Rabu, 09 November 2011

What Are They Worth? Part 5: Yu Darvish

To conclude my critically-acclaimed What Are They Worth series, I will be examining the best pitchers in recent Japan Pacific League history, Yu Darvish.

Born to an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, Darvish, 25, has been lighting up the Pacific League for years. He has wowed competitors in Japan and major-league hitters in the World Baseball Classic. He is widely expected to be posted by his current JPL team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, which means that MLB teams will have the chance to bid on the chance to negotiate with him.

Darvish is coming off one of the greatest pitching seasons in the history of baseball, though it is getting little hype in America. In 28 starts, Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA, and in 232 IP he struck out 276 and walked just 36.

While we're on the topic of numbers, I'd like to bring up a Major-League Equivalency for Darvish that I did a little while ago (if you're from the boards, you may remember it):


I used Jim Albright's JPB conversions, then adjusted them at a rate of 1960-2010, and for strikeouts, I used the jump from 9.7 to 8.8 that Daisuke Matsuzaka experienced from 2006-07.

For his career 2007-2010 (his first four full seasons), he posted the following totals:

792 IP, 0.4 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 9.9 K/9, 1.81 ERA

After all of the conversions, I got:

792 IP, 0.5 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 8.2 K/9 and a FIP of 2.78, which would have been fifth in MLB last year.


Is Darvish good enough to put up a 2.78 FIP (and possibly a 2.78 ERA) in the big leagues? Numerically, I'm not smart enough to guess, and magically, I'm not smart enough to know.

What I can tell you is that the numbers do not lie. Darvish has everything you could ask for in a pitcher. It starts with a big, powerful frame. He has a deceptive delivery. He has poise, he has control, he has guile. You name it, he rates off the charts. What makes him so dominant, of course, is his stuff. Here is a pitch-by-pitch account of his arsenal.

He can touch the upper 90's with his fastball, and even hit 100 at the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Here he is making JPL single-season hits champion and owner of a .352 MLB OBP Matt Murton look like a silly child with 98 mph heat. He shows great life and run on the fastball, and mixes it up with two-seamers (the Japanese call it a 'Shuuto', but for all intents and purposes it's a two-seamer or running fastball) and cut-seam fastballs very well. He can get the cutter up to 90 or 91 and the two-seamer up to 94 or 95. Here's a video of him displaying some sick run on the two-seamer, most of which are coming in around 92-94.

His best secondary pitch is his curve. Check out some of the hooks he's dropping here. He throws it hard, around 80 mph, and while it is supposed to have some lateral break, it has some of the best downward movement you're going to see. There are only a handful of guys in MLB with a curve like the one Darvish is sporting.

His best third option is the split. He throws a forkball that sits around 90 mph, which wouldn't be so shocking if it also didn't look like it was falling off a table. Here's two-and-a-half minutes of him burying 90 mph pitches in the dirt that hitters can't lay off.

Besides the three elite pitches (or five, if you count the fastball as different pitches), you will see a changeup and a slider/slurve which has drawn comparisons to Daisuke Matsuzaka's, who had/has one of the sharpest breaking pitches on the planet.

While we are on the topic, I would like to quell any comparisons to Matsuzaka. Both are very good pitchers, both have wide repertoires, both drew a lot of interest from major league teams and fans, but they are not the same man, nor are they the same pitcher. Yu Darvish already does the one thing that Matsuzaka never could, attack hitters. He has a sharper fastball that allows him to challenge right-handed hitters in, and Matsuzaka's Achilles' heel, pitching out over the plate, is not as much of an issue for Darvish. Darvish was also worked much less as a teenager and young man (Matsuzaka's high school workload is the stuff of legend), making him less of a risk to burn out (which many think Matsuzaka did, as injuries mounted as his MLB career wound on, leading up to Tommy John in 2011).

Darvish is also supposed to have off-the-charts makeup. He was apparently an outkast as a half-Iranian as a child, and the role of loner is one that fits him, decreasing the likelihood of being affected by the MLB and American atmosphere.

So, what do we have with Darvish? A big, strong kid who throws 97 mph with several plus, plus secondary pitches, who challenges hitters and who displays incredible control? He's an ace. Based on his numbers, he should be an ace. Based on his stuff, he should be an ace. There is little to make me believe that Darvish cannot anchor a staff in the majors. Of course, only time will tell, but for now, Darvish is as exciting as any hurler on the planet. What is this worth?

Because I've already written ten million words, and because, let's be honest, we have no idea what Darvish can do in a major league uniform, just for fun, let's pretend my 2.78 ERA was legitimate, and that he would somehow maintain 232 IP. I am guessing that Darvish is going to pull down a deal in the range of 6 years, $60 MM, a small raise over what Matsuzaka received, but I also believe that there is a chance that he could net as much as $75 MM.

In the NL in 2011, a 2.78 ERA over 232 innings would be worth 62 runs above replacement, or about 6.8 wins. According to the normal aging curve, this makes his next six years look like this:

2012: 6.8
2013: 6.9
2014: 6.9
2015: 6.7
2016: 6.7
2017: 6.5

That's a cumulative value of 40.5 runs, or a dollar value of $202.5 MM

So, our conclusions are:

Estimated contract length: six years
Estimated contract value: $6 MM
If-he-carries-over-perfectly-and-avoids-injury value: $202.5 MM

In our ideal world, Darvish might be the most valuable player on the market this offseason.

PS. Before I let you go, all filled with butterflies and happiness about Yu Darvish joining your team, I must present you with this heavy disclaimer: his mechanics are gross. There's a lot of arm action, and it's not all good. He gets his elbow very, very high, forming the dreaded 'inverted 'W''. His shoulder should be protected by a fluid 3/4 delivery, and the torque created by the delivery adds a lot of the life on his pitches that we see, but I'll say this: I would not want to be that elbow.

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