I just learned from David Gassko at the Hardball Times that one of the two/three players we're counting on to lead off next season will be terrible. Kaz Matsui, it appears, is a blatant fraud. He's not at all what he appeared to be at the end of last season. Or to put it in Gassko's words:
The reason Matsui was so successful in Colorado of was his .441 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). And while hitters do have more control over their BABIP than pitchers do, that's still going regress a lot, especially considering that Matsui has never really been a high-BABIP player in his career. Without such an extraordinary batting average on balls in play, Matsui's line Colorado probably would have been closer to .250/.290/.370, which is pretty freaking terrible.
See? Doomed... wait... I mean, hold on a second, something's not quite right there... No, he's right about Matsui's BABIP in his stint with Colorado being out of sorts, but there's something that's not quite completely jiving for me. Oh, there it is. Where does he get that "pretty freaking terrible" line from? He doesn't actually say, and I'm not really sure, but I think he's probably making an approximation based on Kaz's MLB career BABIP of .302. Now, I still don't know where Gassko is deriving his numbers, because as far as I can tell, this would actually have left Matsui's line with Colorado as .257/.317/.423 which while not great, is a fair bit above what Gassko says it would have been. This is of course assuming that there were no park effects involved with moving one's home park from Shea Stadium to Coors. Er... yeah...
Really, what can we expect from Matsui in 2007? Gassko is also a bit misleading when he says that Kaz has "never really been a high BABIP player in his career." If he meant in his injury and stress filled, miserable two season's worth of AB's in New York, then yeah, sure he's right. The problem is that in the three seasons in Japan prior to coming to New York, Matsui averaged a BABIP of .375, which is not exactly a low number in a league in between AAA and major league quality. And then when he escaped to Denver, he hit that .441 mark. Still, we can't just ignore that miserable performance in Shea either, and Kaz will be 31 next season, which while not old, is outside of his expected peak years.
I'm obviously optimistic that Kaz has regained some confidence and ability that got lost in his translation to the States with the switch of environments, but he's definitely not going to keep up with the torrid pace he put up in his short stint with us last season. In a hopeful, yet I think feasible projection, I'm going to look for a .290/350/420 season with about 25 SB's and 100 runs scored. A more pragmatic guess might be around the .275/330/380 range with 15 SB's and 75-80 runs in 500 PA's. Now here's where I'll be a bit more bold: I think there's more of a chance for Kaz to go above both of these projections than there is for him to go below. So we aren't doomed. Whew. Dodged a bullet there, we did.