Matsui creates a stir

added 12/4/2007 by Scott Barzilla

When Ed Wade addressed the press after Kaz Matsui's signing, the best he could muster was that "Matsui plays the game the right way." This kind of comment is usually great fodder for the sabermetric community. Wade is already villified for his tenure in Philadelphia. The pack of wolves are out in force again. They are laughing at the Astros and Wade.

        AVG    OBP    SLG
Home   .330   .381   .482
Road   .267   .335   .353

So, obviously anyone with a brain would see that Matsui's stats are Coors Field induced. So, why would anyone be stupid enough to give him 5.5 million dollars? Ah, here in lies a change from the past. Matsui chose the Astros because they paid more than anyone else and not because he has any ties to Houston. None of us can remember the last time a free agent of this magnitude didn't have local ties.

When you outbid everyone for a player you open yourself up to criticism. Even when they signed Carlos Lee they could point to the Orioles and Giants who bid more. Lee chose the Astros, so the 100 million was justifiable in some weird way because someone else was willing to give more. In this case, they outbid everyone. Still, it is way too simplistic to consider this a case of numbers crunchers against traditional fans.

The 2008 Bill James Handbook contains a few new metrics designed to rate fielding and baserunning. According to Bill James new baserunning metric, Matsui is one of the top ten baserunners in baseball. This metric includes stolen bases, ability to go first to third, second to home, first to home, and every other situation one can think of.

Additionally, John Dewan came out with his annual +/- fielding lists as well. Again, Matsui rated as one of the top ten second basemen. So, there are some redeeming qualities there. If only there were some way to reconcile OPS with baserunning and fielding. Well, the beauty of James' baserunning metric and John Dewan's +/- fielding metric is that they can be converted into bases. In other words, we can adjust his slugging percentage by adding to his total bases. Since we are adjusting only the road stats we will convert the James and Dewan metrics in half.

       TB     James     Dewan    ATB    AB     ASLG
2007   71       22        6       99    221    .448

       OBP    ASLG   AOPS
      .335    .448   .783

In other words, when you compare Matsui to people like Loretta, Burke, and even Biggio you should keep in mind his fielding and baserunning. Naturally, there is still some to criticize here. Your second hitter in the lineup might not be that proficient at getting on base. Also, people could claim that Tadahito Iguchi was a better choice. All of these are sound arguments, but the fact that sabermetricians are making them on both sides says something.

Maybe Ed Wade couldn't articulate the signing in the words that sabermetricians could embrace, but it doesn't mean that this move is indefensible. Bill James Handbook rated the Astros as the worst baserunning team in the big leagues. They were also among the bottom fielding teams according to most fielding metrics. Getting someone that makes the club better with the gloves and better on the basepaths seems like a good idea.