Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Turning Japanese

Bear with me, this post takes a while to develop.

The biggest story in baseball over the next few weeks will be Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 26 year old Seibu Lions ace has been posted by his team, meaning Major League teams get to bid somewhere between 20 and 30 million dollars just to go into exclusive contract negotiations with Matsuzaka and his agent Scott Boras.

What should we expect of Matsuzaka though? People are already projecting what Matsuzaka might do in the majors or at least his major league equivalent stats, and the projections range from stats for a Cy Young caliber pitcher to a solid #2 starter.

Considering the bidding for Oakland ace Barry Zito might reach the salaries that Matsuzaka will expect (counting the posting fees), most major league teams would likely be happy with any of the results in that range.

Let's take a closer look at the projections though.

Over at Matsuzaka Watch, probably the best resource for both Matsuzaka news and information (the videos of his pitching are especially comprehensive), Mike Plugh uses Jim Albright's conversion system to get the following statistical line:

2005 28 2.74 215 185 16 63 200
2006 25 2.52 187 156 21 39 181

At Stugeon General's Report, a personal projection guesses

200 180 45 25 3.40

At Replacement Level Yankees, a different conversion system gives us this line:

3.67 26 22 186 173 37 49 188 8.4 2.4 9.1 1.1

I'm not particularly wedded to any of these projections. The high home run rate stands out in the Replacement Level Yankees analysis. Mike Plugh's projection shows an excellent BB/IP rate and a stellar ERA.

Since I'm not an expert in Japanese baseball, I can't really pick out which one of these might approximate his future the best. However, I do wonder how much these projections accurately mimic how an actual manager might use Matsuzaka.

As a Seibu Lion this past year, Matsuzaka started 25 games, throwing 13 complete games and logging 186 innings. This works out to 7.44 innings thrown a start. In comparison, Twins workhorse Johan Santana averaged 6.88 innings per start this year, a significantly lower number. The majority of major leaguers don't average over 7.

In fact, the only people that I can think of who have averaged as many innings per start recently are Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling as Diamondbacks, Livan Hernandez and Mark Buerhle (both before this year). The Bill James Handbook for the 2005 season only has 2 starts in which pitchers threw more than 140 pitches, and both were by Livan Hernandez.

The problem I have is not with the projections themselves, persay. Hideo Nomo had a similar workload switch when he came over from Japan. He went from throwing 15 complete games a year to throwing 4 his first year as a major leaguer, and he was great as a rookie.

We all hear about pitchers and routines. Teams use different strategies in working their pitchers on off days and counting pitches during starts. And while 100 pitches is an arbitrary cut off point, many managers and pitching coaches seem to be sensitive about letting their pitchers work beyond that number.

It has been well documented that Matsuzaka works with high pitch counts. Averaging 138 pitches in 2005 and 144 pitches in 2006 places Matsuzaka significantly above the point at which most managers will keep their pitchers in the game. A Cubs fan would be apopletic at that point during a Mark Prior start, to use an extreme example.

NOTE: These numbers are pitches per 9 innings, and NOT pitches per start, as Yahoo! and The Sporting News indicates.

So how should a manager use Matsuzaka? How long should he stay in games? And should the manager keep Matsuzaka longer in the game than he would another pitcher?

My instinct, given his pitch counts, would be to work him longer than an average pitcher. He's not going to be throwing harder here, so keeping him on a longer pitch count (provided he is pitching well enough to go deep into games) might be the best way to maintain his routine.

Matsuzaka should fare better than Hideo Nomo in the long run in my opinion. Nomo was wild even in the Japanese Leagues, where he had Nolan Ryan-like walk rates and strikeout rates. His wildness continued over here. In contrast, Matsuzaka's walk totals have declined in recent years, and reached phenomenally low levels in 2005 and 2006 (around or under 2 BB/9 IP).

Which brings me (FINALLY) to my big question. How is Matsuzaka reaching 140 and 150 pitches per nine when his walk rate is that good? He doesn't allow that many hits per inning either. Matsuzaka's WHIP was 0.925 this past year, meaning on average, he allows 0.925 men on base an inning. 138 pitches each 9 innings works out to 15.33 pitches per inning. But if he's throwing an average of 15.33 pitches in an inning, and he's only facing an average of 3.925 hitters, that means each hitter will see 3.905 pitches per at bat.

To contextualize that, most MLB players are considered patient if they can average 4 pitches seen per plate appearance. The most patient players, ones like Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, will average about 4.4 pitches per plate appearance. And those are rare.

The most economical pitchers throw fewer than 3.5 pitches per batter(Greg Maddux is especially good at this).

So if I'm not mistaken, Matsuzaka is throwing many more pitches than conventional wisdom says he should be. I don't know if this is an artifact of the way baseball is played in Japan, or if players are just superbly talented in working at bats to full counts over there.

I don't know how that will translate over here, if in fact it is something unique to Matsuzaka (and not the Japanese game). This means that if his WHIP rises, which it will, he's going to be throwing a lot of pitches and reaching high pitch counts quickly. Which may confuse his manager even more if Matsuzaka is in fact able to pitch well by throwing a lot of pitches. And furthermore, is this something his new pitching coach is going to want to work on?

EDIT: Orginally, I had the calculation using 138 pitches per start, which would be extraordinarily high. This is not the case. 138 pitches per 9 is correct. Still, this is a high number of pitches being thrown to each batter.

EDIT 2: Looking at it, 15 pitches per inning may be high, but considering Matsuzaka was a high strikeout pitcher in Japan, it makes sense. I assume high strikeout pitchers generally have high pitch counts (I think I've read this and it makes sense). But 15 per inning still seems a touch high to me for someone who issues so few walks and faces so few batters.

Today, Matsuzaka threw 108 pitches in 7 innings. Which isn't incredibly efficient. And yet he only gave up 6 hits and a walk, for a 1.00 WHIP. It's barely any sample, but maybe he just works deep into counts?


Blogger Great White Sumo said...

Matsuzaka is the man, the boy can pitch!! If the major league managers just leave him alone and let him do his thing without trying to change him, he`ll be a star in the US!!

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Matsuzaka is trained to pitch so many pitches whether it's 100 or 200 then apparently his training at high pitch counts allows him to stay "fit to pitch"...which most major league pitchers have never learned how to do.

Matsazuka is simply displaying a sport science principle called the Principle of Overload. This forces the pitcher to do more in practice so that he is capable of doing what is expected of him during game competition. For him it seems it is 140 pitches or so.

Baseball however is a belief based entity that believes that the arm is the source of power for pitchers. This inaccuracy is why managers, coaches and development baseball officials try to limit pitch counts. The arm is simply the delivery device of the ball that provides control.

The body provides kinetic energy which is converted into elastic energy upon landing which is how the body delivers the arm at high speed. This is a sling shot effect or what is often referred to as whipping the arm. The body is the handle of the whip.It provides the elastic energy from putting all the muscles, ligaments and tendons on stretch as quickly as possible.

The problem today is that major league pitchers are only throwing 30-50 pitch bullpens in practice while managers and coaches expect them to pitch 100 in a game. This violates the Principle Of Overload which is why so many pitchers don't have the stamina to pitch beyond 6 or 7 innings while Matsuzaka does. And why so many are getting arm injuries because their bodies are not fit to deliver their arms at high speed.

It is all about the training and understanding how the body reacts to proper training. We do not know what the limit is of the human body. Apparently it is not 140 pitches per game for an extended season because Matsuzaka has been doing that successfully for years. Why then does baseball think it is 100 pitches.

This is all explained, documented and proven in a new 624 page book titled - The Science And Art Of Baseball Pitching - A Coach's Handbook For Scientific Pitching.


Dick Mills

9:49 AM  

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