Yu Darvish: Is Rangers' Ace Saving the Reputation of Japanese Pitchers in MLB?

Alexander MetalisContributor IIIMay 22, 2012

HOUSTON - MAY 18: Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers during batting practice before playing the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 18, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Yu Darvish was solved by the Seattle Mariners Monday night, but his numbers still sparkle. What should we expect from the Asian superstar going forward? 

So far, the Rangers’ ace has busted a trend: the recurring nightmare of Japanese pitchers crumbling in MLB.

Since joining Texas, the scraggly broomstick has continued to post swell numbers. Through nine starts, Yu has posted a 3.05 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.  Equally remarkable, he has compiled 63 strikeouts in just 56 innings pitched.  

Yu is a workhorse, but he’s also a showman. When he gains two strikes on a batter, fans in Arlington cast chants of “Yuuuu!” upon the beloved newcomer, and when he obliges with a strikeout, they explode. Going to the ballpark to see him dazzle is an event in and of itself.       

Yu’s success spawns questions. Why do other predominant Japanese hurlers so often wilt in the big leagues? Darvish certainly hasn’t wilted—his loaded pitch arsenal looks cartoonish; not even big leaguers can make his pitches look believable. Great stuff aside, will he eventually follow in his predecessors' footsteps and crumble?

Japanese pitchers are cultivated differently than pitchers in the states. For one, their arms aren’t dutifully monitored. From a young age, they aren’t discouraged from firing off 130 pitches a game.

In suit, Yu’s supple arm has already been tapped vigorously for its vitality.  With the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2011, Darvish tossed at least 120 pitches in 15 of his 28 starts, according to ESPN.com.


By the time Daisuke Matsuzaka landed with the Red Sox, his arm was burnt. That myopic draining of his arm’s juice hurt his MLB career. Daisuke’s stuff, however, was never as dynamic or controlled as Yu’s, whose pitches tumble, roll and slide with gust.  

Not that Yu’s control is immaculate. Generally, it seems Japanese pitchers are plagued by America’s abbreviated strike zone. Darvish has already issued 32 walks throughout his nine starts, and as major league hitters familiarize themselves with Yu’s tendencies, perhaps they’ll show more restraint towards Yu’s chase-and-miss offerings.

More likely though, with more major league experience, the 25-year-old Darvish will tighten his command and hone mastery of his gnarly onslaught of pitches.

Like many of his countrymen in MLB, Darvish shows symptoms of wild-fever. And like many Japanese starters, his arm was heavily taxed in his homeland. But since Darvish relies on movement and changes of speed more than velocity, I don’t imagine his overuse will dampen his career very much.

Whether or not he transcends the perennial struggles of Japanese pitchers in MLB remains to be seen. His coveted stuff, indeed an anomaly, may be able to carry him past all roadblocks.    

Darvish hopes to reach, if not surpass, the success of guys like Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda.