D-Mat Part Deux

We’ll find out in a couple days whether the Mets have the right — or even bid for the right — to sit with superscum … er, superagent … Scott Boras for 30 days to negotiate a contract for Daisuke Matsuzaka — or, D-Mat.

Actually, I’m not sure we’ll find out anything. Looking at the posting process, it looks like the deadline for the bids is 5pm Wednesday, then the Seibu Lions have 10 days to accept or reject the offer — but they are not told which team made the highest bid. So it’s quite possible that, barring a leak from MLB, we won’t know who has the right to sit with Boras until around November 19th.

Which should drive all of us nuts in the meantime. Rumors are circulating that the Mets are putting in a bid, and that they won’t be doing anything major regarding their pitching staff (other than attempting to re-sign 2006 Mets) until this fiasco of a process is complete.

We’ve covered this in a previous post about Daisuke Matsuzaka, and there is an excellent piece of research regarding D-Mat from the guys at MetsGeek, so I won’t go into the details of this Japanese import again. However, one piece of evidence does make me a bit nervous.

Supposedly, D-Mat used to throw in the high 90s, and once touched 100 MPH (at the 2000 Sydney Olympics). Now, he reportedly throws in the 88-92 range. In addition, back in 2002, he missed the majority of the season due to either a “dead arm” phase or an elbow injury that didn’t require surgery — the explanation depends on who you talk to.

These are startling revelations for a 26-year-old pitcher, who you would hope is going into his prime, not in decline. While I’ve seen lots of great research regarding D-Mat’s past, what I’d really like to see is some geek’s evaluation of top Japanese pitchers through the years, and their performance from their late 20s into their early 30s. Historically, young ace pitchers in Japan are treated in stark contrast to the youthful arms of America. In Japan, a pitcher on a roll is used on back-to-back-to-back days if necessary — not for a few innnings, but for entire games. It is not unusual for a young hurler in the Koshien tournament to throw 250+ pitches one day, record a save the next day, then toss a no-hitter the day after that, as D-Mat did as a 17-year-old. While I’m 100% against the babying of American pitchers — especially the 100-pitch limits for grown men — I also believe that the Japanese treatment of pitchers is just as harmful, if not worse.

Koshien is that stage that creates baseball stars — it is not unlike a baseball version of American Idol, though stars of Koshien tend to remain popular stars much longer than, say, Clay Aiken. However, for many Japanese superstars, Koshien is the pinnacle of their career, and far more important than any achievements in the pro ranks. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why D-Mat threw all those pitches in three consecutive days — it was the biggest performance on the biggest stage of his life. At the same time, you have to wonder how harmful that week of his life was to his arm. In addition, after that performance, D-Mat became something of a legend, and no doubt was subsequently depended upon to repeat similar feats. The statistics tell us he’s completed many games in the Pacific League, and surely someone can tell us if he threw 200+ pitches on short rest in unregulated international competition, such as the Olympics? He may well have thrown on consecutive days at the end of a regular season, if his team was in the playoff hunt — this is a standard practice in Japan going back to the 1950s. So although D-Mat is only 26, it may well be a very “old” 26.

It’s not my place to say his career is nearing the end, but I do think you have to seriously consider these issues before plunking down $20-30M just to negotiate with him.

Meantime, if anyone finds, or has, any comparative analysis of other young Japanese pitching stars, and how they fared past age 25, please post a comment.

Hot Stove

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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