Yu Darvish will arrive in Arlington with more hype connected with his reputation than arguably any other pitcher who has moved from Nippon Professional Baseball to the MLB.
Darvish sports a career 1.99 ERA and has pitched to no higher than a 1.88 ERA in each of his last five seasons. He led the league in games started (28), innings pitched (232), shutouts (six), strikeouts (276) and WHIP (0.83) last season at the age of 24. Combine that with an 18-6 record and a 1.44 ERA, and you have someone who is coming to America with many accolades in his back pocket.
There is much more to say about Darvish aside from his impeccable stats, however. Here are 15 things you need to know about the MLB's newest ace.
For all the things that have been said about Yu Darvish, the one common inconsistency is exactly what pitches he throws.
The suggested range has been huge, from forkballs and splitters to two-seam fastballs and—what the Japanese call—a shuuto (more on that later).
Regardless of who's right, it does suggest one thing: his pitching repertoire is diverse—and probably filthy—as shown in video.
Don't think a starting pitcher with "great endurance" is that big of an asset? Just ask any overused bullpen pitcher about a guy who eats innings. It's important.
Not only does Darvish sport a large frame at 6'5", 220 lbs, but he's got the stats to back it up. In his first five seasons in Japan, he averaged over 200 innings per season, and collected 50 career complete games.
Although Japanese teams traditionally use a six-man rotation and his pitch count in the majors would be much smaller, that doesn't mean the guy isn't a tank. Say what you want about how numbers don't translate from Japanese leagues to the majors—complete games are complete games. And Darvish has got them—50 of them.
Some of the physical similarities between Darvish and Tim Lincecum's deliveries are downright uncanny. They both hold their throwing arms low and behind their torsos in their approach to the plate, and both their arm actions appear painful and powerful over the top.
The only difference is Darvish is a little more straight up and has that delayed windup that Takashi Saito and other Japanese pitchers have employed.
Nobody is claiming that Yu Darvish will be as dominant as Roy Halladay has been over his 14-year, Hall of Fame-worthy career. (Well, at least I'm not.) Still, the comparison seems to stand up pretty well.
Although it has yet to be determined whether Darvish will attain any of the outstanding intangibles Halladay already has, one can still draw plenty of comparisons. They both possess a hearty endurance, superb control and similar arsenals of pitches. And they both tend to induce a lot of ground balls.
While Darvish may appear to be more of a true strikeout pitcher than Halladay, his numbers should come down just a bit with the quality of hitting he'll see once he makes his way to this side of the pond.
Due to his crafty pitching, Yu Darvish's ground ball rate was 57 percent last season.
And for an infield that sports two of the best defenders at their positions in baseball (Kinsler and Beltre) with an underrated Elvis Andrus at shortstop, the Texas Rangers are looking at the possibility of a beastly double-play quartet between Darvish and his three sharp-fielding companions.
Not to mention that he'll be pitching half his games in one of the friendliest hitter's ballparks in MLB. Inducing ground balls there would be helpful in taking away some of the power numbers that the Ballpark at Arlington elicits.
There is a number of sources that disagree on just what Darvish's pitching repertoire consists of, but most agree the various versions of his fastballs are devastating. A succinct report breaks down his pitch selection like this:
- 90-96 MPH 4-seam fastball
- 90-93 MPH 2-seam fastball which resembles a shuuto, a pitch [thrown] by some Japanese right-handed pitchers that tends to break down and in against right-handed batters
- 90-92 MPH cutter
- 85-ish MPH horizontally breaking slider
- Low 80s downward-breaking slider, which Newman says looks more like a power curve
- 65-70 MPH curveball
Regardless of the exact category of all his pitches, you can see that most of them break downward, which tends to result in the higher ground ball rate.
Yu Darvish has surrendered 221 walks over 1,024.1 innings in his Japanese career. That tally averages out to 1.9 BB/9.
And his career WHIP? 0.89. Those numbers are flat out amazing, especially when you consider that he is basically a power pitcher, which his 9.1 career K/9 rate suggests.
Unlike his endurance numbers, however, his control numbers may be a bit misleading, as the Japanese strike zone tends to favor the pitcher. In the major leagues, Darvish may go through a considerable period of adjustment to the further restricted strike zone.
Perhaps what's most impressive about Yu Darvish is his reluctance to surrender the big shot. Amazingly, in 1,024 career innings, he has given up just 39 home runs. That all boils down to a career 0.3 HR/9.
Again, these numbers may appear artificially low because of the larger, more lenient strike zone, and he will most certainly give up more home runs next year playing half his games at the Ballpark in Arlington. Still, no matter how you justify it, not giving up the long ball is clearly one of Darvish's greatest strengths.
Yu Darvish has already won a couple Mitsui awards—which are the equivalents of MLB's Golden Glove awards—in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league and, according to some, upon arrival, he may instantly become one of the best defensive pitchers in MLB.
Geez, all this and you have to start to wonder: Is there anything he doesn't do well?
It's not like Yu Darvish is some secret weapon. We just haven't really heard much about him in the States yet. And that's about to change.
But in Japan, he's hands-down the best pitcher in the professional leagues. He is a four-time All-Star and a twice-named MVP. As one online scouting report put it:
There's no way to meaningfully splice the numbers in which Darvish doesn't come out as one of the handful of greatest pitchers in Japanese history. If he isn't the best of all time at his age (24), he's at least on the Mount Rushmore.
What makes Yu Darvish coming over to play baseball in the majors more unique than most other Japanese imports, is he will be just 25 years old on Opening Day. He still has many years of dominance and productivity ahead of him, and I'm sure that's thrilling for the Texas Rangers.
What is even more encouraging is that Darvish is coming off his best year as a professional in 2011. He posted career lows in ERA (1.44), WHIP (0.83), HR/9 (0.2) and BB/9 (1.4). Likewise, he also posted numerous career highs in 2011: wins (18), SHO (6), IP (232) and Ks (276). He's a player in his prime right now.
Mike Maddux is a great pitching coach. I will never forget his walk to the mound in a tense moment of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series when he got a nervous-looking Mike Adams to grin from ear to ear in the first two seconds after he approached the mound.
The moment was priceless. (Sorry, I couldn't find any video.)
Anyway, that moment was such a microcosm of what Mike Maddux has meant to the young pitching staff of the Texas Rangers. The way he has handled multiple youngsters confirms that he'd be a great coach to work with a young, impressionable and—presumably—apprehensive MLB rookie-star like Yu Darvish.
If Darvish ends up signing with Texas, he'll be in very good hands.
After the Texas Rangers won the bidding war for Yu Darvish at just a smidge over $50 million, the prediction of Darvish pulling in over $100 million for the price of his contract and negotiating rights is looking kind of tame.
In fact, if the prediction holds true that he'll receive an offer close to $70-$75 million for five years—a number that appears strikingly similar to what C.J. Wilson received from the Los Angeles Angels—the final tally should clear $120 million easily.
Early preseason fantasy rankings are placing Darvish around No. 30 among pitchers, and overall he's predicted to come off the board around the 10th or 11th round in most 10-team leagues. With that said, with as much hype as Darvish is garnering, you can almost certainly bank on some yahoo taking him earlier than that.
And if you were in my fantasy baseball league, that yahoo might be me.
Darvish certainly shouldn't be your top pitching pick, but if he's your No. 2 starter, I think he becomes a solid pick. Even if he's not as good as his Japanese statistics suggest he will be, remember he's still going to be new for AL hitters and pitching for one of the best offensive teams in MLB. For a No. 2 pitcher, that's not a huge risk.
Obviously, there is plenty of upside for the young phenom, but there are also some potential risks.
For one, while many scouts have praised Darvish's control, some say the command of his pitches needs some work.
Also, historically, most of the Japanese superstar imports that have preceded Darvish (particularly starting pitchers) have performed far less successfully than their hype would have suggested. As a result, there has always been the prevailing question: Will he have what it takes to adjust to a different culture, both socially and athletically?
In this case, Darvish certainly has a lot of hype, but his successful history and his landing with an up-and-coming franchise, like the Texas Rangers, both seem to suggest a prosperous future.