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Deep 2006 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Gyroball

Looking for a sleeper that even your most savvy league-mates haven't yet discovered?  A man who's not even in the minor leagues at this point? 

No, we're not talking about some 8th grader with a 95 mph fastball.  We're talking about Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Seibu Lions.  Just who is this guy, and why is he special?

Matsuzaka

Matsuzaka is 24 years old and is among the best pitchers in Japan.  What's more, he throws a pitch never before seen in the United States:  the gyroball. 

Last night, I started reading Will Carroll's Saving The Pitcher.  The book is excellent, but I had to stop reading halfway through.  I had to learn more about the gyroball.

Will Carroll is Baseball Prospectus's injury analyst and is well-versed in pitching mechanics.  He outlines the gyroball nicely here on Rob Neyer's site.

Will sums the pitch up succinctly:

"...the short version is that instead of using the linear kinetic chain that’s the subject of American research, the Japanese attempt to coordinate two circular motions...the ball comes at the hitter looking like a hanging curve and then takes a hard, flat turn away from a right-handed batter."

Check out my Daisuke Matsuzaka Gyroball Video post to download a slow-motion mpeg file of the pitch.

I'll let you read Will's article and book for the details, but the pitch is having a devastating effect on Japanese hitters.  Actually, American hitters too.  Last November, Matsuzaka dominated MLB All-Stars for nine innings.

Reports have Matsuzaka throwing a fastball anywhere from 87 to 100 mph in addition to the gyroball.  We won't know for sure until Matsuzaka is here, but it's probably in the low 90s.  He's young, but has been ridden hard, as is Japanese baseball custom.  For example, as an 18 year-old Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in 17 innings in a high school game.  Read some more biographical information over at Matsuzaka's Wikipedia entry.

Other than the significant injury risk, there is the little issue of Matsuzaka getting over to the United States to pitch.  Last September, Matsui55 over at the forum at NYYFans.com summed up the issue well:

"Matsuzaka will be highly sought after, most likely by every single team with any cash. However, there is a catch. Matsuzaka only has 6 years of time in the bigs there. In Japan, you need 10 years for unrestricted free agent. Therefore, Matsuzaka would have to be "posted."

Essentially, posting means that U.S. teams submit sealed, secret bids to the Japanese team- best bid wins. But that only gets you negotiation rights- you still have to sign the guy. The M's did this with Ichiro several years ago- paid Orix about $11 million just to negotiate, then another $15 million or so to sign Ichiro."

So basically Matsuzaka could end up in the Major Leagues anytime between 2006 and 2008.  It is known that he wants to come to the U.S.  He'll probably sign with one of three teams with significant Japanese connections:  the Yankees, Mariners, or Red Sox.  There's also a small chance that Oakland was in the mix this winter, according to Melissa Lockard.  Our money's on the Yankees, despite the bad taste in their mouth from another so-called Japanese sensation. 

The Roto Authority expects Daisuke Matsuzaka to burst on the scene with a debut similar to the then 26 year-old Hideo Nomo's:

13-6, 2.54 ERA, 11 Ks per 9 innings.

Nomo's strikeout rate and ability to deceive eventually declined, but he still had eight good seasons in the Majors.  His first was his best, and you can expect the same from Matsuzaka. 

The Roto Authority recommends that you scan the Japanese Baseball news and this space regularly and be the first to pick up the future sensation.

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