Sunday, June 11, 2006

Thoughts on Kaz

I was going to respond to Sully's post in the comments, but I have enough thoughts that I figured they were worth a post (so the unwashed masses will see them!). What's interesting to me is trying to figure out what went wrong with Kaz. I see a few possibilities:

1. He just hit a decline - it happens to lots of players, even ones who spend their entire career in the U.S. It's possible that he would have a sudden decline even if he'd stayed in Japan.

2. The transition to living in America took its toll. I know Ross doesn't read books, but Sully, if you haven't read You Gotta Have Wa, you should definitely give it a try (although it's a bit out of date - Whiting wrote a more recent book, but it's not as good). The book paints a really good picture of the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S., and I could see someone having trouble adjusting to a new culture, even excluding the differences in the game itself. Speaking of that:

3. He just didn't adjust well to American baseball. This doesn't appear to have been a problem for Big Matsui or Ichiro, but those two are pretty unique players. Matsui was the greatest slugger in Japan, Ichiro the greatest hitter. Little Matsui was great in Japan because has was very good across the board - excellent defense, good average, nice pop for a SS.

It's odd, though. The word was that Matsui was a Gold Glove quality shortstop, and you'd think defense would be something that would translate better to a tougher league than hitting. But Matsui's defense has been, if we're being generous, erratic.

On thing that is greatly different in Japan is the emphasis on practice. This is a slight oversimplification, but Japanese culture puts more weight on the process than the result. So they take what we in America would consider to be an outrageous amount of practice, nearly year round. The main criticism of that is that Japanese players wear down over the course of a season, but I wonder if it was beneficial for some guys. Matsui never seemed comfortable here, at the plate or in the field. Perhaps he really needed that level of practice to stay sharp.

1 comment:

Ross said...

I don't think anybody needs to take the drastic measure of reading a book. Afterall, one could see the extreme differences in cultures by watching the movie Mr. Baseball, which I happen to know Sully has seen.

The defense thing does surprise me, but the Japanese also said Hideki Matsui was not a weak outfielder. With the exception of his arm, he's a very good, and extremely fundamentally sound outfielder. His quick release time even somewhat makes up for his arm.

As far as how Kaz Matsui will do now, it is possible that he just couldn't handle New York. Look at how well Jose Contreras did after the Yankees gave up on him. Contreras did have more flashes of brilliance with the Yankees than Matsui had for the Mets. I think the reason the Yankees gave up on Contreras was for his ability to get wrecked by the Red Sox every time he faced them.

However, Kaz, pressure wise, had it much harder than Hideki and Ichiro. When Ichiro came over, everybody was curious how he'd do, but he probably had the highest expectations. Plus he played in Seattle, not exactly the most stressful place to play, just as long as the crowd isn't too hyped up on Starbucks.

Hideki Matsui played for the Yomiuri Giants. Yomiuri is Tokyo's team, which means he was playing baseball in the only baseball city more crowded than New York, and a city that loves baseball and has a long-standing winning tradition and lots of pressure.

Then you take Kaz, who some people called "the Better Matsui." Because Ichiro and Hideki performed as well as they did, there was a lot of pressure for Kaz to perform. There was no reason to think he wouldn't (some people didn't think Hideki would perform because he's not a slap hitter like Ichiro, and he hasn't performed at his Japanese levels but he's been plenty good).

Kaz came from playing in a much smaller baseball city, Seibu, with a lot less pressure. Then he comes to the pressure cooker that is New York, with all of the New York press, and a lot of Japanese media. He probably had as much Japanese media covering him here than he did in Japan.

Basically, I could see where the transition could have been too much for him. I could see where going to Colorado, a very young baseball city with no history of winning, could be very beneficial to him. It wouldn't surprise me if he was revitalized. Although, from watching him occasionally, it also wouldn't surprise me if he's just done.