Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 6, 2017

2017-04-11 07.52.23

I am no fan of the World Baseball Classic as it is currently set up. They are glorified Spring Training games who have an artificial sense of urgency to them.

What baseball fan would rather see their country win the WBC instead of seeing their team make it to the Wild Card Game? I am guessing not many.

Maybe as a Red Sox fan, my disdain for the WBC stems from the fate of Daisuke Matsuzaka. The pitcher known as Dice-K has a complicated relationship with Boston fans. His Boston tenure began with unreasonable expectations and ended with years of wasted money, injuries, terrible starts and having his last Red Sox appearance end with tears after failing spectacularly.

So he was a bust, right?

Well, he DID help the Red Sox win a World Series and the next season finished in the top 4 for the Cy Young vote.

So he was a success?

Like I said, the relationship is complicated. But the positive trajectory of Dice-K was derailed after the 2009 World Baseball Classic. And that makes me angry.

A high school phenom in Japan, he caught the eyes of the Rockies and the Diamondbacks, looking for their answer to Hideo Nomo. Instead he joined the Seibu Lions and won the Japan League’s Rookie of the Year in 1999. He became one of the elite pitchers in Japan and sparking a rivalry with another Central League pitcher, Koji Uehara, whose relationship with Boston fans became much less complex.

Between 1999 and 2006, he led the league in strikeouts 4 times, in ERA twice, won 7 Japanese Gold Gloves and three times had the most victories and was on 6 All Star teams.

In 2006, he used the World Baseball Classic as a showcase for his talents in front of an American crowd. After the 2006 season, he signed with Scott Boras and made his services available in America. First a team needed to pay a posting fee and THEN they could work out a contract.

Dice-K looked super durable and supposedly threw a Gyro Ball, an unhittable pitch that would make him a perennial Cy Young contender in America. He was more polished than Nomo and a better bet than Hideki Irabu.

The Red Sox, smarting from a terrible second half of the 2006 season and a disappointing Boston debut of new ace Josh Beckett, opened their wallets and out spent the Yankees, Mets and Rangers. They paid $51 million just to talk with him and then ANOTHER $52 million to sign him.

Heads were spinning from the amount of money the Red Sox were spending to get a second title since 1918, but if it worked then they had a pitcher who could change the game.

The Japanese press covered his every move and the Yankees panicked by signing Kei Igawa to show fans that THEY were willing to bring in aces from Asia.

He looked like the real deal in his first game, retiring 10 Royals in a row at one point, and striking out 10 over 7 innings. He struck out 10 or more batters in two of his first three starts.

Dice-K pitched well in his first season but hardly like a world altering ace. He pitched 204 2/3 innings and won 15, striking out 201 along the way. But his ERA was a mediocre 4.40.

He was maddeningly inconsistent. Some days he would throw 8 shutout innings, striking out 9. The next day he would let up 6 runs in 5 innings. And there was no mysterious Gyroball. He just threw out of the strike zone a lot, hoping to get hitters to chase.

Also maddening to Red Sox fans was the pace of his games. This was no dominating virtuoso performance that Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling would give. Dice-K games lumbered on… and on… and on.

Fortunately for Dice-K, Josh Beckett picked up the slack and became the Red Sox ace as they won the AL East. In the post season, Dice-K won a few key games and even got a 2 run single in the World Series. But his performance was less than ace like.

The Red Sox would win the 2007 World Series and they looked for more in 2008.

As Beckett regressed in 2008, Dice-K blossomed into the ace. A brief stint on the disabled list cost him a few starts but he wound up finishing the season with an 18-3 record and a 2.90 ERA. He DID lead the league with 94 walks but he seemed to have made the adjustment to the big leagues as he helped pitch the Red Sox to Game 7 of the ALCS.

Expectations were sky high for the Red Sox in 2009, especially with a can’t miss rotation of Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield. But there was a problem. When Spring Training came around, Daisuke Matsuzaka, he of $51 million just to talk to, was with the Japanese team and training with them and not keeping in touch with the Red Sox.

It was World Baseball Classic time and Daisuke Matsuzaka was looking to lead Japan to another title during Spring Training.

Did Japan win the 2009 World Baseball Classic? I am not kidding, did they? I have no idea. I do know one thing. The Red Sox did not win the 2009 World Series. In fact they got swept out of the Division Series.

Do you know who did NOT make a start in the Division Series? That would be Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was a non factor in the season.

He was put on the disabled list in April and then again in June. He didn’t pitch again until September when his ERA was above 8. His arm looked tired but eventually he revealed that he hurt his hip during the WBC training and didn’t inform anyone.

When a team is paying you tens of millions of dollars, you should probably keep them up to date on everything. Needless to say showing his devotion to Spring Training games over the Red Sox did not go over well with Boston fans.

2010 was a mediocre year for Dice-K. He won 9 games over 25 starts and saw his ERA settle at a middle of the road 4.69. Once again, he saw time on the DL. In 2011, as the Red Sox spent big, Dice-K barely played, making 7 starts and 1 relief appearance in another injury riddled season.

2012 was the final year of his massive contract. He had given the Red Sox one OK year, one good year, a lot of lost time and wasted money and boring starts. He would not redeem himself in his last year. He would win a single game in his 11 starts and his ERA was an unsightly 8.28. He made it out of the 4th inning in one of his final 5 starts.

He pitched the final game of the 2012 season, the worst Red Sox year since before the 1967 Impossible Dream. He lasted 2 1/3 innings in Yankee Stadium, allowing 5 hits and being reduced to tears in the locker room.

Later Dice-K pitched a few seasons with the Mets and returned to Japan.

Would the Red Sox have won the 2007 World Series without Dice-K? I am not sure but he did help. But the bulk of the contract was wasted money.

Now I am not sure if this is Correlation vs Causation, but the downfall of Dice-K in Boston can be directed squarely on his time at the World Baseball Classic.

Naturally, I am not a fan of that tournament.

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