One reason many people picked the Red Sox to be the AL favorites in the preseason was apparent depth in their starting rotation. However, 41 games into the season, the Red Sox have been left wanting much more out of the back end of the rotation. Last night, Daisuke Matsuzaka, the team's fourth starter, lasted just 4.1 innings, walking seven batters while striking out just two. In those 4.1 innings, Dice-K threw a grand total of 106 pitches. To me, this is the thing that worries me the most about him; he never seems able to go deep into the game to give our bullpen the rest it needs.
So far this season, Dice-K has averaged just under 5.1 innings per start. For a fourth starter, most clubs would not be worried about this. However, for a club whose fan base is considering this season, fairly or unfairly, AL Pennant or bust, they need strong contributions from all parties. Another reason to be worried about Matsuzaka's remainder of 2011 is his K/BB ratio. Currently, the ratio stands at 26/23. or just 1.13 strike outs for every walk. That kind of control is not going to produce big numbers. If we project his stats out for a full season (For this projection, we will call 28 starts a full season), Dice-K is on pace for 92 walks, which would have tied for third in the Majors in 2010. At the same time, he projects to 104 Ks. This would be, by far, his worse season in terms of K/BB.
Many times when a pitcher is struggling, people will look at the stats and find reasons why he has been unlucky and his luck should turn. However, in Matsuzaka's case, the opposite is true. On average throughout the majors, hitters have a .300 BAbip (batting average on balls in play). For his career, Dice-K has a .292 BAbip against. So far in 2011, hitters have a .248 BAbip against him. Because of this, it can be expected that he may start letting up more base runners later in the season.
There is good news on the horizon though. According to his career splits, Matsuzaka pitches better as the weather begins to improve. In his career, his best three months are June, July and August, while he consistently struggles in April and May. One major improvement that has been seen as the season progresses is his control. The thing to look for in the future for this season is his first inning performance. Historically, this has been his worst innings. In his career, Dice-K has posted a 5.74 ERA and a 1.33 K/BB in the game's opening frame. The trend has continued so far in 2011, with his abysmal 11.57 ERA and 0.63 K/BB ratio. If he can start to buckle down at the start of the game, he will start putting up far better numbers, and lasting longer, which will give this bullpen some rest.
After looking at all of his career trends, it seems that Red Sox fans can be slightly optimistic about the rest of Daisuke's season. Hopefully, as the weather begins to warm, he will calm down and start throwing some strikes. Because of his unusually low BAbip, it seems more hits are inevitable at some point in 2011. However, if he can start to reduce his walk totals, it should be a total wash, and the Sox should get some respectable outings out of Matsuzaka.
Tomorrow, I will take a look at how the 5th spot in the rotation will shape up for the rest of the year, after John Lackey was placed on the DL yesterday.