Japanese Baseball Star Yu Darvish to MLB in 2012 (Scouting Report)
The 2011 MLB hot stove is beginning to heat up and and we will cover it in depth, but looking ahead to 2012, Japanse baseball star Yu Darvish plans to pitch in MLB in 2012 (tweets David Lennon via MLBTR). Darvish, the 6’5” half-Japanese, half-Iranian pitcher has already won the Eiji Sawamura Award, the Japanese Professional Baseball (NPB) equivalent of the Cy Young Award. He’s also won two MVP awards and will only be 25 when he is posted. I wrote a scouting report of Darvish a year ago, which I will reprint here:
Darvish first gained star-status when he led his high school to the Koshien national high school baseball tournament — an event comparable in popularity to NCAA March Madness — as a sophomore and pitched a no-hitter as a senior in 2004. However, because of his mixed racial makeup, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were the only team to try to acquire him in the NPB amateur draft. Former MLB skipper Bobby Valentine, who managed in the NPB, said of the discrimination, “My scouting director here didn’t think he was what our fans really would like to root for…that scouting director is no longer with us.” Darvish’s race has long since been forgotten as he has risen to rock star-like fame in Japan.
Darvish debuted in the NPB in 2005 and has compiled a 75-32 record with a 2.12 ERA in six professional seasons, striking out 974 and walking 297 in 1036.1 innings of work. He is a proven workhorse with 45 complete games during that span.
I had the chance to see Darvish pitch at the finals of the World Baseball Classic in 2009 when he was brought in to close against Korea. He pitched two innings and blew the save, but he held the Japanese lead in the 10th. Of the six outs he recorded, five came by strikeout.
Delivery: He pitches from a high three-quarters arm slot with a slight hesitation between his leg lift and separation as well as a glove tap, as is the case with many Japanese pitchers. He pitches entirely from the stretch — even when he is starting — and uses his strong lower-half to generate velocity.
Repertoire: Darvish located his fastball reasonably well that night. He kept it down in the zone and the stadium radar gun had him clocked anywhere from 90-95 mph. He mixed in a two-seam fastball with good sinking action. Since he was pitching in relief, he worked primarily with his fastball and slider — pitching off his breaking ball instead of off his fastball (pitching backwards). As such, the Korean hitters managed to lay off the slider and sit fastball. Having said that, it was a very good slider with late, hard break and good tilt, clocking in between 82-86 mph.
Both his fastball and slider are plus MLB pitches right now and the one curveball he threw had good depth on its 12-6 break. He did not throw his split-finger fastball or changeup but if either of those are average offerings, as numerous other scouting reports indicate, he would have a strong repertoire to attack both left-handed and right-handed MLB hitters a few times through the order.
Character and Signability: Darvish is noted for his competitive nature and strong mound presence. He did draw the ire of many Japanese veteran players for posing nude in a women’s magazine, but such activity has not hindered his work on the mound at all.
While Darvish has apparently stated his desire to pitch in the U.S., there are several hurdles that need to be cleared. The first is contractual as he is still under control by the Nippon Ham Fighters and will not be a free agent for another three seasons (Japanese players are controlled for nine seasons, MLB players six). Like the Red Sox’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, Darvish will need to be posted — or made available to MLB teams — who make a blind bid for exclusive negotiating rights. Should this happen, the Nippon Ham Fighters would likely receive more than the $51 million the Boston Red Sox spent to negotiate with Dice-K because Darvish will be only 25 and Matsuzaka was 26 at the time.
Nippon Ham Fighters general manager Masao Yamada said he would consider posting Darvish and would not hold him against his will: “We will admit a transfer. . .We won’t chain our players. Actually, we want to train players like the majors are looking for and [see them] perform well over there. That’s kind of our goal.”
With young talent at a premium in MLB, both amateur and professional, Darvish will be a major target for many, many teams, including all the usual suspects like the Yankees and Red Sox.