The Rays signed Hideki Matsui to a minor league contract a couple of weeks ago. Matsui (or “Godzilla”) started off in extended spring training before it was announced that he would be playing for the Durham Bulls, the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. So I decided to watch his first 3 games and catalog and analyze his at-bats.
He played DH, so obviously we didn’t get a look at him out in the field (although it is not as if he was good beforehand, costing the A’s 1.1 games defensively last year or -1.0 UZR if that is your preferred defensive statistic). With the Rays emphasis on defense, it is hard to imagine he will get any big league time out there anyway.
At-bat 1: Matsui takes an upstairs fastball for ball 1. The second pitch was a 89 MPH fastball outside and down but in the zone, and Hidek weakly fouled it off. Duckworth changes speed, and makes him look at a 78 MPH breaking pitch in the low part of the strike zone for strike 2. Duckworth then came back with another breaking pitch, this one 1 MPH faster and in the dirt. Godzilla swung and missed for a strikeout. For the first game’s at-bats, I will include the Gameday photo’s. There is no pitch F/X for the minor leagues, but just checking with what I saw, the pitch locations are pretty accurate.
At-bat 2: Duckworth starts with the fastball again, 89 MPH outside, and Hideki takes it. He then takes a breaking pitch on the middle outside part of the zone. Pitch 3 was an 88 MPH fastball down the middle and Godzilla ripped it to RF all the way to the wall, only to have it robbed by Che Hsuan Lin. Duckworth had given up homers to the batter before and ended up giving up one to the hitter after Matsui. It would have been 3 if it wasn’t for Lin.
At-bat 3: Amazingly Duckworth was still in the game, and Hideki grounded out to 2nd base on the first pitch, a 89 MPH fastball.
At-bat 4: This time he was actually facing a MLB caliber pitcher in Mark Melancon. He started the at-bat by taking a hard breaking ball in the dirt, similar to the one he chased in his first at-bat, except better velocity. He took another, and then fouled one off. An 83 MPH slider hit the dirt, and he took that to get up 3-1. He then got a pitch down the middle, but was just a tad early on it and grounded out to 1st.
At-bat 5: The Pawtucket Red Sox flexed their muscles by throwing out Doug Mathis to start (I had to endure some terrible non-prospect minor league pitching to write this article), so it should be noted that Matsui faced another not very good pitcher. This time he took a low 77 MPH curve in the dirt, suggesting that the chase in his first at-bat was an aberration. He then took a 89 MPH fastball low in the zone for strike 1. Doug Mathis then threw a ball out of the zone, a curve that was middle height and outside. Hideki flicked it, seemingly without effort, to the wall for a double. It was really easy power, he still has strength. On the bases, everyone knows he has no speed (21 speed according to Baseball Cube, speed score of just 1.7 in 2011), and he didn’t tag up a ball that went to the wall.
At-bat 6: After taking a 91 MPH fastball outside, Matsui took two called strikes. He then got the same pitch, made a very similar type swing, that he got on the double in his previous at-bat. He was just a tad early (it looked like he reached out and then tried to leave the batting box too soon) and hit it just foul, missing a double by inches. The next pitch he reached on a catcher’s interference out of all things.
At-bat 7: First pitch swinging, he hit a 89 MPH low and away fastball (maybe a borderline strike) the other way for a lead-off single. He obviously seems to be going the other way alot, so I decided to look at some spray charts.
This is Hideki last year with the A’s:
Here is Hideki in 2009, his last year with the Yankees and the last year he put up an Offensive WAR over 2:
As you can see, while Hideki has more pull hits, but has a pretty even distribution of batted balls. Remember, his near homer was pulled, so it is not as if he is only hitting the ball the other way. It also seemed that he was just hitting the ball where it was pitched, as (especially Mathis) he was being pitched outside, so he just hit the ball the other way.
At-bat 8: This time Hideki got to face some real velocity in Alex Wilson The first pitch was 94 MPH inside and taken for a ball. Wilson then changed speeds and threw a 84 MPH down and in, which Matsui then took. Matsui took 2 more pitches, one for a 92 MPH strike on the inside part of the plate, and then a 92 MPH pitch outside of the zone. Wilson then threw another fastball out of the zone and Matsui was late on it and swung and missed. With a full count, Wilson threw another 92 MPH pitch on the outside of the zone and Matsui hit it up the middle, but the infield was shifting and gobbled up the ground-ball and turned it into a double play.
At-bat 9: Mark Melancon was in again, and threw an 82 MPH breaking pitch in the zone for a strike to lead off the at-bat. Matsui then fouled off a pitch, then grounded out to the pitcher on a 93 MPH fastball.
At-bat 10: Matsui faced Dice-K (I will have a post on Dice-K and Youkilis tomorrow) and took an 89 MPH fastball low and in for ball 1. Then Dice-K threw a low 89 MPH fastball (as you will see later, this is how he wanted to attack Hideki) and Matsui hit it to 1st to ground into a fielders choice.
At-bat 11: In face-off number 2 against Dice-K, Matsui took two straight outside 78 MPH changeups to start the at-bat. A 90 MPH fastball tailed off the plate for ball 3, but Hideki swung at pitch number 4, an 89 MPH fastball that looked low. Matsui flied out to left field
At-bat 12: His 3rd and final appearance versus Dice-K was the weirdest. After a low 88 MPH fastball was taken, an 88 MPH fastball low in the zone was hit up the middle, directly into the shift for what looked like would be a double play. However, catchers interference was called yet again.
At-bat 13: This time Matsui faced veteran Tony Pena Jr., a sidearming righty. A 90 MPH first pitch fastball caught a ton of the plate and Matsui drilled it to the wall, and amazingly for the 2nd time in just 13 plate appearances, the ball was caught at the wall, and what would have been a homer was turned into an out. This gives you the impression that both the timing and the raw power is there (with the qualifier that it is against AAA pitching).