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Thursday, January 19, 2012
Scouting report: Yu Darvish

By Richard Durrett

Now that the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher has agreed to terms on a deal with the Rangers, let me re-post an entry we did from December when the club won the bidding process for Yu Darvish with the record $51.7 million posting fee.

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Jim Bowden of ESPN.com says the Rangers hit a home run in picking up Yu Darvish. Is Prince Fielder on deck?

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Then, Jonah Keri at Grantland.com (and ESPN.com) contacted Patrick Newman at NPBTracker.com (Newman knows Japanese baseball) for his scouting report on Darvish. Here is part of Keri's blog entry:
Darvish's repertoire is diverse, with six distinct pitches that he throws with excellent movement. They are:

" 90-96 MPH 4-seam fastball
" 90-93 MPH 2-seam fastball which resembles a shuuto, a pitch throw by some Japanese right-handed pitchers that tends to break down and in against right-handed batters
" 90-92 MPH cutter
" 85-ish MPH horizontally breaking slider
" Low 80s downward-breaking slider, which Newman says looks more like a power curve
" 65-70 MPH curveball

Newman says the scouts he's talked to are bullish on Darvish as an MLB prospect because of that repertoire, his size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and athletic build, and his durability (40 complete games in his first four seasons in Japan, followed by a career-high 232 innings pitched in 2011.

The numbers are trickier to decipher. Analysts from Baseball Prospectus alum Clay Davenport to Jim Albright at BaseballGuru.com have gone to great lengths to make sense of Japanese league baseball, where a young star like Ichiro can carry his numbers to MLB fame, but an MLB washout like Tuffy Rhodes can also go on to hit 55 homers in a single season in Japan. Both Albright and FanGraphs' Eno Sarris recently took stabs at projecting Darvish's projection in the majors. Darvish's monstrous strikeout (10.7 strikeouts per 9 innings in 2011) and groundball (57% in 2011) rates, along with a microscopic walk rate (less than one and a half walks per 9 innings in 2011) would seem to bode well for big league success, especially for a 25-year-old pitcher who should be coming into his prime.

But we don't know. In the majors, Darvish will throw a different ball off a different mound to different hitters while playing in different stadiums. He'll throw fewer innings per start but pitch in a five-man rotation instead of six. The comparisons to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, Kei Igawa, Kaz Ishii, and Hideki Irabu are ill-founded, given Darvish's superior combination of size, athleticism, track record and youth. But still, we don't know. Not for sure anyway.

The Rangers are certainly strong believers in Darvish's ability, as the posting fee and signing show. I, for one, can't wait to see him throw live at spring training next month.