What about Yu Darvish?

Yu Darvish could be posted by his Japanese team this winter makng him available to all 30 MLB clubs. He turned 25 years old on August 16th so 2012 would be his age 25 season. That’s one year younger than Daisuke Matsuzaka who Darvish will often be compared to in the coming months. It’s an unfair comparison.

While Matsuzaka was an outstanding pitcher in Japan, he doesn’t come close to as good as Yu Darvish. That may seem difficult to believe given the hype surrounding Matsuzaka 5 years ago, but it’s true.  Matsuzaka’s best ERA in a single season was his final year in Japan (2006). His ERA was 2.13. The highest ERA in Darvish’s career is 1.88 in 2008. Matsuzak’s career ERA was 2.81, which was more than a full run higher than Darvish (1.72). Matsuzaka’s best WHIP was also in 2006 and it was .92. Darvish has pitched 5 professional seasons and only one time was it higher than .92. His career average is .89 (1.12 for Matzuzaka). Basically, Matsuzak’s best season is worse than almost any season Darvish has pitched and it doesn’t matter which stat you look at.

Stat: Matsuzka best / Darvish worst
H/9: 6.2 / 7.0 (only season worse than 6.1)
HR/9: .4 / .5 (only season worse than .4)
BB/9: 1.64 / 2.2
K/9: 9.7 / 8.3

Stat (career): Matsuzka/Darvish
ERA: 2.81/1.72
H/9: 7.1/6.1
HR/9: .6/.3
BB/9: 3.0/1.9
K/9: 8.8/9.5

While Matsuzaka was a very good pitcher, Darvish has posted numbers that are difficult to post on the Playstation. He was not only better than him in every way, Darvish has been far superior. Comparing these two is like comparing Roy Halladay to Ryan Dempster. Dempster has had some very good seasons in recent years, but he’s not even close to as good as Halladay. The same is true with Darvish and Matsuzaka.

Darvish isn’t going to come to MLB and post those numbers. I’d hope that nobody would expect that kind of production in the best baseball league on the planet. Baseball in Japan is similar to AAA here.

Prior to the Cubs signing Kosuke Fukudome I took a look at all the Japanese position players to play in MLB and compared their OPS in Japan to MLB. While this is by no means a conclusive study, but the results were clear: Fukudome would be considerably worse in MLB than he was in Japan. The same is of course true with Yu Darvish.

On RLYW, SG did something very similar, but focused only Japanese players who have pitched in MLB. I have little doubt that SG was more thorough than I was and his results were also similar. Applying those adjustments to his stats to we see that Darvish’s translated line is a 3.3 ERA or 3.8 FIP. That’s pretty damn good. SG focused on stats from the last 3 years.

SG narrowed the list of Japanese pitchers by focusing on guys who were primarily starters in both Japan and MLB. It’s a list of only 8 pitchers so sample size is an issue. Let me just quote the conclusion because, well, it’s the best part.

The first line here is Darvish’s 2009-2011 three-year weighed average.  Each subsequent line is what his stats would like if he saw the same % difference in his component stats that the average starter did, as well as how it would look if he ended up following the path of each individual starter.

Think about this.  If Darvish’s struggles to the same relative extent that Kei Igawa has, he’d have an ERA of 3.15.

I think Darvish very well might be one of the best pitchers on the planet right now.  He’s probably not, but the Yankees should really go all out for him.  Just in case he is.

Yu Darvish is good. I don’t have any more of an idea what the Cubs are going to do this offseason than you, but if they are going to spend some money, investing in Darvish makes a lot of sense. He’s still young and younger than any other free agent available by several years. He may very well be not only the best free agent pitcher available, but one of the best in MLB.

It’s definitely a risk. Signing any pitcher to a long-term deal is a risk, but this one has the potential to be worse because he may just not be suited for MLB. That’s entirely possible, but no pitcher in Japan coming to MLB has ever put up numbers anywhere close to as good as Darvish. The Cubs are in a tough position. They aren’t likely to contend next year so spending the kind of money it would take to sign Darvish sounds unreasonable, but at the same time this team will be trying to contend within a year or two. You don’t sign Theo Epstein if you want to completely rebuild. If Darvish works out, it could go a long way to helping the Cubs contend a lot sooner than they could have otherwise. The Cubs are in the position where it may be worth the risk.

Some of you may say that I’ve always been skeptical of Japanese players. I remain skeptical. Most of the players from Japan that have come over here have not played particularly well. Yu Darvish is different. His numbers are just so good that they can’t be ignored. Darvish’s numbers are almost identical to what Hayden Simpson was doing in his final year of college. Simpson posted those numbers in D2. Darvish has posted them in a league comparable to AAA.

The question is how much is it going to cost? It will certainly come at a bargain if Darvish is as good as expected, but it won’t come cheap. First, he has to be posted by his Japanese team. The posting fee is not likely to be as high as it was for Matsuzaka, but the Yankees are interested in Darvish so that could run the posting fee pretty high.