There has been considerable talk of whether the cost for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka is really worth it for the Red Sox. Before we delve into that, maybe we should see why he's so coveted.
The work of ESPN's Patrick Hruby and Dr. Nathan have led me to discover that the "gyroball with side force" is the pitch that I have been teaching. By tilting the axis of rotation slightly up, the ball now moves laterally, away from a right-handed hitter. By tilting it down, the ball moves in on a right-handed hitter. In the time I've taught the pitch, one of the strangest actions was that occasionally the ball would break in rather than out, something that I simply couldn’t explain until now. This "side force" pitch should also break down, something that's not always seen. I think that the pitch is often thrown as something of a combo of the "side force" and "lift force" variations.
When thrown "properly," this variation on the pitch breaks hard away from a righthanded hitter. While I'll stand by my guesses that the pitch will break in feet rather than inches, Dr. Nathan's calculations that the pitch wouldn't break more than a normal slider interest me. I believe there may be some "optical illusion" to the pitch. Since it is normally thrown to initially travel towards the batter, the sharp break back to the plate may be throwing off our views. However, I have watched this pitch from every angle. I’ve stood in against it, and hate it every time. I have stood behind the catcher and behind the pitcher. I have even seen it thrown in games, and to me and others around me, the pitch appears to move more significantly than a slider.
As for the slider, here it is in all its nastiness:
Here is a montage of Matsuzaka in action:
The question becomes, is Matsuzaka worth the $51.5 million in bid money, as well as the contract figures that have been discussed? Let's take a closer look...
Scott Boras, Matsuzaka's agent has likened the Japanese pitcher to Roy Oswalt. In other words, Boras will be looking to land a multi-year deal that could be as much as 5-years and $80 million. As I've mentioned prior, the bid money does not count against Average Annual Valuation (AVV), and therefore will not impact revenue-sharing or the Luxury Tax thresholds. In other words, the bid money does not count as salary, but rather an ancillary cost. Is this cutting hairs? Maybe. What many are trying to determine is if there are "soft-revenues" associated with Matsuzaka. These would be things like tourism dollars coming into Fenway by way of Japanese fans, sponsorship dollars, etc. Television monies are a non-factor as those revenues are centralized and spread evenly between the clubs. As Joe Sheehan writes for Baseball Prospectus and SI.com today:
Matsuzaka's 5.4 WARP would now be worth nearly $13 million based on inflation before taking into account his impact on the Sox' chance to reach the postseason.
One reason a team like the Red Sox, which has never had a Japanese star, is motivated to sign one is the potential for marketing opportunities. It's not easy to quantify what these mean to the bottom line, since much of the potential revenue has been tapped by MLB via broadcast contracts and licensing agreements. BP's Maury Brown says, "It may be hard to quantify the situation as a 1:1. Ichiro's value to the Mariners/Seattle is due to the location: Seattle sits on the Pacific Rim, and allows for a great deal of tourism dollars to be associated with Ichiro. I don't know if you will have the tourism dollars associated to Matsuzaka like you have with Ichiro, but other revenues may come along with his acquisition."
The Red Sox are not very well equipped to handle extra demand for tickets among Japanese fans, as they've about maxed out capacity at Fenway Park. They can capture some of the increased demand through raising ticket prices, although they already have the highest ones in the game and they run the risk of a loss of goodwill if they continue to squeeze the fan base. Because Sox games will be televised in Japan more often, they may have the opportunity to sell some stadium signage geared to that market. BP's Neil deMause doesn't see that as a big factor, saying, "If signing Hideki Matsui allowed the Yankees to sell ad signage in the stadium to Japanese companies (I seem to recall the K counter is sponsored by one), how much more did they get over what they could have sold the boards for to another company?"
The Red Sox may have less to gain by adding a Japanese star than the Mariners or Yankees did in signing theirs, but they'll likely generate some additional revenue by having Matsuzaka as opposed to Zito or Schmidt. It is unlikely that those monies alone will cover the $51 million posting fee over a period of years. For the Sox to "win" on a Matsuzaka deal, they will have to do it on the field. Matsuzaka will have to pitch well enough to help the Red Sox go from a team that might make the playoffs to one that does, at least on a few occasions. It's those lucrative playoff appearances, and not the lure of a new market, that make paying twice for the services of one pitcher justifiable, even desirable.
Other authors are looking into the soft-revenues as well. David Gassko of The Hardball Timeswrites :
Unfortunately, there are no direct numbers on the teams’ revenues in Japan, so the only estimate we can make is going to be based off indirect evidence. Using Forbes reports on team revenues for the past seven years, here is what I found:
In 2001, Ichiro’s rookie season, the Mariners made $27 million more than they had the previous year. The five teams closest to Seattle in revenues in 2000 increased their income by an average of just $6 million.
In 2003, Matsui’s rookie season, the Yankees increased their revenues by $8 million. The five teams closest to the Yankees in 2002 revenues upped their earnings by an average of $4 million.
Between 2000 and 2006, Seattle’s revenues have increased by $67 million. The five teams closest in revenues to Seattle in 2000 have seen their income increase by an average of $54 million.
Between 2002 and 2006, the Yankees’ revenues have gone up $62 million, versus an average increase of $21 million for the five teams closest to them in revenues in ’02.
If average all of that together, we can estimate that signing a Japanese star player is worth something like $9 million a year. But wait, we’re not done. $9 million in 2001 is not the same as $9 million in 2007. Adjusting for inflation (in baseball, inflation has held at a pretty steady 10% a year), we find that the Red Sox should expect to see their revenues in 2007 to increase by about $14 million should they sign Matsuzaka. That’s a sizeable chunk of change.
There's a slight problem in this analysis, however. As I mentioned in Sheehan's article today, you can't do a straight 1:1 comparison between Ichiro and Matsuzaka because Seattle benefits from having direct travel to Japan and sits within the Pacific Rim where there is a considerable Japanese-American demographic. As for Matsui, he plays in pinstripes which has a huge appeal in Japan to begin with. This isn't to discount that there won't be soft-revenues associated with Matsuzaka (if the Red Sox come to terms on a contract), it's that Gassko might be somewhat over-inflating the figures.
This may well be a case of the Red Sox keeping the Yankees from acquiring Matsuzaka. That's certainly a consideration. What this boils down to is whether this pitcher is really worth the contract value, with the posting bid monies out of the equation. The plain and simple matter is the Red Sox are not hurting in the revenue making department. They have the pockets deep enough to submit a bid that is cartoonish in nature and rationalize it as a separate cost from player salary. This is also a "perfect storm" case where the free agency pool is shallow this off-season, and owners have money to burn after reaching the new Basic Agreement.
In the end, this will be about pitching. If Matsuzaka wins more than 20 games, then all of this may be forgotten... unless there's a next time.