Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Bringing back Daisuke Matsuzaka could make sense for Dragons

by Jason Coskrey

If there’s anything to be learned from the first half of the 2018 baseball season it’s that a lot of people still can’t get enough of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

It’s been over a decade since his last turn as the ace for the Seibu Lions and also since he helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. Before this season with the Chunichi Dragons, the last image NPB fans had of Matzuaka was the one inning he pitched for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2016, when he allowed five runs — two earned.

Perhaps absence really makes the heart grow fonder because Matsuzaka, 37, has enjoyed immense popularity in his first season with Chunichi.

Fans have turned out in droves to see him pitch and his popularity even led to an All-Star appearance despite a 3-3 record in 37⅓ innings this season. Even among the best and brightest of NPB, Matsuzaka was the star attraction at the All-Star Series despite a rocky outing in which he gave up five runs in the first inning.

So it’s not so far-fetched the Dragons are eager to sign on for another year. Reports on Monday said the team was mulling bringing Matsuzaka back next year. According to Nikkan Sports, the right-hander could even get a hefty raise that would send his salary soaring from the estimated ¥15 million he’s making this season to over ¥100 million.

That’s a big, big jump for a player who hasn’t delivered nearly that much on the mound. Then again, it’s not totally about Matsuzaka’s results on the field.

Matsuzaka has made seven starts this season and has a 2.41 ERA, though a 4.00 fielding independent pitching suggests he’s been a little fortunate, and a 0.8 WAR (per Deltagraphs). He also has a 1.29 walks plus hits per innings pitched.

Still, he’s the biggest draw the Dragons have. Whether it’s out of nostalgia or curiosity, people want to see him play.

According to Monday’s Nikkan Sports, the average attendance for Matsuzaka’s six starts at Nagoya Dome this season has been 32,752, a little over 2,500 more than a non-Matsuzaka game. The club averaged 28,619 in its 69 home games there last season.

If fans are motivated to come out and watch Matsuzaka, it stands to reason many of them are also buying some sort of team merchandise.

For a team like the Dragons, not among the most popular in Japan, especially since they’ve haven’t finished higher than fourth since 2012, the “Matsuzaka effect” as Nikkan called it, could be a good investment.

He can help raise the profile of the team and fatten its coffers off the field. On it, Matsuzka is a veteran with years of wisdom to impart and can still be productive in a limited role as a starter.

With the potential benefits to be had, it’s no wonder the Dragons are ready to take another roll of the dice.