Great expectations: What is Yu Darvish capable of?
WFAA Sports Blogger
Posted on April 9, 2012 at 5:23 PM
Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 8:31 PM
Yu Darvish is not C.J. Wilson.
He is not proven. Nobody is sure how he will adjust to facing major-league hitters, much less major league hitters who spend half their time hitting in Arlington. He must overcome something of a language barrier, as well as the stigmas of countless fans and media members unfairly comparing him to Daisuke Matsuzaka.
No, Yu Darvish is not C.J. Wilson. But he's six years younger. He fits the prototype of the tall, well-built, athletic and durable pitcher. He has tremendous raw stuff and has done nothing but utterly dominate throughout his professional career. It's that, and a number of other things, which explain why the Rangers were head-over-heels for the 6'5 right-hander from Osaka, Japan.
Yu Darvish doesn't know failure. He posted a 1.99 career ERA in Japan despite beginning his professional career as an 18-year old. His past few seasons were downright silly -- ERAs of 1.78 and 1.73 in 2009 and 2010 followed by a 1.44 mark in 2011 which leaves most writers like me wondering if someone made a typo.
In his final season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, he struck out 276 hitters while walking only 36, good for a 7.7 K/BB ratio. Granted, hitters in the Nippon Professional Baseball League are typically less patient than those in MLB. But for reference's sake, C.J. Wilson led the Rangers starters' way with a 2.78:1 rate last year. Roy Halladay led the majors with a 6.29:1 mark. Keep in mind that Roy Halladay is also part robot.
Darvish posted a 60% groundball rate during his last season in Japan. Hitters there are more prone to hit the ball on the ground, but this is still a phenomenally impressive number. How impressive? Think about this: No MLB starter beat that number last year. Not a single one.
The movement on Darvish's pitches as well as his affinity to pitching in the zone will play anywhere. And that's incredibly important, because the only real way to suppress home runs is induce groundballs. When taking into account that half of Darvish's starts will happen right here in Arlington, his skill here becomes even more valuable.
The numbers speak for themselves, but they don't fully encapsulate the Yu Darvish package. He's a fanatically hard worker with a unique training regimen he's engineered for his specific needs. Darvish visited the Rangers after the team's bid was accepted by his former team and took out time to do quite a few things during the tour. Many media members harped on the massive steak he apparently ordered during a dinner with the Rangers front office. But the thing that stood out to me was a story about Yu's tour through the Ballpark.
As he walked through the team's facilities, Yu actually stopped the tour and asked Rangers officials if he could set some time aside not to study the machines, but to actually work out himself, as he didn't want to disturb his regimen in any way. It seems funny and borderline impolite, but his commitment to the routine will help him immensely here.
I won't speculate on Yu's adjustment to a new country and language, as it's based far too substantially on... well, the insubstantial. But conjecture aside, those looking for clubhouse drama have met dead silence. To this point, Yu appears to be doing everything in his power to fit in.
And while all that is well and good, one thing takes precedence over everything else in the world of proffesional athletics. We all know Yu throws in the mid-90s. We know his repertoire is deep. We know he made major league stars like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez look foolish during Spring Training. But how does he compare to MLB's aces? I asked Jason Cole of Lone Star Dugout, the premier Rangers prospect site and a part of Fox's 'Scout' network. His response:
"I think that, from a pure stuff perspective, Darvish is as good, if not slightly better than baseball's aces.... Most aces can manipulate their fastball to sink and cut it like Darvish does, but he also mixes in two plus breaking balls. As a good athlete with a clean delivery, he should be able to command his stuff just fine in the end.
But that's the big question. If the command is plus and he's getting ahead in counts, he's going to be up there with the best starters in baseball. His location got a litte better with each outing this spring. In the end after he adjusts, I think he'll get there."
I'm no scout, but Jason's synopsis confirmed what I've made note of. Darvish is armed to the teeth with weapons -- substantial ones. We're talking grenade launchers and giant, sharp machetes. As Jason said, there is no other pitcher to compare Darvish to. The stuff is that special and utterly unique. But in terms of results, I think Darvish could be similar to Tim Lincecum. A few more walks than you'd like, but a ton of groundballs and strikeouts in large, ornate, beautiful bunches. And as a 25-year old committed to keeping himself in phenomenal shape, there's no reason to believe he'll decline anytime soon.
Pitchers like Darvish are only available in free agency once in a generation. Arms of his caliber rarely hit the market before they turn 30 -- a large part of why the Rangers were willing to pay more than any team ever has for a righthander. But mere months after Darvish's contract was finalized, San Francisco's Matt Cain got essentially $127 Million from the Giants -- beating the figure the Rangers paid for Darvish by about $16 Million.
Cain is a proven starter, but he's two years older than Darvish and his stuff is nowhere near as good. The Rangers paid less than the the going rate for aces and got a 25-year old who isn't within shouting distance of his decline phase.
There are never guarantees. The list of 2007's best pitchers includes Brandon Webb, Joe Blanton, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Erik Bedard and Scott Kazmir. You couldn't even make up a last-place 2012 rotation with those six. But as a calculated gamble, Darvish looks to be as sensible as they come. The only question in his resume is his lack of MLB experience. And that works to the Rangers' favor, because otherwise they would have needed to shell out substantially more to land him. He's not perfect, but it's hard to envision Yu Darvish being any worse than a really good #3 starter.
And if he maintains the skills he's flashed in seven years as a professional, he could easily become the best pitcher the Rangers have ever had.
Jason Cole writes for and manages Lonestardugout.com, the premier site for Rangers prospect information. He's a phenomenal source for Rangers minor league info -- subscribe, you won't be disappointed.