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Whatever happened to: Daisuke Matsuzaka

1/13/2010

Every so often I get an e-mail from a buddy asking me whatever happened to (insert name here), usually a former Phillie such as Bake McBride or Larry Christensen or someone like that. Even now we'll Google the names, look around for info and ultimately share our memories of those players. "Remember the time Steve Jeltz homered from each side of the plate in one game?" Oh yeah, I sure do. I was there at the Vet that day! Oddly enough, a buddy of mine ended up finding Jeltz on Facebook recently.

But when it comes to fantasy baseball, I find that people have shorter memories. Too many people I know can recall with vivid memory what Danny Heep hit in 1986 -- I know a lot of Mets fans, but hey, I don't judge -- but they forget what Daisuke Matsuzaka accomplished in 2008, a theme we're likely to see in drafts this spring. So I asked my editor if I could start a weekly Wednesday blog in which we ask that very important question, "Whatever happened to ... ?" Who knows, maybe we can find a handful of players who could be fantasy sleepers this season.

I'll aim to choose names that are in the news for whatever reason, remind people the path these players took to what might some believe is irrelevance, and then come to some conclusion as to the players' value. If you have thoughts on players you'd like to see covered -- or can tell me whatever happened to Bake McBride! -- then you know where to find me.

Let's start with Boston's Matsuzaka. Last year was obviously not a good one for the oft-debated right-hander, but I looked back and saw we had him ranked No. 19 among starting pitchers in our 2009 draft kit. He certainly mattered then, and I'm certain he's going to matter again, but this time at a sleeper price. I'm guessing he won't be among the top 50 among starting pitchers in most drafts after compiling a 5.76 ERA and winning all of four games in 2009, which means I'm likely to end up with this fellow in quite a few drafts because I often find that this year's bargains were last year's busts.

Matsuzaka is in the news because he recently told a Japanese magazine he hid a leg injury last season, and it affected his motion and essentially torpedoed his season. Plus, there was the World Baseball Classic, a noted disintegrator of seasons for those who participated (though that's not necessarily true). Matsuzaka is a prime comeback candidate. I signed him in a few leagues after his three-month summer hiatus, when it didn't even seem like the Red Sox wanted him back, and he pitched well for Triple-A Pawtucket, then won three of four September starts with the big club. Sure, it takes him forever to pitch and he'll walk people -- two tendencies that bother people -- but he won 33 games in his first two major league seasons and fanned nearly a hitter per inning. Oh yeah, that matters. This guy is winning 15 games this season. I'd expect his numbers to be somewhat in between his first two seasons: say, 15 wins, ERA approaching 4.00, 175 strikeouts and that same 1.32 WHIP. I'll take those numbers with a late mixed-league pick.

One last thing from Matsuzaka, translated from the Japanese magazine: "I assure you that the [2010] season will be a great season. I am going to redeem what I lost in 2009." Hey, isn't that exactly what we want to hear?

Three other players on my mind Wednesday, ever so briefly:

Chris Capuano, SP, Brewers: Remember him? This recent non-roster invitee with the Brewers hasn't helped fantasy owners since before the 2006 All-Star break, but he was a strikeout lefty who won 18 games in 2005. Let's just say the Brewers appear to have opportunities for Capuano to produce in that ragtag rotation. Capuano isn't draftable yet, but then again, I would argue Manny Parra isn't, either.

Kyle Kendrick, SP, Phillies: With Jamie Moyer undergoing minor knee surgery last week, it would seem to give Kendrick the lead in the race for the fifth starter spot. Kendrick won 10 of his 20 starts as a rookie in 2007, and then won 11 games the following season, though he clearly took a step backward peripherally. Chasing wins is dangerous, but it is relevant that no Phillie won more games than Moyer in either of the past two seasons, and he wasn't exactly overpowering, either. Kendrick spent much of 2008 at Triple-A, working on a changeup and inducing ground balls. He's an NL-only sleeper this season if he wins a job.

Dan Johnson, 1B, Rays: I'm not sure I understand this recent signing. Johnson was once a nice sleeper for the Oakland Athletics, the pre-Daric Barton first baseman who pounded Pacific Coast League pitchers, took walks and seemed to have enough power to matter. Then he just stopped hitting for average, lost his job and ended up in Japan. It's not like Johnson was Sadaharu Oh or Hideki Matsui over there, either. His 24 home runs for the Yokohama BayStars of Japan's Central League came with a .215 batting average. Carlos Pena hits for more power -- and generally enough average -- so maybe Johnson and Pat Burrell share designated hitter duties, though neither player would necessarily be fantasy-relevant. I'm guessing Johnson spends much of his 2010 season at Triple-A Durham.