Yu Darvish Is Still a Stud, Despite His World Series Performance
They say first impressions can have a lasting effect on how you view something, and that's true. But sometimes, last impressions matter, too.
For Yu Darvish, the last thing anyone remembers about him following his outstanding 2017 season with the Texas Rangers and the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers was a performance in the World Series against the Houston Astros that can only be described as horrific.
He lasted just 3.1 innings in two Fall Classic starts and gave up nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits and had an ERA of 21.60. Those outings completely overshadowed an otherwise solid postseason in which he had one start in both the NLDS and NLCS and gave up two earned runs on eight hits in 11.1 combined innings.
It also capped a season in which Darvish re-established himself as a top-of-the-rotation starter once again and perhaps the most desirable starting pitcher on the free agent market.
Recent reports indicate Darvish has met with representatives from the Chicago Cubs about a spot in their starting rotation (they're about to lose Jake Arrieta) and with the team that torched him in the World Series, the Astros. The Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Dodgers are reported to be interested in bringing Darvish aboard as well, and it's easy to see why. He's still really good.
In his first full season following Tommy John surgery, Darvish made 31 starts and tossed 186.2 innings last season, with an ERA of 3.86, a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.83 and a deserved runs average (DRA) of 3.08. Baseball-Reference had his WAR at 3.8 last season, Fangraphs had it at 3.5 and Baseball Prospectus had his WARP (their version of WAR in which they use their DRA metric to compute the number) at a much higher 5.2.
Darvish's strikeout rate was a bit down last season, from a career mark of 29.7% to 27.3%, but that was still tied for 11th-highest among qualified MLB starting pitchers. Opponents hit a meager .226 against him, 13th-best in baseball, and his WHIP of 1.17 was also 13th-best. And while Darvish is 31 years old and it's inherently dangerous to give big years and big dollars to a pitcher on that side of 30, Darvish's stuff seems to still be there.
He averaged 94.2 mph on his four-seam fastball last year, the fastest of his career to date, and his breaking pitches appeared to still have the same excellent vertical and horizontal movement to them. Darvish relied on his breaking pitches a bit more last season, reducing his fastball usage from 59.2% in 2016 to 51.8% while upping the frequency of his slider (18.6% to 24.6%) and his cutter (9.4% to 15.4%). But the results were good.
So what happened in that World Series? It appears as though Darvish was tipping his pitches. And one other thing that potentially makes him more desirable than fellow free agents Arrieta, Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb is that Darvish was not tendered a qualifying offer, which means a team that signs him will not be required to give up draft picks as a penalty.
Darvish is going to get the contract he wants, and it appears teams are now starting to line up to sign the veteran right-hander.