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Is Daisuke Matsuzaka Worth It?

Peter Gammons is reporting that the Red Sox won the negotatiating rights for Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka for the princely sum of 42 million dollars. If you make the very generous assumption that Matsuzaka will sign a relatively small contract, say five years, 60 million, the Red Sox will be paying Matsuzaka a little more than 20 million dollars a year. Could this possibly be worth it?

Matsuzaka is the 11th pitcher, the fourth starter, to make the transition from the NPB to Major League Basebal. Of these pitchers, only three, Hideo Nomo, Akinori Otsuka and arguably Kazuhiro Sasaki had any kind of sustainted success while Shigetoshi Hasegawa was a functional middle reliever.  The remianing pitchers either disappeared after one good year, or never found any success to begin with. Sure, Matzuka is a completly different person, but the fact that no Japanese pitcher has ever had more than three consecutive successful years has to count against Matsuzaka.

Of course, no Japanese pitcher coming to America has done what Matsuzaka has done. In 186 and 1/3 innings, Matsuzaka had a strike out rate of 9.66 per nine with a 5.88 K/BB ratio while only surrendering Given that we're only working with a
sample size of 10 pitchers, it's impossible to pin down an actual comparable pitcher. The two that come closest are Nomo and Otsuka, but Nomo had a far higher walk rate while Otsuka is a releiver and six years older. Since Japanese pitchers tend to have their strikeout rates either stay constant or increase when moving to the MLB, while their walk and home run rates increase, I would expect Matsuzaka to put up ace type numbers in his first season, but nome anywhere near Johan Santana for the title of best pitcher in baseball. Of course, the one pitcher who didn't see their walk and strikeout rates collapse, Hideo Nomo, is also the only pitcher that was the same age as Matsuzaka when he came to America. However, even with Nomo's improvements he made, he had six years of mediocrity or worse after 1996, and I don't think that's what the Red Sox are paying for.

Ultimately, the Red Sox are asking Matsuzaka to do something that no other Japanese pitcher has done. Even if he pitches like his numbers suggest he should, he meeds to have a longevity that hasn't been found in Japanese pitchers. The massive pitch counts he's piled up through the years certainly don't help in this regard. If we assume that Matsuzaka has only a couple dominant years in him, then whether or not this is a good signing depends on if the Red Sox win a championship in the next couple years. If Matsuzaka leads them to the pennant, he's priceless for all intents and purposes. If he doesn't, the Red Sox are not going to be happy shelling out 20 million or so for a mediocre pitcher in 2010.