Yu Darvish: Everything Remains Bigger in Texas
Yu has arrived!
No, I'm not out stalking DFW Airport for some massive Air Japan airliner to fly over...Nope! Just patiently watching from my office window for it.
On Wednesday, with less than an hour before the signing deadline, the Texas Rangers and RHP Yu Darvish agreed to a 6-year contract. Quick breakdown, Darvish base salary is $56M, with $4-10M in potential bonus money. The breakdown per year is Yu will receive $5.5M this season, then $9.5M next year, $10M from 2014-2016, and $11M in 2017. Darvish also has the opportunity to opt-out of the final year of the contract based upon performance, if he wins a Cy Young and finishes as a "top contender" in two other years. Is it really weird for me to hope that he has the opportunity to opt-out? Because I do.
It was three years ago that I got my first glimpse of, at the time 22, Darvish as he was preparing to lead Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Already having pitched four seasons in the Japanese Baseball League, Darvish was nothing short of dominate. He went 2-1 with a save (against Team USA), 2.08 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
It was three years ago that I watched this young man and dreamed about having an ace in the making like that in the Rangers rotation. And since then, Jon Daniels and his "League of Super Friends" have traded for Cliff Lee, moved CJ Wilson from the bullpen, and saw the emergence of Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, and Matt Harrison. And now we seat here with the "rockstar" flying to our team, the Beatles arriving, Elvis is here, King Kong is free, Godzilla is back...ok, maybe too far with that one. Does Darvish deserve all this...nope! And it's really not fair of me or anyone else to act like he is the savior coming to Arlington. But it's perfectly fine to act this way for the next few days. Believe me, I will be even more excited later today when Yu, himself, speaks for the first time about the Rangers and puts on that jersey.
Now...the honeymoon will end, and we MUST let it end. And when it does, everyone must remember Yu is just one more piece of the puzzle.
Over the next couple months, every single baseball analyst, including this one, will not miss out on the opportunity to theorize and predict how Yu will perform, his career, and if the Rangers made a bad investment or got a steal. But before all that begins, well too much, let me throw out there some stats, facts, and quotes about the young man.
At the age of 18, Darvish joined the Japan Baseball League and after 7 seasons he has 93-38 record, career 1.99 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, 1259 strikeouts, 333 walks with 55 complete games and 18 shutouts. Not bad for a young man still coming into his prime. But how will those numbers transfer into the Majors? Daniels and his staff of scouts have been watching Darvish for over two years in the attempt to answer that exact question.
Quick lesson, in Japan the baseball is NOT smaller than the baseball used by MLB, however it is true that the seems are smaller and tighter over here. Darvish will also be working off a higher mound, than he did in Japan. These are both adjustments he will have to make, especially in his mechanics. I spoke with two collegiate pitchers to get a better feel of the adjustments he will have to make. Jason Larkin, pitched two seasons for Springhill College (AL) and he told me that one of the biggest issues for Yu will be the lineups he faces. Many pitchers in college can dominate because they face only one or two great hitters, and in Japan you could say three to four, but in the Majors, especially the American League it'll be 7-9 good hitters every time. Sean Driscoll, pitched three seasons for Bucknell University, and his main point to me was the adjustments in mechanics. Sean said that the smaller seams on the American ball will take away from some of Darvish's movement and he will have to adjust his aim to continue to command the ball. Both Jason and Sean were cautious with Darvish's "coming out party" and think it'll take him some time to adjust to the Majors and fans shouldn't expect instant success. However, both reiterated that pitchers who can command their pitches, throw strikes, and work off the fastball can and should be success at the collegiate, minor, and Major League levels. Good news folks, Darvish, unlike many Japanese pitchers, works off his heater.
Patrick Newman of NPBTracker.com is a guru when it comes to Japanese baseball. He, and this goes along with what the Ranger scouts have viewed in over 50 starts, Darvish "can" throw eight pitches, but more than likely he is going to stick with and continue to master his six, uniquely accurate pitches. Darvish can command: 4-seam Fastball (90-96 mph), 2-seam Fastball (90-93 mph), Cutter (90-92 mph), Horizontally Breaking Slider (85 mph), "Power", Downward-Breaking Slider (low 80s), and Curveball (65-70mph). Darvish can also throw a Changeup and the "phantom" Gyroball, but I've read before that he uses his curveball more like a changeup and has been moving away from the gyro.
We can all theorize right now how these MPHs and command will change with the new mound and tighter seams, but in confidence of Darvish, for the past month he has been conditioning and pitching off an MLB mound with official MLB baseballs.
Before I go off getting too excited about Darvish, I do know there are risks involved with him. His workload (232 IP last year), the change in rest (Japanese pitchers throw every 6th day, not 5th), AL Lineups, the mound, and the seams. The Texas Rangers invested over $108MM on this young man, and anytime you go over that $100MM mark, expectations are set very high. Darvish has been the go-to guy for years, he is a rockstar in Japan, he is "it" over there, but now he comes to the highest level of baseball competition in the world. History says that Japanese pitchers don't adjust well in the United States, and that topic alone will "unfairly" follow this young man every time he pitches.
I believe in this kid, I think the Rangers have done their due diligence and found something special. Unlike three or four years ago, this isn't a blind faith stab at a prospect, the Rangers front office has shown us that. Texas has done their homework on Darvish, they've seen over 50 starts, Daniels has made the Japan trip twice to watch the young man throw, they've made the effort to get to know Yu and his family. On this site, we've joked about the phrase before, "In JD We Trust." And this could very well be the biggest decision Daniels and his staff have made, and I have complete faith in them that they know what they are doing.
Darvish isn't coming over here to help salvage this franchise, he isn't being expected to save us and lead us back into the postseason. No, instead he is another puzzle piece. And watch for the Rangers to treat him as such, as just another pitcher. Nolan Ryan spoke yesterday about the possibility that Darvish could start the season as the #3 or #4 starter. Dodgers bench coach, and Darvish manager in Japan for five seasons, Trey Hillman spoke about the young man he managed. Hillman used words like "accountability for his actions," "drive to succeed," and "desire to be the best." These are qualities that we hear all the time from some of the most successful athletes. Hillman, like Sean and Jason, asked for people to give Darvish time to adjust and once he does he will succeed, if not dominate lineups at times. Former Rangers manager and the new manager of the Red Sox Bobby Valentine has spent many years in Japan coaching. Valentine said Darvish is unlike anything else that has come out of Japan, he's bigger, taller, and stronger than the typical Japanese pitcher trying to make it in the Majors. I loved that comparison, because it is true and shouldn't be forgotten, Darvish is NOT Dice-K, he is NOT Irabu, he is NOT Nomo, and he definitely is NOT Chan Ho Park. For the most part, Japanese pitchers rely on their "stuff" to fool hitters and they are usually of a smaller frame. Darvish is 6'5", 220 pounds and as former GM Jim Bowden said, "it wouldn't scare me to see him put on another 15 pounds because he frame can handle it." Darvish, though he has "stuff," relies upon his command and works off his fastball. He is pin-point with that command, throws strikes early in the count, gets ahead of hitters, and then finishes them with his "stuff." You know who else has that exact same formula...Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Chris Carpenter, David Price, and that's because it is a formula that works to be success in the Majors.
Look, there will be times that Darvish struggles, he's going to have games that he only pitches three innings and allows six runs, it's going to happen, it happens to everyone. There will be times that as fans we will curse the front office for signing him. There will be times that we will be convinced this was a mistake...believe me the risk is there and the history isn't pretty.
BUT...I've put my trust in baseball minds who know ten times more about this game than I do, minds like Hillman, Valentine, Bowden, Ryan, Daniels, Thad Levine, AJ Preller, Jim Colborn, Don Welke, and the Maddux Brothers, these are men who have a lifetime of experience evaluating talent. And they all see something special in this kid, the "It-Factor." I'm not going to say that Darvish WILL BECOME the next Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Curt Shilling, Roger Clemens, or even Nolan Ryan, but this kid has the same "something special" about him that scouts saw in those pitchers. The question are will he blossom? Will he adjust? Will he re-adjust, when hitters adjust to him? Will he handle the pressures?
These are tough questions and no one knows until we see it play out. But I've come to trust when this Rangers front office takes chances, because when it does it signs players like Adrian Beltre or it trades away established talent from players like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Mike Napoli.
Be patient with Yu, but at the same time be excited that he is wearing Ranger Red. I know I am, and I'm willing to put myself out there as a believer that this kid is going to have a memorable MLB career, and it feels beyond wonderful to finally have a franchise that has the premier, international talent saying from his father [Farsad Darvish], "We always hoped the Texas Rangers were going to sign my son."