Wednesday, March 18, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part III

Our third match up is Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chien-Ming Wang:

These guys are polar opposites. Though both arrived to their respective teams from the Pacific Rim, one was signed as an amateur free agent while the other was ransomed off for a grand total of $100 million dollars.

They also differ greatly in their pitching styles. Matsuzaka relies heavily on the strike out and Wang is a ground ball machine. That also means that Wang pounds the strike zone, never walking more than 59 batters in a season and even when one of those walks does occur, he usually can erase it with a double play ground out.

Contrasting Wang, Matsuzaka seemingly tries to walk the bases loaded every time out. In 2008 Matsuzaka had the fourth highest walk total in all of baseball while only throwing 167 2/3 innings. What saves him is his ability to limit hits and to strike out a ton of batters. Where Wang erases base runners with double plays, Matsuzaka strands them with a large amount of strike outs. The problem with this is the Japanese ace ends up expending himself early in the game and may only manage five or six innings a start.

If Wang has any fault it is that for a long time he never struck out batters. But over the last two years that seemed to change as his strike rate jumped up from 3.14 in 2006 to 4.70 in 2007 and 5.12 last season. If it rises anymore he may be able to take a step forward into the top echelon of pitchers in the league.

Verdict: Even though Matsuzaka has the better stuff and the higher upside, Wang is more reliable in terms of going deep into games. If Matsuzaka can stay around the plate a little more and avoid all those walks, then his raw ability will outshine Wang’s. Until then he runs the risk of the walks catching up to him. Wang may not provide as many dominating performances as Dice-K, but he provides more constistancy over the course of a season. Yanks jump back in front 2-1.


Dan said...

One of two things is going to happen with Dice-K this season. He is either going to fix the walk problem and take the next step, or all the BB's will catch up with him and he'll end up with an ERA around 6. I admire the fact that he refuses to back down and not give them anything to hit, but there are times when he's got to throw strikes.

I like Wang very much. He is one of the few players that I've been jealous about the Yankees having.

Dennis said...

Peter, while I find your analysis to be, once again, spot on, I must disagree with your conclusion. Matsuzaka's K/9 is double Wang's.

If you look at a list of the top 40 or 50 pitchers from last season, there are only a handful with a K/9 below 6, and only 1, Joe Saunders, below 5. And Saunders is at 5.3 for his career. Wang is barely at 4 for his career. I just think Matsuzaka is an elite pitcher, while Wang is not.

Dan said...

Even as a Red Sox fan, I can't agree with your opinion that Matsuzaka is an elite pitcher, Dennis. Last year he was pitched on a knife's edge and was always one bad pitch from getting blown up. As hitters get more and more familiar with him, it will get harder and harder to toe that line. If he cut's down on the walks, like Pete said. The upside is huge. At this very moment, I will take Wang's economical effectiveness over Dice-K's stroke-inducing inefficiency.

Dennis said...

A lot of strike out pitchers work that way. Guys like Randy Johnson, even Roger Clemens, walked loads of hitters, Nolan Ryan is the all-time leader in BB's as well as K's.

I understand that for Red Sox fans watching him every fifth day is akin to Chinese water torture, but the guy has top shelf ability, and that is a constant. Would he be better if he cut down the walks, sure, but so would most pitchers.

Fact is, the guy was 18-3 with an ERA under 3 and a K per inning. That my friend, is an elite pitcher.

Dan said...

I would agree with you Dennis except that the pitch count is always way too high, limiting his innings. If he can find a way to pitch more innings by lowering the pitch count, I think the Sox would have an elite starter on their hands.

Peter said...

Yea that's my biggest issue with him Dennis. Can he really be an elite picther if he is struggling to reach 200 innings? Last season he made 29 starts and threw 167 innings. The season before he threw 32 and reach 204 innings. Thats a drop off of almost one inning per start. Eventually the walks will hurt him.

Dennis said...

Over two years in MLB, Dice K is averaging about 6 1/3 innings per start. If you take Wang's last three season's (to make the number of starts similar) he is averaging about 6 2/3 innings per start.

So you are telling me you are going to take a ground ball pitcher with slightly above average stuff over a guy with a 96 MPH fastball and some of the best breaking balls in the world because of 1 more out?