Archive for Hideki Matsui
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve been talking a lot about Hideki Matsui over the last few weeks. In the waning days of his most recent Yankee contract, he wowed us all in Game 6 of the World Series and won MVP accolades because of it. Now, the Yankees are faced with a tough choice. Do they let their everyday DH and Japanese superstar walk or do they try to bring him back?
Yesterday, we explored this question when we examined whether we would bring back Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui if we, as the Yankees seem to be doing, had to pick just one. With a heavy heart, I opted for Johnny Damon but noted that it would not be a mistake to bring back either one. Many commenters noted that Matsui may be had for a lesser price and fewer years than Damon. Those factors could very well be the difference in free agency.
Today, I want to put a different spin on the story. We’re going to look at Matsui’s perceived economic value to the team and then make a rough attempt to put a run value on Matsui’s DH production as compared with the Yanks’ willingness to use the DH in 2010 as a rotating rest spot for their veterans. The numbers are rough, but the conclusion is sound: The Yankees would be making a mistake if they opt against employing a true DH.
But first, the economics of Hideki Matsui. As we know, Matsui’s World Series MVP award set off a merchandising frenzy. Two days after the Fall Classic ended, Matsui memorabilia was in extremely high demand, and Godzilla’s popularity has grown in the ensuing two weeks. According to NPB Tracker, Matsui is now on pace to be as popular as Ichiro this off-season. He has received eight offers — three from preexisting sponsors and five from new ones — to appear in ads, and Patrick Newman estimates that Matsui could make $10 million this off-season. He adds:
Media demand has also rocketed for Matsui, as he has received an estimated 100 requests for television and event appearances in his home country. Even though his home for next season has yet to be determined, it’s not an understatement to say his new team (if the Yankees does not re-sign him) will have an opportunity to develop a big presence in the Land of the Rising Sun.
That opportunity sets Matsui apart from the rest of the free agent pool, in some regards. The Japanese-language signage we’ve been seeing in Yankee Stadium during Matsui’s tenure with the Yankees is sure to follow him wherever he goes. Every news program in Japan will show highlights from Matsui’s game, so a well-timed advertisement behind the plate will reach millions of Japanese homes on a nightly basis. With this comes a revenue opportunity that teams won’t get with, say, Jim Thome.
An article published today in Japanese alleged that the Yankees stand to lose at least $15 million if Matsui heads elsewhere. That is a significant economic impact, and one the team can’t just ignore. Considering that Matsui made $13 million in 2009 and shouldn’t earn that much again, he would basically pay for himself. Money, in other words, is not the issue.
With that in mind, what about his on-field value? As a DH, Matsui was among the best. His 32.6 VORP total placed him third among DHs and a good 12 VORP points — or approximately one win above replacement level — better than Jim Thome. I also attempted to calculate his relative value to the Yankees’ lineup using some MLVr figures.
MLVr — a rate estimation of marginal lineup value — calculates, according to Baseball Prospectus, the “additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers.” Matsui’s MLVr in 2009 was 0.164 in 8.2 percent of the team’s plate appearances. By calculating the weighted MLVr total for the Yanks’ lineup and then multiplying it by nine — the number of spots in the lineup — we come up with a total that says the Yanks should have scored nearly 194 more runs than league average.
And this point, I have to stop to address that figure. In reality, the Yankees scored 134 more runs than the average AL team and 168 more than the Major League average. This is an inherent problem with MLVr, and Keith Woolner addressed it here four years ago. It is on the high side, but bear with me.
With that in mind, I made a few assumptions that won’t hold true. First, I held everyone’s production steady from 2009 to 2010 as well as their playing time. It’s unlikely to see the same level of offensive production from many of the aging Yankees, and the entire lineup should fall back from its lofty heights. That’s just a caveat.
Then, I removed Hideki Matsui from the equation and redistributed his playing time among Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner, Ramiro Peña and Jerry Hairston, Jr. With these players in the lineup and taking over Matsui’s plate appearance, the team’s offensive output based on MLVr declined to approximately 174 runs above average. No doubt this would still be a potent offensive team, but removing Matsui’s bat from the equation and replacing him with nothing could cost the Yanks 20 runs or nearly two wins.
Now, I recognize this is some of the more in-depth mathematical analysis than we usually employ around here, but the point is one the Yanks should take to heart. Hideki Matsui played a big role in the Yanks’ lineup this year, and they can’t just eschew a true DH to rest regulars while replacing Matsui’s at-bats with the cast of characters they employ off the bench. Matsui has an economic value for the team and a win value as well. Perhaps, then, the Yanks should indeed bring him back for 2010.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. For the Yankees, with a few key older players hitting free agency, this winter is chock full of them. None of the choices the team will have to make is more fraught with emotion and potential impact than the one that looms regarding Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon.
By many accounts, the Yankees will try to bring back one of their two left-handed bats but not both. Right now, Matsui is the sentimental choice. Rebounding from an injury-plagued 2008, he had a stellar 2009 and single-handedly beat Pedro Martinez and the Phillies to help the Yanks clinch the decided Game 6 of the World Series. Damon, on the other hand, stole two bases on one play earlier in the World Series. He is in better physical shape than Matsui and represents a combination of speed and power atop the Yankee lineup.
So let’s try to answer it: If we had to pick one, which player would we resign: Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon?
To start, let’s look at these two players’ offensive contributions this year. Although their individual contributions differ in style, in sum these two players are nearly identical. On the season, Damon hit .282/.365/.489 with 24 home runs and 36 doubles in 626 plate appearances. Matsui hit .274/.367/.509 with 28 home runs and 21 doubles in 526 plate appearances. Matsui outslugged Damon, but the Yanks’ left fielder went 12 for 12 in stolen base attempts. Eleven of those were steals of second, and as Matsui stole no bases this year, Damon’s speed is a plus.
On a contributory level, the numbers are awfully identically. Damon had a runs created per 27 outs of 6.8 while Matsui produced a 7.1 mark. Damon was 25.3 batting runs above average while Matsui was at 22.1, mostly due to the variance in playing time. Since that number is position-neutral though, we can’t gloss over the fact that Matsui is limited to DH duties. More on that later.
Drilling down on their respective positions through Baseball Prospectus’ Positional Marginal Value rate (PMLVr), Matsui’s offensive production begins to take the lead. His PMLVr was 0.164 while Damon’s was 0.124. The Yankees may want to use the rotating DH as a way to rest aging regulars next year, but Matsui as a good full-time DH offered the Yankees a lot of offensive value in 2009. However, on the position-dependent VORP scale, Damon (39.3) bested Matsui (33.4), but Matsui’s total was 11 VORP points above Jim Thome. Johnny was among the elite-hitting left fielders last year, but with Matt Holliday and Jason Bay out there, it’s far easier to replace Damon than it is Matsui.
On the defensive scale, the pendulum swings toward Matsui simply because Damon’s defense created a liability in left. Joe will have more about Damon’s defense later tonight. For now, I will just note that Damon’s fielding runs above average was -9.2. That total ranked him seventh worst among all Major League left fielders. Matsui, on the other hand, never had to play defense. The Yankees may have gained roster flexibility with Damon, but the numbers suggest that he shouldn’t be out in the field too often.
Damon’s defense, though, did not drop his value below that of Matsui’s. According to Fangraphs’ value figures, Damon gave the Yanks $13.6 million in production in 2009 while Matsui gave the team $11 million. The left fielder outperformed his contract value while the DH underperformed, albeit slightly.
Age and a Conclusion
Finally, we arrive at the age analysis and a few final thoughts. As hard as it is to believe, Damon is actually seven months older than Hideki Matsui. Yet, he hasn’t had the same physical problems with his knees as Matsui had and still has. Both players are at the age, though, where they can easily fall off a cliff production-wise. In fact, PECOTA pegged Damon for a 278/.352/.420/8 HR season, and he beat his 75th percentile projections. Matsui beat his 90th percentile projections. What this means for the future is more uncertainty. The two could stil be productive or they could crash and burn in 2010.
If the Yankees, then, are committed to keeping one, logic would lead me to take Damon over Matsui even if my emotions say otherwise. (I have, after all, always been a fan of Matsui’s.) Although a liability in the field, Damon is still physically capable of playing left, and he can still run. His 12 stolen base attempts were the fewest he made since 1995, but that has more to do with his role as a two hitter than anything else. His 12-for-12 mark in that category is what counts.
There is, however, a rub. I wouldn’t sign Damon to be the left fielder. Instead, I would ask Damon to DH. His production is in line with that of Matsui’s, and at Yankee Stadium, he has the power to man the DH spot and could fill in at left when needed. The right replacement left fielder could help the team recover from the loss of Matsui as well.
In the end, though, if the Yanks are thinking properly and Damon is expected to DH, there isn’t a wrong choice. The team shouldn’t go into Spring Training without a big bat in the DH spot. A lineup sporting one of Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Jerry Hairston, Jr., or Brett Gardner every day would represent a significant downgrade over the 2009 team. So pick your poison. Just pick it for the designated hitter spot.