After taking a dive into Jacoby Ellsbury last week, the time has come to check into another player that has the potential to be a flame out based on the numbers he can put up against what he will put up. One player lighting up draft boards right now is coming over from Japan.
Yu Darvish is one of the reasons Texas fans are less concerned about losing C.J. Wilson than you might expect. The track record of pitchers in Japan though as well as the multiple changes and challenges will loom large as Darvish looks to adjust to life in the Majors.
The expectations seem lofty for Darvish but there is doubt. Take a look at Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first year. Matsuzaka won 15 games but ended up with a 4.40 ERA to go with a 1.32 WHIP in throwing over 200 innings. More startling was the fact he gave up 25 home runs. The parallels between the two are interesting. Matsuzaka came over to the Red Sox at age 26 while Darvish will be 25. In their final seasons in Japan, Darvish went 18-6 with 276 strikeouts in 232 innings to go with a 1.44 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP while Matsuzaka went 17-5 with 201 strikeouts in 204 innings to go with a 2.13 ERA. The two started nearly identical numbers of games in their final two seasons.
Adapting will be key for Darvish and it was something that has proven more difficult over time for Matsuzaka. Pitchers in Japan have an extra day off, pitching only once every six days. Additionally, there are the concerns regarding the type of baseball that is used in each league. A ball in Japan is slightly smaller and more tightly wound than a Major League baseball and has caused issues with many pitchers making the transition as the grips do not translate as effectively. The strike zones are also different. The narrower zone on the inside part of the plate means that many pitchers in Japan have not learned to effectively pitch inside. It is far wider away from a hitter, creating an overall larger zone than is seen in the US game. This could be part of the cause with the increased home run numbers seen in pitchers like Matsuzaka.
Overall, Darvish is considered to have better stuff than Matsuzaka, which could help mitigate some of the overall risk. That said, he is currently being taken as the 34th pitcher overall around pick 117. Drafts have seen him go as high as number 52 overall. This is ahead of pitchers like Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Jaime Garcia, Max Scherzer, and Ervin Santana. All these pitchers have more of a track record and numbers that can be more easily projected than a commodity like Darvish. The high risk associated with taking him even at this point far outweighs the benefit. With the adjustments to the league, 14 wins to go with a 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 180 strikeouts is probably fair overall. There may be some upside beyond this but not to the tune of 18 wins unless a fair amount goes right.
This is all not to say that Darvish should not be drafted. He should be and he will be effective. At this level though, he is a number-three starter on a fantasy roster. Other pitchers available at this point are safer bets for success. As a starter towards the end of a fantasy rotation Darvish makes sense. Keep expectations in check as he is likely to see his stock rise closer to Opening Day and has potential to be a bust if owners are blinded by the name.