The $103,000,000 mechanics of Daisuke Matsuzaka

I will let the smarter folks here at THT get into statistical projections of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Instead, I would like to focus on Matsuzaka’s mechanics from a scout’s point of view.

Specifically, I’d like to address the mechanical issues that will play a role in how Matsuzaka’s career turns out:

1) How efficient is he with his mechanics?
2) Will he keep his velocity/stuff throughout his career?
3) What about potential injury risks?

Without saying anything further, here is a clip of Daisuke Matsuzaka at the World Baseball Classic.

Let’s break him down…

Tempo

Your first impression might be that he has a slow delivery. It certainly looks slow at first, doesn’t it? You will hear announcers mention what a “slow, smooth, controlled delivery” Matsuzaka has. It certainly starts out slowly. However, one of the main reasons he can generate mid-to-upper-90s velocity is that he is VERY quick when it counts. The Video? Sure…

In order to “measure” tempo, I like to count the number of frames it takes a pitcher to release the ball from the top of his knee lift. In other words, from his first movement down, how long does it take him to release? From top of knee lift to release, most power pitchers will take somewhere between 19-23 frames. Generally speaking, in terms of tempo, “the quicker the better.” Nothing is gained by hanging out over the rubber and taking forever to “gather yourself in the balance position.” That old-school B.S. is done and over with. Up-down-quick-quick. Momentum and gravity are your friends. Use them to your advantage.

Here’s a clip comparing Matsuzaka to perhaps the quickest guy in the majors in terms of tempo. Many people wonder how Roy Oswalt throws as hard as he does. A big reason for that is, of course, tempo.

By my count, Matsuzaka takes 19-20 frames from his first movement down. Oswalt is right around 18 frames. In order to synchronize these clips to release, I gave Matsuzaka a little head start. That’s okay. If you’re a couple of frames behind the majors’ best, you aren’t doing too badly. The point of this—Matsuzaka’s tempo is very good. He’s quick where it counts. It might look slow and controlled at first, but now we know better.

Arm Action

First impression—pretty good, but not in the “excellent” category. I like pitchers who break their hands late. The idea is simple. Cover the same distance (your arm circle) in less time, the more velocity you can create. So the quicker you can complete the arm circle (from when you break your hands to release) the better off you are, generally speaking. Look at how much later Oswalt breaks his hands in the clip above. Matsuzaka doesn’t break early either, which is a definite plus. He also has no hitch, no pause in his arm’s momentum. The clip below shows the “oustanding” part of Matsuzaka’s arm action.

See how his elbow “picks up” the ball? Very nice, “elbowy” arm action.

How well does he use his body?

The short answer to that question is: very well. More video? Sure.

THAT is aggressive. Notice how well he engages the hips/legs/butt into an aggressive move towards the plate. The key here is that he isn’t sitting over the rubber. His hips/legs are gaining ground towards home plate as he swings his leg into footplant. His lead leg seems to straighten out on the last frame of that last clip. He seems to use a slight kick in order to swing his leg aggressively into footplant. Here you go:

Notice how his foot gains ground between the second and third frames of this clip. That’s the kick I’m talking about. You can also see it on the full clips above.
What does all of that mean?
Matsuzaka is aggressive with his lower body. The better and more aggressive you are with your body, the less work it takes to accelerate your arm with the force required to throw a 95+ mph fastball. Aggressive is good, passive is bad.

At Release

Here’s where I see some potential injury risk. One of the things Tom House teaches is “throwing to firm front side.” The days of pulling your lead elbow into your hip in order to accelerate the arm are over. According to House, in addition to causing mechanical inefficiencies (inconsistent release point, etc), yanking the lead arm increases your risk of developing shoulder troubles. At release, you want to see the lead elbow and glove out in front. Since I couldn’t find side video of Matsuzaka, I used still shots in order to get a better view of it. Here’s Matsuzaka compared to a guy who does it very well.

Not the best comparison shots ever, I agree. However, they do illustrate the point I’m tying to make. Although I wouldn’t classify Matsuzaka as “very aggressive” with his lead arm, he is still aggressive enough with it to somewhat concern me.

So what do we make of all this?

Let’s try to answer the questions that I posted above?

1) How efficient is he with his mechanics?
VERY efficient and aggressive, especially with his lower body. Yes, the lead arm issue bothers me.

2) Will he keep his velocity/stuff throughout his career?
I can’t only look at his mechanics to answer this one. We know how many innings he has logged in his professional career. However, if he keeps his aggressiveness and tempo, there is a good chance that he’ll keep his stuff well into his career. Yes, the lead arm issue bothers me—I’ll get back to this one.

3) What about potential injury risks?
All I see is potential shoulder issues. Yeah, I know, MOST (if not all) pitchers have shoulder issues at some point. I’m talking about shoulder issues that greatly contribute to decline (think Pedro Martinez).

My guess: Matsuzaka remains durable and at his A+ stuff over the next three years or so. Sometime after year three, after adding a few pounds and after the natural effects of aging, he starts slowing his body down just a tad and his velocity starts dipping. Fast forward a year or two: he has an average year while adjusting to not being able to hit 95+ mph as consistently as he used to. He starts seeing some DL time, but pitches enough innings to justify his contract. However, at the end of his contract, we will probably wonder if he will end up having the same recurring issues as Pedro. Will someone give him another four- or five-year contract after that? Probably. Will that be too many? Yup, just like Pedro.

Good luck Daisuke…

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