Change-UpJuly 08, 2010
Daisuke Matsuzaka & Relative Value on the Free Agent Market
By Patrick Sullivan

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Daisuke Matsuzaka’s value as a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox has not been commensurate with the $103 million they doled out to acquire the player. Also, just like many other Red Sox fans who feel frustrated watching Daisuke perform, his pitching can drive me nuts at times, too. He works slowly and walks way too many batters. In his final four seasons for the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka averaged 2.3 walks issued per nine innings. For the Red Sox, his 162-game average BB/9 has jumped to 4.3. Combine the walks, his inefficiency and his unreliability from a health standpoint and it’s all just very maddening.

With all that said, I was taken aback yesterday morning when I read this Nick Cafardo headline from The Boston Globe. In a piece about Matsuzaka and another frustrating outing in St. Petersburg Monday night, the following headline appeared:

You wonder when it’ll start to pay off

This headline very much reflects conventional wisdom here in Boston. At my doctor's office yesterday, the nurse asked me "what are we gonna do about Daisuke?" I think we've reached a point where public perception on Daisuke is now far too negative. For perspective, I would like to look at his acquisition from a different angle.

The aim of this entry is not to defend the Matsuzaka signing like I did with J.D. Drew during the off-season. J.D. Drew is a terrific baseball player, one any team would be lucky to have. He is not overpaid at all, not by one cent. In fact, his signing has been one of the better free agent deals over the last five seasons or so. The aim of this entry is to showcase the sort of value teams are likely to receive when they turn to the free agent market. From this lens, compared to other free agent starting pitchers, Matsuzaka may not be the best signing of Theo Epstein’s time as Red Sox General Manager, but it’s important to keep in mind that the Japanese right-hander has also been a key contributor to some excellent Red Sox teams.

Since the 2006-2007 off-season, when Matsuzaka signed with the Red Sox, there have been 33 contracts handed out to starting pitchers whose total value met or exceeded $10 million. Of those 33, 9 have contributed no value at all, or even negative value. Jason Schmidt, Adam Eaton, Kei Igawa, Mark Mulder, Woody Williams, Oliver Perez, Aroldis Chapman, Randy Wolf and Jason Marquis (in his deal signed prior to this season) all have either added nothing to the Big League club or in some cases, actually altogether detracted from their teams’ winning efforts irrespective of money. That’s $254 million total doled out to pitchers who have just killed their teams or in Chapman’s case, not yet had a chance to contribute.

That leaves another 24 contracts for pitchers who have contributed to their teams’ winning efforts. Presented below are those 24, sorted by Millions of dollars spent per Win Above Replacement (thanks Fangraphs).

Num Player Yr Signed Total Contract Value AAV Total Contract WAR WAR/season $ per Win
1 Joel Pineiro 2009-2010 $16.00 $8.00 1.8 3.60 2.22
2 Mike Mussina 2006-2007 $23.00 $11.50 8.2 4.10 2.80
3 Greg Maddux 2006-2007 $10.00 $10.00 3.5 3.50 2.86
4 Jason Marquis 2006-2007 $21.00 $7.00 7.3 2.43 2.88
5 Ted Lilly 2006-2007 $40.00 $10.00 10.9 3.11 3.22
6 Andy Pettitte 2009-2010 $11.75 $11.75 1.7 3.40 3.46
7 Ryan Dempster 2008-2009 $52.00 $13.00 5.5 3.67 3.54
8 Andy Pettitte 2006-2007 $16.00 $16.00 4.5 4.50 3.56
9 Gil Meche 2006-2007 $55.00 $11.00 10.7 3.06 3.59
10 Andy Pettitte 2007-2008 $16.00 $16.00 4.4 4.40 3.64
11 C.C. Sabathia 2008-2009 $161.00 $23.00 8.2 5.47 4.20
12 Kenshin Kawakami 2008-2009 $23.00 $7.67 2.7 1.80 4.26
13 John Lackey 2009-2010 $82.50 $16.50 1.6 3.20 5.16
14 Derek Lowe 2008-2009 $60.00 $15.00 4.1 2.73 5.49
15 A.J. Burnett 2008-2009 $82.50 $16.50 3.9 2.60 6.35
16 Daisuke Matsuzaka 2006-2007 $103.00 $17.00 8.9 2.54 6.69
17 Jamie Moyer 2008-2009 $13.00 $6.50 1.3 0.87 7.47
18 Vicente Padilla 2006-2007 $33.75 $11.25 4.5 1.50 7.50
19 Tom Glavine 2006-2007 $10.50 $10.50 1.3 1.30 8.08
20 Carlos Silva 2007-2008 $48.00 $12.00 3.5 1.40 8.57
21 Barry Zito 2006-2007 $126.00 $18.00 7.0 2.00 9.00
22 Ben Sheets 2009-2010 $10.00 $10.00 0.5 1.00 10.00
23 Orlando Hernandez 2006-2007 $12.00 $6.00 0.9 0.45 13.33
24 Jeff Suppan 2006-2007 $42.00 $10.50 1.5 0.43 24.42

As you can see, Matsuzaka is far from a bargain. But at the same time, he's in the same neighborhood as players like John Lackey and A.J. Burnett, and that's WITH his lost season of 2009. Of those 33 contracts I alluded to earlier, Matsuzaka ranks 18th in terms of dollars spent per Win Above Replacement. That's not great value, but it is just about the median.

This brings me back to the Cafardo headline. "You wonder when it will start to pay off." I look at that and think to myself that IT IS paying off. Maybe it has not been an optimal allocation of resources, maybe Matsuzaka has not lived up to expectations, but he has had two very good seasons, one lost to injury and is on pace to have another decent year. That's not a terrible return.

The purpose of the free agent market is for teams to round out personnel where their farm systems could not supply the talent needed. By its nature, the free agent market offers less value than players in their cost-controlled years. The beauty of this is that so long as the Red Sox draft well and get ridiculous value from the likes of Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, they can afford to overspend on Matsuzaka. And this principle doesn't just apply to big market teams. Derek Lowe hasn't exactly supplied great value for Atlanta, but they sit in first place. Other expensive "under-performers" like Aaron Harang, Carlos Guillen and Rich Harden suit up for teams atop their respective divisions. Free agent "misses" come with the territory.

Two of the more maligned players in my time following the Boston Red Sox closely, J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both joined the team prior to the 2007 season. They will cost the Red Sox a combined $173 million when it is all said and done. Since their arrival, thanks in part to their considerable contributions, Boston is 99 games over .500, has won a World Series, lost in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS and has qualified for the post-season in three consecutive years. Matsuzaka will probably never be the pitcher Boston fans hoped he would be, but Matsuzaka has also contributed greatly to some of the most successful Red Sox teams in franchise history. In this light, since all we root for is the Red Sox to win, maybe the nibbling, the DL stints, the posting fee and the big contract have been worth it after all?


"Also, just like so many other Red Sox fans, Daisuke drives me nuts."

Do you realize that this literally means that Daisuke drives you nuts, and Red Sox fans drive you nuts, and Daisuke is a Red Sox fan?

While this is probably true, I think you meant "Daisuke drives Red Sox fans nuts, myself included." You may want to fix it.

The Yankees overpay for players because they are the Yankees. They can afford it, and that is what they do. Other teams need to be more careful with their spending.

Thanks for pointing this out, Ed.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's WAR since coming to the Red Sox: 8.9

Tim Wakefield's WAR over the same span: 7.4

I'm not a Daisuke Matsuzaka hater--though I hate to watch him pitch these days--but I feel like the Red Sox have gotten the best that they will from Matsuzaka. The majority of his WAR came from two good seasons when he first came over, and those seasons were good on the outside, not so good according to his peripherals. Matsuzaka was very lucky, especially in his 18-win season, where he had a BB/9 over 5 that was canceled out by an unsustainable LOB% of 80.6 and BABIP of .267. While his 2009 BABIP of .385 was equally fluky, that BB/9 has stayed in the high 4s, and the LOB% has come back down to high-60s/low-70s (around league average). He's on pace to make ~2.4 WAR this season, but that's with a fluky HR/FB. Look at his xFIP this year--over 5 is not good. His K/9 are down this year, too, so when more ball leave the park, he's going to give up a lot of runs.

Matsuzaka has been worth basically Paul Maholm since coming to the league, which is nice, but he's trending downwards. That large cost, even in a division in which marginal wins are worth more, is unjustifiable, and it's going to look more so at the end.

Does any of the $51M acquisition fee the Sox paid count against the luxury tax? I don't think it does.
His "contract" is only $52M over that period. Had the Sox signed say Meche and Suppan for roughly
the same dollars spent, they would be facing additional costs against the tax.

"While this is probably true, I think you meant "Daisuke drives Red Sox fans nuts, myself included.""

It's funnier if you say,

"While this is probably true, I think you meant "Daisuke drives Red Sox fans' nuts, myself included."

In this case, Dice-K has a vehicle in which he transports the testicles of New Englanders, of which you are one. A testicle. And this is so funny I am literally tearing up in my cubicle.

Ah, fifth grade Henry -- you and 35-year-old Henry surely do see eye-to-eye on issues of comedy.

I think two things are overlooked in the Matsuzaka signing-

First, the difference between the posting fee plus his salary and his salary. He is closer in salary to Gil Meche than he is to guys like Santana and Sabathia. That might not matter much if the Red Sox keep him, but if he were ever traded it would be a major plus. He is not as expensive to others teams as he is to Boston. This was a huge plus in the original deal. If Dice-K was a top tier pitcher he would be making up his full value, but if he was more middling, he would be movable if needed.

Second, the economic benefit of signing him was significant. Like Matsui and Ichiro, Matsuzaka was an icon in Japan. Signing him meant increased exposure in baseball's second richest market and may have also aided the Red Sox in scouting and recruiting in Japan.

Balancing those off-the-field concerns against his production, he is not the big score he was hyped to be, but he is hardly failing to pay-off either.

Is it physically or psychologically impossible for Daisuke to just stop walking people so frequently? Why do the Red Sox allow him to continue throwing balls? Maybe he should watch video of Cliff Lee throwing a couple of games and tell himself he wants to be a little more like that guy, or a little more like John Lester for that matter.

Like Clive the physics student in "A Serious Man", we appear to have a culture clash. Hmmmm, maybe someone should tell Daisuke about the Goy's teeth.

I really like the last post. I think pitchers like Daisuke, potentially good stuff but need to know better how to pitch... really pitch ... should be forced to observe a pitcher like Cliff Lee. He was with us in Seattle and his influence on Felix Hernandez will be regretted by all of the American League ... just watch whata "King Felix" does over the end of 2010 and next year. I think he should be literally forced to pitch one game in the Cliff Lee style .. take a look at Cliff's strike to ball ratio. Getting ahead of a hitter really ups the likelihood of success for a pitcher since hitters can't just sit on fastball.

Like others I was surprised to see the cost of the posting fee included in Daisuke's 'salary'. At the least it needs to be reduced by the whatver they didn't pay in luxury taxes as a result of it not counting against the 'tax threshold'. The Sox have been over or right against it since that time and those dollars would have been a big expediture had they gone the traditional FA route and signed someone for 17 mil/yr. And very likely would have led to some other players NOT being signed. And like another poster mentioned the 'stret cred' it gave the Sox in Japan can't be dismissed either. Do they have the opportunity to sign Okijima that same offseason without Daisuke? Likely not and the 'value' they got in that first contract which paid him next to nothing was extremely high. Tazawa is also likely a direct result of the the signing. Similar offers on the table and he chose Boston. Could the fact that they obviously would have had a structure in place for easing a Japanese pitcher into a US pitching system been factor. I would think so. I certainly don't consider his 103 mill as an 'apples-to-apples' type comparison with 'true' FA contracts.

Can't someone run a study about how much the Red Sox made from Dice-K (Tv rights, apparel, etc)? So we can subtract the posting fee from that when I have to debate with people about how he really isn't that bad.

Unfortunately, I wonder how much of Drew and Dice-K's unpopularity is their lack of charisma (due to cultural differences likely in Dice's case). Compare that to the devotion to Mike Lowell for example. And to add to the comment above about how Dice's presence helped bring other Japanese pitchers - everyone seems to forget the contribution of Takashi Saito last year, boy what a hole he left behind early in this season.