Breaking Yu Down

Yu Darvish is half Iranian, half Japanese and half of what I’ve spent my time thinking about over the past few days. The general media wants to put young Yu in a Japanese box. Problem is, Darvish is six foot five, and doesn’t fit the Japanese pitcher mold.

Somehow most everyone has disregarded the notion that Darvish, may just be cut from a different cloth (Iranian). The central theme with Darvish is that he will be a bust and break down like the Japanese imports before him; thus he will never reach the insurmountable hype of his arrival in the states.

You see, in the states we have a tendency to over-value the unknown. Hence, every Japanese pitcher is better than the last. Darvish is considered better than Dice-K. Dice-K was regarded higher than Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu. Irabu more than Hideki Nomo. See the trend. So who is better than Yu Darvish? These imports keep getting better every year I guess, maybe Darvish can meet his expectations, or maybe we should just lower ours.

As I stated earlier, Darvish is 6-5. All other prominent Japanese pitchers who have gave MLB a whirl, were all six foot to six-one. The exception was Hideki Irabu, who was 6-4. Irabu, we will ignore for comparison sakes, because he was never dominant in the Japan or in America.

Kei Igawa is the utmost cautionary tale in signing pitchers out of Japan. He was posted at age 27 after averaging around 200 innings for six seasons. His ERA ranged from 2.49 to 3.86 in those seasons. Igawa fetched a cool $26 million for the Hanshin Tigers, then proceeded to obtain a $20 million pact over five seasons from the Yankees. He has fallen right on his face: 71 innings with a hellish 6.66 ERA. He is now biding his time in AAA; and has been for the past two seasons with marginal results.

Darvish will not be Igawa because his body his far more physical to handle the riggers of shorter rest. Darvish was used like a MLB pitcher in the second half of his season and showed now signs of wear. In Japan they typically get five to six days off, as opposed to four in the states. Overall Darvish is far more polished than Igawa. Igawa is not even the floor in what to expect from Darvish, he’s more like the basement.

Daisuke Matsusaka never had an ERA below two in his eight seasons with the Seibu Lions. Yu Darvish hasn’t posted an ERA above two since he was a teenager. Darvish is now 25. Dice-K netted the Lions more than $51 million through the posting process. Since Dice-K has returned little on the Red Sox’s investment, it has been widely speculated than Darvish will get a lower posting fee. Count me in, lower cost, better pitcher.

The Red Sox spoiled Dice-K at every turn to smooth his transition to the states. He compiled 61 starts in his first two seasons before succumbing to injuries; and now will have an abbreviated sixth season as he is going through Tommy John surgery. Injuries are always apart of the free agent risk.

Tell me, who is more likely to stay injury free for the next four seasons, C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish? Both are high risks, but Darvish is six years younger and more likely to obtain “ace” status.

Hiroki Kuroda is unique to other Japanese pitchers. First, he’s never missed huge portions of seasons due to injuries. Secondly, he doesn’t have overpowering pitches, which typically relegates you to the bullpen. Kuroda has had continued success in MLB because he assimilated himself into American culture. Front office executives say that embracing the world around them, has helped the transition for Japanese ballplayers. Darvish is a media darling in Japan, so he isn’t likely to become a hermit crab all of a sudden. Also, Kuroda was excellent in Japan, but Darvish has been even better.

The holy grail of Japanese pitchers, Hideo Nomo.

Nomo was comparable to Dice-K in his five seasons with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, averaging 234 innings pitched in his first four seasons. Nomo amassed 1678 innings pitched when he crumbled at age 29, only to resurface at age 33 again with the Dodgers. He finished career with 3024 innings pitched total in Japan and MLB. He had career 4.24 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in the states.

Some may disagree that Nomo was the best Japanese pitcher to cross the sea. But, the fact that he tanked and fought to get back to the level he once was at, says a lot about him. Nomo is probably the ceiling for Darvish.

The technology, stats, nutrition and accommodations today along with Darvish’s size and ability give him the utmost ability to break out of the “Japanese box” and put his ceiling through the roof past Nomo and into the attic.

Dan Allsup

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