This is, by all practical views, Hideki Matsui’s last season as a New York Yankee. Much celebrated when he joined the team in 2003, Matsui became a fan favorite during his first contract, putting up good numbers all around. However, since he signed his new contract following the 2005 season he has played just one full season, missing significant time in 2006 and 2008 (wrist and then knees). The Yankees were hoping to get some solid production out of him from the DH slot during his final season. So far, it’s had its ups and downs.
Matsui started off slow, leaving everyone wondering whether he was done. He did keep walking, which mitigated the situation a bit, but his batting average stood below .200 until April 19. Matsui then surged, getting his BA to .295 by April 28 (small samples work wonders), while pulling his OBP over .400 and his SLG over .500. Of course, this was as much a product of small samples as his poor start to the season. He cooled off considerably since then, his OBP dropping from a peak of .419 to .325 the other day.
This, it seems, is what the team will get from Matsui in his final season. There will be ups, and there will be downs. If the past two games are any indication, Matsui could be righting himself again. He was 4 for 9 in those games, hitting a double and two home runs. If he can just keep this up until Nady gets back, it would be a huge plus for the team. Then, if he cools off again as he did for most of May, he won’t be doing the team as much harm because they can slot Nady into the DH spot.
What really strikes me as odd is that Matsui has hit better — considerably better — against lefties this season than righties. Against the latter he’s .257/.339/.455, while against southpaws he/s .356/.356/.564. Of course, he’s only face lefties in 45 of his 160 plate appearances. This performance does not lend itself to a DH platoon between he and Nady, who also mashes lefties. Then again, it’s probably something that will even itself out as the season progresses.
I’ve always been a Matsui fan. He’s been one of the Yankees in recent years who I’ve really wanted to see in big spots. The YES commentators always point out his demonstrated ability to get the runner home from third with less than two outs. And it always seems they get a big hit from him just when they need it. It’s sad, then, to see him in his home run trot, plodding around the bases. He’s only 35, but he looks much older than that running the bases.
We can only hope that Matsui’s knees hold up for the duration of the season. Even if his streaks persist throughout the season, the Yankees should have bench options, Nady especially, to spell him during his down times. Because when he’s good, he’s damn good. That we’ve seen in the past two games.
(And no, there’s no real point to this post. It’s just after spending all of yesterday talking about pitching in general and Joba specifically, I wanted to change the tenor. Plus, we all love Hideki, right?)