Archive for Hideki Matsui

Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, the Yankees won without a true left field solution. They used Tim Raines and Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer to try to fill the hole. It was not until 2003 with the arrival of Hideki Matsui that the Yankees had a true left field solution.

Now, as the Aughts came to a close, the Yankees’ left field position is again up for grabs. Johnny Damon is gone, and someone will step in to fill the hole. That is a concern for other posts. Today, as we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective, we come to toast the left fielders. The table below is those who made at least 10 appearances in left from 2000-2009.

Hideki Matsui 2080 605 122 8 82 357 265 18 9 293 54 .291 .371 .475
Johnny Damon 974 293 61 6 35 146 109 1 2 142 12 .301 .372 .484
Melky Cabrera 569 157 32 3 11 64 58 2 3 65 14 .276 .345 .401
Chuck Knoblauch 424 104 14 2 7 27 45 1 8 52 9 .245 .329 .337
Rondell White 410 101 19 0 12 55 21 1 7 75 9 .246 .292 .380
Shane Spencer 387 106 22 1 14 67 26 1 3 76 8 .274 .320 .444
David Justice 201 67 13 0 17 42 25 1 1 25 1 .333 .406 .652
Xavier Nady 176 47 8 0 9 30 11 1 4 39 5 .267 .323 .466
Tony Womack 160 36 0 1 0 7 7 0 0 22 1 .225 .256 .237
Juan Rivera 160 38 12 0 2 15 9 1 0 21 10 .237 .275 .350
Ricky Ledee 148 41 11 1 6 27 22 2 1 28 6 .277 .370 .486
Luis Polonia 57 17 3 0 1 4 7 0 0 3 1 .298 .375 .404
Brett Gardner 56 8 1 0 0 6 4 0 1 17 0 .143 .210 .161
Ruben Sierra 51 17 8 1 0 9 2 1 0 9 1 .333 .358 .529
Karim Garcia 46 18 1 0 3 5 2 0 0 10 1 .391 .417 .609
Glenallen Hill 41 15 1 0 5 10 2 0 0 8 1 .366 .395 .756
Ryan Thompson 34 8 1 0 1 7 5 0 0 9 0 .235 .333 .353
Bubba Crosby 31 8 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 5 0 .258 .281 .355
Jerry Hairston 27 4 1 0 2 3 3 0 0 3 0 .148 .233 .407
Clay Bellinger 21 2 0 1 1 3 1 0 0 6 0 .095 .136 .333
Gerald Williams 16 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 7 0 .062 .118 .062
Totals 6303 1743 346 25 214 912 649 30 42 977 137 0.277 0.346 0.441

By virtue of playing time alone, Hideki Matsui is the left fielder of the decade. For a few years from 2003-2007, before his knees gave out, Matsui brought stability to the spot and man, did he hit. Over his 2080 left field at-bats, he hit .291/.371/.475 with 82 home runs and 357 RBIs.

Even with this gaudy counting stats, I’m a little hesitant to flat-out proclaim Matsui the best of the decade. The simple truth is that Matsui’s fielding in left was, for five years, atrocious. He never once put up a UZR better than -1.6, and his combined left field UZR for his time in the Bronx was -57.8. Without Matsui’s big bat, the Yanks would have been in deep trouble in left.

For the 2000s, though, the trend for the Yanks in left focused around a big bat with less emphasis on fielding. Johnny Damon, the successor to Matsui in left, put up nearly identical numbers to Matsui. He hit .301/.372/.484 and sported a better OPS out of left than Matsui did. For the first two seasons, Damon put up positive UZR totals in left, but in 2009, that figure dipped to -9.2. It was ugly for sure.

Before these two stalwarts of the late 2000s, the Yankees tried everyone. The Rondell White era was a misguided attempt to plug a hole left by the end of the Paul O’Neill era. Never able to stay healthy, White signed a multi-year deal with the Yanks, put up some atrocious numbers and was traded for Bubba Trammell. The two-year, $10-million deal White signed was one of the worst of the early 00s.

As the early years of the decade wore on, others came and went. The Yankees tried to put Chuck Knoblauch in the left field spot in 2001 after he couldn’t throw from second to first. They tried Melky Cabrera when Matsui went down with an injury in 2006. They even gave Ruben Sierra 51 at bats in the field during the mid-decade years.

Now, though, the era of Matsui and Damon is over. The Yanks’ DH went west, and the Yanks’ incumbent left field is trying to find some team willing to overpay him in both years and dollars. Maybe Damon will return; maybe Brett Gardner will fill the void. For the Yanks, that left field hole is nothing new, and as the decade ends, we will be Matsui, the man who received just 33 percent of all Yankee LF at-bats, as the position’s best.

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The economics of Hideki Matsui

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How do you put a value on Hideki Matsui? That question has dominated much of the off-season talk about baseball economics.

Early on, a report out of Japan alleged that the Yanks stood to lose $15 million in revenue if Matsui left the Bronx. Many though questioned those numbers. The revenue from Japan doesn’t flow directly to the Yanks. Instead, it lands in the central MLB pot and is redistributed to the 30 teams.

For the Yankees, Matsui’s impact to the bottom line came about through sponsorships and ticket sales. Since 2002, the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, paid for one of the outfield billboards, and Benihana, the Japanese hibachi restaurant, sponsored his at-bats. Furthermore, Yankee games became a major destination for Japanese baseball fans. Those are the revenue sources the Yanks may miss.

But will they actually notice a decline in revenues with Matsui on the Angels? Yesterday, we learned that the Shimbun would not have renewed their sponsorship in 2010 regardless of Hideki’s team. But the Yanks have already sold the empty billboard space. As commenter Ed explained, “Sell a sign in the stadium for $1m/year to a Japanese company because Matsui’s here. He leaves, you sell it to the American company that had the next highest bid, and you get $0.9m instead. Depending on what you want the numbers to say, you can claim Matsui lead to $1m in income or to $100k.”

Today in the Japan Times, sports economist Andrew Zimbalist further details the economics of Hideki:

“I believe the main impact will be what he contributes on the playing field,” Andrew Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., told The Japan Times in an exclusive interview on Saturday. “The coterie of reporters that follow Matsui add nothing to the team’s revenues.”

Zimbalist, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Sports Economics and author of several books on baseball economics, thinks Matsui’s signing won’t make a huge impact for the Angels in terms of revenue. “There also may be some additional Japanese fans in greater L.A. and tourists who come to the games, but, I suspect, that these numbers will be very modest. There also may be some Japanese signage at the ballpark.

“In the end, the fact that Matsui is a beloved star in Japan may add a few million dollars to the Angels’ revenues, but, again, the main impact will be on the field.”

It’s safe to conclude now that the $15 million figure we heard a few weeks ago was wildly overinflated.

In the end, the Yanks may find themselves short a few dollars with Hideki out of the picture. The team, coming off of a World Series championship, will not find itself short of fans, and the sales staff has already exceeded 2009′s sponsorship figures. As Hideki’s value to the Angels will be on the field, if the Yankees find themselves yearning for Matsui, it will be his bat and not his marketability that they will miss.

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Apparently, Arn Tellem is really taking to this whole blogging thing. Just a few weeks after touting the virtues of signing Hideki Matsui, Tellem issued another Huffington Post missive. This time, he explains why Matsui went west. According to Godzilla’s agent, Matsui wanted to play for a potential winner and had the Yanks, Red Sox and Angels on his short list. Because the Red Sox have a DH, the Angels sans Vlad were an appealing target, and when they made an early offer, he was inclined to take it.

“In the end,” Tellem writes, “Hideki chose to accept Angel’s offer rather than wait for Yankees to decide whether they wanted to bring him back. Failure to act quickly might have caused L.A. to withdraw its offer and forced Hideki to sign with a weaker team, thus forfeiting a shot at another World Series. Conflicted, Hideki stayed up all Sunday night mulling his final move in this limited game of musical free-agent chairs. He didn’t want to be left standing.”

Matsui’s agent still believes the slugger to be “a complete player” and claims the Angels will test his knees in left field during Spring Training. The plan would be to give Matsui one or two starts a week in Anaheim. If that’s what Matsui and Tellem were after, the Yanks were never a viable option, and I have to wonder if the Angels will stick to their word or if those promises are just the sweet nothings of a December courtship.

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Remembering the Matsui years

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When Hideki Matsui came to America — to New York, to the Yankees — it was a Very Big Deal. When he announced his decision to become an international free agent and test the U.S. market in November of 2002, Ken Belson of The Times piled on the praise. Matsui was Japan’s “most popular and perhaps most talented player,” and it pained him to leave almost as much as it pained the fans who gave the nickname Godzilla to see him go.

”I tried to tell myself I needed to stay here for the prosperity of Japanese baseball,” he said at the time ”but in the end I decided to go with what my gut said. I will do my best there so the [Japanese] fans will be glad I went.” Clearly, Hideki has not disappointed.

From the get-go, the Yankees wanted Matsui. Before he even had a chance to declare free agency, before the Angels and Giants wrapped up their seven-game World Series, the Yankees were rumored to be interested in Matsui. Godzilla, just 28 at the time, had just finished a season for the ages. He hit 50 home runs, drove in 107 and flashed a batting line of .334/.461/.692. No wonder the Yanks, looking for some stability in the outfield and a bat to fill the hole left a year earlier by Paul O’Neill’s retirement, coveted the slugger.

By December, as has happened so many times since, the Yankees got their guy. The Yankees outbid the Orioles and Mets to land Matsui to a three-year, $21-million deal. Today, it sounds like a fleecing. For the Yankees, the investment represented their first in Japan since the glory days of Hideki Irabu, and the team was looking forward to the arrival of their Japanese slugger.


In his first game at Yankee Stadium, Hideki Matsui did not disappoint. On a 35-degree day in mid-April and with the Twins in town, the Yanks had built up a 3-1 lead when Matsui stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Godzilla crushed a pitch into the right field bleachers for his first career Major League home a run — a grand slam to boot. “That was the greatest moment I ever had,” Matsui said after the game.

The rest of the year would be an up-and-down one for the slugger. Matsui played in every game and hit .287/.353/.435 on the season but launched just 16 home runs. Where, Yankee fans wondered, was the famed Godzilla power? It would return in a big way the next season when Matsui had his best year in pinstripes. He hit .298/.390/.522 with a career high 31 home runs and tried his best to beat the Red Sox in that famed ALCS.

After the 2005 season, the Yankees and Matsui rushed to reach an agreement on a contract extension. As part of the original three-year deal that brought Matsui to the States, the Yanks promised to non-tender him if they could not agree on a new contract in 2005. Just hours before the deadline, Matsui reupped with the Yanks for four years at $13 million a year.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, the new contract started out with an injury. On May 11, in a game against the Red Sox, Matsui tried to make a sliding catch and ended up shattering his wrist. He would miss four months of the year. It was his first stint on the DL during his professional career. The next three years were uneven ones for Hideki. He missed significant time in 2008 with knee problems, but when he was healthy, he could hit with the best of them.

For his Yankee career, Matsui was every bit as good as advertised. Despite missing time over the last three season, he heads west with a career batting line of .292/.370/.482 and a career OPS+ of 124. In 56 playoff games with the Yanks, he hit .312/.391/.541, and Yankee fans will forever remember his effort in the 2009 World Series. The three home runs in 13 at-bats, the eight RBIs, the decisive blows against Pedro Martinez will all live in Yankee lore.

As Matsui heads to Anaheim, reports Ken Belson, the Japanese presence will start to recede from the Bronx. For me, though, it’s more personal. He was a quiet and steady presence on the Yanks who always seemed to come through, and I’ll really miss the guy. He was a stalwart on the Yankees during a World Series drought, and it was fitting that he was the one to take home the MVP award and bring that title to the Bronx in his last season here. I had always figured he would leave after this season, and I’m glad he did it while going out on top. Even as he joins the hated Angels, I’ll be pulling for him, good old Number 55, the former left fielder-turned-designated hitter, Hideki Matsui, Number 55.


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Via Jayson Stark, the Angels are in serious talks with free agent Hideki Matsui, presumably to have him replace Vladimir Guerrero at DH. Brian Cashman‘s made it clear that the team’s priorities this offseason are pitching and leftfield, going so far as to say that it’s easy to find another DH, so Matsui probably didn’t want to sit around and wait. Hard to picture the World Series MVP in another uni, no?

Update (2:40pm): Buster Olney says Matsui will get $6.5M over one year. The Yanks have to match that, right?

Update (3:17pm): Joel Sherman says that the Yanks told Matsui they couldn’t do anything with him until they addressed their pitching and leftfield issues, but Godzilla wanted a quicker resolution. He also mentions that The Halos will give Matsui a chance to play the outfield. Good luck with that.

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In his blog today, Buster Olney writes that the Yankees and free agent Johnny Damon are still very far apart in negotiations, mostly because Scott Boras is sticking to the idea of a four year deal. Olney points out that only one free agent (Chone Figgins) has gotten a deal that long this offseason, and I’ll point out that Boras was looking for seven years the last time Damon was free agent. The pickup of Curtis Granderson allows the Yanks to put some pressure on Damon, however it doesn’t look like there will be an agreement made anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Mark Feinsand mentions that Hideki Matsui is willing to accept a one year deal. I love Godzilla, but I’m happy he’s accepted that that’s the best offer he’s going to get at this point in his career. The Yanks may only have about $14M left to spend this offseason, so there might not be room for both of Damon and Matsui.

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This isn’t too much of a surprise, but as word gets out about the Yanks’ off-season plans, the team is going to focus first on Andy Pettitte. According to a Mark Feinsand report, “getting Andy Pettitte back in the fold” is “the team’s first order of business” this winter. After securing Pettitte’s services, the Yanks will turn their attention to Johnny Damon and the left field vacancy. Hideki Matsui, meanwhile, seems to be the odd free agent out.

As far as strategies go, this is a sound one. If Damon heads elsewhere, he won’t sign until after Jason Bay and Matt Holliday have their deals. The Yanks have some calendar leeway in that regard. By focusing on Pettitte first, the team will know what pitcher cards they hold heading into 2010. If Andy opts to go home, the Bombers brass can turn its attention to John Lackey, Roy Halladay or a plethora of other pitchers. If Andy sticks around the Bronx for another season, the team doesn’t have to worry about securing a mid-rotation starter in a market low on good pitching.

Where I disagree with this approach though is in the hunt for a designated hitter. Numerous comments by team officials over the last few days suggest that Joe Girardi will use a rotating DH to rest his regulars. Thus, a utility player will have to be in the lineup everyday. Unless the Yanks sign a versatile Mark DeRosa-type who can also hit, their offensive production, as I explored last month, will suffer. Still the winter is young, and there are still many, many moves to make.

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NPB Tracker passes along a report (translated article) that says the Mets have asked agent Arn Tellem for the medical reports on Hideki Matsui‘s knees. We’ve already seen some speculation that the Mets could bring Godzilla to Flushing, possibly to play first base.  Despite his fantastic year with the stick, Matsui is a man without many options. There are more available DH’s than DH spots (like every winter), so Homer-deki needs all the leverage he can get, even though he’s going to use it against the Yankees.

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Baseball teams dream of signing players who pay for themselves. It’s a rarity, of course, but a player like Hideki Matsui, as the Yankees learned over the past seven years, brings with him marketing opportunities from Japan which help off-set a portion of his contract. Because the Yankees generate revenue just from having Matsui on the team, they’re essentially getting a discount on him. That has to be an important factor in the Yankees’ decision on whether to bring him back, right?

As Ben noted, the Yankees could lose an estimated $15 million if Matsui signs elsewhere. I can’t verify the accuracy of that number, so let’s use it merely as a rough starting point. If the Yankees would lose $15 million by letting Matsui go, they could theoretically pay him $15 million per season and break even. Yet, apparently that will not factor into their decision, notes Buster Olney on Twitter.

Heard this: Matsui’s attraction as a marketable asset is no factor for the Yankees. It is about getting the right player at the right price.

I agree that the Yankees should look first for the right player. That’s the most important consideration of all. If they feel that Matsui isn’t the right player for the 2010 lineup, then his marketability should not be a factor. No one wants to lose the $15 million, but the Yankees have to consider what’s best for the team first.

If Matsui is the right player to hold down the DH spot in 2010, however, marketability should certainly play a role. If the Yankees get an essential $15 million bonus for having Matsui on the team, that should play into his salary. Not that he should get the whole $15 million. There are other factors involved, notably the luxury tax. Then there’s the idea of market value, and with quite a few DHs on the market and not too many free DH slots, Matsui’s market could resemble Bobby Abreu’s from last year.

So yes, Buster is right — and obviously so — that the Yankees want the right player at the right price. I’m just not sure that Matsui’s marketability will be “no factor” in the decision. It might not factor into whether or not he’s the right player, but if the Yankees decide he is, it will certainly factor into the price they pay for him.

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When a player is named most valuable on his team, it normally means the team would like him around. There are exceptions — the Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez after an MVP 2003 season, after all — but normally, the player factors into the team’s plans. This is even true for World Series MVPs. Even though it’s based on a short sampling of games, the World Series MVP almost always returns to his team for the following year. In fact, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, only three World Series MVPs in history have left the following year, never to return.

Just before the waiver trade deadline in 1984, the Mets acquired a badly slumping Ray Knight from the Astros. An above average hitter for most of his career, Knight fell off a cliff as a 31-year-old in ’84, OPSing .540 through 297 plate appearances. He didn’t hit much better for the Mets in September, and was simply horrible in 1985, OPSing .580 through 290 plate appearances. Things changed in 1986, though, and Knight was back with a .775 OPS (115 OPS+).

After a terrible NLCS, Knight destroyed the Red Sox in the World Series. His home run to lead off the seventh inning of Game 7 broke a 3-3 tie, and his single in the bottom of the tenth of Game 6 put the Mets to within one. Overall he went 9 for 23 and earned the World Series MVP.

Knight was a free agent after the season, and although the Mets offered him a one-year, $800,000 contract he decided to seek a multiyear contract elsewhere. He did not find one, ultimately settling on a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Orioles. At 34, however, he was on the decline. After seeing his OPS decline by over .090 in 1987, it fell another .110 in 1988, Knight’s final season. The Mets made an effort to retain Knight at their price, but he apparently misread the market. Still, they wouldn’t overpay, and they were right.

The BBWAA will again consider Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame, so we’ll hear plenty about him over the next month-plus. Morris never won a Cy young in his 18-year career, but he did win a World Series MVP in 1991, when he pitched Games 1, 4, and 7 for the Twins. He allowed just three runs in those games, winning two of them, including a 10-inning shutout in the clincher. Morris was certainly the king of Minnesota in the aftermath.

Morris, a native of St. Paul, declined his $3.65 million option for 1992, becoming a free agent and eventually signing a two-year, $10.85 million contract with the Blue Jays. It made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball for the 1992 season. Morris had a good season for the Jays, pitching 240.2 innings, but to a near-league-average 4.04 ERA. He did start two games in that World Series, getting hit hard in his second start. The Blue Jays ultimately won. They won the next year, too, but Morris didn’t pitch in the postseason. He suffered a partial ligament tear in his elbow in September after posting a 6.19 ERA through 152.2 innings.

The most recent World Series MVP to leave his team was John Wetteland. Acquired just after the player strike ended, Wetteland had two great seasons in pinstripes that culminated with four straight saves in the ’96 World Series, earning him the MVP. Wetteland reportedly wanted to return to the Yankees, but they were ready to move on with Mariano Rivera closing games. On December 17, Wetteland signed a four year, $23 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

Wetteland had two good years with the Rangers, followed by a middling one in 1999. In 2000 he continued to decline, finishing his contract with a 4.20 ERA season. He would not sign another pro contract.

Should the Yankees decide against bringing him back, Matsui will be just the fourth World Series MVP who didn’t return to his former team. The team has to be concerned that Matsui, who will be 36 next season, will fall off a cliff like Knight. Chances are, however, that Matsui has at least one more good season left in him, like Morris. Unlike Wetteland, however, the Yankees don’t have a clear option to replace Matsui at DH. His situation is a kind of amalgamation of his three predecessors’. I just hope his fate ends up different.

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