Guest Column: Discovering Daisuke Matsuzaka
Submitted by Guest Columnist on Wed, 10/11/2006 - 9:36am
As we've painfully come to realize, the Cubs are in desperate need of not only good pitching but reliable pitching. The big free agent names are Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito from stateside and the enigmatic Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan. Pulling up a stats page on Schmidt and Zito will pretty much tell us all we need to know about those two, but what about Matsuzaka? TCR Commenter "Wes", took a closer look at Matsuzaka and his highly touted gyroball, which it turns out he doesn't really throw. ---- I'm sure many of you are familiar with Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's the kid who just turned 26 that just might be the hottest pitcher on the market this winter. Some folks think that Seibu might post him to the highest MLB bidder. I've heard a couple of rumors about the Cubs getting in the bidding war, since after all, a high end starter might be nice. I did a little research on Daisuke and the highly coveted gyroball he is claimed to throw. First a little history on the elusive baseball wonder called the gyro. There's clips all over the Internet claiming that you're looking at baseball history. The gyro has turned into a bit of baseball folk lore over the past year or two. A lot of folks thought Daisuke might bust out the gyro in front of a national baseball audience at the World Baseball Classic, but it didn't happen. Many of you who are regular Will Carroll readers are familiar with his research on the gyro. Carroll even went so far to teach an Indiana kid how to throw it (scroll to the bottom). Enter Joey Niezer. Joey is the aforementioned Hoosier who learned the gyro from Carroll and is now playing Division III baseball at Wabash College in West Central Indiana. If you haven't already seen it, here's a video of rather poor quality (taken by Carroll, I think) of Joey dropping a gyro. I live pretty close to Wabash and recently graduated from their rival school, DePauw. I called a game against Wabash, but didn't see him pitch. I made a couple of trips up to Wabash and saw a couple more games, but Joey didn't pitch in those either. He's numbers weren't very good as a freshman (0-2, 7.43). That makes me think he doesn't throw the gyro all that often. That said, he's still the only guy this side of the International Date Line who throws it. The scout on the gyro is that it behaves like a slider that's got more steriods in it than Jason Grimsley and Floyd Landis put together. It's supposed to start spinning flat like a slider for the first 45-50 feet and then fall off the table and break away from a right-hander. This one in particular looks a lot like a straight curve that you'd see a right hander throw, however it breaks entirely too much and entirely too late for it to be a curve. Carroll alledges that this thing is capable of breaking three feet or more. The question is whether or not Daisuke throws the gyro. In the Yahoo! Sports article linked above, he has claimed that he's just learning it. This video surfaced a while back and everybody thought they'd struck gyro jackpot. Here he is throwing that pitch from a a different (very bad) angle. Is it a gyro? Despite being perhaps the filthiest pitch I've ever seen, no. Sorry to burst your bubble. Turns out what you're seeing is a pitch called a shuuto, and it's absolutely nasty. It's pretty much like a slider, fastball and a screwball thrown into one. You'd need a boat oar to hit it, especially when paired with Daisuke's fastball that runs up there between 96-98. I work as a radio broadcaster in Chicago for an independent minor league baseball team. I sat down with our pitching coach, a career AAAA guy who has spent time coaching in affiliated ball, a few of our pitchers and a buddy of mine who used to play. All of them know a thing or two about breaking pitches. I showed them these two videos of the shuuto and here's a little bit about what they had to say: 1. Note that the grip of the pitch is similar to that of a typical slide piece, with a couple of exceptions. If you watch the video from CF, you can see that he releases the pitch with his index finger. Typical sliders are released with the middle finger. Looking at the video from behind the dish, he's also not on the seams. Part of the reason that a slider does what it does is because of gripping it on the seams. 2. The ball also reacts much differently than a slider. Duh. When you're on the business end of a slider thrown by somebody who knows what they're doing, the ball spins in such a manner that an optical illusion of a red spot about the size of a dime appears in the center of the ball from the way the seams spin. If you look at the video from behind the plate, there's no such spin on that pitch. My pitching coach said this behaves a lot like a screw, except it's thrown like a slider. By the way, he was absolutely awestruck by this pitch and made me show it to him at least 50 times. It's that good. 3. The arm angle on this pitch is similar to that of a fastball. On a slider or a curve, guys will try to get their arm out and around the baseball to impose a breaking motion on it. On this video, his arm is in more of a fastball slot, giving it motion in towards right handers. Also, imparting the spin with the index finger helps this ball move inside to righties. It's a lot like Maddux's 2-seamer, except the bottom drops straight out of it and it's techincally a slider. The Wikipedia article above about the shuuto claims that what Maddux actually throws is a variation of a shuuto, but I'm not inclined to believe that. Daisuke throws this pitch a lot, and when paired with his live fastball, a good curveball, a slider, a rumored fork, and a change he can be downright devastating. Here's a highlight clip of him in an appearance in May. You get a good look at a couple of curves, a slider or two, and a nice pair of shuutos (shuttoes? shuuti? San Diegoans? San Diegans?) to lefties. He strikes out a ton of guys in the clip mainly because the umpire is giving him a strike zone that you could park a double-wide in, but you get the drift of what he throws. So everything sounds great. Let's sign him up tomorrow, right? Not exactly. There are a few knocks on this kid: 1. He's subject to injury. Daisuke missed a large portion of 2003 with an undiscolsed injury to his pitching elbow. Japanese teams don't exactly run around telling the press what's wrong with their players when they get hurt, so we don't have any way of knowing what that was. Matsuzaka also missed a few starts this season with a groin injury of some nature. The only explanation given was that he didn't need to be hospitalized. Thank the good Lord. I think he should fit right in with the rest of the Cubs staff. 2. When throwing from the wind, he's got a very long pause. The shuuto clip from CF will show you that. A lot of folks, including myself, aren't too sure about the legality of that manuever in the US. I know Hideo Nomo used to have a pause in his wind-up as well, but it wasn't that long. That sounds easily correctable, but you never know. 3. He's thrown a lot (I mean a lot) of pitches over the past several years. Rumor has it he threw 250 pitches in a 17 inning ball game in high school and then came back the next day and threw a no-no. That's high school, I know, but good golly. This year he went 186 innings and posted a 17-5 mark with an ERA of 2.13 for Seibu. He made 25 starts and went the distance 14 times. Many experts (alot of people I've read over at rotoworld, specifically) are very concerned about how much his arm has been taxed over the past 5 years of playing in Japan. Pitch counts aren't that big of a deal over there and guys will go as long as they need to to get the win. When you're arguably the best pitcher on the planet, you'll typically find your way well into the triple digits in pitches. I'm not as concerned about the amount he's thrown over the past few years. Zito' and Schmidt have thrown a lot over the past few years, too. If you're truly going for a top of the rotation guy, that's part of it. I would be concerned, however, about his knack for getting hurt. I've seen numbers as high as $50 million tossed around as the amount that it may take to purchase Daisuke from Seibu. I'd bank on something in the mid $30's, but that's still some cash. You still have to pay him, too. Rotoworld says about 4 years & $50 million. Don't get me wrong here. I like this kid. In my research, somebody said that they thought he had the ability to be a top five pitcher and a Cy Young contender in the majors. With all the tape I've watched, I believe it without a doubt. He is absolutely electric. However, if you have to give up $50 million to get him (and then still pay him), you might want that to be a sound investment. There's about nine teams in the hunt for him. Whoever gets him is going to get somebody to build their rotation around for a long time, assuming he's healthy. I'm under the opinion the Cubs should maybe take a chance here. There is a lot of risk involved, but you'll get the best pitcher out there. The Cubs need pitching. Here's a kid who will give you exactly what you need. ---- Thanks to Wes for his time.