When the news broke that the Texas Rangers won the bidding rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish, the baseball world let out a collective sigh of relief. Darvish’s entry into the MLB has been greatly anticipated:his performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic wowed the public and made him the most promising Nippon import since Ichiro Suzuki.
For those of us competing in the online world of fantasy baseball play, however, the satisfaction was not shared. Immediately, team owners started fretting about where to draft him, what kind of numbers are to be expected and if the home run haven known as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington will be his downfall.
Luckily, I have the answers to those questions, and a few more.
The general disadvantage we have as owners in determining Darvish’s value is a lack of familiarity. Although we can read about his statistics in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, I find they provide little insight given the leagues’ differences. Those variances include strength of competition, park dimensions — even the ball used is smaller than our American version.
In an instance such as this, where I am unfamiliar with the player in question, I turn to scouting reports. The report below was provided by Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker (you can read the full article by Grantland’s Jonah Keri here):
Darvish’s repertoire is diverse, with six distinct pitches that he throws with excellent movement. They are:
• 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
The sixth pitch thrown by right-hander is a change-up, but it is said to not be very strong. Like most starters who boast an arsenal this deep, Darvish will need to refine his pitch collection, and going forward, it’s expected he will throw both the 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, a slider, and a cutter.
Darvish started 29 games for the Nippon Ham Fighters this year, and I averaged the velocity for those four pitches over the course of the season:
• 4-seam fastball: 93.2
• 2-seam fastball: 91.7
• cutter: 89.9
• slider: 80.4
Darvish certainly has the stuff necessary to be successful in the MLB, but what kind of stat line is he capable of producing? The 5-year projection table below was created by "The Oracle", Dan Szymborski. Dan uses his ZiPS projection system to translate NPB statistics into the MLB equivalency (I included the BB/K ratio for added flair):
2012: 13-7, 3.62 ERA with 46 walks, 169 strikeouts, 3.67 K/BB
2013: 13-7, 3.55 ERA with 44 walks, 167 strikeouts, 3.79 K/BB
2014: 13-7, 3.52 ERA with 42 walks, 163 strikeouts, 3.88 K/BB
2015: 12-6, 3.54 ERA with 39 walks, 153 strikeouts, 3.92 K/BB
2016: 11-6, 3.46 ERA with 38 walks, 150 strikeouts, 3.94 K/BB
While Szymborski projects a falling win percentage, the decreasing ERA and increasing K/BB ratio is encouraging. Although Szymborski’s 2012 ZiPS series is not finished, based on available projections, Madison Bumgarner appears to be the most suitable comparison. Dan projects Bumgarner to tally a 13-10 record, record a 164:48 K/BB ratio and finish with an ERA of 3.45.
In a related article, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus surveyed 10 executives and scouts around the league regarding their preference for Darvish or five other right-handed pitchers. The pitchers compared were Ricky Nolasco, Ian Kennedy, Matt Garza, Zack Greinke and 2011 AL MVP/Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander. The only pitcher preferred was Verlander, with Greinke drawing a tie (you can find the full results over at ESPN).
Taking all of this into account, what can fantasy owners determine about Darvish?
The projections effectively eliminate the question about whether we should expect ace-like numbers in his first MLB season. He appears to be worthy of a tier-2 ranking in standard re-draft leagues, and is best suited to slot as your no. 2 or even no. 3 starting pitcher. If you can fight the urge to reach and effectively select Yu as your no. 3, you may just reward yourself with the steal of the draft.He obviously holds greater value in long-term keeper and dynasty leagues. Out of all the pitchers listed above, I’d confidently select Bumgarner, Verlander, and Kennedy ahead of him in those formats. And if I were asked to choose between Darvish and Matt Moore for the upcoming year, I’d choose Moore without a second thought.
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