A great many words have been written regarding Matsuzaka’s transition from Japanese league phenomenon to Boston Red Sox starting pitcher. Way too many, in all probability. So all that I will say regarding said transition was that it was more or less what I expected. A bit less consistent than I might have predicted, and the control less sharp than had been forecast, but at the end of the day his line for an American League rookie pitcher was – as far as I’m concerned – excellent.
Which brings us to this year. Perhaps not quite as many words have been wasted on his sophomore season to be, but there are certainly no shortage of predictions available. The ZiPS line, for example, looks pretty reasonable to me: a 3.95 return in 196 IP over 29 GS, with 177K’s against 60 BB’s over that span.
Not only does it eyeball as realistic, that’s a fair return on a second year pitcher, in my book. But one interesting tidbit that I hadn’t realized until today: Matsuzaka struck out more batters last year than Beckett, 201 to 194. Granted he had an extra four innings to do it – which says something by itself about the workload he shouldered as a rookie – but his rate per nine was higher, 8.84 K/9 vs 8.70.
It’s tempting to argue that Beckett’s strikeout rate was the end result of the widely acknowledged change in his patterns, including increased usage of the other pitches in his arsenal, such as his change up or two seamer. But actually, the last time it exceeded 9 per 9 innings was 2003. Apart from the train wreck that was 2006, he’s been fairly steady in the 8′s.
So Matsuzaka’s the better pitcher, right? Obviously not. But given the importance of strikeout rate as a metric for evaluating pitcher success and predicting future performance, let’s just say that I’m reasonably optimistic that Matsuzaka can – as Beckett did this year – take a step forward performance wise, matching his ZiPS line at worst, exceeding it we’re lucky.