I skipped class today to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka make his first major league start, and boy was that a good decision. I ordered the best buffalo wings in the world, and watched Dice-K spin a beauty. Some notes follow:
Matsuzaka throws five pitches: a fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, and splitter. Dice-K utilizes his off-speed stuff more than any pitcher with a fastball as good as his, and hitters were noticeably off-balance all day.
The fastball is pretty good. Matsuzaka was throwing it 89-91, and spotting it beautifully. It did not appear to have too much movement, but with his pinpoint control, that isn’t really necessary (though it will result in some home runs). The fastball up was definitely Dice-K’s go-to pitch when he needed a strike.
I was actually most impressed by Matsuzaka’s curveball. He seemed very comfortable with it, and throws it for strikes. Kansas City hitters weren’t really able to make good contact with the curve when they did hit it, and there were a lot of swings-and-misses on this pitch.
Matsuzaka’s slider did not look good today, though it’s hard to judge based on one cold-weather start. It had some bite, but he was hanging it up in the zone a lot, or missing in the dirt. Actually, based on the number of pitches Jason Varitek had to pounce on in the dirt today, I would not be surprised if Matsuzaka ends up among the league leaders in wild pitches.
Dice-K’s changeup reminded me a lot of Pedro Martinez. It’s not quite as good as Pedro’s circle change, but the bottom falls out of it, and it completely threw hitters off all day. Again, this is a pitch that Matsuzaka was able to throw for a lot of strikes, which is really what impressed me the most about him: Dice-K just does not leave the strike zone. He threw 68.5% of his pitches for strikes (average is around 62%), and had 10 strikeouts against just one walk. Matsuzaka did fall behind more than I would have liked him to, but he battled back, refusing to give in.
We didn’t get to see a lot of Dice-K’s splitter, but I didn’t like what little we did see. The bottom dropped out of it too early, and hitters weren’t biting on a pitch that was landing two feet in front of the plate. Perhaps Matsuzaka didn’t really have the feel for this pitch in the cold weather, but it definitely seemed to be his least-refined pitch.
Overall, Matsuzaka does not have one great pitch, but what makes him amazing is the combination of good pitches all of which he can throw for strikes. He keeps hitters off-balance and really works each at-bat. He very much reminded me of Bill James’ comment in the New Historical Baseball Abstract on Pedro Martinez’s “geometric combinations,” and that’s certainly a great thing. I was also impressed by Matsuzaka’s fielding skill; he made a couple great plays that got him out of some jams, and looked very mobile out there.
Right now, I’m obviously working off a very small sample size, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I have no regrets about picking Dice-K for the American League Cy Young.