FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS


 
2006-2012
DAISUKE MATSUZAKA

Daisuke Matsuzaka played for the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Matsuzaka was selected the MVP of the inaugural and the second World Baseball Classic, and is an Olympic bronze medalist.

Matsuzaka was born on September 13, 1980, in Aomori, Aomori Prefecture. He was named after Japanese high school star pitcher Daisuke Araki.  Growing up in Koto, Tokyo, he studied kendo from the age of five to nine and began playing organized baseball when he was in 3rd grade. After excelling at the Little League and junior high level, Daisuke Matsuzaka was admitted into Yokohama High School, a baseball powerhouse, in the spring of 1996. By his second of three years, he had developed into the school's ace pitcher. Despite his early success, he would experience a setback that summer when he threw a go-ahead wild pitch in the semi-final game of the Kanagawa Prefecture preliminary round of the National High School Baseball Championship (Summer Koshien).

During that offseason, his fastballs first began to regularly sit around 87 mph (140 km/h). After pitching his school to the championship of the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament (Spring Koshien), Matsuzaka set his aim on the 1998 Summer Koshien and eventually led his school to the championship.

In the quarterfinal of the 1998 Summer Koshien, Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in 17 innings in a win over PL Gakuen.  (The previous day he had thrown a 148-pitch complete game shutout.) The next day, despite trailing 60 in the top of the eighth inning, the team miraculously won the game after scoring 7 runs in the final two innings (four in the eighth and three in the ninth). He started the game in left field, but came in as a reliever in the ninth inning to record the win in 15 pitches. In the final, he threw a no-hitter,  the second ever in a final. This performance garnered him the attention of many scouts

After graduating from high school, he was taken by the Seibu Lions with the first pick of the 1998 draft, although both the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks of the North American Major Leagues also recruited him.  At first, Matsuzaka stated that he wanted to play for the Yokohama BayStars, and, if he could not, he would then go to work for a company and after which choose the team of his choice through the reverse-draft (gyaku-shimei) system.  That changed however, when the manager of the Lions, Osamu Higashio, an accomplished pitcher in his own right, met with Matsuzaka for dinner and gave him his (Higashio's) winning ball for career win number 200. Matsuzaka accepted it and allowed himself to be drafted by the Lions.

In his first professional season in 1999, Matsuzaka had 16 wins and 5 losses as the team ace, and was voted Rookie of the Year.

On October 25, 2006, Scott Boras was announced as Matsuzaka's agent to represent him in any contract dealings in the Major Leagues. On November 2, Matsuzaka was officially granted permission by the Lions to pursue a career in Major League Baseball via the posting system.

On November 14, the Boston Red Sox won the bidding rights to Matsuzaka with a bid of $51,111,111.11, outbidding the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and New York Yankees. The enormous figure which was two to three times the Lions' payroll, astounded both Japanese and American baseball executives.  The Red Sox had 30 days to sign Matsuzaka to a contract. If a deal could not be reached, Matsuzaka would have returned to the Lions, nullifying the bid. Scott Boras refused to consider the posting fee as part of the contract negotiations, while Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein recalled, "We tried to come up with a total number, for the post and contract, that made sense."

On December 11, Epstein, Red Sox owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino boarded a plane to take the fight directly to Boras. On December 13, Matsuzaka and Boras joined Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, CEO Larry Lucchino, and Chairman Tom Werner on a private plane owned by Red Sox owner John Henry headed for Boston. During the flight the group agreed to terms on a contract. In Boston, Matsuzaka passed his physical and signed a six-year, $52 million contract, which could have been worth as much as $60 million if he fulfilled incentives. The details of the contract included a $2 million signing bonus with a $6 million salary in 2007, $8 million in each of the following three seasons (20082010), and $10 million in each of the final two years (20112012). He also had a no-trade clause, specially constructed by the Red Sox to fit Matsuzaka's contract.

The final agreement was announced Thursday, December 14 at a 5 p.m. EST news conference at Fenway Park.  Matsuzaka's first major league spring training took place in Fort Myers, Florida, with the Red Sox during February and March 2007, wearing number 18.  Matsuzaka pitched well in most of his exhibition starts. He wears number 18 because Masumi Kuwata also wears number 18.  The number is traditionally worn by the ace of a pitching staff in Japan.

Matsuzaka made his first major league regular season start for the Red Sox on April 5, 2007 in an afternoon game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He walked one, recorded 10 strikeouts, and at one point retired 10 consecutive batters. He allowed only a solo home run on 6 hits while throwing 108 pitches (74 for strikes) over 7 innings and recorded the win as the Red Sox triumphed by a score of 41. He was, however, beaten 30 by Flix Hernndez (who pitched a one hitter), Ichiro Suzuki, Kenji Johjima, and their Seattle Mariners in his Fenway Park debut on April 11, 2007 and defeated again, 21, by the Toronto Blue Jays in his third major league start despite striking out 10 Toronto hitters in only 6 innings. Matsuzaka still became the only pitcher to strike out 10 or more batters in 2 of his first 3 big-league starts since Fernando Valenzuela did so in 1981.

In the official press conference after the Toronto start, Matsuzaka stated through his interpreter that gripping the American baseball, which is slightly larger than the Japanese pro ball, with higher seams, had presented some challenges, but that he had begun making adjustments and felt they were successful.

Matsuzaka pitched his first complete game in the major leagues on May 14, 2007, a 71 victory over the Detroit Tigers; he had pitched well over 60 complete games in Japan. On September 28th he went eight innings and threw 119 pitches. He allowed six hits and two runs while striking out eight. With the win against the Minnesota Twins to secure the Red Sox's place as the winner of the Division, he closed out his first Major League season with a record of 1512 and an ERA of 4.40. On October 6th, he made his Major League playoff debut in the 2007 ALDS, in front of his home crowd in Boston against the visiting Los Angeles Angels. Matsuzaka started the game but lasted just 4 and 2/3 innings, giving up 3 earned runs on 7 hits before being pulled. Although Matsuzaka did not get the decision, the Red Sox eventually beat the Angels 63. On October 15th he started in his second playoff game, in game 3 of the 2007 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland. Much like his playoff debut, Matsuzaka delivered another mediocre outing. Again, he was not able to make it past 5 innings, lasting 4 and 2/3 innings, giving up 4 earned runs on 6 hits. Dice-K was pulled after going over the 100-pitch mark. He suffered his first career playoff loss as the Indians beat the Red Sox 42. Dice-K fared better in Game 7 of the series, on October 21th, retiring the first eight batters he faced. He pitched well for 5 innings, allowing 2 runs. The Red Sox won 112, to advance to the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies. Matsuzaka is the first Japanese pitcher to win an MLB playoff game and only the fifth rookie to start a game seven in the playoffs. On October 27th, he started and led the Red Sox to a 105 win in Game 3 of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies, his first World Series appearance, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks, with 5 strikeouts. In the game, he also recorded his first major league hit: a two-out 2-run single off Josh Fogg, making him the third pitcher in Red Sox history to record two RBIs in a World Series game; the others were Babe Ruth (in Game 4 of the 1918 World Series) and Cy Young. Matsuzaka is also the first Japanese pitcher in World Series history to start and win a game. The next day, the Red Sox won the Series in Game 4. Dice-K also ended the year with the Red Sox rookie record for strikeouts in a season.

In the beginning of 2008 season, Matsuzaka led the Red Sox pitching staff with eight consecutive wins without suffering a single loss. However, on May 27th, he left the game against the Seattle Mariners in the bottom of the fifth inning due to a "tired shoulder". The game resulted in a 43 loss. The Red Sox placed him on the disabled list May 30, 2008 with a mild right rotator cuff strain. He returned on June 21st but was the losing pitcher after giving up 7 earned runs in just one inning of work against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Despite a record of 91 and a 3.12 ERA at the break, Matsuzaka was not selected to the 2008 American League All-Star team. On September 15 he won his 17th game of the season, setting a new single-season record for Japanese MLB pitchers, passing previous record holder Hideo Nomo.

Matsuzaka ended the season with an 183 record, 2.90 ERA and held opponents to a .211 AVG (and 6.9 hits-per-9-innings), the lowest in the majors.  He also led the AL by leaving 80.6 percent of the baserunners he allowed stranded. These numbers were enough to place him 4th in the American League Cy Young Award race. However, a major problem for him was the control of his pitches, which, combined with his lack of innings pitched due to his injury, factored into his Cy Young voting. He walked 94 batters in 167 and 2/3 innings (a major-league-leading 13.1% of all batters he faced), even walking an eye-popping eight in one game against the Detroit Tigers on May 5. Eight times in the 2008 season, Matsuzaka surrendered walks to five or more batters in a game, and 12 times he walked three or more in a game. The interesting statistic is that Dice-K was 111 in the 16 starts he walked three or more batters, which was a testament to his ability to wiggle out of whatever trouble he got himself into.

Matsuzaka started Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and fared well over five-plus innings, handing the ball over to fellow countryman Hideki Okajima. However, Game 1 of the 2008 American League Championship Series was where he had his first solid postseason start. In 7-plus innings, he no-hit the Tampa Bay Rays before giving up a hit to Carl Crawford to start the 7th and got the win. However, at home in Game 5, Matsuzaka was rocked in four-plus innings for five runs on five hits, walking two, striking out two, and giving up three home runs to B.J. Upton, Carlos Pea, and Evan Longoria. Boston however staged a miracle comeback to win 87. The Tampa Bay Rays went on to win the 2008 American League Pennant.

When Matsuzaka decided to pitch in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the Red Sox were concerned with his decision being that it would cause him to miss a majority of spring training. Red Sox manager Terry Francona asked Team Japan manager Tatsunori Hara to keep him updated on his condition along with limiting his pitch count. Throughout the WBC, the Red Sox had limited access to Matsuzaka and decided not press the issue more with Hara. Dice-K went on to lead Team Japan to victory earning the MVP award with a 30 record and 2.45 ERA.

On March 27, 2009, Matsuzaka reported to Red Sox spring training only twelve days before opening day. In his first start of the regular season, he gave up three home runs against the Tampa Bay Rays, ultimately losing the game.  In his next game against the Oakland Athletics, Matsuzaka only lasted one inning, giving up five hits, five runs, two walks, and striking out none. He was quickly placed on the DL, while reliever Justin Masterson took his spot in the rotation.

Matsuzaka made his next start on May 22, 2009, against the New York Mets after being activated off the DL. He gave up five runs over five innings, receiving another loss.  He gained his first win of the season against the Detroit Tigers on June 2, 2009, but failed to produce any quality starts. After a loss against the Atlanta Braves on June 19, 2009, Matsuzaka was once again placed on the disabled list. Red Sox manager Terry Francona stated that he was placed on the DL due to "weakness" in his throwing arm possibly caused by the extensive pitching he did in the World Baseball Classic. Francona also made it clear that it would not be a two-week DL stating "We're going to have to figure this out. We have a lot of work ahead of us trying to get him back to being Daisuke."

As of his second placement on the DL in the 2009 series, Matsuzaka held a 15 record with an 8.23 ERA.  With his placement on the DL, it left a spot open in the starting rotation for John Smoltz to pitch in after being activated off the DL.

Although it has been suggested that the high number of innings pitched early in his career combined with a vigorous personal training regimen is a possible cause of Matsuzaka's sustained injury problems in 2009, Matsuzaka himself has stated publicly that he feels he cannot maintain arm strength without extensive training.

On September 15, 2009, Dice-K made his first start since June 19th. He came and pitched his best outing of the season, pitching six plus shut out innings, striking out five, walking three, and giving up three hits. In October 2009, Matsuzaka revealed that he had in fact injured his hip joint but he did not reveal when he got the injury, being red-faced with shame.

In early January 2010, Matsuzaka was interviewed by Japanese magazine Friday. During the interview, Matsuzaka revealed that he had in fact injured his right hip while training for the '09 WBC. When asked why he concealed the injury from Team Japan trainers and coaches, Matsuzaka replied, "I didn't want to be the center of concern for people", and also added, "[The Classic] was hard. I relied on my wits and my shoulder strength. I had to be creative. I varied the paces between the pitches; I used the different kind of slider that I usually don't throw." Matsuzaka also apologized to Red Sox fans.

Matsuzaka missed the first month of the season due to a neck strain. He returned on May 1st against the Orioles and gave up seven runs, six earned, and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He would improve during the season in 2010, going 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA in 25 starts, but fell well below expectations in terms of consistency and efficiency.

On May 5, 2011, Dice-K made his first relief appearance of his MLB career picking up the loss in 1 inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after a 2 and a half hour rain delay. On May 17th, he was placed on the 15 Day disabled list. On June 2nd, it was reported that he will be out for the season due to Tommy John surgery. On June 10th he was scheduled to have the surgery.

On April 23, 2012, Matsuzaka made his first rehab start for the Single-A Salem Red Sox. He gave up a home run in each of his first two innings, and ended up giving up three earned runs in four innings against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. After stints with both the Portland Seadogs and Pawtucket Red Sox, Matsuzaka was activated to make his first major league start of the season on June 9th against the Washington Nationals. He became a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.

Matsuzaka signed a contract with the Softbank Hawks on December 5, 2014, rejoining Nippon Professional Baseball after eight years in Major League Baseball.