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Just how good is Daisuke Matsuzaka?

Of course, we’ll never know for sure until he actually comes to the Majors and shows what he’s got against the best of the best, but that hasn’t stopped the intrepid folks at Baseball Prospectus from doing their best to figure out his relative level of ability beforehand.

In a recent article over at SI.com, they used “Davenport Translations,” a system for comparing performance across leagues using known data points, to determine that over the last four seasons (2003-2006), the pitcher who Matsuzaka’s performance most closely resembles is none other than Roger Clemens. Yes, that Roger Clemens, who got paid $18 million for a single season two years ago, and $12 million for only half a season of work in 2006.

In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus’s calculations, the only pitcher who has clearly pitched better than Matsuzaka over the past four seasons is Johan Santana, although Roy Oswalt and Roy Halliday can also probably be placed just ahead of Matsuzaka, if only by a razor slim margin.

When you add these calculations to the more traditional scouting reports that are absolutely glowing about Matsuzaka’s compact delivery and his 5 plus-rated major-league calibre pitches, as well as the fact that he is trending upward with a 2006 campaign that was his finest to date, some of those crazy numbers we have already started to hear about start to sound a lot less crazy.

But what exactly are those numbers? If sketchy reports that have come out thus far are correct, the winning bid (possibly from the Red Sox) was in the neighborhood of $40 million. Meanwhile Scott Boras has already been talking about how he expects Matsuzaka to get at least Roy Oswalt money (5 years, 13 million per).  This would mean that if Matsuzaka ends up getting exactly Oswalt money, the total price tag would average out to $21 million per season, which is more than any other ballplayer has made outside of A-Rod.

Now that sure sounds like an awful lot of money, no matter how good Matsuzaka could ever be, but the price tag winds up not being as expensive for teams in baseball’s high rent district, such as the Red Sox and Yankees, because the $40 million posting fee does not count against the luxury tax threshold.  The deal is even more attractive for a team like the Red Sox, because it would feasibly open up all sorts of new marketing opportunities in Japan (whereas a team like the Yankees, which already has a big fanbase in Japan thanks to Hideki Matsui, would not experience as much of a boost).

So as for the question of how much Matsuzaka is worth, the answer is clearly, a lot. And probably a lot more than most people think. But at the same time, the risks are high. The potential for injuries always makes giving long-term contracts to pitchers a precarious endeavor, and Matsuzaka will have to adjust to the increased workload of the significantly longer American season (162 vs 135 games). Nevertheless, Matsuzaka’s physical talents and his ridiculous record of dominance in Japan certainly make him one of the surer bets on the free agent market this offseason.

2 Responses to “How much is Matsuzaka worth?”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    You raise some good points, Nick. You mentioned Clemens’ salary the past couple of seasons. I think the money that Clemens made this past season illustrates just how desperate teams are for pitching. As in any market economy, when there’s a shortage of something, the price for it goes up. Matsuzaka is a rare gem: a proven commodity whose stuff will be entirely new to MLB. It will take hitters some time to make their adjustments, time during which Matsuzaka could be racking up wins.

  2. Sarah Green says:

    Okay Col, normally I would just slip in and edit your little typo, or email you about it. But “Cubies” was so funny, I just had to mock you publicly. “Cubbies” is a cute nickname for a beloved baseball team. “Cubies” is…I’m not sure. A cute nickname for people who work in cubicles? A diminutive term for those painters who dabble in cubism? A word used to denote exceptionally tiny ice cubes? You wordsmith you!

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