We’ve seen quite a few pitchers make the move from the Japanese league to the MLB with varying success. Kei Igawa, the total flop for the Yankees comes to mind. Hiroki Kuroda, a solid success now joining the Yankees is another. This offseason the Texas Rangers compensated for losing starting pitcher CJ Wilson (and Cliff Lee last year), by bringing over maybe the most promising Japanese pitcher yet, Yu Darvish.
Now don’t mistake me for an overexcited Rangers fan ready to jump on the Darvish bandwagon. This is a considerably risky move. The Rangers, a franchise at their very pinnacle, will be devastated if Darvish is a bust and his contract prevents them from re-signing key pieces like Ian Kinsler. The Rangers paid $51.7 million as a posting fee and another $60 million for the actual contract. Here’s the year-by-year breakdown. His contract is back-loaded.
Here’s why he could be a resounding success. Unlike Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was supposed to be the greatest thing since fried rice, Darvish works off a fastball. Just about every pitcher in baseball (save knuckleballers) uses a fastball as their primary pitch and then uses breaking and off-speed pitches to vary off of that. Many felt Matsuzaka could be dominant because he was so different, but what many others feared ended up being the case. He nibbled too much, threw too many pitches, and walked too many hitters. Darvish worked on being more aggressive last season. He only walked 36 batters. Darvish has played five seasons in Japan, and only once posted an WHIP over 1.00. He’s never posted and ERA over 2.00. In those five seasons he allowed 39 home runs. By contrast, AJ Burnett allowed 31 home runs last season.
Darvish has been totally dominant in the Japanese league, and while we may want to stick our nose up at their league, let’s not forget who the defending World Baseball Classic Champions are and who closed out that championship for them (if you didn’t guess, it was Japan and Yu Darvish). Here is a great article by Yahoo Sports on Yu Darvish. It explains that each of his five seasons in Japan was better than Matsuzaka’s very best season. He’s got a nasty fork ball (basically a strong sinker), he’s consistent, he eats innings… Sure, playing in Texas will be a tough billing with the summer heat and the hitter friendly ballpark, but a schedule heavy on Oakland, Seattle, and Houston should make it more manageable than it sounds. The overexcitement about previous Japanese pitchers and their subsequent failures has made everyone (except those in the Texas Ranger front office) skeptical about another hot-shot Japanese pitcher, but the opportunity to watch Darvish is just another reason I can’t wait until baseball season.
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