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Just The Sports: Life After Hideki

Just The Sports

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Life After Hideki

The day after Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist in a game against the Boston Red Sox, sports journalists waxed idiotic about how on earth the Yankees could recover after the loss of one of their best players. Betting pools were opened to see just how long it would take before Brian Cashman traded for Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart or whoever the overrated outfielder flavor of the week was. Luckily, Cashman realized Matsui's talents were largely hyperbolized by the majority of a public that is still unashamedly in love with the RBI, and resisted the urge to make drastic changes to the Yankees roster.

Since Matsui's injury, not counting the game in which he got injured, the Yankees have only posted a record of 11-7, winning three of the five complete series they have played, losing one, and splitting the other. In the same time span, the Yankees' offense is rapidly approaching mediocrity, having managed a paltry 5.8 runs per game without the vaunted Hideki Matsui in the lineup.

The truth is Matsui is not the player public perception has billed him as. He is probably not even half the player the media likes to make him out to be. For all the accolades Matsui receives for his three seasons of 100+ RBI, the most contextual of baseball stats, his ability to drive in runs is more a testament of his teammates' ability to get on base before him than anything spectacular he is doing in the batter's box. In fact, last season Matsui led the majors in number of at-bats with runners on base, and in the two previous seasons he saw the third-most runners on base. As is the case with all counting statistics, durability is the key to amassing a large number, and durability just happens to be Matsui's calling card.

When Matsui's RBI totals are taken away, he is exposed as a slightly above average hitter at his position. His OPS numbers ranked him 8th out of 22 listed left fielders in 2005, 4th out of 16 in 2004, and 15th out of 21 in 2003. In addition, Matsui's isolated power numbers are no better. He ranked 12th of 22 in 2005, 6th out of 16 in 2004, and 17th out of 21 in 2003, not exactly the sort of power numbers one would hope for from a corner outfield position and certainly not worth making a rash decision over.

Possibly the most ironic facet of Matsui injuring himself while trying to make a diving catch is his actual defensive history. For his career as a New York Yankee, his FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) is -19, meaning Matsui has cost the Yankees approximately two wins during his tenure in the outfield under what an average fielder would have given them.

All things considered, perhaps the knee-jerk reaction many had to Matsui's injury was overblown by just a tad.


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