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Analysis: Tampa Bay Rays sign Hideki Matsui


The wait is finally over, and a team has finally signed veteran Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui. That team is, surprisingly enough, the Tampa Bay Rays, who have signed Matsui to a minor league deal. The soon-to-be 38-year-old will report to extended Spring Training on Wednesday, and below is what Andrew Friedman had to say about Matsui.

“Over the past two decades, Hideki has been one of the most consistently productive hitters in the world,” executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “We are happy to add his ability, approach and professionalism to our organization.”

Here is a tweet from CBS Sports writer Danny Knobler in response to a question I asked him about the signing, as well as one from WTSP’s Michael Weber.

Based on the responses I received from both of them, Hideki Matsui will be promoted to the MLB roster in a few weeks and should be the DH/OF by the end of June, depending on how well he hits. As Knobler said, he fits if he hits. After all, Joe Maddon and the Rays have no problem finding a way for players to contribute.

After a 2.4 WAR season in 2009 and a 1.5 WAR year in 2010 with the Angels, Matsui was worth just 0.3 WAR in 585 plate appearances with the Oakland Athletics. The DH had a walk rate under 10% for the first time since 2005 and had the first sub-108 wRC+ year of his career with a 93 wRC+. Matsui hit under 15 homers for the first time in his career (12) and had an ISO of .124.

That’s extremely troubling, because the aging left-hander bases his game off of power and walks, because he used to be a sure bet to hit 20 homers with a .360 OBP and a 12 BB%.

The projection systems all value Hideki Matsui as a 0.5 WAR player with a 320 wOBA. He had a .274 BABIP, but that wasn’t completely due to poor luck (career .300 BABIP). He was chasing more pitches and actually had an LD% and batted ball statistics that were in line with his career average.

Matsui might no longer be an average hitter any more, so it is difficult to find much value in him at this point. But if anyone can, it’s the Rays, and maybe they are certain that Matsui’s 2011 “rapid decline” year was based on poor luck. It doesn’t matter either way, because taking a chance on that being the case is well worth it.

A minor league deal doesn’t mean much these days, and the Rays, more likely than not, picked up a quality utility DH-type hitter. The projection systems might value him as a 0.5 WAR player, but he will be closer to 1 WAR if luck had more to do with his 2011 season that decline.

Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.

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