in Japan, does he look like the next Nomo? Here are projections for 2007 from three respected outfits:

ERA IP BB K
Baseball Forecaster 3.46 185 51 196
Baseball Prospectus 4.01 182 51 162
Baseball Primer (ZiPS) 3.44 186 34 131

If Matsuzaka nails the average of those projections, he'll finish in the top 10 in the American League's ERA rankings, and the Red Sox will have gotten their money's worth. Considering Nomo's early successes, there simply isn't any reason to believe that Matsuzaka will find his new opponents significantly more difficult than his old ones.

MORE:
Projecting the 2007 Red Sox (Yanksfan vs. Soxfan)

Using James' Pythagorean theorum and PECOTA's seemingly more realistic projections, 964 runs scored and 710 runs allowed would project roughly (I used the power of two instead of the power of 1.83) to a 105-57 record. Um, wow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2007 5:23 PM
Comments

It looks to be an exciting season. Are there any brojuddites out there that have a favorite (or at least local) minor league team?

For us in Western KY the minor league is the Frontier League. Evansville, IN has the Otters. A local group (Bring Back Baseball) is trying to get a stadium built in Owensboro, KY in order to form a team for the aforementioned league.

The Otters play in Bosse Field which you would recognize from the movie, "A League of Their Own."

Posted by: Bartman at January 17, 2007 6:55 PM

What's so tough about the AL East? There are two good teams and three routinely non-competitive teams. It been that way for 10 years.

Posted by: Brandon at January 17, 2007 7:14 PM

It been that way for 10 years.

So you;ve got about 55-60 games against Eastern nobodies. Add in the 6 or 9 games against KC, and a dozen or so against the NL and that's over half your season right there. Even this year's Mariners could easily get to 90 with that sort of schedule.

Go Blue Jays!

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 17, 2007 7:50 PM

Put the Devil Rays in the AL Central and they're the Indians.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 9:50 PM
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