Tuesday, December 20, 2011
A close look at Yu Darvish's résumé
By Jim Caple
Things to know while waiting for the Rangers to start selling Yu Darvish replica jerseys
• If the name Darvish doesn't sound Japanese, there is a reason. He is the son of an Iranian father, Farsad, and a Japanese mother, Ikuyu, who met -- where else? -- in Florida. Farsad said he played soccer at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg until the U.S. embassy takeover in 1979 and the coach benched him. He later worked at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., where the Seahawks used to train. "When I was working in the cafeteria I used to watch them carry two trays -- one was a milk tray, one was a food tray, so it was very huge, a very nice experience," Farsad said in a 2008 interview with ESPN.com. "And of course I cheered for the Seahawks." The family moved to Japan to raise a family. Darvish considers himself 100 percent Japanese.
• Darvish pitched seven seasons for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, who play in the Sapporo Dome and are owned by the Nippon-Ham company. In other words, he pitched for the "Fighters" of "Nippon-Ham," not the "Ham Fighters," a mistake Americans often make. "Everybody probably thinks you're out there beating up pigs," said Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman, who managed Nippon Ham in 2003-07 and Darvish from '05-'07.
• Darvish has been incredibly consistent in Japan. Here are the numbers from his past five seasons there:
2007: 15-5, 1.82 ERA, 207 2/3 IP, 123 H, 210 K, .828 WHIP
|Yu Darvish, 25, has pitched professionally in Japan for the last seven years.|
2008: 16-4, 1.88 ERA, 200 2/3 IP, 136 H, 208 K, .897 WHIP
2009: 15-5, 1.73 ERA, 182 IP, 118 H, 167 K, .896 WHIP
2010: 12-8, 1.78 ERA, 202 IP, 158 H, 222 K, 1.015 WHIP
2011: 18-6, 1.44 ERA, 232 IP, 156 H, 276 K, .828 WHIP
As you can see, his 2011 season was his best, with career-high marks in wins, ERA, innings and strikeouts. He also started a career-high 28 games after averaging 24 starts the previous four seasons, when he essentially pitched once a week. As Matthias Koster notes at mopupduty.com, Darvish shifted from his once-a-week routine to starting every six days (and once five days) in August.
He'll need to adjust further to pitching every five games.
"I think he has a body type that's very conducive to it," Hillman said Monday night. "He's just going to need to extend a lot of trust in the transition, stretching his arm out in between starts and limiting pitches in his starts. He's very, very competitive and likes to finish his starts, but he's also very efficient and will learn very quickly. He already knows he's a huge investment for the team that wins the bid."
• Apparently, Dusty Baker would fit right in managing in Japan -- Darvish threw more than 140 pitches in a game nine times in 2010 and averaged 129 pitches per start. He also threw 165 pitches in a game against Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines in 2008 when the pitcher was 21. "He was throwing 94 mph in the eighth, so I guess he was OK to go," Valentine replied in an email at the time. The pitch counts came down significantly last season, though, with only one game above 140 pitches and 10 above 125. He averaged 121 pitches per game in 2011.
That's partly due to a new ball in Japan that deadened offense and helped pitchers. But Hillman said he suspects it might also have been to keep Darvish healthy for posting.
"A couple years ago he had some back issues, but I'm still in close contact with people there and the reports are he's just more and more prepared and stronger than he was when I was last there in 2007," Hillman said. "He's been blessed with a very durable frame. If he has limited his pitches, that was by design to make sure he takes care of his arm. [Nippon-Ham] knew he was an investment."
On one hand, Darvish threw a lot of pitches per game in Japan. On the other hand, because of his low total starts, Darvish threw fewer pitches than many major leaguers (nearly 200 fewer pitches than C.J. Wilson, for example, during the regular season).
• Darvish posed nude (with his genitals covered) for a magazine.
• Darvish hasn't pitched in Texas but has already pitched in the United States -- specifically, in Petco Park and Dodger Stadium during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He was the winning pitcher in the championship game of the WBC. Used as a closer, he blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning (two walks and a single) but got the win by pitching a scoreless 10th inning after Ichiro put Japan ahead again.
• There have been 35 previous Japanese pitchers in the majors, beginning with Masanori Murakami in 1964. The pitcher who will draw the most comparisons, though, is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who like Darvish also had a posting fee of around $50 million. Dice-K had two good seasons while pitching for the Red Sox before arm injuries limited his effectiveness. He is 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA over the last three seasons and underwent Tommy John surgery last summer.
If Darvish signs with the Rangers, how will he fare pitching every fifth game in the 100-degree Texas heat instead of once a week in an air-conditioned dome? We'll see, but the Rangers spent a lot of time and energy scouting Darvish, so they obviously think he'll adjust just fine. It should be fun to watch.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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He's very, very competitive and likes to finish his starts, but he's also very efficient and will learn very quickly. He already knows he's a huge investment for the [Rangers].
-- Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman,
who managed Darvish in Japan