Does Yu Darvish Make the Dodgers a Perfect Team?
The Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the marquee teams in baseball and traditionally one loaded with talent and money to burn, have not won a World Series since 1988. That's nearly 30 years, so there is an entire generation of Dodgers fans who have never even seen their team in the Fall Classic, let alone having won one.
The Miami Marlins have won two world titles since the Dodgers won their last, so, yeah, the Dodgers organization pretty hungry. And on trade deadline day, they came to the table ready to eat.
They acquired Pittsburgh Pirates relief ace Tony Watson and got Tony Cingrani from the Cincinnati Reds to help out in the bullpen, but their biggest move came in the final seconds before the deadline, when they acquired impending free agent Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers for three prospects.
An already loaded team just got better, and our models have them as the title favorites, giving the Dodgers a 27.3% chance of winning the World Series.
A Strikeout Wizard
While the Dodgers did have to give up one of their best prospects in Willie Calhoun, Darvish should help cure one of the big problems that has ailed them in previous postseasons.
Darvish has made 22 starts and has a rather high 4.01 ERA, but it was at 3.44 before a disastrous final outing in a Rangers uniform in which he gave up 10 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. It was reported Darvish was tipping his pitches in that start, and uncertainty about his future also could have played a role in his July struggles (7.20 ERA with a .290/.331/.540 slash line against).
His strikeout rate has dipped a bit this year, from 11.8 strikeouts per nine (K/9) last year to 9.7 this year, but a 9.7 K/9 is still really darn good (17th among qualified MLB starters). His 26.2% strikeout rate ranks 14th, and his .224 opponents batting average allowed is 15th. He's good.
Yu Darvish owns the highest strikeout rate (29.6%) in MLB history among all pitchers to make at least 100 career starts (via @baseball_ref).
— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) August 1, 2017
Darvish has also proved his durability this season as he's on pace to throw more than 200 innings for the first time since 2013. He hurt his elbow in 2014 and required Tommy John surgery, which kept him out for all of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, but he's fully recovered.
The Rich Get Richer
On the surface, it doesn't seem as though the Dodgers really needed Darvish. Their rotation ERA of 3.25 is the best in all of baseball, with Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood creating an excellent trio of left-handed starters at the top of the rotation.
But the addition of Darvish gives them a right-hander to join the three lefties, which will be useful against potential playoff opponents like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals -- all of whom feature some potent right-handed bats in their lineups.
In addition to the lights-out startin rotation, the Dodgers' offense ranks in the top three in wOBA (.340), and the bullpen sits in the top three in xFIP (3.68). They're pretty much a perfect baseball team.
Eye on the Postseason
Even with Kershaw out until mid-September, this move wasn't made to help get the Dodgers over the finish line in the regular season. Our most recent postseason odds have the squad at 100% to both make the playoffs and win the National League West. This move was all about the playoffs.
According to ESPN, Kershaw has had to make a start on short rest in each of the last four postseasons. Hill has thrown 78 innings this year and has only eclipsed 120 innings once in his 13-year career. Wood has made 13 starts this year, but he's only made 25 starts once in his career. And potential Game 4 options like Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda have durability issues, as well, with Ryu missing all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John and Maeda working more than five innings in just 3 of his 16 starts in 2017.
Adding Darvish to the playoff rotation should mean not having to use Kershaw, who is missing on the shelf with back problems for the third time in his career, on short rest.
The main bugaboo against Darvish is his propensity to give up the dinger as he's allowing up 1.31 home runs per nine innings, 29th-highest among 73 qualified MLB starters. But a decent 2.96 walks-per-nine rate minimizes the number of runners on base when those bombs are hit.
While adding Darvish wasn't something the Dodgers needed to do for the regular season, it strengthens them greatly for the postseason. Easing Kershaw's workload and giving the team an elite option to pitch Game 2 of a playoff series could finally be the move that pushes them to the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades.