For those who don’t know the gyroball is a mysterious pitch that has reached mythical status over the past few months. It was invented by two Japanese scientists, supposedly in an attempt to relieve stress on the arm. The pitch is thrown like a football, with a rotation akin to a bullet. It breaks down and in on right handed batters and has the look of a very sharp curve ball. What makes this pitch so mystifying is that we all aren’t sure if anyone can throw it, much less Daisuke Matsuzaka. Even the man himself has said he can’t throw it. But then said he could, but he hasn't mastered it (1). Allegedly. But there is video of it (YouTube it) being thrown and it looks filthy. Allegedly. Everything surrounding the gyroball is shrouded in uncertainty.
What does all this mean for the Boston Red Sox, whose 42-million dollar bid to talk to the talented Matsuzaka has been reported as being the highest? Put simply, it means a lot. First off the gyroball doesn’t matter. If he can pitch it (and it doesn’t destroy your elbow or something) great, that means hitters will have to adjust to some crazy pitch they have never seen before. If he can’t that’s fine too. The guy has talent; the USA Team saw that first hand in the World Baseball Classic, when he went 3-0 and won the MVP for the event. Here are his stats in Japan with the Seibu Lions over the last eight seasons: 108-59 win/loss, 3.00 ERA, 169 strikeouts per season, and 175 IP per season (2). Those are pretty solid numbers; in fact they are better than pretty solid. Being able to potentially throw Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, and Matsuzaka out there as your rotation is exciting. Potential is the key word here. Papelbon is being converted from closer to starter and may have a tough time dealing with a starter workload. Beckett had trouble adjusting to the AL, and he has been in the majors for a few years now. It won’t be easy for Matsuzaka.
Obviously Japanese baseball is not at the same level as American baseball, although I feel it is closer than people think. Small ball is played a lot more in Japan then in the U.S. and the bottom line is most MLB players are bigger and stronger than most Japanese players, whether legally or not. The other factor for Matsuzaka is that there is always an adjustment period for any foreign player. There is culture shock, a language barrier, and sudden stardom to deal with. I can only imagine how tough all that is going to be, not to mention pitching in the Major Leagues.
Assuming the Red Sox did in fact post the high bid and can work out a deal with Matsuzaka, it could be a huge blow to their prime rivals, the New York Yankees. The simple fact that the Red Sox outbid the Yankees is a moral victory in and of itself. When it comes to high profile free agents the Yanks and Sox are always at the top of the heap. Anytime one can take a free agent away from the other, it is twice as sweet. At worst the Sox could sign him and trade him to anyone but the Yankees.
There are some risks that come with the Matsuzaka bidding victory. This guy has pitched a ton in his career, and early in high school. In a high school game he threw 250 pitches in a 17 inning game. He then played outfield and recorded a save the next game. Long term durability is a problem I could see coming up. Although scouts have said he is a top of the rotation guy I have my doubts. To me he is a solid 2-3 guy, but will be making number one money. This may not bode well for the free spending Sox. 42 million dollars is a lot of money. And with Scott Boras as his agent (notorious for getting players a lot more money) the Red Sox may end up paying through the nose for an unproven prospect. A few names to consider: Hideki Irabu, Byung Hyun Kim, and Hideo Nomo.
The Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes is the biggest story of the baseball off-season thus far. It has everything: international flavor, high powered bidding wars, and a pitch that may or may not be real. It will be very interesting to see how this whole thing unfolds. If the gyroball and the man who can/cannot throw it, is for real.
(1) Random facts courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisuke_Matsuzaka
(2) Stats from http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2660428