Daisuke Matsuzaka is not the guy most Boston Red Sox fans want to look towards to help save the team from mediocrity. The over-hyped NPL star has never endeared himself to Red Sox fans. After posting $51M for the right to sign him and giving him a six year $52M deal, the team has gotten a league average pitcher who is infuriating to watch. Daisuke nibbles at the zone, falls behind hitters routinely finds himself in bases-loaded situations of his own creation and just as often, flashes unhittable, crazy moving breaking balls, mid-nineties fastballs with movement and paint-the-corners command. As he gets ready to pitch this afternoon against the Chicago Cubs, I am getting ready for an afternoon of baseball induced frustration and anxiety the likes of which only Dice-K can create.
However, for all his flaws, Daisuke Matsuzaka may be exactly what the Red Sox need right now. Had he been healthy last season, the team would not have been forced to depend so heavily on Tim Wakefield, Kyle Weiland and Andrew Miller as starters. Now that he is back, he replaces the recently demoted Daniel Bard as the Red Sox fifth starter. The average Daisuke from his pre-Tommy John days would be a 28% improvement over Bard by ERA- and a 37% improvement by FIP-.
The improvement to the fifth starter spot could be coming at perfect time for the Red Sox. At the beginning of the season, when the starting rotation was one of the worst in the league, it looked well beyond saving. Certainly, replacing one underperforming member with an average pitcher would not have done much to help. Now, though Boston is getting some of the best starting pitching in baseball, thanks to rookie ace Felix Doubront, Josh Beckett and the revitalized Clay Buchholz.
The team has the fourth best ERA and FIP in theALover the last 30 days. During this time period, Daniel Bard was an absolute mess. He pitched 17 1/3 innings, allowed 14 runs on 14 hits and 17(!) walks and struck out 11. All of that adds up to a 7.27 ERA and a 9.53 FIP. Replace his 17 1/3 innings of awful with league average (3.99 ERA) performance and their solid 4.25 ERA over the last 30 days comes down 3.83. At a time when things are starting to go right for the Red Sox starting pitching, adding Daisuke in place of Bard could take this rotation from strong to elite.
If the seven inning, nine strike out performance Jon Lester put up in his last start is a sign that his strikeout abilities are back, it is easy to imagine the Red Sox rotation beginning among the best in the American League for longer than just a month. Matsuzaka is probably not going to be a dominate force, but he will give them five or six competitive innings every fifth day and that is all the team needs at this point. If former NPL manager Bobby Valentine can connect with him better than his predecessor and guide him to even better results, so much the better. For right now, even the frustrating, slow-working, essentially average Daisuke is an upgrade. While it may not have the impact of adding a Matt Garza or a Cole Hamels, the return of Daisuke could be all the team needs to this point.