Japanese import Yu Darvish recent contract with the Texas Rangers is the largest contract signed by a Japanese pitcher in MLB history. With a deal that large (6 years/60 million dollars plus a 51.7 million dollar posting fee), he will endure more pressure and more scrutiny than any foreign baseball player ever.
Yu Darvish won’t start opening day (that’s Matt Harrison’s duty), but he will likely take over as the Texas Ranger’s Ace around June/July, when he fully adjusts to his new pitching schedule (pitchers in Japan get 6 days rest in between starts, instead of four in America.)
Even as the number one starter, Tom Verducci wrote that Darvish will likely have his spot in the rotation skipped in an effort to get him more rest, a strategy that Daisuke Matsuzaka also followed, but only with mixed success. Matsuzaka has already “hit the wall”, which is almost always the third year a Japanese player is in the Major Leagues, when their performance severely and suddenly drops off; by year five, they become journeymen or leave MLB altogether. The affliction has impacted all walks of baseball life, from scrubs like Masato Yoshii, to the hype machines like Hideo Nomo or Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the Rangers will take every precaution to prevent their 111.7 million dollar man from “hitting the wall”.
This season, however, Darvish will look to exert his dominance over a weak hitting division (Oakland and Seattle were some of the worst teams offensively last season) in a league that has never experienced him in any fashion, save for the inning he pitched today (March 4th.) One possible benchmark for him would be Hiroki Kuroda, who started his career with a 3.73 ERA, though one would expect that Darvish will do better than his a 5.7 k/9 rate.
The real test will be in late August and early September, when the grind of the season will start to wear on his arm, potentially affecting his command and velocity. This is what probably caused CJ Wilson’s post-season troubles when he had an unexplainable loss of control (19 walks in 28 innings) and velocity (rarely topped 93 miles per hour.)
While the likelihood that Wilson will bust in LA is very high (watch him, Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes throw, and you will see a very troubling trend in their mechanics: the inverted W), he was excellent in the regular season last year, but that just made the effects of high arm strain and over-use even more evident in the playoffs.
In addition to the starts Yu Darvish will likely miss, an even if he has no injury trouble at all, expect some semblance of “Joba Rules”, where inning (if not necessarily pitch count) will be watched very closely in an effort to protect his arm for the expected playoff push come October.
One would have to consider him the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, but some, most notably Brandon Wame, put the Tampa Rays’ Matt Moore as more likely. If you believe the Dallas News’ predictions for Yu Darish (13 wins, 3.80 ERA), Moore would have to be considered the front runner.
If scouting reports are to be believed, however, a 3.80 ERA is quite pessimistic: Yu Darvish’s 96 mph fastball complemented by 6 total “excellent” moving pitches spells closer to a 3.4 ERA with 15 wins, especially with an offensive powerhouse like Texas. In the end, his season looks promising-almost as much as the Rangers’ season in general.