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.

Sully Baseball Podcast Rewind – November 24, 2012


On November 24, 2012, I sat in my West Virginia hotel room and compared Daisuke Matsuzaka with the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

It made sense to me.

Enjoy this Sully Baseball Podcast Rewind

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – November 24, 2012

14 Thoughts on the Tanaka Signing

AP Photo

AP Photo


In an off season where the Yankees are clearly pushing for the playoffs in 2014, they needed to make this signing. Signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are not the actions of a team resting on their laurels.

They needed an ace pitcher and Tanaka could very well be that pitcher. If it works out, then this will be a terrific signing.


Put your scouting reports and stats in your backpocket. There have been stars who came over from Japan and there have been disasters, and figuring out which will be which is a crap shoot.

Obviously Yu Darvish is the pitcher every Yankee fan hopes Tanaka will emulate. Darvish is a Cy Young contender and anchors a solid Texas team. There have been other Japanese imports who made their mark in America.

Hideo Nomo had a few terrific seasons (and a pair of no hitters to boot.) Ichiro Suzuki is a Hall of Famer. Hideki Matsui is a beloved World Series hero. So is Koji Uehara. Hideki Okajima helped the Red Sox win a World Series. Tadahito Iguchi started for the World Champion White Sox. Hiroki Kuroda has pitched well for the Dodgers and Yankees.

Then there is the other side of the coin.

The late Hideki Irabu was billed as the next Nolan Ryan and was a disaster. Tsuyoshi Wada never pitched in the majors. Kosuke Fukudome was supposed to be an All Star hitter and flopped. Kaz Ishii bombed badly.

And Kei Igawa was one of the biggest free agent flops in history.

This is not like the Sabathia signing or the Dodgers signing Greinke. This is an acquisition whose result has a huge gray area.




You will notice I left out “Dice-K” when I listed the heralded Japanese stars above. That was not an omission.

Matsuzaka has become the poster child for the dangers of posting fees and hyping players from Japan.

He was supposed to be the great pitching star who would revolutionize durability in America and be a huge drawing card and a Boston sports hero.

Instead he got hurt, pitched some of the slowest and most boring games anyone has ever seen and received the scorn of Sox fans. His final four seasons he was injured and ineffective and a waste of a lot of money.

But remember his first two seasons were not terrible. In 2007, the 26 year old Matsuzaka gave the Red Sox 204 2/3 innings, striking out 201 batters. Both of those marks led the team. He was hardly an ace but was the pitcher of record in Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 3 of the World Series (where he drove in a pair of runs.)

Do the Red Sox finish 2 games ahead of the Yankees for the Division in 2007 without Dice-K? Do they win the World Series? Maybe not.

In 2008, he had a better season and picked up the slack for a disappointing Josh Beckett. He went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and had the lowest hits per nine innings in the league. The Red Sox got to Game 7 of the ALCS.

The short term of the deal was contribution to a World Series title. If Tanaka can help deliver title #28 to the Bronx, an expensive back end to the deal will be worth it.


The Red Sox are the defending champs with a fertile farm system and a history of spending big. Things are good in Boston. Don’t whine.


Ron Antonelli - NY Daily News

Ron Antonelli – NY Daily News

The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, 2008, they broke the bank to sign a big time pitcher still in his 20’s.

CC Sabathia delivered big time. He pitched the Yankees to the World Series title and has been one of the greatest free agent pick ups in baseball history.

But he took a step back in 2012, falling out of Cy Young contention.

And in 2013, his numbers took an alarming drop. He was still good for 211 innings and 14 wins. But his ERA skyrocketed to a mediocre 4.78. His strikeout total dipped and he led the league in earned runs allowed. There was nothing “Ace like” about him. He will be 33 years old in 2014 and maybe his weight and averaging 213 1/3 innings over 13 seasons could be catching up with him.

It takes more than one pitcher to win. Pitching depth is the key in today’s game. Even if Tanaka is a Cy Young candidate, it won’t do any good for the Yankees unless Sabathia also returns to form.

If he does, the Yankees have a 1-2 punch that could be enough to win.


There is no powerhouse in the American League. Not the Yankees. Not the Tigers. Not the Defending World Champion Boston Red Sox. (I love saying that.)

 (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Unlike the National League who have a few terrific teams and a lot of lousy ones, there are very few AL clubs without at least an outside chance.

The Astros and Twins both look pretty bad. But every other club could win if a few things broke their way. While that means there are not as many weak clubs to pad the win column with, there are also fewer teams that should dominate a series.

90 wins is probably enough to take a playoff spot and the Red Sox and Tigers could very well take a step back in 2014. Oddly, parity will help the Yankees of all teams.


The Dodgers have big money and a huge media market. Los Angeles has a huge Japanese population and are closer to a pennant than the Yankees. And he would essentially be the #3 starter behind Kershaw and Grienke.

L.A. seemed like the perfect fit.

But alas, this is not about fit. This is about money and the Yankees outbid everyone.



Remember when Brian Cashman took control of the team away from the Tampa office in 2006?

Photo: Mike Stobe

Photo: Mike Stobe

He was going to rebuild the team through the farm system and use the great Yankee resources to keep a good young team together. The team was going to be built upon the likes of Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.

That was a disaster and the team missed the 2008 playoffs. The Steinbrenners opened their wallet and in came Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira as free agents and Nick Swisher as a salary dump from the White Sox. They won it all in 2009.

After that, there was talk of building from the farm, getting younger and getting below the tax threshold.

That was another disaster with the Yankees missing the playoffs as an old fading team with no relief from a barren farm system.

The result? Spend more money.

Some teams can fill in holes from within. The Yankees can not because their farm system is a mess.

Some teams can fill in holes with trades. The Yankees can not as their trade track record recently has been spotty at best and there is nobody left on the farm to deal.

If the Yankees had developed some pitchers, infielders and one of the 50,000 catchers that have been hyped panned out, then maybe they wouldn’t have to reenact The Wolf of Wall Street every few off seasons.

But they can’t because of the old and injury prone teams Cashman has assembled and the worthless farm system developing under his watch.

Remind me why he is considered to be a good GM again.



Have you noticed that teams that have legit aces are not letting them hit free agency?

 (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, Matt Cain, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are all locked up. Jon Lester won’t be far behind.

And if Max Scherzer and David Price can’t sign extensions, they will be dealt to teams with ready for the majors prospects (which the Yankees don’t have) and will probably sign long term deals.

Signing the likes of Tanaka is the only way to put a #1 in the rotation short of developing one through the farm system.



Pitching wins titles and if Tanaka and Sabathia and Kuroda pitch well, they will be in good shape. That does not change the fact that their lineup is old and injury prone. Letting Cano go and seeing A-Rod out for the year means the infield is one giant question mark after another.

Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann make for a nice core of the lineup. Then again, if any of them slump or gets hurt, their offense will be tracing paper thin.

That’s where the pitching comes in and why the Yankees had to make this deal.


A-Rod gets dumped for the season, freeing up money for the Yankees. The Yankees then outbid everyone for Tanaka and the biggest team with the largest following (and the biggest villain) winds up catching the fish everyone wanted.

Corey Sipkin - NY Daily News

Corey Sipkin – NY Daily News

Some coincidence, eh? The Yankees lose their superstars and drawing cards get a brand new one.

The bad press surrounding A-Rod off the field is distracted by the arrival of a new superstar.

One event after the other. Wouldn’t it make sense that big league baseball would want this to happen?

Actually, come to think of it, it kind of does. Wait until A-Rod hears about it. He will treat it as truth.



Almost every team can use a starting pitcher and lots of big hypothetical numbers have been thrown around before Tanaka landed with the Yankees.

Ronald Martinez - Getty Images

Ronald Martinez – Getty Images

Well guess what, Rangers, Dodgers, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Angels and White Sox? You can still sign a pitcher! And for a hell of a lot less than Tanaka.

Sure, none of these guys are exactly aces any more. But one thing you can say about them is that you have a much better idea of how they will pitch in the big leagues.

Teams like the Angels, Mariners and White Sox who already have an ace could do worse than these guys to be a #2 guy.

The Orioles and Diamondbacks, teams with talented arms but no big veteran anchor, might see one of these arms as the steady veteran.

Either way, they were all in a holding pattern waiting for a conclusion in the Tanaka sweepstakes. Well it is over. These are the consolation prizes and they are not bad ones at that!



With all the big moves and signings and people changing uniforms, the team that looks the strongest going into 2014 remains the defending NL Champs.

Scott Rovak – USA Today Sports

Scott Rovak – USA Today Sports

The Cardinals are younger, deeper in the pitching staff, have more depth and athleticism in the lineup and have the playoff chops.

Remember, the goal is not winning the winter but winning in the fall.

For the last 10 seasons, no team has celebrated like the Cardinals (7 playoff appearances, 6 NLCS, 4 pennants, 2 titles.) And 2014 looks no different.

They have the combination of youth and veteran experience, post season pedigree, tradition and patience that the Yankees used to have.

I am sure they are looking at all the feeding frenzy of this off season with amusement, knowing that when the champagne pops and the World Series is lined up, they will be one of last two standing.



The Yankees already have Ichiro, the original one name Japanese star. Why not make it two?

Besides, I was originally going to suggest he has a nickname. But simply going by “TANAKA” sounds more bad ass.

Now all he has to be is as good as advertised and the Yankees will be good shape.

No pressure.

 (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)