15 October 2010
have been circulating that the Diamondbacks are preparing a big offer to bring Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish to the United States. And the number being floated is $80M, which presumably would cover the posting fee as well as a multi-year contract. What do we know about Darvish, and would he be likely to succeed in the Major Leagues?
First, here are a look at Darvish's stats in the Japanese League.
Darvish began his pro career in 2005 at the age of 18, and quickly established himself as one of the top pitchers in Japan. Pitching for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish has twice won the Pacific League MVP Award (2007, 2009), and has also led the league in ERA and strikeouts twice. He has won the MVP of the Climax Series (Playoffs) and the Asia Series (played between the champions of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan), and has even won two Gold Gloves for his fielding. At the age of 23, he is already the highest paid pitcher in the Pacific League.
In 2009, Darvish pitched in the World Baseball Classic, which gave the United States (and the PitchFX system) a good look at his pitching repertoire.
Darvish was very impressive in the WBC, leading the Japan team to its second championship. He has a smooth, easy throwing motion, and can throw five or six different pitches for strikes. In the WBC, he threw both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, typically in the 94-95 mph range, and topping out at 97.9 mph. He also threw a variety of other pitches, including a cut fastball, slider, and a slow curve near 70 mph. Hitters had a tough time with all of his pitches, swinging at missing at almost 40% of their swings, and rarely hitting anything hard. A detailed look at Darvish's WBC outings using the PitchFX system can be found at Beyond the Boxscore
. Many videos of Darvish can be seen on YouTube: Japan Highlights
, WBC Japan vs. Korea
, WBC Japan vs. USA (9th Inning)
So it does seem that Darvish is better than the Japanese League pitchers that have come to the U.S. recently - Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kenshin Kawakami, Hiroki Kuroda, Koji Uehara, Takashi Saito, even Colby Lewis. But is it realistic that the Diamondbacks could sign him, and how much would it cost? First, many other teams have also been linked to Darvish, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Orioles, and Rangers. And would $80M even be enough? In 2006, the Red Sox paid a $51M posting fee to the Seibu Lions for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, and then gave him a six year, $52M contract. It wouldn't be surprising for Darvish to cost even more, since he is both younger and better than Matsuzaka.
Another factor to consider is the injury risk factor. Darvish has already thrown over 1000 innings by the age of 24, and his pitch counts have been very high, at least by American standards. This year, he topped 140 pitches in a game half a dozen times, and averaged over 125 pitches per start. Darvish also missed a few games in 2009 with shoulder fatigue, and had some hip issues during that season, but he appeared healthy in 2010. Another mitigating factor is that Darvish has had more rest between starts than most MLB pitchers, pitching every seventh day instead of every 5th day. Also, many analysts say that Darvish often tries to "pitch to contact" so he can stay in games longer, and therefore does not exert maximum effort on every pitch.
I think Yu Darvish would easily be the best pitcher to come to the United States from Japan, and could likely become an ace in the major leagues. If it was just a matter of signing Darvish to a multi-year contract, he would be the best option on the free agent market. But the problem with signing Darvish is the Japanese posting system, which will probably require sending tens of millions of dollars to the Nippon Ham Fighters just to negotiate with Darvish. If that number turns out to be $50M, it's hard to see how the Diamondbacks could afford it, since the entire team payroll in 2010 was only $75M. On the other hand, if the Diamondbacks could get Darvish for a posting fee of around $20-25M, I think that's a risk the team should take.