I’ll start out by saying that I haven’t looked at other contenders yet. I have no idea how strong a case K-Rod or Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay can make. But, if you look at the numbers Dice-K will put up this year, and compare them to a Cy-standard, they stack up rather nicely.
Last night’s victory put Matsuzaka’s record at 15-2. Not a bad .882 winning percentage. By my count, Dice has about seven starts remaining. Can he go 5-2 in those starts? That puts him at 20-4. Pretty nice starting point for a Cy Young winner. Add to that his strikeout total that is always among the league leaders. His ERA is below three, a rarity these days. (Beckett’s was 3.27 last year when he should have won the award.) His batting average against him is fantastic. He hasn’t allowed a hit with the bases loaded all season. So, the problems? Oh yeah, the walks. The pitch counts. They don’t scream elite pitcher. The number of innings per game are too low to be at the top of the league. Baserunner after baserunner. All very good points. But, isn’t the job of the pitcher to not allow the other team to score?
Remember during the Celtics playoff run when LeBron had a rough series shooting the ball against them, and all the announcers kept asking when the real LeBron was going to show up? And then Kobe had a bad final series, and they all asked when the real Kobe was going to show up. Finally, people started to realize that maybe it wasn’t some lucky coincidence that the two best scorers in the game kept having their worst games against Boston. Maybe it’s that the Celtics defense was doing something right as opposed to LeBron and Kobe doing something wrong. Maybe it’s the same thing with Dice-K. He keeps walking guys, and putting runners in scoring position and everyone keeps wondering when it’s finally going to bite him. Maybe we need to start thinking that it’s something Dice-K is doing right, as opposed to all the batters coincidentally doing something wrong. Last night with the bases loaded, Dice struck out Melvin Mora swinging on a slider that must have been a foot outside. The announcers made a point to say how lucky Dice-K was that Mora helped him out on that pitch. But, what if Randy Johnson had thrown that slider? Isn’t half of the Unit’s game that batters swing at sliders so far off the plate that they sometimes hit the batter? Is Matsuzaka lucky that Mora swung, or so skilled that he made Mora swing?
One thing I used to hear about Manny, and I hear about Youkilis from time to time, is that they don’t mind hitting with an 0-2 count. They don’t stress about letting a pitch go by that they don’t particularly like, even if it’s a called strike. They’d just as soon let those go by and try to get something to handle. Maybe Dice-K does the same thing. What if he sees a batter and thinks, “I’m not thrilled with facing this guy. I’ll pitch around him because it’s better to have the bases loaded and face a guy I know I can get out than try to mess around with someone I’m not comfortable with.” Take last night. I think it was the first inning where he gave up a hit, or two, maybe a walk, and got the bases loaded. The next three batters went strikeout, strikeout, popout. Who’s to say that’s not exactly according to plan? Now, that method does bulk up the pitch count. But, remember, he’s used to throwing pitches and it hasn’t bothered him yet. It bothers the Red Sox, which is why he keeps leaving games early. But, I bet he’d say he’d go another couple innings every game and throw 150 pitches every time out. Who’s to say he’s wrong?
So, just like Pedro Martinez dominates a game differently than Greg Maddux does, maybe Daisuke Matsuzaka dominates differently than both of them.
The numbers appear to support that idea.
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