Matsuzaka Off To Rough Start

Thus far, 2011 has not been kind to the Boston Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Through two turns in the rotation, Matsuzaka has given up more earned runs than innings pitched. After allowing three runs on six hits in five innings during his first start, he lasted just two innings last night; surrendering seven runs on eight hits and two walks.

Full small sample size disclosure, but in seven innings of work, opposing lineups have 10 earned runs on 14 hits, and five walks against Matsuzaka. He has just four strikeouts and served up three home runs – including one to Sam Fuld. In addition to some rather alarming results, the process at which he’s going about it also leaves something to be desired.

Never one to throw a high-percentage of strikes to begin with, the right-hander is under 60% strikes on the young season. Over this past weekend, there was much discussion about another struggling American League East starter, Phil Hughes, and a lack of swings and misses. Of the 143 pitches thrown by Matsuzaka in the past week, only four have induced whiffs – and just one of those on a fastball.

Looking at Matsuzaka’s platoon splits, he shows a similar pattern as other right-handed pitchers. When facing like-handed creatures, he has been much better. His 3.84 FIP against right-handed batters is a more than a half-run improvement over his 4.61 against left-handed ones. The same can be said for his 4.17 xFIP against righties compared to his 4.76 versus lefties.

On Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays – like most teams – loaded their lineup with left-handed batters (seven to be exact) versus Daisuke. Although he did not stick around for long, the lefties in the Rays’ lineup went 7-12 against him. This included two home runs and double within the first 10 batters of the game. While he cannot control who is in the lineup against him, his approach has also been flawed.

According to pitch values, Matsuzaka’s cut-fastball has been his most effective pitch over the past four seasons. While some use the cutter to neutralize their platoon splits (John Danks versus righties comes to mind), Matsuzaka’s cutter has been more successful against righties. Since 2008, lefties have whiffed on just 6% of his cutters (h/t texasleaguers.com). Looking at his strike zone plot from last night, the righty left several cut-fastballs over the plate against left-handers. This included one to John Jaso (RBI single) and one to Sam Fuld (two-run home run). That is bad pitch selection and even worse execution.

I have not checked the local fish wraps in the New England area, but I’m assuming there are some not-so-kind things being said about Matsuzaka. Considering he is due at least $20 million over the next two seasons, it is hard to fault those who expect a little more than a 4.19/4.24/4.48 career slash line. Though the results cannot be described as another more than horrible, we are talking about two starts in early April. On the other hand, it is not as if Matsuzaka has simply been the benefactor of bad luck. While the results are likely to get better with time and a larger sample, he might be able to speed that up with a quick check of the ol’ process.

We hoped you liked reading Matsuzaka Off To Rough Start by Tommy Rancel!

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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel

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