2012 Season Review: Hideki Matsui

Jason Miller

Matsui's signing was initially viewed as a no-risk move to add depth to a very thin Durham roster in case the Rays needed to dip down in the minors for help. Matsui missed all of spring training while waiting for a contract, so was behind the 8-ball from day one. His minor league numbers were not terribly strong, but the Rays promoted him on May 29th. What happened from then on was one of the low-lights of the 2012 season.

His first ball in play was a fly ball caught at the wall and the next pitch he saw resulted in a 2-run home run on May 29th.

Two days later, he jumped on another first-pitch fastball to hit his last home run as a major leaguer.

In his first nine plate appearances, he had two home runs and four runs driven in, numbers he would fail to match in his remaining 94 plate appearances of the season before his season was mercifully ended.

Matsui's time with the Rays was so awful, it made Pat Burrell's days with the team look like all-star level production. After that second home run, Matsui would go on to hit just one more extra base hit in his final 94 plate appearances while striking out 21 times and posting a .364 OPS. The ineptitude was staggering as he was 0 for his final 17 and in a week's span following the all-star break, he was the final out of the game. The first time, he flew out with the based loaded and the team down four runs, the next night he struck out looking in a one-run game, and the final time he popped out to shortstop with two men on in a one-run game. During that 0-17 stretch, Matsui stranded 24 runners on base, 15 of which were in scoring position at a time the offense was desperate for runs in close low-scoring games.

In 2011, Dan Johnson started off the season at a Matsui-like level and was let go 84 plate appearances into the season with a .115/.179/.167 line. Matsui ended up with 103 plate appearances, even though guys like Tommy Rancel & R.J. Anderson were discussing Matsui's obvious flaws as early as June 19th. They noted just how often Matsui was looking to sabotage first pitch fastballs and how awful his numbers looked when teams picked up on the fact Matsui was clearly cheating on early fastballs. The scouting report on Matsui was spread around baseball quicker than the juiciest gossip in a high school and Matsui looked overmatched in every at bat, more so than Dan Johnson did in 2011 before he was sent to Durham. The end result was a .195 wOBA that was the fourth-worst in all of baseball for players with at least 100 plate appearancs as only Brent Morel was worse in the American League at .194.

The easy thing to do is to blame Matsui for the Rays falling short in the post-season, and there may be some merit to that. His win probability added was a horrendous -1.6, which will happen when you post a .427 OPS in 66 medium to high-leverage situations. The team was 20-26 in the time Matsui was on the roster as they were 29-21 the day he was called up and 49-47 the day he was released. No one person is to blame for the Rays not making the post-season, but in terms of a -1.4 rWAR season, there is little doubt who was the least valuable player for the 2012 Rays.

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