The Hideki Matsui Experiment

By David Hill

From 2003 through 2010, Godzilla, when he wasn’t doing battle with the likes of Mothra and Rodan, was a feared batter in the American League. Now, Hideki Matsui is just a shell of his former self.

After spending seven years with the Yankees, Matsui has bounced around, playing for the Angels in 2010, and the A’s in 2011. While he did not have a great season in 2011, Matsui was around league average, providing twelve home runs and twenty eight doubles to go along with a .251/.321/.375 slash line. This was good enough for an OPS+ of 92, marking him as essentially replaceable, but not a complete disaster.

This season, following a number of injuries in the outfield, the Rays signed Matsui to a minor league contract on April 30th. After a month in Durham where he hit a paltry .170/.231/.213 with only two extra base hits – both doubles – he was promoted to the majors, making his debut for Tampa on May 29th.

Matsui started his Rays career with a bang, hitting two home runs in his first three games. However, since his second home run on June 1st, Matsui has just one extra base hit, a double on June 9th. Overall, Matsui is hitting at a mere .175/.233/.263 rate, having struck out fifteen times in his eighty at bats. Matsui’s OPS+ of 41 is even worse than reliever Brandon Gomes, who has gone 0-1 with a walk and an RBI, yet has an OPS+ of 61. Despite his utter failure this year with the bat, Matsui has frequently been used either as a designated hitter or a pinch hitter, typically resulting in weak fly balls or groundouts when he makes contact.

Signed to a contract worth up to $900,000, Matsui was a low-risk player that the Rays hoped would be able to regain his form. However, at age 38, Matsui’s skill set appears to have irrevocably declined to the point where he no longer belongs on a major league roster. He may still be able to provide moments of production, such as his two hit performance on the 1st of July, however, those have been few and far between.

Hideki Matsui may just be on the roster because the Rays may not feel as though there is anyone else who can take his spot on the roster. Yet, if the Rays make a move for depth, Matsui may be the roster causality.